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1The universal as a meaning, whether it is conceived of as simply thought or said, thus having only the being of a thought or a word, or as the meaning of another being than simply that of thought or language, is not merely one term of a couplet, whether with the particular or the singular – such as, for example, identity and difference, substance and accident, cause and effect. In the case of these pairs, although each of the two terms is, through its meaning, relational, it requires the other, is necessarily linked to the other, as though by the effect of an external destiny, because this relational meaning results in them immediately excluding each other. The being of identity is not the being of difference, nor is the being of substance the being of accident, and no more so is the being of cause the being of effect. Instead, it is within a triadic sequence that the universal and the singular are mediated with each other, in their very alterity, through the particular. The virtue of this intermediate term demonstrates that the connection between these two extremes is not just negative, but also, and above all, positive. The singular, in itself, is truly the universal; the individual is truly its type. This, in a relation of identity that makes of both, as well as their mediator, the particular, a totality present as a totality in each of its three branches. This totality is completed as presence of this presence, as presence to itself, in the moment of singularity reflecting on itself, within itself, as a Self. The totality controls its moments, including its totalizing moment – the moment of singularity – but first its supporting, basal moment – the moment of self-identification developed into universality, the total Self at that moment, which is nevertheless the moment of its being, rather than simply being – and, from this, an apparently contradictory expression of a use of the universal is given meaning. This use is the Self realizing itself as mind, because of having – which is not being – its being itself.

2However, for the mind, using the universal well – as it uses correlatively or, better, conjointly its two other moments, in the totalization of the moments themselves that is the universal – means freely giving license to such a totalization, where it is essentially, within itself, free. That is to say, freely giving license to the complete interexpression of the three moments in the affirmation of this moment of the universal, which is as far as it is possible to be from any abstract universalism. This would not mean that the universal should not also be affirmed for itself, in what distinguishes it and abstracts it from other moments, but only that such an affirmation of the abstract must itself be a concrete, total affirmation of the mind. It is this total affirmation of the mind in its universality that I will first examine, as a metaphysical affirmation of all practices or morals, an affirmation that is initially present in Kant’s work, but in a register that I find still too abstract. The cost of a more forceful contemporary recognition of totalities, in a practical-empirical sense, in the field of law and justice, even in that of culture in general, will be a degradation or dissolution of the universal, but also a contradiction of the process. This will be the subject of the second part of this paper and will act as a prompt to return, in a third and final section, to a metempirical and metaphysical, but concretely speculative, justification of the true realization of the universal in a whole that is able to ensure, in itself, such a realization.


3The good use of the universal firstly consists in making use of it as such, as universal. That is to say, recognizing the universal for what it is and what is always available to us as soon as we speak and activate signs which, having the potential to be actualized through the Ego – an Ego present to itself as identical to itself in its various lived experiences and, by that token, universal – are themselves universals designating always different and singular spatiotemporal situations. I might say: “this” of everything, to the point that, to say any one singular thing rather than another, I must describe it by multiplying and magnifying such universals; the comprehensive mastery of a whole of things and, finally, of all things, requires that these universals fixed in the language activated by me should be composed among those things. The discursive synthesis of such signs is operated by a truly thinking act by the Ego that itself poses, apposes, composes them, in its universality, universally. This synthesis then intensifies – from the simple experience that has been rendered coherent, to the speculative totalization of the meaning of the being. To think is necessarily to universalize and to voluntarily assume this necessity. Thus assumed and mastered, thinking universalization of the real world – being completed through the wholly liberating totalization of that world – is the philosophy that is speculatively systematized from this necessity. Assuming, in this way, the necessarily universalizing thought of things, to the point of the free totalization of those things – such is the definition of the good use of the universal.

