17 October 2007

Christianity and the Terror, or: More Zizek-Bashing

Slowly moving through the preface to For they know not what they do. Continuing to be disappointed with how badly Zizek mishandles Hegel. From page xliv:

Hegel has nothing to do with such a pseudo-Hegelian vision (espoused by some conservative Hegelians like Bradley and McTaggart) of society as an organic harmonious Whole, within which each member asserts his or her "equality" with others through performing his or her particular duty, occupying his or her particular place, and thus contributing to the harmony of the Whole. For Hegel, on the contrary, the "transcendent world of formlessness" (in short: the Absolute) is at war with itself; this means that (self-)destructive formlessness (absolute, self-negating negativity) must appear as such in the realm of finite reality. The point of Hegel's notion of the revolutionary Terror [in the Phenomenology] is precisely that it is a necessary moment in the deployment of freedom.
We correct: Bradley (and the British Idealists generally) were not bad readers of Hegel when it came to political philosophy. (Robert Stern's paper on the British Idealists and the "concrete universal" is excellent, here.)

Ramblings hidden behind Caster, since they were getting a bit long.


Hegel was very much concerned, from his student days up through his mature System, with the possibility of life in a society as a harmonious existence, of being reconciled to the world and to one's life in it. Early-on, this takes the form of a Romantic idolization of Greek life as a sort of naturliche Harmonie; by the point of his Jena writings, Hegel had already become critical of this tendency in the thought of his contemporaries. (Holderlin, who had been Schelling & Hegel's roommate at the seminary in Tubingen, is a fine example of this tendency; the Greece of Holderlin's Griechenland is a heap of Romantic claptrap.) Hegel came to the conclusion that the sort of thoughtlessly harmonious existence the Greek citizen was held to have had with his city was impossible after the inward turn of Christianity, the rise of civil society, the dawn of the Enlightenment, republican ideas in politics, etc. -- natural harmony was incompatible with the idea that "man is and ought to be free".

If a modern man was to be reconciled to his world, then it could only be through a moralische Harmonie, a harmony which was not merely given but which was comprehended in thought; a man had to not merely be an harmonious part of his society, but had to recognize this harmony, had to comprehend his own existence (including what is most "inward" and private for him, such as his feelings & religious sentiments) as being integrated with the whole of life. The bulk of Hegel's criticisms of his contemporary society make the complaint that it does not make sufficient allowance for this reconciliation to become possible; the life of private individuals is too abstract from the affairs of the state (or the church, or various other social organizations), or else the state (or the church, or various other social organizations) does not make sufficient allowance for the free self-determination of individual actors to do as they judge best. Hegel does not think that moralische Harmonie is impossible; on the contrary, the possibility of this harmony is the highest achievement of modern civilization (and its philosophical handmaiden, Hegel's System, is directed towards helping this Harmonie come about more fully). This is the "end of History": with modernity Spirit knows its world as its own product, comprehends what is given to it as always already implicitly Spirit, as capable of being rationally comprehended, and the social world of "Objective Spirit" is a place where Spirit can feel "at home with itself in its other", where the individual peculiarities of a particular subject are recognized as determinations of the "universal" of society, and not something over and against it.

Zizek is one hundred eighty degrees wrong about Hegel's "the Absolute": it is not a nihil, a "transcendent world of formlessness", or any other ding-an-sich-like transcendence. Hegel's Absolute is not the Schellingian "night in which all cows are black"; the Absolute is the most contentful thing there is. The Absolute is a concrete universal; it has its being, its truth, only in the particular determinations ("moments") which make up Hegel's system -- those which make up the triad of Logic, Nature, and Spirit. The Absolute is not "at war with itself"; the Absolute particularizes itself in the asunderness of nature and returns to unity with itself in the reconciliation of asunderness with unity. To put it in religious terms, the Father begets the Son, and they are united in the Spirit of charity which proceeds from both; God creates a "fallen" world of disorder, enters into it in His only Son, and the world is reconciled to God through the life of the Spirit; the sinful individual, separated from God, becomes an adopted child of God in the community of the Spirit. The Absolute does not wage war in the divine comedy.

