17 June 2008

Hegel Hegel Hegel

I was right, "The Logic of Affect" does get a lot better once Redding reaches Hegel. Page 128:

In [Putnam's and Burge's] "externalist" approach to mental content, they have argued against the view that meanings and intentional kinds (that is, kinds of propositional attitudes) can be individuated psychologically. For them, the content of a concept or of a proposition cannot be specified in ways that make no reference to actual worldly objects and events, that is, things external to the brain. We might see such externalist positions as rehearsing, in late twentieth-century terms, ideas expressed in other ways in James's "direct realism"; but beyond this, along with the work of Dennett and Clark [which insists on the "offloading" of cognitive work into language and other social/environmental "scaffolds"], the externalist position exhibits broad similarities to ideas about the nature of mind put forward almost two centuries ago by Hegel in his insistence on the dependence of individual "subjective" mind on the historically accumulated and culturally transmitted structures and process of the "objective mind". And for Hegel, as for Dennett, Clark, Putnam, and Burge it was language that was the most important of these mind-bearing cultural scaffolds.

I think the connection Redding draws between externalism about mental contents and subjective spirit's reliance on objective spirit is pretty neat. I hadn't considered it before, but there's certainly affinities between the two. By the close of the section of the Encyclopedia Philosophy of Spirit section on "Subjective Spirit", thought is only abstractly determinate; Hegel has the required categories in view to speak of thought's being correct or incorrect, of inferences ("syllogisms") being good or bad, of willing and choice, of "Reason" as the identity of subjectivity and objectivity, but he repeatedly notes that in subjective spirit only the "implicit Idea", "the notion of absolute spirit" are in view; the development of the Idea and of absolute spirit remain to be treated in the remaining parts of the system (particularly in "world history", with which "Objective Spirit" closes). Though the categories needed for thoughts to be correct or incorrect are in view, there are as yet no thoughts in view, for there are not yet any people to think them.

He is most explicit about this when it comes to the topic of willing, of practical thought: the content freely willed is a thoughtful content, the content of morality, law, and religion -- the areas of life where what one wills receive consideration. Without thought, practical reason could have no content; if what is willed is outside of morality/law/religion, then it is something bad, not something essentially "other" than morality/law/religion but some determinate transgression against it (injustice, crime, sin). Without morality/law/religion, which belong to the shapes of objective and "absolute" spirit, there can be no willing, but only the feeling-life which we share with non-human animals. Which is how Hegel transitions from the willing of Der freie Geist to "Objective Spirit"; in the turn to objective spirit we are able to discern how willing can have the "concretely universal" content it has, rather than the "abstractly universal" demand that it "ought" to have a universal content. (In "Subjective Spirit", the will's content is considered to immediately be, but it ought to be free in its content as well as its form. As is usual with Hegel, when there is an "ought" this will become an "is" as the dialectic continues. The concrete, actually existing will cannot be in view until genuine freedom is in view, in the developments of objective & absolute spirit. Only then does willing have the normative surroundings it needs to be the willing of a free mind -- Hegel denies that non-human animals "will", just as he denies that they "think". They are simply moved by their appetites, and by the properties of the species of which they are an instance.)

Now, I've generally read Hegel's discussions of "ethical life", Sittlichkeit, in the context of responding to Kant's practical philosophy. Kant's ethics are supposed to be uselessly formal; "ethical life" is meant to offer a perspective on ethics which avoids Kant's formalism. Hegel's criticism* of Kant's "categorical imperative" is that it can either allow or prohibit absolutely any action, depending on how that action is described, and that Kant offers us no way of deciding between descriptions. Philosophy of Right §135:
The fact that no property is present is in itself no more contradictory than is the non-existence of this or that individual people, family etc., or the complete absence of of human life. But if it is already established and presupposed that property and human life should exist and be respected, then it is a contradiction to commit theft or murder; a contradiction must be a contradiction with something, that is with a content which is already fundamentally present as an established principle. Only to a principle of this kind does an action stand in a relation of agreement or contradiction. But if a duty is to be willed merely as a duty and not because of its content, it is a formal identity which necessarily excludes every content and determination.
and again from the Addition:
Whereas we earlier emphasized that the point of view of Kant's philosophy is sublime inasmuch as it asserts the conformity of duty and reason, it must be pointed out here that this point of view is defective in that it lacks all articulation. For the proposition 'Consider whether your maxim can be asserted as a universal principle' would be all very well if we already had determinate principles concerning how to act. In other words, if we demand of a principle that it should also be able to serve as the determinant of a universal legislation, this presupposes that it already has a content; and if this content were present, it would be easy to apply the principle. But in this case, the principle itself is not yet available, and the criterion that there should be no contradiction is non-productive -- for where there is nothing, there can be no contradiction either.

I've tended to think of these sorts of criticisms as leading pretty directly to "ethical life": Hegel's trying to be a Kantian about ethics, except without the formalism. But this is too narrow a view of "ethical life" -- it isn't just about "ethics" in the narrow sense, but also about normativity in general.

