1. How does it stand with being?
At the outset we want to set ourselves along the path of science with this most basic question. Yet we can hardly pose it without suspecting we have said something merely silly. What is the truth?
Against the perceived vacuousness of such questions, we may try to lend them some clarity with further determinations. How does it stand between us and being? What appears to us as being? What is occurring in the act of being which so appears?
Yet we run a risk with such attempts at clarification: are we in fact clarifying, or are we introducing into the field assumptions which now will go unchecked? We ought to guard against such caprice, and so state our case again with simplicity; yet still we must wonder what it is we've just said-- How does it stand with being?
2. From a certain corner comes the demand that we pause just at the moment of stating our question, and undertake instead a necessary prolegomena. How does it stand with being?
First, voices this demand, we must ask how it is that we can or cannot know being. Only armed with the knowledge of how it is that we know could we, it supposes, reliably proceed down the path of inquiring into our knowledge of being. Thus, through this demand a different kind of knowledge arrives as prior to and the condition of the one we seek: we must have knowledge of our knowing before we can claim knowledge of being.
How can this be? If being is exactly the object of knowledge, must we say then that knowledge is outside of being, and so is really nothing? Or if we suppose that knowledge is the active party and being something it posits through its activity, is it rather being that turns out to be nothing? Absurdity results--how can sense be made of a move which places something outside of being?
Hegel seeks first of all to show that the promise of this epistemological move must turn out to be empty. Knowledge of knowledge cannot by any procedure bring us closer to that which, it supposes, stands beyond it as an original object. He seeks second of all to show that the epistemological move was after all a capricious one. It in fact does not cause us to pause and reflect on the act of knowing but rather already and arbitrarily conceives of the act of knowing in a particular way, a way set up around conceptions about the absolute, the division of subject and object, the division of knowledge and being, etc.--yet these are, Hegel insists, the very last things about which we can trivially assume in order to find our starting point. They are indeed if anything our desired conclusions, the very things we seek. The epistemology which proceeds on these assumptions cannot then help but return them circularly as its own results, rather then actually producing knowledge about our cognition of being.
3. They are, moreover, assumptions which are from the outset unnecessary. We are already engaged in the cognition of being. This engagement is (being). What alternative is there? This is not to say that we intuit from the outset the absolute nature of this thinking. But it does mean that there is no need, nor even sense, in halting our thinking in order to think first about thinking and only then begin to think per se; or, to put it another way, the only means by which we can actually go about thinking on thinking is just by thinking, the very opposite of what Hegel describes as the halt called by epistemology. The nature of thought can only become evident through thinking, rather than through a calling into question of the same, which indeed is a calling into question which is absurd, given that it brackets the only means by which it may proceed, i.e. thinking and being. Thus it is the epistemological impulse which becomes lost in abstract and capricious formality, unable to do anything but repeat its own assumptions, while the naive question that precedes epistemology in fact refers to what is actual, and so alone provides a starting point. How does it stand with being?