Sublation is an English term used to translate Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's German term Aufhebung. The German word Aufhebung literally means "out/up-lifting."
In Hegel, the term Aufhebung has the apparently contradictory implications of both preserving and changing (the German verb aufheben means both "to cancel" and "to keep"). The tension between these senses suits what Hegel is trying to talk about. In sublation, a term or concept is both preserved and changed through its dialectical interplay with another term or concept. Sublation is the motor by which the dialectic functions.
Sublation can be seen at work at the most basic level of Hegel's system of logic. The two concepts Being and Nothing are each both preserved and changed through sublation in the concept Becoming. Similarly, determinateness, or quality, and magnitude, or quantity, are each both preserved and sublated in the concept measure.
Hegel and History
For Hegel, history (like logic) proceeds in every small way through sublation. For example, the Oriental, Greek and Roman Empires (in which the individual is ignored or annihilated, then recognized, and finally suppressed by the States) are preserved and destroyed in the German Empire, which, for Hegel, placed the individual in harmony with the State.
At the level of social history, sublation can be seen at work in the master-slave dialectic.
Hegel and the History of Philosophy
Hegel approached the history of philosophy in the same way, arguing that important philosophical ideas of the past are not rejected but rather preserved and changed as philosophy develops.
The Contradictions of Reflective ThoughtIn Hegel's view, one can always find another thing in reflective philosophy upon which some "absolute" ground relies. With Fichte's ultimate ground, the "I," or "ego", for example, one can immediately see the reliance upon the "non-I", which allows Fichte to distinguish what he means by the "I." Reflection is circular, as Fichte unapologetically acknowledged.
For Hegel, reflective thought is to be avoided due to its circularity. It leads to covering the same problems and ground ever and anon for each philosophical generation. It is a philosophia perennis.
Instead, Hegel calls on speculative thought: two contradictory elements are held together, uplifted and sublated without completely destroying one another. Speculative thought seeks to avoid the idealism inherent in reflective thought and allows one to think in concrete terms about how things work, both in the present, real world and in history.
Hegel and MarxWhereas, in Hegel, sublation shows the movement of Geist, often translated as mind or spirit, Marx identifies it as the manner of development of material conditions. See dialectical materialism.
sublation in German: Dialektische Aufhebung