What Hegel calls in §515 of Philosophy of Spirit "the genuine ethical temper", trust (or confidence), is just the determinate being of the "universal self-consciousness" which Hegel discusses in the section of "Subjective Spirit" called "The Phenomenology of Spirit", §430-437. In the Zusatze to these paragraphs, Hegel says quite a lot about slavery as an empirical/historical matter**, and it is clear that his comments on slavery "skip ahead" in the system to what properly lies outside of "Subjective Spirit". For instance, Hegel writes in §482, the final paragraph before the heading changes to "Objective Spirit" that
Christianity in its adherents has realized an ever-present sense that they are not and cannot be slaves; if they are made slaves, if the decision as regards their property rests with an arbitrary will, not with laws and courts of justice, they would find the very substance of their life outraged. This will to liberty is no longer an impulse which demands satisfaction, but the permanent character -- the spiritual consciousness grown into a non-impulsive nature.
In §513, the opening of "ethical life", Hegel says that the "truth" and "unity" of subjective and objective spirit is "where self-conscious liberty has become nature" due to the establishment of norms of "moral usage, manner, and custom". But already in the Zusatz to §436, the first paragraph on "Universal Self-Consciousness", Hegel writes that the union of subjectivity and objectivity "forms the substance of ethical life, namely, of the family, of sexual love[], of patriotism[], of love towards God, of bravery[], and lastly also of honor, provided that this has for its content not some indifferent, particular interest of the individual but something substantial and truly universal." Basically, a lot of "Objective Spirit" is just a repetition of what Hegel has said (either in the main text or in the Zusatze) in "Subjective Spirit". (A lot of introductory works on Hegel mention how his system is a "progression" from one category to the next, in a certain order. Hegel himself says similar things. But his text simply doesn't live up to this straitjacketed picture -- he's constantly referencing things from later paragraphs, and the only way to understand a lot of what he's trying to say is to come back to it later. Hegel's holism is "messier" than things like this make it seem.)

Now, given that "Subjective Spirit" includes an explicitly incomplete account of "Thinking", of reason in its theoretical aspect, Hegel must mean for something later in the book to fill out the account. "Ethical life" is what fits the bill for this; I'd simply never noticed because I didn't make the inference from "Hegel identifies the will and the intellect" and "Hegel says that the will's content is only determinate in 'ethical life'" to "Hegel thinks that thought only has determinate content in 'ethical life'". Which helps to make clear the extent to which Hegel is an historicist; if one simply sticks to, say, Science of Logic, it can easily be mysterious in what sense philosophy could be "its own age summed up in thoughts", rather than something more "timeless". If thinking in general is part of "ethical life", if thoughts having determinate contents requires social formations, then the difficulty disappears, for the connection between "ethical life" and world history in Hegel's system is perhaps its most easily graspable part. It also illustrates that Redding is entirely right to connect Hegel to externalism: to have contentful thoughts, for Hegel, requires membership in a community. The "objectivity" of thought, its possession of contents with objective purport, comes online with the recognition of oneself as part of a community of minds -- as a person among other persons in a concrete form of Sittlichkeit, in a community.

*It is worth noting that Hegel's criticisms don't quite hit Kant himself -- Kant thinks that "anthropological" knowledge, knowledge about what humans are like, is necessary for practical reasoning to be possible. (His justification of the private possession of property in "Metaphysic of Morals" is thus pretty much the same as Hegel's.) For Kant, beings like us always will from "impure" motives -- sensuous motives. This is supposed to be part & parcel with our understanding being "discursive" as opposed to "intellectual" -- the contents of our thoughts are given from outside, through intuitions. Our maxims, too, are sensuous, for our desires are "given". Even actions carried out from respect are actions due to Vorstellungen which cannot be derived from the demand that maxims be universalizable, but are generated by the imagination to provide a motive for action. Thus only God can know whether or not some particular act is actually performed from a good will, and so has moral worth -- for any action, it is possible that it is performed due to inclination rather than duty, that it would not have been performed if it was contrary to inclination, and so is morally worthless. So the position Hegel criticizes is a bit artificially streamlined, but Kant's own mature position has its own problems, and the view Hegel attacks is recognizably "Kantian" even if it's not Kant's own determined view of the matter.

**Here, unlike in the parallel sections in the Phenomenology, I think the "lord" and the "bondsman", the master and the slave, must be read as being two seperate human individuals, and not merely two aspects of a single self-consciousness. In the Encyclopedia, Hegel does not move from the "master/slave dialectic" to Stoicism, Skepticism, and the "Unhappy Consciousness", but to the mutual recognition of persons in a society. Now, I don't think this conflicts with McDowell's reading in "Toward a Heterodox Reading of Lordship and Bondage", because I think that in the Encyclopedia Hegel also demands that we read the conflict of "master" and "slave" in the way McDowell does. "On its inner side or in accordance with its Notion, self-consciousness by ridding itself of its subjectivity and the external object has negated its own immediacy, the standpoint of appetite, has given itself the determination of otherness towards itself, and this Other it has filled with the 'I', has made out of something self-less a free, self-like object, another 'I'. It therefore confronts its own self as another, distinct 'I', but in doing so has raised itself about the selfishness of merely destructive appetite." (Zusatz to §429, emphases mine) I think that it is harder to follow the argument McDowell finds in the Phenomenology when it appears in the Encyclopedia, but I think it is a part of the Encyclopedia system, in addition to being the correct reading of the relevant passages in the Phenomenology.

