This article analyzes Hegel's transition from contradiction to ground in the “Doctrine of Essence” of the Science of Logic and proposes that this transition is crucial to understanding Hegel's controversial claims about the primacy of contradiction over identity. Hegel's conclusion that contradictions “sink to the ground” exposes his commitment to the productive nature and real existence of contradiction, on the one hand, but also to the impossibility of directly actualizing contradiction without a set of mediating concepts that buffer and soften contradictions before they can emerge into actuality. This reading of the transition from contradiction to ground leads to what I call the “substitution” interpretation of Hegel's productive contradiction, where the earlier forms of reflection (identity, difference, diversity, opposition) along with movement and vitality are recognized as substitutions that emerge in the place of and are grounded by contradiction.

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