The "absolute, self-negating negativity" of the Terror is a moment of history, just as the Fall of Adam is a moment in the Christian story of salvation-history. For Hegel, the Terror is an exemplar of the "abstract universal": in "absolute freedom" one refuses to recognize any "given" content as adequate to the universal, to Reason, --thus the purely formal "Supreme Being" of the French Revolution, and its trumpeting of "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity" while the actual state was rank tyranny of the lowest sort. The "point" of Hegel's reference to the Terror is not "that it is a necessary moment in the deployment of freedom" (for this would apply to everything Hegel includes in his System), but that the Terror shows what happens when the drive for the Universal in human life takes a utopian form, trying to build everything up anew out of pure thought rather than recognizing and cultivating what is already rational in human life. The Terror of "absolute freedom" occurs in the Phenomenology at the close of the section on the Enlightenment, which is also the section on Pietism -- on faith and reason, so to speak. The Terror is just the flip-side of theocracy; in theocracy subjectivity has no voice because the only source of value is what is given from On High; in the Terror subjectivity has no voice because the only source of value is abstract "Reason". It was thus prescient of the French revolutionaries to build a temple to the idol of Reason, for this is what they viewed it as: a god to replace the unreasonable Christian one.

Hegel actually has a fairly straightforward explanation for why the revolution failed in France: France had never had a Reformation. Hegel has a very low view of the spiritual state of man under Roman Catholicism, but it's not so far-fetched in the case of France; the Catholic Church in France had long been a hotbed of corruption, and it took a ridiculous amount of time for even the modest reforms of the Council of Trent to be enacted -- even the continuing practice of simony was asserted as a "Gallican liberty" for some hundred years after the rest of Catholic Europe had begun to reform itself to curb such abuses.

In Protestant Christianity, for Hegel, women and men can recognize their own everyday lives as opportunities for divine service; the most mundane of occupations can be understood as a divinely-ordained Vocation. What is most holy is not some subset of human life, such as the priesthood or monastic life, but life itself lived in charity. Hegel even extends this opposition between Catholicism and Protestantism to the controversy over the Eucharist: In Catholicism Christ is united to something external to the believer, the bread and wine, and there replaces their ordinary substance -- all that remains of the bread and wine are mere accidents; the body of God is something fundamentally other to the everyday elements and to the believer. Although the believer can be joined with this Body in the act of consumption, this consumption is something extraneous: The Host would remain the body of Christ even if it were never consumed. On the Lutheran understanding of Communion, Christ's Body and Blood are united to the bread and wine without annulling the substance of the bread and wine -- the bread is bread, and also the Body of Christ. There is nothing in the everyday substance of the bread which precludes it also being joined with the indivisible Divine Substance of the Trinity, just as Christ's divinity did not detract from his humanity. Hegel also claims that in Protestant celebrations of Communion Christ is joined to the bread and wine at the act of consumption and not prior to it, so Lutherans do not have the constant fear of desecration that Catholics must live with. If one spills the wine, then one has spilled some wine; if one consumes the wine, then one is enjoying the blood of Christ which was poured out for our sins. In Catholicism, the Host is sanctified by the Spirit working through the officiating priest; in Lutheranism, the Host is sanctified by the Spirit present in the celebrating church-community. In general, for Hegel Catholicism is a realm of heteronomy, of slavishness and submission; Protestantism is a religion of freedom, of "the law which gives liberty" and of freedom from "the law which brings death". Thus in Catholic France, the populous was not equipped to govern their own state, for they did not even govern their own lives, but still remained in spiritual bondage. Thus when they gained political freedom it became "an opportunity for the flesh" -- subjective arbitrariness became the law of the land.