4In the destiny that presides over the history of practical thought or the practice concerned with thinking or universalizing itself – a destiny that has been and still is, within the complexity of its own foundation, steered towards such an end – what is most obviously borne out – because it is borne out in conditions that seem the least favorable – is that the thought in its own development comes down to thinking according to such a use of itself as that described above. In fact, in the field of theoretical thought, the objective of thought – namely, the grasping of the universal meaning of the whole of being – requires this process, just presented, as its true assumption. Despite this, and although this process is what has enabled the history of the thought to be philosophically rebuilt as rationally leading to its speculative realization, such harmony is less easily thinkable in the practical field. Here, what is important is the act – even the act prescribed in the practical universal of the good – of the singular decision of the Ego, responding to a real situation that is, itself, singular. An act that, thereby, seems to doubly exceed the – thought, universalized, even totalized – content of this decision. However, in truth, the relationship between the universal content of the act or the desire – its motivation and its end – and the singularity of the engagement of that act or desire can be reversed, from negative to positive. Everyone knows that “althoughs” can prove to be “becauses.” This is because the dynamism of the act that thinks itself, universalizes itself as value and demand, justifies itself and commands itself, thus owing its existence to the universal practice of good and the efficient idea of this good, comes to be shown as having a place close to the very heart of human desire.

5Kantian universalism has thus based all the energy of this desire – even when turned back against its origins by the finitude, either suffered (ignorance or illusion) or exploited (flaw or vice), of the rational being – on the presence within it of practical reason itself, so that desire is constituted as desire in its freedom. According to Kant, consciousness of the practical universal, in the categorically imperative character that it takes on in the human as a finite rational being with sensory perceptions, is, in all its releasing purity, the strongest of all motivations. It efficiently determines the singular arbiter of the human being by universalizing him or her and constitutes goodwill as that which – alone in its empirical, unpredictable realization – morally qualifies the act. However, this absolutely good use of the universal taken in its strictest sense – which makes Kantian philosophy into a philosophy of the law – has been able to prompt discussion, around this philosophy, of an abstract universalism that does not develop into a concrete or totalizing universalism. This is because, for Kant, it is the possible formal universalization of the maxim that effectively elevates the maxim to the dignity of a law and serves as the necessary and sufficient criterion for its moral character. However, it is nothing of the kind, as demonstrated by the three formulations of the imperative categorically prescribing this elevation. Each of these formulations realizes the formal universal by organizing the moral desire to constitute a whole. The first does so by assigning to this desire, as content, the whole of a nature; the second by assigning to it, as object or goal, the whole of the human being and the whole of humanity, the Kingdom of Ends; and the third by assigning to it, as subject, the human Self, principally totalizing the universal of the law inasmuch as it poses that law in posing itself, in its legislative autonomy. This kind of practical realizing totalization of the universal – which is also demonstrated, in Kant’s work, by the insertion of the supreme good, the virtuous desire for law, in the complete good: material happiness through formal virtue – nonetheless remains limited. This totalization is not the work of the universal itself, whose affirmation merely conditions that of the whole, without determining it. It is this that makes the latter differ from the former in both its content – the happy reality joining with the normative ideality – and its status, which encompasses the simple postulation. It is the philosopher who brings together and totalizes the universal and the whole, in the rationality of a synthesis that is still only subjective and, thereby, less assured.

6At the heart of the practical interiority or subjectivity, which, in the field of rational practice – or what Kant described using the general term “morals” – constitutes what can, strictly speaking, be called “morality” or ethics, such a subjective dimension of the totalization of the universal could only bring about the same consequences within the second domain of this morality, the domain of the objectivity or practical exteriority that is legality or the law. This is because the objective discontinuity between the normative universal and its postulated totalization authorizes, in the external empirical milieu that is morally essential to the law, the institution of a real difference between the dispositions of the law: those dispositions that are absolute, which have to do with the rational identity of freedoms to be protected, and those dispositions that are relative, which have to do with the empirical, natural, or cultural reality of human individuals and groups. The fundamental subject of the law is certainly, in Kant’s work, the free rational being – the person – even when the demand, particular to the law, of being, of existing in a “preemptory” or solid fashion – by way of the necessarily particular (essentially national) State – justifies the strict limitation by the State of the exercise of universal human rights. This limitation is, itself, universal like its principle, the human being in his or her universality as a rational being. On the other hand, natural (age, sex) or cultural (socioprofessional, etc.) differences that condition the effective exercise of freedom can, in Kant’s work, serve to differentiate the subject from the law – in terms of political law, for example (distinction between active and passive citizens). Undoubtedly, such a difference does not bring about the attribution of specific positive rights, which are qualitatively different, but rather consists in the universal reduction of the same universal rights, whatever the location of these might be. The empirical infringement of moral, juridical universalism thus remains, itself, universal. However, it is possible to consider that a breach – made possible, as we have seen, by non-immanent and, therefore, dividing totalization or concretization of the universal – was opened up by Kant himself in his universalism, which is often considered abstract or formal. Moreover, one can – and even should – using as a basis his consideration of the total existence of the human being beyond the universal human essence, go further than Kant in surpassing such a universal.


