28 September 2008

In Which Hegel is Straightforward

But not straightforwardly spoken-of. It's a theology post :o

I have hidden it so you don't read it by accident. It's a screenshot from the Derrida movie.

(and now that you know that, you can skip the movie. Total letdown.)

Given my background in theology, one of the first things I tried to figure out when I was getting into Hegel was whether he was some sort of atheist/pantheist/proto-Marxist radical/gnostic (etc.), or if he was a Lutheran of more or less orthodox stripe. All of the secondary literature I came across came down pretty strongly in favor of the former: Hegel was a modern Simon Magus, an Arch-heretic for a new age, or else he was secretly a Marxist before Marx, or some sort of pagan nature-mystic, or he was a follower of Valentinus, or... (there wasn't a clear consensus on what Hegel was, only that he wasn't a plain ol' Lutheran). The textual support for these claims was never particularly clear to me -- Hegel clearly opposed certain theological positions and certain conceptions of God, but then so does every orthodox Christian thinker. And when Hegel considers the question, he certainly doesn't seem to mince words: the longest paragraph in the "Philosophy of Spirit", §573, is dedicated to taking down those who "know" that philosophy promulgates a pantheistic doctrine. (He also devotes a great deal of attention to the topic in the introductions & prefaces to the Encyclopedia; Jacobi had claimed that all philosophy leads to pantheism, by which he meant Spinozism, since Spinozism is the only consistent philosophy.)

(An aside: I think it's clear that Spinoza is fairly counted as an atheist; the author of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus clearly wanted to convince his readers to give up their (Judaeo-Christian) religion in favor of a modern, natural science-minded philosophy. Strauss's reading of Spinoza here is, I think, blatantly correct. And so, by the standard Hegel refers to in §573, Spinoza is rightly considered an atheist by Jewish/Christian thinkers -- Spinoza is opposed to their religious conceptions, and intentionally sets out to undermine them. I don't think it's inconsistent to say all this while still allowing Hegel to be right in claiming that Spinoza is more properly viewed as an "acosmist" than an "atheist". For by §573's standard, someone can be a "theist" in some sense while still being an "atheist". Which is where Spinoza seems to fall. For in Spinoza's positive doctrine, he does posit a deus sive natura, and he does deny that "the world" apart from this monad has any reality. (I am aware that this is sketchy; I need to read more Spinoza.) Hegel's aufhebung of Spinoza here sets aside the polemical purpose Spinoza had in the Tractatus, just as it sets aside the acosmism -- insofar as Hegel is a Spinozist, he's a Spinozist who is not fairly counted as an atheist.)

It's become clear to me that many of Hegel's interpreters simply want him to not be a Lutheran. For if they regard themselves as Hegelians, they don't want to be seen as endorsing Christianity (or religion generally -- certainly not any sort of orthodox Protestantism); if they regard themselves as anti-Hegelians, they don't want to be seen as opposing Christian thought. I've noticed this in some of Pippin's stuff: whenever Hegel's religion is mentioned, it's always "Hegel's heterodox Christianity". (I'm not even going to go into what it would mean for a Protestant thinker to be heterodox -- if there's just one way to be an orthodox Protestant, than either Luther or Calvin or both are heterodox, for they disagree with each other over what each took to be foundational matters of doctrine. To say nothing of all the other branches of Protestant Christianity, such as Anabaptism or the various American phenomena. If you want to find some common core of Orthodoxy among all these groups, it's going to end up being pretty darn thin. And so it's going to become less and less plausible that Hegel rejects it.)

I recently read Hegel's foreword to Hinrich's Religion in its Inner Relation to Science. It's good. Really wish I'd encountered it a few years ago -- would've saved myself a lot of effort. Hegel even praises the Scholastics, which is really strange. Normally he says good things about Anselm, and then there's a few centuries of Deep Darkness under those Fiendish Papists and their retrograde "philosophy" which consisted of bungling Aristotle and contributing nothing positive. (It's not clear that Hegel read any medieval philosophy, apart from Anselm.) But when Hegel has his face set on arguing against Schliermacher-and-friends that speculative philosophy and theology aren't innately opposed to each other, well, he's clearly trying everything he can think of to show that they are dumb and wrong. Hegel writes a pretty decent polemic when he takes a mind to it.