Hegel is not fair to Catholicism, but it does give him an easy counterpoint which he can contrast with the sort of Christianity he does want to affirm as rational, as being in harmony with freedom, indeed in being freedom, the Idea as Religion. It is this sort of Christianity which has made modern states possible, for Hegel; before people could be entrusted with the charge of a state, they had to learn to manage their own conduct. A free state demands free citizens, and only the universal religion freed men of their particular attachments to this or that contingent social arrangement; I think this is the real lesson to take away from Berkhof's "Christ and the Powers." (It is a crying shame that Hegel is not brought up more in contemporary discussions of "the principalities and powers"; Marx is frequently brought up in those conversations, and I think Hegel is flatly superior to Marx in this context. Marx is still too wed to various dualisms to be of much use. If I had continued with my theology studies, this would definitely be something I would have devoted some attention to; Berkhof needs to be freed from the shackles of Yoder's reading of him, and recognized as the Hegelian he really wants to be. This is assuming anyone actually cares about Berkhof, and doesn't just use him as a springboard to play at politics as a theologian. Which may be a problematic assumption. I really disliked Yoder's "Politics of Jesus".)

23 comments:

Tom said...

Great post. Another article by Bob Stern which you might be interested in and that addresses topics such as the Greek ideal is his 'Unity and Difference in Hegel's Political Philosophy' which can be found here.

Daniel said...

Glad you liked it.

After a half-hour of wasted effort, I have decided that the UT Library website is broken. I will try to search for that article again in a few days.

I am always amazed at how poorly-designed university webpages are.

J said...
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Daniel said...

Comment deleted. But to show that I am not a fascist, it has been preserved. I both delete and archive, in good quasi-Hegelian fashion.

J said...
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Daniel said...

I have no idea why anyone would think I was a Mormon. Church of the Nazarene.

Kant held that belief in God was rationally demanded. It's one of his "postulates of practical reason" along with freedom and immortality. The absence of any proof for the existence of God does not make faith irrational, for Kant.

Russell on Kant is barely worth a laugh. Russell on Fichte or Hegel or Bergson is much better. (Because more laughable.) Though I do recall Russell running together the primary/secondary quality distinction and the phenomena/noumena distinction. Which is particularly funny, since Kant explicitly addresses that possible confusion in the Aesthetic. Russell only cites the Prolegomena when discussing the ideality of space and time. The Prolegomena does not mention the primary/secondary quality distinction at all. Curious!

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J said...

('scuzi editing. I am nearly taking this discussion seriously, RosheeDan. )

Au contraire. Kant is the naif. Russell's criticisms of Kant's a priori Euclidian space are informed by a knowledge of modern mathematics (including non-Euclidian geometry), relativity, and empirical psychology.

At the same time he doesn't completely reject Kant's assertion that there is some spatial "form" which conditions perception: I think he does recognize that "given" of perception as a property of human thinking, not derived from some transcendent ideal realm. Or at least I hope he does.

So, as y'all say, it's somewhat "ontological" issue: if you are saying the space-awareness must be extra-human, a priori, and transcendent and/or immaterial, I object (and I think Russell would too). On the other hand, if you (or Kant) assert the space-awareness (even a Euclidian one) relates to how humans perceive external objects (yeah another issue), without a transcendent ontology, I agree, mostly, though at the same time object to the insistence that the space-awareness is "subjective" and has no necessary relation to the perceived phenomena (another point raised by Russell: spatial relations, like colors, are understood visually. So no eyes, no awareness of space. That seems to require a certain empiricism that Kant questions).



Grayling has some interesting ideas on this:

"""""Russell accepted the Kantian view that there must be such a thing as a 'form of externality' as a condition of possibility for spatial experience. In an interesting modification of Kant's thesis he argued that the possibility of such experience rests not just on the constitution of sensibility but on the world's receptiveness to the adjectives we impose on it. But he locates the properties of the form of externality not in Euclidean but in projective geometry, its transcendental status–carefully disentangled from the question of the subjectivity of a priori elements in experience–consisting in its applying to all spaces independently of experience of any of them.""""

Deep Doc, but I doubt Russell, who never forgets his Locke, would have necessarily agreed to a priori views of any sort, except as posits. Or if space-awareness (even some projective geometry) does come hard-wired prior to experience, that is still a property of human thinking, of bio-chem. neurology. If you had eyes all around your head, reality would be quite altered.