7The concretizing actualization of Kantianism proposed, in our time, by Rawls in his Theory of Justice aims to be Kantian. In fact, the determination of the just community – the State in accordance with the law – certainly seems to repeat, with more real or empirical moorings, that which, in Kant, is operated by the philosopher as consciousness of self of reason that is a priori universal. It is in this way that Rawls has the fundamental principles of political law uttered by a man capable – in the ignorance that conceals from him his forthcoming particular condition – of making an abstraction of this condition and, therefore, of deciding on these principles as any human being might and thus in agreement with others. This residual universality, empirically obtained, verifies in its discourse the original reason asserted by the Kantian philosopher. The abstraction universalizing the determination of the law should then liberate it, among other particularities, from the most significant particularity of all, that of moral support for Good. This Good is conceived by Rawls – not Kantian here – as immediately fragmented in its absolute content, into Goods with radically opposing morals. It was with a view to securing the coexistence, within the same neighborhood, of individuals and groups that are morally separate, that he wished to liberate a universalizing and, therefore, reconciling law from particularizing morals. The universalism of the law is confirmed in the hierarchy of its two great principles, established by the procedure described above. This is because the first of these principles, which – attentive to the law inasmuch as it is an ideal through its identifying universality – identifies human beings with each other by way of the equal granting of the same fundamental rights, takes precedence over the second, which – attentive to the law inasmuch as it is real by way of its determination or differentiation – determines them by way of their differences or inequalities, equally accessible to all and offering the minimum possible. Rawls considers himself Kantian, and is considered so by others, in his double process of distinction of morals and the law and of the subordination of differentiating law to identifying or universalizing law, in this double use of the universal that positively constitutes the law in its statute and in its content.

8This point merits further examination, for its meaning goes beyond a simple interest in the history of philosophy, by putting into play the use of the theme of the universal itself in Rawls’s work. It is worth repeating that Kant separated morals and law. This is undoubtedly right when it comes to putting them into practice: the law is only as it is by dint of being carried out externally, in the absence even of any moral desire in those that it must oblige to obey it; this necessity also limits the determination of the content of the law, which must be such that it can be the subject of external legislation. However, the law and ethics are different applications of the same practical rationale. The initial determination of the law is certainly, as is that of ethics, subject to the criterion-principle of the potential universalization of the act. Moreover, the designation of the unity of law and of ethics, of legality and/or morality, as being moral, privileges morality – rightly so as, in its original, known and wanted position, the juridical-practical rationale is not really and truly wanted except when wanted for itself and, in this, ethics are at work. The original roots of the law, in its exteriorized universalism, meaning that it is morally differentiated or particularized in its absolute universalism, thus enables, in Kant’s work, the totalization of the practice under the authority of the universal, even if it is not within a purely immanent synthesis of this practice. This is what Rawls does not agree with, also not agreeing with himself, in his project to liberate the just from the good.

9Indeed, absolutizing moral commitments and their divergence, to the point of returning to the relative reconciliation of individuals within the justice that provides the abstraction operated by way of those individuals, makes such an abstraction and, consequently, the distinction of morals and law depend on them; no moral allows an abstraction to be made of it in order for any kind of justice to be instituted. This makes the enterprise entirely contingent on the universalizing or reconciling determination of existence by justice. It is, therefore, the radical moral affirmation of good that authorizes the affirmation of the just. However, this formal agreement of Rawls with Kant, in the reestablished connection between morals and law, papers over their absolute disagreement about the content of such an agreement. This is due to the fact that, because of their differing conception of morals, this agreement universalizes law in Kant’s work, whereas, in Rawls’s, it particularizes it. This is what places Rawls in potential contradiction with himself when it comes to the very content of the law. As factual attachment to (originally moral) particularity or difference principally has power over institutional universalization by justice, the second principle of this justice takes precedence over the first, and not the reverse, and the right to real difference or particularity essentially wins out over the right to identity or ideal universality. The concretization of universalized law claimed by Kant thus leads us back within the limits of Kantianism.

