13 December 2007

Hegel and Quietism again (briefly)

Reading through the Pippin/McDowell exchange now. Pippin's postscript was quite enjoyable I thought; probably my favorite piece of his that I've read so far. Though it does seem to miss the point as a criticism of McDowell, as McDowell points out.I've not yet finished the series, but the following bit in "Pippin's Postscript" caught my eye:

To reconceive the way our sensibility is formed as a ‘moment’ in the self-realization of the Concept is to provide a picture of thought that is not confronted with that substantive task. That the forms of thought are the forms of reality can now stand revealed as a platitude. (At least until someone thinks of some other reason to find it problematic.)

It says something about McDowell's quietism that Hegelian doctrines can "stand revealed as platitudes".

Hegel did think that there was something "obvious" about "the coincidence of logic and metaphysics", since he think it's akin to the old idea that "nous governs the world" or more modern thoughts of "Divine Providence", but he's well aware that this is not a platitudinous notion; immediately after he makes the claim, in §24 of the Encyclopedia Logic, there is a very long note apologizing for such a way of speaking, and noting the many objections that readily spring to mind against it (that it appears to credit consciousness to "dead nature" etc.). The remark itself is only a preliminary note; Hegel's trying to give a brief sketch of the Logic (and the whole Encyclopedia system) before he actually sets it out. And it's well known how much Hegel hated trying to summarize his work; his prefaces generally begin with, if they don't entirely consist of, an attack on the notion of philosophical works having prefaces. Hegel generally complains that a preface can't be clear about what's going on in the book unless one has already read & understood the book, but if one already done that then a preface is superfluous. But he includes them because they are a necessary evil; though one is likely to get a horribly misleading impression from a summary, it is at least a starting point, and those are hard to come by.

That the identity of the forms of thought and the forms of reality may "stand revealed as a platitude" seems disingenuous. It may stand revealed as true (pending someone coming up with a good objection to it), but this is because we've sat and thought about it an awful lot (with the help of complicated books by dead German guys). This is not generally what comes to mind when one thinks of "platitudes". If anything is not banal, Hegelianism would seem to be.

It often happens that one only really understands a platitude once one's been through such-and-such. "You can't go home again" is platitudinous, but this hardly stops people from trying; one understands the platitude only once one really feels how distant one has become from one's old home. But the such-and-such in question cannot be just any requirement. Given sufficient training, practice, study, etc. anything can come to seem obvious. But if this was sufficient to make the notion in question into a platitude, then everything would become one. In which case it would be misleading to speak of "platitudes" at all.

It is worth noting what McDowell immediately follows the above bit with:
There is no way to conceive reality except in terms of what is the case, and there is no intelligible idea of what is the case except one that coincides with the idea of what can be truly thought to be the case.

This is clearly McDowell's Tractarianism in view (or if you don't like to call it that, then it's another reference to PI 95). So the reference to "platitudes" is clearly a Wittgensteinian move. (As if TLP 6.13 read "Logic is the mirror of the world; logic is metaphysics". I had to trim out "Logic is not a body of doctrine" because it just seems too forced to leave in place.)

Reading a little further:
It may seem absurd to suggest that the identity-in-difference of thought and reality is a platitude. But it takes work to enable it to present itself as the platitude it is, in the face of our propensity to mishandle immediacy.

Oh, so we just need to get a proper view of mediation and immediacy, and then Hegel's remark will seem platitudinous. Again, this seems a hard pill to swallow. I'll quote Hegel's own exasperated remarks, from the Science of Logic §92, which is more or less a third preface to the book:
This is not the place to deal with the question apparently so important in present-day thought, whether the knowledge of truth is an immediate knowledge having a pure beginning, a faith, or whether it is a mediated knowledge . In so far as this can be dealt with preliminarily it has been done elsewhere. Here we need only quote from it this, there is nothing, nothing in heaven, or in nature or in mind or anywhere else which does not equally contain both immediacy and mediation, so that these two determinations reveal themselves to be unseparated and inseparable and the opposition between them to be a nullity. But as regards the philosophical discussion of this, it is to be found in every logical proposition in which occur the determinations of immediacy and mediation and consequently also the discussion of their opposition and their truth. Inasmuch as this opposition, as related to thinking, to knowing, to cognition, acquires the more concrete form of immediate or mediated knowledge, it is the nature of cognition as such which is considered within the science of logic, while the more concrete form of cognition falls to be considered in the philosophy of spirit. But to want the nature of cognition clarified prior to the science is to demand that it be considered outside the science; outside the science this cannot be accomplished, at least not in a scientific manner and such a manner is alone here in place.

If this is what is needed for us to recognize the platitude as a platitude, it is an awfully tall order. By the time "the more concrete forms of cognition" are being dealt with, you're at the end of Hegel's system. Even if McDowell has significantly easier ways to keep us from "mishandling immediacy" (and in this paper he refers to the entire Phenomenology as devoted to the task), the platitudinousness of Hegel's purported platitude is looking mighty shaky. Hell, in this latter formulation it seems prima facie impossible that it could be a platitude, since I will submit that there just can be no platitude which includes the phrase "identity-in-difference". That is too many hyphens for a platitude.

I am not suggesting that the dissolution of Kant’s problem about conceptual objectivity exhausts Hegel’s thinking; not even that it exhausts his thinking about the relation between thought and reality.
For one thing, Kant’s problem reflects only one way in which unmediated immediacy can make the relation seem problematic.

I wonder if all of Hegel's thoughts are platitudes, or at least all of the ones that involve ways in which mediacy-immediacy can seem problematic, but really isn't.

It occurs to me that one could take a "Wittgensteinian" position against "philosophical theories" along the lines of Goldman's proof that p: "Theories are the sort of thing that might have counterexamples. But if our sayings were to admit of any counterexamples, then this would just show that we've not been sufficiently rigorous in our own anti-theoretical approach, for our non-theories are not supposed to be able to have any counterexamples. Hence there can be no theories in philosophy."

As a final anti-quietist grenade, McDowell again:
Pippin says I hold that objects simply occupy a position of authority over our thinking. But ‘simply’ makes this a travesty.



an aside: Pippin footnotes McDowell, "Self-Determining Subjectivity and External Constraint", which appears to only have been published in German. Anyone have this? I notice that Pippin's citation (in his postscript) is "(6, draft)". I guess McDowell did not include the standard "PLEASE DO NOT CITE THIS IS A DRAFT" disclaimer. edit: Got it, thanks Tom. Though now that I double-check, it turns out it was in Currence's bundle. I could've sworn I looked there for it.

1 comment:

USpace said...

Googling ‘absurd thoughts’ I came upon this interesting bit of absurdity. Well done, good points and food for thought!

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