(I don't think Kant requires a leap of faith. He himself says the status of noumena is more speculative and doubtful than is phenomena, right? Analytic of principles, baby. OR somewhere like that: I don't claim to be Kantian and just peruse Kemp-Smith's Vernunft when have a day or two away from racetrack.

Anyway, what about the "refutation of idealism" that the Big K. attached later? Again he insists that phenomena is objective, though conditioned by our own perceptive mechanisms, doesn't he? Kant remains with the scientists (ie externalism, for lack of better term) methinks, however verbose and provincial (and somewhat theological).........

Don't be hatin,' SOHeeeDan.

Daniel said...

You can just double- (or triple-)post if you need to. There's no reason to delete your older comments just to repost them with slight additions/amendments. (I'm pretty sure you're not just hitting "Post" on accident, since each comment ends with a finished paragraph). Multiple comments also make my archiving job easier.

If Russell really did claim that spatial relations were necessarily visual, he was wrong. Blind people can navigate fairly well, though they have a harder time of it than sighted folk. Sounds are spatial, too; you can hear something getting closer, or tell if a sound is coming from in front of you or behind you.

Kant actually has to argue for the Euclidean nature of space separately from arguing for its apriority. Space is Euclidean (for Kant) because Euclidean geometry is the "right" one. (Kant actually did know of non-Euclidean geometries, to an extent; it was long known that a triangle on the surface of a sphere could have angles that didn't add to 180 degrees, which means curved surfaces are non-Euclidean.) Kant is really pretty sloppy when it comes to whether or not geometry has to be Euclidean (for the simple reason that nobody was arguing about it at the time). His arguments for the a priori formal nature of space (and time) and the synthetic nature of geometry (and arithmetic) are stronger than his argument that Euclidean geometry and space have some a priori connection. (His argument for the connection between arithmetic and time is barely intelligible, and Kant seems to give up on it shortly after publishing it. But there's something to be said for the idea that arithmetic (and set theory, broadly) are synthetic by Kant's understanding of the analytic/synthetic distinction. Hintikka's done some nice work, here, from what I've been able to get from him.)

I don't know what it would mean to say space is "immaterial". It's the form of outer intuition. It's not an object at all. Kant doesn't think we can make sense of "void space", of space without objects in space. Calling space and time "a priori" doesn't mean we could have some concept of space/time even if we have no experience. It means (roughly) that any experience at all, of any object whatsoever, will suffice for being able to acquire concepts of space and time. Whereas a posteriori knowledge requires some particular sort of experience rather than another if I am to gain it; I can't know about baseball if I never hear anything about it or watch a game, but I can know about space/time/causal relations regardless of what I experience (so long as I experience something).

Kant is explicit in his Lectures on Philosophical Theology that belief that there is a God is demanded by practical reason, though theoretical reason remains silent (agnostic) on the matter.

Kant's refutation of idealism is meant to distinguish his idealism from Berkeley's. Kant's idealism consists in the fact that he wants to maintain that objects as they are given to the senses are not objects as they are in themselves (because of the subjective impositions of the mind upon matter given it ab extra). In the "Refutation of Idealism" he rejects the idea that our knowledge of external objects is somehow reliant on our knowledge of "inner" states (such as sense data, or impressions, or mental representations). We can have the later because we have the former, and not vice-versa. These arguments don't conflict with the notion that objects as we know them are not objects as they are "in themselves", in abstraction from space and time. Kant doesn't have the mind applying space/time/the categories to something like a sense datum or a Humean impression; Kant's "matter given to us ab extra" doesn't come bearing any information; it plays only an extremely limited cognitive role. (This gets Kant into trouble when you poke at him. But this is how he understood his position.)

Kant does want to be a valiant defender of Newtonianism against the darkness of the old "school metaphysics", but this hardly makes him distinctive. Hume and Berkeley said similar things. And of course before Newtwon came along Descartes and Spinoza were rooting for Galilean physics.

J said...