10Rawls has, however, been reproached for not having sufficiently developed the limitation, or rather, at bottom, the negation, of his first principle – practically identifying or universalizing – present in and as his second principle, which justifies the differentiation or particularization of the law, in such a way as to largely or totally give way to practical particularism or differentialism. Criticism has been leveled at the appearance of a universalist humanism that is, in fact, impossible to realize, as reality necessarily particularizes. This can be seen in the efficient subject of the law – a human whole, spatiotemporally situated, relatively differentiated from others, and already within him- or herself. This necessity has been made a virtue of in law. However, the legal-political framework of differentialism thus advocated being ordinarily the (relative) universal, constituted by the State, and the very foundation and position of all law, as law, being necessarily universalizing, a certain practical – better, for we are far from Kantianism – pragmatic universalism has survived, but it is purely formal and instrumental. We have consecrated to this universalism a law that is essentially particularized, in saying, for example, that the (only) real universal human right is to see oneself recognized in the sphere of the effective reach of the law, the differentiated law that an individual demands in choosing a way of life. Moreover, as the real difference of human existence, whether natural or cultural – culture being summed up in its moral justification – is first inherited, that is to say, general. Whether it concerns the differences in age, sex, ethnicity, nationality, civilization, religion, etc., the law thus demanded is a collective qualitatively, even quantitatively (quota system), differentiated law. The extent to which intrastate communities are taken into account in law may be more or less intense, able to go as far as a communitarianism, confiscating or dissolving the State. The degrees of such an intensity are adequately illustrated in contemporary Anglo-Saxon thought, which is currently widespread, by authors such as Kymlicka, Taylor, Sandel, MacIntyre, Walzer, and others. I can discuss them only briefly here.

11But discuss them I can. For, in their more or less forceful negation of the constituting and determining use of the universal as identifying ideal – in the practical field and particularly the juridical-political field – in favor of the idea of truly differentiating cultural totalities, they bring together their nuances in a common heritage that, in truth, they merely actualize. They take up the supposedly abstract critique of modern humanism, giving value to the universal as universal in the rationalism proclaimed by Kant and the post-Kantians, but also claimed mutatis mutandis by French revolutionaries and their imperial successor. In terms of traditionalism (Maistre, Bonald, etc.) as well as Romanticism and its preparers (Herder, Novalis, the Schlegels, etc.), the individual Self only has its being through and in its belonging to a different cultural identity from others, and its pure relation with itself – the reflexivity of a Self, as a self, in its universal form – is immediately filled with a particular cultural life. Humanity is thus grasped in its reality as a unity of synchronically and diachronically historically situated totalities; consequently, the law is their rights. Fundamentally speaking, it is all this that is making a return today among thinkers tempted by communitarianism. However, they are actualizing this in a context marked by the acquired idea of individual human value, which is only individual insofar as the difference that makes it real is immediately encompassed within its identity – as (distorting) relation of that identity with itself (a relation that denies itself in its distortion) – within its absolute reflection in itself, that is to say, as the Self identical to itself in all the Selves and, therefore, universal. This is why, in such a context, the affirmation of particular difference specific to a culture coexists, more or less, with that of the singularity of human universality, and the rights of communities coexist with the rights of humans, which are also Human Rights. However, the individual’s right to affirm him- or herself as universal is for him or her the right of denying his or her particularity – which is also cultural – in order to change it, in order to undergo a transformation. The potential to deny this particularity exists in the always possible short-circuit critique of singularity and universality. The content of some cultures is such that it makes them reject such a right, so that one right has to give way before another. Therefore, the fairly common confusion among thinkers who lean toward communitarianism is meaningful when it concerns making a judgment in the case of this contradiction – a contradiction that reveals the unequal value of cultures in terms of the universal objective of human freedom. A culture’s worth is to be measured in the extent to which it allows the human being it nourishes to free him- or herself from it. However, to recognize this is to condition the law of cultural communities by their singular content, in other words, to deny their law, as cultural communities, in general.

