I just finished reading Robert Stern's "Hegel's Idealism" (PDF). Very nice piece.
It's a response to an article of Karl Ameriks's from a while back. In it, he asked if there was any good reason to call Hegel an "idealist" -- Ameriks was skeptical. He does a fine job of showing that Hegel was not a "mentalist", or Berkeleyian, or anything of that sort, and ends up just saying that Hegel was using "idealism" to basically mean "systematic philosophy." Which is not how anyone would understand the term today. So Ameriks said that we should drop the "idealist" moniker when talking about Hegel. Despite the fact that Hegel emphatically embraced the term: "Every genuine philosophy is an idealism".
Stern responds by giving an excellent exposition of some of the main parts of Hegel's system, including Hegel's use of "idealism". Stern's paper is one of the best broad treatments of Hegel's thought I've ever read; I'll have to bump Stern's stuff up a bit in the stack. Already read his bit on the British Idealists too, "The Curious Case of the Concrete Universal"; I'm still not inclined to read any of the British Idealists (beyond Josiah Royce; I've liked what little of his I've read -- I suppose he's not British anyways), but the article does a nice job handling one of the ways in which Hegel handles the "universal". (I sometimes wonder how different 20th-century Anglo-American philosophy would've been if Russell & Moore hadn't been learned about the German Idealists through a bunch of British Idealists....)
Stern's paper inspired me to write up some Hegelian Meditations, so to speak. I figured I'd through it behind a "jump", since it's a bit long. And rambling. And entirely about Hegel. And it ends up discussing theology. You have been warned. Read at your own risk.
Click on Yuki to see the post.
(she's reading the Phenomenology of Spirit, incidentally. You can make out most of the title on the DVD version; haruhi.tv's SOS-Dan webpage listed "G.W.F. Hegeru's [Phenomenology of Spirit]" as one of Yuki's favorite books, along with some other books which are clearly visible during the series, so I went back and did some freeze-framing. It paid off: When Yuki refuses to leave the library in episode ten ("Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya IV"), she's reading Hegel. Made my day when I saw that.)
Before he gets to Ameriks, Stern offers some criticisms of Robert Pippin's version of Hegel, whom Pippin presents as a fundamentally Kantian thinker. Pippin presents Kant's "Copernican Revolution" as reframing traditional metaphysical pursuits by replacing inquiry into "how things are" with inquiry into "how things must be taken to be by any 'I'" -- how things must be thought to be. The objective validity of the categories, their necessary and licit use in application to all possible experience, is argued for by showing that this is a necesary precondition of self-consciousness; I can only be self-aware if I regard myself as existing in a world of enduring substances of various sorts engaged in causal relations according to sundry natural laws. Hegel is said to have agreed with Kant in this basic reorientation of metaphysics; Hegel's categories, too, are said to be validated by appeal to the requirements of self-conscious thought. The rejection of a phenomena-noumena dualism in Hegel's account of what is necessary for self-consciousness leads him to speak of this basically Kantian project in terms of "thought's self-determination" (since thought is not (as in Kant) "bound" by a ding an sich) but the form of Hegel's thought remains Kantian in structure: Start from self-consciousness and see what else you must have thought. Pippin notes that Hegel seems to be not terribly clear that this is how he's arguing, and also that he doesn't merely limit his claims to "what must be thought to be" but speaks of "what must be" full-stop. Pippin claims that both of these are "slips", and do not tell us anything of Hegel's true views.