""""In the "Refutation of Idealism" he rejects the idea that our knowledge of external objects is somehow reliant on our knowledge of "inner" states (such as sense data, or impressions, or mental representations). We can have the later because we have the former, and not vice-versa."""""

That itself seems rather empirical and counter to "a prioricity" (and metaphysics, really) unless one assumes that "a prioricity" means something like innate cognitive structure or something. As I asked before SOHeeDan, how does one distinguish between phenomena and sense data, since Kant himself grants phenomena is not ye olde ding-an-sich, and is subject to subjective, and I would say, neural processing? Obviously direct acquaintance, in BertySpeak, with the objects of knowledge is not always possible (and the aquaintance/description epistemology still somewhat Kantian, though perhaps a bit more linguistically aware). Seems a matter of degrees, rather than contraries.


In other words, Kant offers a type of scientific empiricism, which is not nearly as skeptical of appearance (and causality, knowledge, etc.) as say Hume is (though Humean skepticism interesting in regards to cause/classical physics, at least in terms of fallibility (and one might say probability/contingency, etc), and Kant quite mistaken in his insistence that classical physics are somehow part of that a priori structure (unless he means something like cognitive innateness). I doubt Kant understood probability very well.

So the Critique does sort of suggest a scientific empiricism, but Kant first provides a little story for the perceiver (categories, synthetic a priori, subjective space and time, etc.): a story which is at least questionable, since it's based on a prioricity, and also rather lacking in the specifics of how knowledge came about historically---Euclidian geometry doesn't just appear; it grew, was systematized, formulated in response to, Osiris forbid, practical, economic concerns related to agricultural, architecture, military, etc.)

Daniel said...

There's no "privileged access" to phenomena for one, whereas there is privileged access to sense data. To have a red sense datum in view is to know that one has a red sense datum in view, as I recall sense-data theories running, and to think that one has a red sense datum in view is to have a red sense datum in view. One is then supposed (somehow) to go from sense data to empirical (external) objects. Nothing of the sort holds for Kant's phenomena. The "mental" structuring of phenomena isn't the action of "my thought", the phenomenal ego, but the transcendental ego -- the "I think" in general which any rational being is able to attach to his cognitions. So I can think I see a (phenomenal) red cube when in fact there isn't a cube in front of me, or it isn't a red one, or I actually am hallucinating in a pitch-black room. The possibility of error lets Kant secure a decent sort of "objectivity" for phenomena, though he holds that (strictly speaking) things like red cubes have an "objective" existence only for beings with our peculiar spatio-temporal form of sensible intuition, and are something else in themselves. But the sense in which phenomena are "mind-dependent" is different from the sense in which sense-data are "mind-dependent". If there were no humans (or anything else with similar perceptual/cognitive abilities) there still might be red cubes (objects which would be cognized as red cubes by beings like us, if we existed to perceive them), but there are no sense data if there are no beings like us.

Kant actually has a decent grasp of probability; see his discussion of judging the strength of commitments by hypothesized gambling behavior in the section of the first Critique on "Knowing, Believing, and Opining".

Kant wanted to provide an a priori base for Newtonian physics in a fairly mild sense (really just some pared-down versions of the laws of motion; obviously things like the law of inverse squares and the rotations of the planets are going to need to be a posteriori) and he never found a satisfying way to go about it. The Opus Postumum has Kant still trying (and failing) to go from his a priori notions like "cause" to concepts such as those physics uses, like "force" and "inertia". Kant's relation to peculiarly Newtonian physics is often overstated anyways; he more or less just wanted to show that our use of physics-type vocabularies wasn't just a useful way of talking about an unknowable Nature (which might be Leibnizian monads for all we know, or a ghost-like "World Soul", or "the decadent heaven of the Mohammedans"; see Kant's "Dreams of a Spirit-Seer, elucidated by reference to dreams of metaphysics"). He just overstates his claims when it comes to saying that Newtonian physics is Physics Itself In Its Fullness.