But anyway, on to the impetus for my writing this post. I've been skipping around in "Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition", which is agreeably crazy and fun. (Yes, Hegel really liked Jacob Boehme. He also admitted that it's hard to figure out what the heck he was getting at, and that you can't read him for long before putting the book down because it's too darned strange.) In the introduction, in a footnote, Magee quotes from Hegel's letters. I'll just reproduce the entire footnote:

In a July 3, 1826, letter to Friedrich August Gottreu Tholuck (1799-1877), Hegel writes, "I am a Lutheran, and through philosophy have been at once completely confirmed in Lutheranism." See Hegel: The Letters, trans. Clark Butler and Christianne Seiler [citation details omitted]. In 1826 a small controversy erupted in Berlin when a priest attending Hegel's lectures complained to the government about allegedly anti-Catholic statements made by Hegel. Hegel responded: "Should suit be filed because of remarks I have made from the podium before Catholic students causing them annoyance, they would have to blame only themselves for attending philosophical lectures at a Protestant university under a professor who prides himself on having been baptized and raised a Lutheran, which he still is and shall remain."
Pro Tip: Don't respond like this when someone threatens to take you to court for being a bigot.

So far, Magee's book is trying too hard to find "hermetic" elements in Hegel. There's certainly some weird stuff in there -- Magee's right that "anti-theological" readings of Hegel have to excise a lot of stuff -- but sometimes he goes too far. For instance, the quotation at the head of his introduction is itself a quotation; I remember chasing down the reference once (it required a good bit of work to figure out who "C.F.G." was), and it didn't turn out to be anything earth-shattering. If memory serves, he was a theologian. He certainly wasn't anyone who I wouldn't expect to be quoted as expounding Christian ("revealed religious") doctrine. Magee holds back on the fact that his header is neither original to Hegel nor Hermetic in origin.

Magee's exposition of "hermeticism" is also tilted in favor of his conclusion. He positions it between Christianity and pantheism, ignoring the fact that 1) Hegel doubts that anyone has ever held the latter position and 2) Christianity is a bigger tent than he lets on. He implies that Hermeticism spoke of "moments" in the way Hegel did; it did not. Hegel took the term from contemporary mechanics. (I'm positive that this is mentioned in an endnote in the Hackett Encyclopedia Logic, but "moment" is not in the index and I can't find it by skimming. The point was credited to Findlay.) He claims that Hegel's philosophy of nature spoke of nature "emanating" from God; this was a point at which Hegel criticized von Baader (see the third preface to the Encyclopedia, ps.15/16 in the Hackett Encyclopedia Logic, footnote. The relevant paragraph in the Philosophy of Nature, which is what von Baader was discussing, is admirably clear, considering its subject-matter).

I've not gotten to his attempt to claim the Phenomenology as a sort of hermetic "initiation" to the System yet. I'm pretty sure that my antecedent commitments about the relationship between the PhG and the Encyclopedia system are going to outweigh whatever evidence he can dredge up for that conclusion. I'm curious if he has anything more to back up his claim that Hegel is "not a philosopher", past that one line about raising "love of wisdom" to "wisdom itself". Certainly Hegel continued to refer to what he was doing as "philosophy"; he seems to use "philosophy" and "science" interchangeably when referring to his System. Magee requires "science" to mean something very specific, and very peculiar; Hegel seems to be using it in that good ol' super-broad sense it has in German.

Magee does have a section on Hegel and Mesmer (animal magnetism and all that); that should be fun. Hegel really did have some weird views there -- though most of them are presumably unremarkable for his time, they really do look crazy now. This is one way I can tell that most slanderers of Hegel haven't read him: they never mention animal magnetism. (A short version: Hegel thought that mind-reading was real. He cites a slew of sources to back himself up on the point, which tells me that the view was at least a little crazy at the time. But, in his theoretical account of how it might work, he only allows that feelings might be communicated from one body to another -- not thoughts. Communicating thoughts requires language (or gestures, or writing, or something cultured like that).) There really is some flat embarrassing stuff in the "Subjective Spirit" section of the Encyclopedia -- I'm curious how much of the "cures for insanity" section in the Zusatze to ss408 is credible and how much is credulous. Incidentally, in Findlay's introduction to Miller's & Wallace's translation of that volume, he claims Hegel's openness to "E.S.P." phenomena as one of the good parts of Hegel. Findlay was a theosophical nutcase -- Magee is at least right in connecting his reading of Hegel to Findlay.

PS: Classes start in a matter of hours! :o


Daniel Lindquist said...

Now it comes back to me: "CFG" is Karl Friedrich Goeschel. Hegel wrote a review of one of his books. The reason I had such trouble looking up the guy's name is Miller's shifting of "Karl" to "C.". The review looks to be interesting -- it's collected in "Miscellaneous Writings of G.W.F. Hegel", ed. Jon Stewart. I should probably read it.

J said...

Heh heh.

Hegelian you are not, S-Dan

How's the seminar in the "Philosophy of Nepotism" going? or is it applied yiddish. Maybe a bit of verificationism however dull might liven it up.............