Pippin seems to underestimate what Hegel's lack of a noumena-phenomena distinction leads to. For Kant, what had to be the case if self-conscious thought was to be possible was that various broad facts had to be the case for all phenomena -- there are spatio-temporal substances engaged in causal relations in recognizable ways, etc. Noumena were not held liable to any such constraints, as they were not (and could not be) subject to the categories. Hegel sees no need to hang on to the ding an sich, and so he doesn't have any need to distinguish phenomena from noumena. So where Kant's requirements for self-conscious thought could end up with the form "If self-conscious thought is to be possible, then things must be so for phenomena", Hegel's end up as "If self-conscious thought is to be possible, then things must be so." Thus Hegel speaks of how things must be, full-stop; for self-conscious thought is possible. Hegel does not end up limiting the demand to be subject to his categories to what is imposed by an 'I' on matter given ab extra, but has the demand applying generally: all must be subject to the categories if it is to be at all. The 'I' as a category thus plays no privileged role for Hegel; it is one category among many. There is no pressure to "ground" the other categories in the 'I' anymore than in any other category; they all flow from one another equally, the whole system of the Logic being presupposed if any of the categories is to have a use. Thus Hegel can begin his Logic with Being for purely aesthetic reasons, and has no need to start with self-consciousness, or with any category in particular; "The only genuinely necessary presupposition can be said to be the decision to consider thought at all, which can be taken to be arbitrary." (This is not to say that Hegel's system is "presuppositionless" in a sense in which it is sometimes made out to be; one sometimes is given the image of the entire Logic being convincing even to the most dedicated skeptic -- the standpoint of "Absolute Knowledge" is supposedly reachable even if one denies having all prior knowledge. Hegel's point is rather that any point of thought may serve as a starting-place; a mind which can think at all can come to see the validity of Hegel's system of categories, his Logic.)
Hegel's Logic begins with Being, since it seems like a nice vague, general notion, and Hegel wants to be sure to avoid any appearance of a "weighty" set of presuppositions in his logic. "Being" as such is seen to have no use in thought; if one tries to think solely of "Being", eschewing all other notions, one is put in the same place one would be if one was thinking of "Nothing" alone -- thinking of what isn't "Being". Both "Being" and "Nothing" have a use because they can both be used -- they are used to track shifts in "Becoming", in that which comes into being and receeds into nothingness. But shifts in "Becoming" as such cannot be tracked solely by means of "Being" and "Nothing", since the two are so far distinguished only in that they are different from one another; there must be variety in becomings if they are to be distinguished from one another, and thus their shiftings marked. Thus "Becoming" leads to "Determinate Being" -- that "Being" has a use in thinking thus requires that there are many beings which are distinguishable one from another. "Being" finds its usefulness in noting the presence of some qualities in certain beings; "Nothing" finds its usefulness in noting the absence of such qualities in other beings. This is (in compressed form) the manner in which Hegel develops his system of categories: the new categories prevent the earlier ones from proving useless for thinking with, and are themselves useful because of the use they make of the earlier categories. Hegel's system of categories eventually grows to include notions like "Objectivity", "Judgement", "Cause"; that these categories are licitly employed is shown by their being inextricably bound up with earlier categories. When a category would be used contrary to the role it plays in the logical system of categories, as when the category of mechanical causation is applied to the world as such rather than some particular determinate object, it can thus be seen to be misused: and this is what Hegel holds to be the way in which classical metaphysics operated. Take a concept like "cause", use it in ways it's not fit to be used, end up being deeply confused by the results. (In this case, using "mechanical causation" outside a context in which one is keeping track of various shifts in external relations between objects by means of recognizing measurable regularities in their interactions. Such is the case with the cosmological argument for the existence of God; one ends up with an "unmoved mover" because "every event must have a cause" is thought to hold outside of objects in recpirocal relations with one another, and so it is made to appear that the physical world as a whole must need a cause, too -- a transcendent one, so as to end the regress.)
Hegel's anti-Cartesianism comes from the fact that his system introduces categories like "representation" such that representations are treated as the way in which a subject comes in contact with the world, not "private" mental objects. Hegel's logic handles topics like "the world" and "reality" only insofar as they are useful for thinking, but this is not to restrict his claims any. "That we must think of things thus" just is to have to think of them in the terms we generally use to think of things: as holding of the world, reality, Being, etc -- which is to think of them in terms of the world, reality, Being, etc. If we must think of things thus, then things are thus for us, and so we hold: Things are thus. This is Hegel's "identity of thought and being": the ways in which we must think of things are the way things are.