12It thus would seem that, in fact, in the contemporary modern world, it is no more possible to affirm the non-identified difference than the non-differentiated identity and nor is it any more possible to assume a particularism excluding all universalism than a universalism excluding all particularism. However, their inevitable integration, necessarily twofold, because it is always one of the factors that operates the reunion of itself with the other – that is to say, the use of the universal as primary or secondary principle of the determination of human existence – is not assured either; the conformity of this use with its (totalizing) destination is unequal, so it is unequally good. It is only despite itself that differentialism can create the right to universalism, for universalism excludes its own limitation – a limitation that is, nonetheless, demanded by the primacy of the particular – hence the hesitation of its thinkers in admitting that cultural law can, when it ignores fundamental human rights, be limited in the name of these. On the other hand, the universal – made absolute in its purity, by Kant, as the principle of good – justifies, in the recognized totality of that good as complete good, the particularity that exceeds its affirmation as supreme good. This kind of universalism affirms, safe from any contradiction, without the least hesitation, the relative value of particularity. Nevertheless, even here, the use of the universal is limited, as has already been said, inasmuch as this universal imposes itself on the particular without placing the particular itself within the context of finite human reason.

13So, its authority is not fully present to itself in the presupposed facticity of its link with the particular. I must, therefore I can; of course, but without understanding how, because I must, I can. This kind of original hiatus, between the concrete or total Self and the universal that thus remains fundamentally abstract, prevents the self-development of that universal into a whole, prevents its self-determination and its freedom in its unfurling as everything. Now, if the universal cannot itself pose the whole, pose itself as whole, any more than the partial whole of a culture can, itself, pose the universal, this is because, in both cases, the universal and the whole differ from each other in each remaining identical to itself. The universal cannot turn itself into the whole, which is its other or its negative, unless, in itself, it becomes other than itself and denies itself in its fixed self-identification. It cannot become concrete unless it is abstracted from itself in its abstraction, that is to say, is, in itself, other than itself – in short: dialectic. Only a dialectic conception enables either Kant’s fixation with the abstract universal or the differentialist regression found within Kant to be overcome by liberating a concrete use of the universal.


14It is clear that, once again, it may be wise to start over, to create and determine a good use of the universal from the Hegelian concretization of universalism which is absolutely – that is to say abstractly – affirmed by Kant, whose sustained rationalism may anticipate contemporary trends towards a holism that sacrifices itself to differentialism. In Kant’s work, self-affirmation of the universal, or the universalization that legislation consists in – which is more strictly absolute than the law – is, in God, by itself creator of the worldly whole. It is, at the same time, the position of what we distinguish as particularity or diversity, which it universalizes or unites in a totality. At the level of the absolute, universalization is thus thought of as being in and of itself, positively, totalization. The truest whole being is thought of as being that of people, the Kingdom of Ends, whose human members are reunited by their divine leader. However, the finite mind cannot theoretically comprehend such an identity of the universal and the law and the whole of people, because it can only practically affirm the link between the moral imperative and a worldly realm. This is the practical thought of the practical universal, kernel of the finite consciousness of self, which erodes all other thoughts. In Kantianism, at the level of the finite mind, universalism is the practical foundation of individualism. Hegel wants to lift this Kantian limitation in his speculative theory of negatively established unity – in the logical-ontological principle of being, namely in the concept as the true meaning of everything that is, in nature as in the mind – between universality and the Self or singularity, the latter being the truth conferred by the former.

