24 October 2007

Against the Orthodox Lord

"Towards a Heterodox Reading of 'Lordship and Bondage'" was worth struggling through; McDowell sticks quite close to Hegel's text for most of the essay, so I had to re-read the first part of "Self-Consciousness" just to follow what he was saying. It pays off, though; refusing to pick out sections of the text in abstraction from their context lets McDowell make clear just how odd the standard reading of "Lordship and Bondage" is. Specifically, the "heterodoxy" of McDowell's reading is that there's a single person in Lord & Bondsman, and not two separate humans. I'm convinced he's right, after reading the Hegel passages again.

For a while I'd been bothered by two things about the "orthodox" reading of "Lordship and Bondage" (more or less, the version Kojeve expounds). Firstly: Why are there suddenly two people, here? There's no real socialization going on in the sections on Sense-Certainity/Perception/Force and the Understanding which lead up to "Lordship and Bondage", and there's no real socialization in the sections on Stocism/Skepticism/The Unhappy Consciousness which follow it. It looked like Hegel had bracketed a struggle among primitive humans with sections detailing conceptual muddles from the history of philosophy. And even stranger, the second person suddenly appeared in "Lordship and Bondage" despite the fact that society in general doesn't show up until Hegel starts discussing ethics later in the book. The impression I got was that there wasn't a "good" way out of the muddles in "Force and the Understanding" without pointing to some extra-Phenomenological facts; but the troubles of the working slave (who goes through Stoicism to Skepticism to Unhappy Consciousness to Reason) also solved the problems of "Force and the Understanding", so Hegel (as it were) started again, running through a second path, and in so doing cleared both his current path and the one he'd halted on. McDowell's reading makes the progression much smoother. There's not a second person (the random passer-by who demands recognition and struggles to the death to get it), there's still just our one confused thinker who we've been following along for the rest of the book.

The second problem I had with the "orthodox" reading was: What happened to the Lord? Kojeve said he got "bored" and just dropped out of history; Fukuyama (in "The End of History & The Last Man") said that mutually-recognitive slaves either reduced the Lord to a member of their own ranks or murdered him in an insurrection. Neither of these is a satisfying resolution, and neither has any basis in Hegel's text. The Lord just drops out of the picture. The progress of the Phenomenology continues with the working slave, who has found himself to be a being-for-self of sorts in that he can remake objects in nature to accord with his own notions of how things should be. By the "Unhappy Consciousness" the slave has become both slave and master, but there was never any hint as to how the master (the original one, who made the slave his slave) was supposed to also become both slave and master (since afterwards our thinker is always both, it appeared that the master had to have also been reconciled to his slave, and not just the slave to the master). It seemed quite odd that Hegel had a loose end hanging, there. Again, McDowell's reading solves this. The "master" was never anything but the slave, and so the aufheben of the one is the aufheben of both. No dangling plot-threads need resolving.

Rereading "Lordship and Bondage" with McDowell's suggestion in mind was like reading an entirely new section; suddenly the odd introductions and jumps were all smoothed out, and "The Truth of Self-Certainty" finally appeared at least modestly comprehensible. Previously, I'd had no danged idea what that section was trying to say; it was just a stumbling-block between the Understanding and Stoicism's working slave. I'd figured it was just a badly-written introduction for the new stuff that came along with the struggle to the death etc.

I'm glad I read "Hegel's Idealism as a Radicalization of Kant" before this paper. McDowell runs through most of the material from the earlier paper in a very brief form in "Heterodox Lordship & Bondage", and it was nice to not have to try to work out his views from the short form they had here. Really, "Heterodox Lordship" is mostly a paper on Hegel interpretation; as far as McDowell's broader project goes, he's covering the same ground as in his "Radicalization of Kant" essay.

In short: Very nice essay. Between this, "Radicalization of Kant", and the recent essay Currence passed along on "Overcoming the Myth of the Given", it occurs to me that much of McDowell's post-M&W work involves him getting closer and closer to Kant & Hegel, taking up more and more of their work for his own seesaw-dismounting ends. In the preface to Mind and World, McDowell had said that his book might serve as a "prolegomena to a reading of the Phenomenology of Spirit", and it appears he has taken his own suggestion. I welcome this development.


Ben Wolfson said...

and there's no real socialization in the sections on Stocism/Skepticism/The Unhappy Consciousness which follow it.

So, what, the mediating priest at the end of the UC section isn't another party? (& in the UC sections generally, the various ways in which the particular individual gets stressed only makes sense as the particular in a society.)

The lord doesn't actually disappear in stoicism, but rather, "this consciousness accordingly has a negative attitude towards the lord and bondsman relation. As lord, it does not have its truth in the bondsman, nor as bondsman is its truth in the lord's will and service; on the contrary, whether on the throne or in chains, in the utter dependence of its individual existence, blah blah blah" (p 121, §199). He goes on to talk about stoicism coming "directly out of bondage", but it looks as if both lord and bondsman, if they're two people, can be stoics (though then the question arises as to how the lord got there).

Stanford won't seem to give me access to the full text. If you have it electronically, can you email it to me?

Daniel said...