This "identity of thought and being" is the rhetorically toned-down version of Hegel's claim that his Logic gives us "God Himself as He is in His Eternity, before the creation of a world and of a finite mind" -- what is "in eternity" is just the connections between the abstract categories. And since the categories can only be used for thought by a finite mind, a mind which is thinking in time and is in relations with various objects and with other minds, Hegel is able to speak of his "God as He is in His Eternity" as "becoming man" while remaining God (for the essence of man is to think, and to think is to employ the system of the categories, which are what is "eternal"), thus in finite thought "the eternal" is present in time. But a thought in a finite mind need not itself be finite; when (as in understanding a free action as free) we approach "Absolute Knowledge", the knowledge of the Idea as Idea, God Himself could have no deeper understanding: in Absolute Knowledge we think the thoughts of the Divine Mind. Thus once the standpoint of Absolute Knowledge is reached, God becomes self-conscious in a finite mind; a finite mind thinks eternal thoughts. This is Hegel's odd version of the ontological argument, which is explicitly trinitarian in nature: The God revealed by "the identity of thought and being" is a God who includes finitude as a moment in the Divine Life, a moment which is overcome by the raising of finitude into eternity-in-finitude -- the "true infinite" which is at home with itself in its other.
Hegel's ontological argument is clearly unsuitable for any sort of foundationalist purpose in religion; the human subject figures in Hegel's description of the trinitarian Life as merely an abstract bit of finitude. But religion involves subjective feelings, personal relationships, an individual's moral status, historical symbols, rituals, etc. This is not a failing on Hegel's part, but a positive feature: Hegel regards cultus as an ineliminable aspect of religion, and the heart of religion is picture-thinking -- the contemplation of symbols, to use terminology more in line with contemporary theology. The particular cultus one participates in, the particular symbols one comes to think religiously with, is a contingent matter. Whichever it is, it will be, qua religion, self-standing: there is no need for philosophy to "underwrite" religion. Nor could philosophy do the job if it wanted to; insofar as it involves comprehending the Absolute, Hegel says, philosophy takes its content from religion, and not vice-versa; philosophy comprehends the myriad features of life as a unified whole, and so life must already be a unified whole for thought to become philosophy. Hegel says that this comes, in part, only with religion; the subjective feeling brought about in the mythic religions played the part in Ancient Greece, and Hegel holds that (Protestant) Christianity plays the part in the modern world. Where religion worked with picture-thoughts, vorstellungen, philosophy thinks the self-development of the Concept, the Idea. Hegel's notion of "God" is frequently labeled "heretical" or "unorthodox" or flat-out claimed to be atheistic (or pantheistic); I don't think any such claim has merit. On the level of picture-thinking, of religion, Hegel was a Lutheran. He was reported to be not terribly devout, but he was a Lutheran confessionally; a lack of personal devotion simply fit with his personality. (His wife was pious to the point of enthusiasm.) He rebuts the charge of atheism (or pantheism) brilliantly in subsection 573 of the encyclopedia, where he is (purportedly) defending philosophy as such from the charge of "pantheism, or the All-One doctrine". As far as the matter of orthodoxy goes, Hegel's God is explicitly Triune and Incarnational; his picture of salvation is a matter of a subject coming to know itself as having always implicitly been God's actual presence in the world (and then coming to do God's actual work in the world) by means of recognition of a (singular) God-man. In a broad sense, Hegel's notion of religion, and so of God, is obviously Christian. And any more specific charge of heresy will be made in terms which are simply answerable by repeating Lutheran confessional language; there is nothing in Hegel's thought which would say one way or the other how many "natures" Christ should be said to have, and so he cannot be guilty of having been lead by philosophy into monophysitism; in general, the guiding notion behind orthodox Christology is that Christ is "wholly human and wholly divine", and this is entirely consistent with what Hegel's "revealed religion" claims for its God-man. The only perhaps-credible charge I have seen levied against Hegel's orthodoxy as a Christian philosopher is that Hegel does not allow "sufficient transcendence" for God; if any sense can be made of this charge, then there will certainly be problems for Hegel. Not because it will show he is unorthodox (though it would), but because it would show the entire System to be riddled with problems -- the notion that there is a transcendent "Beyond Thought" is just what Hegel has set out to dispel as a confusion in many places; if it is not a confusion, but a patent fact, Hegel's System is derelict.
In his treatment of religion, Hegel holds to his general method in philosophy: ""Philosophical thinking proceeds analytically in that it simply takes up its object, the Idea, and lets it go its own way, while it simply watches the movement and development of it, so to speak. To this extent philosophizing is something wholly passive. But philosophical thinking is equally synthetic as well, and it proves to be the activity of the Concept itself. But this requires the effort to beware of our own inventions and particular opinions which are forever wanting to push themselves forward." (ss238, Addition)
27 September 2007
I just finished reading Robert Stern's "Hegel's Idealism" (PDF). Very nice piece.