I don't see why the particular causes which lead to Euclid's writing the Elements should necessarily tell us anything interesting about Euclidean geometry. Euclid wouldn't have written anything if he never ate food, but this doesn't mean his diet is something we should note before we can understand Euclidean geometry. The same could be said for the relationship between our anatomy and notions like perceptions etc.; surely we wouldn't be able to see if we had no eyes, or if we suffered massive neural damage, but the specific anatomy of an eye or brain doesn't need to be dealt with before questions about perception can be asked and answered. Our cognitive mechanisms need to do certain types of things; how they do them is an independent question, and doesn't need to be answered before we can go about the job of thinking about the world.

J said...

There's no "privileged access" to phenomena for one, whereas there is privileged access to sense data. To have a red sense datum in view is to know that one has a red sense datum in view, as I recall sense-data theories running, and to think that one has a red sense datum in view is to have a red sense datum in view.

Interesting distinction. I think a key difference between P. and SD, however, rests on how Kant sort of presumes some objectivity in regards to the perception of phenomena (sensibility): he wants to say, this is how reason works for all humans (though he wouldn't lower himself to mere humanity).

The sense data afficionado, on the hand, knows about the problem of other minds for one (and in a sense verification), and so his argument relates more to how individuals justify their own beliefs (and knowledge based on beliefs) via observation (or aquaintance in Russell's terms), and then construct a sort of neural data-base, though that justification might be via language, reports, pictures, other forms of data (obviously obtaining knowledge from reading itself a rather different and cognitive topic, and I think rather anti-phenomenal).

Given a certain regularity of appearance (at least on macro, human scale), a more extreme sort of Humean doubt of the reality of immediate perceptions ("perceptions" seem nearly synonymous to sense data) thus does not seem warranted, nor does some extreme skepticism in regards to external causes of perceptions (like we never saw Napoleon; therefore he never existed): Kantian idealism often seems closer to Humean doubt than to say a Russellian or scientific empiricism. The perceptivist doesn't doubt his observations (or inferences based on observations) relate to an objective, external reality, but he does realize that they are conditioned and processed by his own visual and neurological apparatus, and perhaps even by cultural, linguistic or political factors.

J said...

But I might be mistaken. Perhaps we, at least some of us--like those who know of the Sacred Logical Forms (Holy Modus Ponens!--)-transcend the world of mere mortals and gross material reality. Kant's account simply seems so strange, labyrinthine, and counter-intuitive. If it's metaphysics we are to have, I'll take Descartes over Herr Kant. And I find Descartes a more capable philosopher: his arguments are quite more powerful and "tight" (though I don't agree with his theological aspects, mostly, such as the ontological argument). I wager Descartes was a more qualified to write on mathematics and science than Kant as well. But our own perceptions and thinking are really more fundamental than what we perceive: I don't think that again necessitates some extreme doubt, but obviously humans do tend to think they exist, and are free to some extent. That's a bit brief for Descartes. Tant pis.

I nearly agree to a dualism, as long as that dualism remains somewhat, yeah, cognitive and neurological, for lack of a better term, and the Res Cogitans interpreted as sort of "mind stuff" and not... a ghost in the machine. Human knowledge is anomalous: that doesn't necessarily mean transcendent or immaterial.

(On the other hand one can understand why more economically and historically oriented folks (our marxist pals) would object to Descartes: even Hobbes' criticisms quite powerful, and overlooked (and Hobbes a better and more methodical philosopher than most Germans as well, including Kantski: he also anticipates Darwinism to an extent).

J said...
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Daniel said...

Delete and archive, delete and archive. This was the whole point of the ToS Wildlife Sanctuary: It is a place where your comments can roam free in an artificially delimited area!

My ISP is RoadRunner Hi-Speed Internet, which is a division of Comcast. (They're the only broadband provider in Austin.) I don't think that's what you mean. You probably were looking for "hard drive". That is where you save things to when you click the little "Floppy Disc" icon in MSWord.

J said...
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Daniel said...

Man, it is not like I hid the Hegel. It is up there in the banner, next to the anime waitress.

Comment deletions will continue until morale improves.

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