Fair enough. I was saying things too sweepingly there. I think my point still stands: The sudden appearance of social conflicts seemed weird. If I've just been a bad reader of Hegel there, then so be it; I probably should reread the Unhappy Consciousness stuff to see if McDowell's reading suddenly has problems as the book progresses. (I've read the earlier parts of Self-Consciousness several times, but I keep getting worn out somewhere in the stuff on Skepticism. I have a bad habit of jumping around in my reading, since I'm just reading for my own pleasure.) I think the question of how the lord gets to stoicism and beyond (or if he doesn't, then what happens to him) is a bothersome one anyways, and McDowell's reading gives a good answer to it.

E-mail sent. Though now that I check my Sent folder, it appears I sent you this paper a while ago. Now you have it twice, I guess. I suppose my filename could've been more straightforward, but I really like the phrase "heterodox lordship and bondage".

Ben Wolfson said...

Oh right. It was part of that big ol' mess of stuff you sent me. I forgot about that because I was immediately concerned only with the exchange with Dreyfus.

Daniel said...

Okay, finished off "Freedom of Self-Consciousness". I continue to be convinced that McDowell has it right. I will try to combat what might seem to be problems for McDowell in this part of the book; the positive work of establishing his position is something I'm leaving to McDowell, since I think his article doesn't need my supplementing there.

The only appearance of the Lord & the Slave in the bits on Stoisism is the remark you quoted. And in that one bit, it's as easy to read the reference as a continuation of the metaphor from the previous section. (There's also the Aurelius/Epictetus connection.) Apart from that, we're only dealing with a single Stoic. The case is even more extreme with Skepticism; the only thing that even sounds socialish is in the fact that the Skeptic is said to simply contradict anything that is given to him, like squabbling children who disagree with one another simply to disagree. Since this is the relation the Skeptic takes to his own notions (they are not true and not good), there's no need to treat this contrariness as involving more than one thinker. Skepticism isn't a societal problem, it's a problem of how a thinker relates to the world.

The great majority of the Unhappy Consciousness is concerned with the relation between "the Unchangeable" and the contradictory consciousness which emerged from Skepticism. Hegel is explicit that "what has come before us so far is only unchangeableness as unchangeableness of consciousness, which for that reason is not genuine unchangeableness, but one still burdended with an antithesis, not the Unchangeable in and for itself; we do not know, therefore how the latter will behave." (p 128, §211) So "the Unchangeable" in the Unhappy Consciousness sections is a metaphor -- it's part of the divided consciousness which we've been following along, on McDowell's reading. The notion that we're dealing with a metaphor here is further supported by the fact that Hegel's using Christian imagery throughout the passage (the "incarnate Unchangeable" here plays a role directly analogous to the singular God-man of "Revealed Religion" in Hegel's religion lectures), yet 1) he discusses actual Christianity (sin & forgiveness and all that) much later in the book, which implies he isn't doing that here; 2) he doesn't use the term "God" here at all, which Hegel is not generally shy about; and 3) the "mediator" ain't another Unhappy Consciousness.

The mediator is said to be "a conscious Being, for it is an action which mediates consciousness as such". First things first, he's an "it" and an "action". The mediator/minister (Miller calls him a priest in brackets, Hegel doesn't call him a priest at all) doesn't seem to be another self-conscious party of the sort we've been dealing with. The mediator "having a direct relationship with the unchangeable Being [which is how the Unhappy Consciousness thinks of "the Unchangeable", as a Being separate from itself -- we can tell it's wrong about that], ministers by giving advice on what is right." If there is a route from Skepticism to "being a Priest" (being someone with a direct relationship with the Unchangeable, being someone who knows what is right and so can give advice about it) then that path appears to be the one Hegel should have looked at. The one that leads through the Unhappy Consciousness seems needlessly long; the Priest looks to already be everything the Unhappy Consciousness wants to be. Somehow, this "mediator" has crossed the gulf that divided the Unhappy from the Unchangeable (going "directly"), and we've gone from the negativity of Skepticism to someone who can give advice and make our choices for us. So, I am inclined to say that this "mediating priest" is not actually another party. It's a continuation of the Christian imagery Hegel's been using in this section. The "mediating priest" here would be a Christ analogue. (If the notion of a Jesus analogue who isn't a person seems strange, I'll note that he plays a similar role to "the ideal of a man well-pleasing to God" in Kant's Religionbook; this "mediator" is what one ought to be, but never is except "in eternity", just as the ideal is a notion of a man who ever overcomes the impulse of radical evil, while no empirical human can do this job (since we can't tell whether or not anyone truly has a good will, this being a noumenal matter -- we must always moderate our ultimate moral judgements, both of our fellows and of ourselves).) The mediating "priest" isn't an actual priest, just as "the Unchangeable" in this section isn't actually something Eternal; thee Unhappy Consciousness is still a working-out of the various tensions which make self-consciousness seem problematic.

J said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
selbst said...

hi Daniel,
could you send me that McD essay on Lordship and Bondage? i don't have it. it's pretty relevant to my work on self-consciousness: http://selbsttatigkeit.blogspot.com/
also, i'm working on the dreyfus/mdowell debate more closely, now: http://spontaneityreceptivity.blogspot.com/ maybe you could weigh in...
may spontaneity-at-large be with you,

Daniel said...

Essay sent, assuming you're the guy with the CUNY address.