15In Science of Logic Hegel establishes, in principle, the close connection between universality and singularity that is at once totalizing and individualizing. Speculation is thus judged to be valid for all thought – human as well as divine – as purely thinking, grasping the universal meaning of all that is. It grasps this meaning first as immediately available, surface meaning of being, then as mediately or reflexively posed meaning of the essence of this being, before gathering together these still abstract meanings, which, in their abstraction are afflicted with nonbeing and immediately destined to contradiction, in the concrete or total unity of the in-itself and the posed-being – a unity that is constitutive of the concept. Now, although the being as a being is denied in each passage from one of its determinations to another – each of these being immediately identical to itself, bound to itself, in its surface being – and although the being as essence is reflected or is visible within itself in its acquired depth – by way of its given determinations inasmuch as these are relative to one another, but nevertheless preserved in their alterity – conversely, the being as concept is entirely present, both to itself and in itself, within its determined development. This is because it originally affirms itself in its determinations and continues this affirmation. The position of its determinations becomes one with the negation that it is operating of itself, inasmuch as it determines, limits, or denies itself. This self-negation is the affirmation of its negative, equivalent to the absolute affirmation of self. Although – to put it simply – the being’s self-identification is not present at all, even to its differences – whereas that of the essence appears, according to a presence-absence, through its differences – the self-identity of the concept is entirely present in its determinations. It is this conceptual status of identity that leads it to be designated as universality, the difference being raised to particularity, and their identity, which is essentially merely foundational, to the singularity that creates the concept. In his logic of the concept, Hegel renews the issue of the concept at its root, freeing it from its abstract apprehension through its integration into the singularized totality and, in this way, rescuing it from the criticisms directed at it by thinkers on totality who are lacking this singularized totality, because they do not see that only the absolutely universal could be made concrete in the true whole of the person him- or herself as absolutely a person.

16The full conceptual and, thereby, totalizing identity of the positive identity of being, or of the in-itself, and the negating difference constitutive of the essence as reflection or posed-being, makes of each of the three moments of the concept – the universal, the particular, and the singular – one and the same totality: Each moment is the whole of the concept and, consequently, the other moments. Thus, given that the universal is the concept, as self-identity posed by the negation of the negative (abstraction of determination), whereas the singular is the same concept, as negation of the negative (exclusion of the Other) posing self-identity, the first – negative identity – and the second – identical negativity – are identical to one another. The particular is, itself, as (initial) negation of self-identity (universality) or (initial) specifying identification of the negative (singular), identical to each of the two other moments of the concept. The affirmation of the three moments can, therefore, only be true if this affirmation is joint, rather being antagonistic and exclusive. The whole that is the concept – as the true meaning of what it is – itself really only exists as a whole inasmuch as it gives full entitlement to the indissociable demands of universality, of particularity, and of singularity, with singularity being realized in natural individuality and spiritual personality. In grasping this quality of being indissociable by the two extremes it joins together, universality and singularity, it can be seen that what is taking shape in their purely conceptual identification is the great watchword of Hegelian philosophy of the mind, that is to say, his conception of substance as subject. The key principle of Hegelianism is just such an identification of what is whole (universal) and what is Self (singular), of the idem and the ipse. The true Self, absolutely Self, is the self that understands the whole, and the true, absolutely total whole is the whole that understands itself in and as a Self: the Self. Taken as a whole, Science of Logic leads to the coincidence of its start and end points, the “being” (universal: everything is) and the “pure personality” (singular: comprising everything that is). From this true, conceptual sense of the being come actualizations of the living, the finite mind or the human Ego, and the infinite mind or the divine Self, which fully realizes such a concept. It is only at the level of this plenitude that the idem – the same – and the ipse – the self – can be absolutely identified in terms of the breadth of the first and the intensity of the second. On the other hand, at the natural or spiritual level of the finite, the ontological affirmation that is conjoined with the universal and the singular is that of a remaining difference between the two. Neither of them is entirely itself here and, therefore, neither of them is entirely identical to the other. It because of this that the affirmation, in human existence, of one and of the other is destined to difference, to variation or opposition, with itself, particularly as practical assumption, that is to say, free use of the ontological equation of universality and singularity. It is appropriate to briefly evoke the Hegelian discussion in the area of the “objective mind” or the “law” inasmuch as it could yet inspire a current application.