That here Philosophy of Spirit may be lacking in some material which is essential to the system may be seen by simply noting how short the "Phenomenology of Spirit" section of the book is, compared to the book by that name. This is most striking in the subsection which Hegel gives the prestigious heading of "Reason", Die Vernunft. It is two (short!) paragraphs long, and entirely lacks Zusatze. I remember being pretty surprised when I found out that the heading "Reason" had less under it than the heading "Idiocy" (in the Zusatz to §408). Hegel simply must have relied on the fact that he'd already covered this material in his earlier book when composing the Encyclopedia volumes. Incidentally, the section on "Consciousness" in the Philosophy of Spirit is essentially identical to the section in the Phenomenology, only abbreviated. I think facts like this put paid to the notion that the Phenomenology is a necessary preface to Hegel's mature system; if speculative thought had to go through the Phenomenology before the Logic could be begun, then there would be no reason to repeat so much of it in "Subjective Spirit". Hegel could've simply gone from "the actual soul" to spirit proper, with no need to include (or lecture on) the material he labels "The Phenomenology of Spirit", since anyone who had begun to study the system must have already "passed through" the Phenomenology, and so doesn't need to be reminded of the problems with sense-certainty etc.

So, at this point my considered judgement as to the relation of the Phenomenology to the Encyclopedia system (including Science of Logic as the more extensive version of the first book of the system), is that the Phenomenology is a preliminary attempt, and not a part of the final system. The material covered in the Phenomenology is generally repeated in the Encyclopedia system, and the two share some of their structure in common, but this is also true of the merely fragmentary "system drafts" present in Hegel's early writings, going back to his days at the seminary with Holderlin & Schelling. The Phenomenology simply managed to a) hold up pretty well with time and b) be published & widely available. So Hegel is happy to cite it in his mature work when he wants to point the reader to an expanded treatment of, say, Kant's ethics (as in Philosophy of Right §135). But the book is not a part of the "system of Science" proper, anymore than Hegel's "Speech on the Anniversary of the Augsburg Confession" is (though both are worth reading, and certainly make the Encyclopedia writings clearer). Hegel expected that the Phenomenology would be the first part of the system, even when publishing Science of Logic, but this simply isn't how the mature system worked out. Thus the hedge in §25 of the Encyclopedia Logic: the Phenomenology was said to be the first part of the system, when it was published. By the time of the Encyclopedia, Hegel has changed his manner of presentation; Science of Logic is the first part of the Encyclopedia system, with the Encyclopedia Logic being simply a shortened (and somewhat revised) version of Science. But Hegel himself points the reader to the Phenomenology while complaining about the difficulty of presenting his system, as it covers much of the same material from another angle. (This is an expansion on what I said at the end of this post, and hopefully can do some service as a contribution to the comment thread at Now-Times that I never ended up getting back to; it's taken me a while to make up my mind on the topic. I recently finished reading the Zusatze to "Subjective Spirit", which I generally skipped when I first read the book, and have reread several other parts of Philosophy of Spirit for this post. I am now pretty confident in my position: The Phenomenology's importance is overstated, though as a book it's Hegel's best.)

Incidentally, googling for that wacky triangle graphic lead me to this wiki article about the Phenomenology, which I found charming, and which agrees with me about the Phenomenology's importance being overstated. It is nice to know that Walter Jaeschke apparently agrees with me; I remember being certain that I must be missing something when I first started to think this way, since everything seemed to say that the Phenomenology was an essential starting-place for Hegel's system. Incidentally, the wiki page is wrong about Hegel's criticism of phrenology not reappearing in later work: §411 of the Philosophy of Spirit contains a condensed form of Hegel's criticisms, albeit without all the jokes that make that part of the Phenomenology so enjoyable. I especially like the one about the physiognomy of the cuckold: You may very well be able to tell that a man has been cuckolded by looking for raised lumps on a man's head, but not by looking for lumps on the cuckold's head.


J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

Hegel without History (the game was called "dialectic" right) is about like a preacher without Screepture. (hey let's hear those Hegelian explanations of basic physics or chem. again: who needs the periodic table when ya got Being and....not-being (er, and becomingness too).

And nearly seriously, does dialectical reasoning offer any predictive hypothesis at macrolevel? (Ich weiss nicht). There is no Hegelian science of history. As Russell well knew, Hegel does serve a purpose as a rallying cry for militarists and zealots, both right and left (and not exactly copacetic in xtian terms either).