17In the same way as there are degrees of universality and singularity, there are degrees of their identification, that is to say, of their remaining difference, and this makes good use of the universal problematic. This good use is the use that allows the universal itself to be most closely equated with the singular at the heart of the environment or the element where all the stages of the – encyclopedic – process of being unfurls, in particular as mind and – as it is the situation privileged by this article – as “objective mind,” namely, the social-legal-political mind. The dialectical-speculative game of the moments of such a mind – by way of the sustained tension between universality and singularity, understood as being closely interwoven with each other – is conditioned by the fact that it always develops within an element established as an element from one of the moments in question, which is then favored in this tension. For example, the immediate, limited identity or universality of the family harbors, in its potentially suffocating environment, the moment of difference or of singularization at work in its members (particularly the children), the repression of whose expansion can incite revolt against the totality of the family. Each of these two potential unilateralisms turns back on itself, in the destruction of the determined integration needed by the moments in tension for their optimal affirmation in this particular context of the mind. Conversely, civil society – economical-legal – liberates within itself – creating its general element – the moment of difference (difference from itself as well) deployed in its particular universalism or cosmopolitanism (initially commercial) and the primary individualism of its agents. The tension of these two moments – a tension that can be exacerbated in the opposition of socialism and liberalism and, unchecked within society and among its members, in a veritable reconciling whole of existence – risks causing this social existence to explode. It is only at the level of the rational state that the objectively spiritual harmony of the universal – concretized into a whole – and of civically satisfied singularity, is accomplished, but at the cost of the national limitation of the State. However, the personality – embodied in its constitutional head – of the rational nation-state that is limited in this way, in circumstances where the always limited universality of such a State is totalized and singularized, is destined to make possible the elevation of its citizens, within the State, to the absolute personality of members of the absolutely universal community of the true religion and philosophy. For the universal cannot be made absolute, in the realization of the Whole posed as the Self, which is itself absolute, unless it is at the level of the supra-objective, infinite, religious, and philosophical mind.

18Hegel certainly has the merit of having established, against all abstract universalism, that the universal takes on, in each specific occurrence of its affirmation, at each level of deployment of being, a particular face; its appropriate affirmation – which renders it apt to be actualized in and as singularity, which is itself variable in its progression – is accomplished in its totalization, which closely entwines its intensity and its breadth while always keeping these in direct proportion with each other. Good use of the universal taken as singularized universal – by way, of course, of its mediating particularization – and, therefore, as concrete universal, is itself a use that is made concrete according to the encyclopedic level of its exercise. This means that such a use is a totalization of specified, particularized good uses of the universal. These are rationally interconnected and condition each other according to a hierarchical order which means that good use practiced at the level of the mind only dialectically justifies – through the insufficiency which nevertheless remains within that use – the implementation, at the higher level of spiritual existence, of a new harmonious affirmation of universality. This affirmation assures within being the affirmation that ontologically precedes it. Making an abstraction of good use of the universal that is hierarchically totalized in this way, by reducing, transposing, and blending the various uses of which it is composed, means dissolving the implementation of reason – which speculative rigor makes justifiable in principle – in the arbitrary and vain faculties of rhetoric and ideology.

19Concrete good use of the concrete and, thus, true universal can easily be contrasted with the multiple modalities of the abstract affirmation of a pure universal, removed from all particularity or singularity, such as the affirmation for which Kantianism has been criticized. Abstract universalism retains within itself, as a subjective process, the abstraction by which it separates from the real – which is its object – all the qualities that it has first separated within this object, save one. This quality makes the universal that has been obtained a determined, particular universal, or a universal particularity, identical to itself in its diverse occurrences, that is to say – as the unity of universality and particularity constitute singularity – a singularity, totality, or concretion. In this way, the supposed abstract universal could be said to be the opposite of itself, of what it is supposed to be, namely a concrete singularity. What is more – if we continue to look to Hegel – a concrete singularity which, not being what it is through itself, as it does not, itself operate the abstraction that produces it, cannot be what it must be, because an extrinsic composition is necessarily a juxtaposition, not a totality or concretion. Thus the multiform contradiction of such an abstractly posed universal cancels out the use that is then made of it.

20However, such a condemnation of abstract universalism is far from meaning the refusal of all universalism, which is encountered in contemporary communitarianisms that celebrate the concrete, at the risk – as we have seen – of falling into contradiction. Indeed, in Hegel’s work, this condemnation goes hand in hand with a recognition and concrete justification of the abstract universal at the heart of the development of the mind. Understanding – that great architect of language – fixes, in the abstract, repetitive, universal signs of language, the syncretic content of intuition, which is then separated within itself, from itself, by way of its elements, which nevertheless originally, within themselves, refer to one another. This sharp contradiction between the universal form and the determined content of linguistically jagged concepts engages them in their dialectic and precipitates them into their synthesis or totalization through speculative reason. In his original, logical analysis of the universal, Hegel provides a fundamental justification of the great speculative theme, according to which the abstract concept produced by understanding, rather than simply being the “condition,” is an “essential moment” of totalizing or concretizing reason. It is “the very beginning,” inasmuch as the pure universality of its form causes its determined content to refer back to itself and to reflect on itself, thereby short-circuiting itself and dialectically “setting itself alight,” (cf. Science of Logic, Volume II: Subjective Logic, or the Doctrine of the Notion, Section 1: “Subjectivity;” Chapter 1: “The Notion;” B: “The Particular Notion”). It is thus by way of the abstract concept that the concrete concept – principle of all true meaning and being – is unleashed. Good use, concrete use, of the concrete universal is made absolute by absolving in it its Other, which, taken alone, would be bad use of the universal, but for the fact that this use is summoning its own victory.


21It is this status of the essential moment that needs to be accorded to the affirmation – in its abstraction – of the universal that is at the heart of good use, concrete use of the universal. This is what it is important to re-actualize in our time, a time that is in the grip of the particularizing currents of communal affiliations. In these affiliations, the presence of the universal is not only quantitatively limited – a whole asserts itself in its particularity, in an exclusive manner, against the universal (rejection of cosmopolitanism, or even of any kind of globalism) – but also qualitatively. Thus intersubjective thinking along the lines of consensus or of contracts, or the unthinking objectivity of the commandments is preferred to the objectivity of the law. In short, the period we are living in, even when it wants to revive Kantianism, begins by refusing Kantianism, in its essence of being a legislatively ordered philosophy of reason – wherever and however it may be practiced – in terms of the pacification and reconciliation it renders possible, at the level of existence that enables it, which is that of universal humanity. It is this humanity’s thought that causes any culture to rise, according to its fundamental commitment to true culture, to any accomplishment that is within its capacities. It is certainly true that the critical, negative, assumption of each culture by itself, which is demanded of it by this kind of thought, is still – like its self-negation – the mark of its particularity. However, this contributes to the true, concrete, harmonizing affirmation, through cultures that are no longer content with simply exchanging (one exchanges what one has, not what one is) their self-identification or their universality, which is itself made concrete in the unique totality of humanity.


This paper intends to show that, in its practical use, the universal as such has a proper meaning only when it includes in itself the spiritual Self which, conversely, can take it as its own moment. Now, this joint affirmation of the Self – of the singularity – and of the universal is itself only possible as an affirmation of the universal taken as a whole within the Self. Then, we discover the necessity of such an approach through the critical examination of 1) practical universalism (Kant), 2) pragmatic-cultural particularism or differentiation, 3) dialectical-speculative justification of a concrete universalization of existence.


Un usage, notamment pratique, de l’universel n’a de sens adéquat que si cet universel, alors vraiment tel, inclut en lui-même le Soi spirituel qui, réciproquement, ne peut en user qu’en le maîtrisant comme son propre moment. Or cette affirmation conjointe du Soi – de la singularité – et de l’universel n’est elle-même possible que comme affirmation de l’universel totalisé en un Soi. On découvre la nécessité d’une telle démarche à travers l’examen critique, successivement, de l’universalisme pratique thématisé par Kant, puis du particularisme ou différentialisme pragmatico-culturel, enfin de la justification dialectico-spéculative de l’universalisation concrète de l’existence.

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Bernard Bourgeois
Member of the Institute
Uploaded on on 22/08/2014
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