30 June 2008

More on Brandom's "Sketch"

Brandom's "Sketch of a Program for a Critical Reading of Hegel" really is a pretty good article. I don't want to give the impression that calling it "Brandom's best article on Hegel (that I've read)" is meant as faint praise; it really does have some insightful things to say about Hegel. Some rambling, possibly incoherent thoughts hidden behind Fuuko:

Warning: this post was written in lieu of sleeping, and may show signs of its origin.

For instance, Brandom notes that there's no reason to think Hegel held that the empirical sciences were "complete", or would be soon at any rate, even though he clearly thought his own philosophical system was "complete" in some sense, and further thought that history had reached its end. Nature, for Hegel, is a realm of contingency and arbitrariness, even while also being a realm of necessity and lawfulness:

Although it follows from discussion so far [in the Logic] that contingency is only a one-sided moment of actuality, and must therefore not be confused with it, still as a form of the Idea as a whole it does deserve its due in the world of ob-jects. This holds first for nature, on the surface of which contingency has free rein, so to speak. This free play should be recognized as such, without the pretension (sometimes erroneously ascribed to philosophy) of finding something in it that could only be so and not otherwise.
(Zusatze to ss143 in the Encyclopedia Logic.) In this same passage, Hegel urges that we "have to be careful that we are not misled by the well-meant striving of rational cognition into trying to show that phenomena that have the character of contingency are necessary, or, as people tend to say, into 'constructing them a priori'." "Scientific endeavors which one-sidedly push in this direction will not escape the justified reproach of being an empty game and a strained pedantry." Hegel gives as further examples of things in which "chance indisputably plays a decisive role" art, law, and language ("the body of thinking, as it were"). So Hegel is innocent of the charge which is sometimes made of him, that he thinks everything is (or can be) reduced to or drawn out of his system (which confusion prompted one of his contemporaries to charge him with the task of "deducing his pen", or some other such arbitrary phenomena, or else confessing to being all talk). Brandom is right to draw attention to this aspect of Hegel, since it can go overlooked pretty easily if one focuses too closely on bits of the system like the Logic and the Philosophy of Right, where Hegel does seem to think that he's figured everything out as well as can be done (or somesuch similar boast).

But I think Brandom draws the distinction in the wrong place: for Hegel, the distinction is not between "empirical" and "logical" concepts, but between Nature and the other two moments of the Idea. For Spirit, too, has the sort of self-foundedness that characterizes the Logic; if Hegel is a "semantic optimist" about Logic, he is just as clearly an optimist about Spirit. The areas in which Hegel does not think his system gives a final account are those related to Nature. In the Philosophy of Spirit, the contingent elements are those which belong to finite spirits as natural beings, beings existing externally to one another, with their own peculiar desires, thoughts, etc.; these subjective, arbitrary elements are moments of Spirit. But the peculiarity of these elements is irrelevant -- as an example, the laws of economics, of "civil society", apply wherever various individuals have desires which they individually & mutually seek to satisfy, regardless of what the objects of these desires & values are. Nobody actually exchanges "widgets"; whatever particular widgets someone values at a given moment is a contingent matter, and there need not be any "necessity" lying behind it. This contingency is present in economics, but it need not motivate pessimism about the veracity of our economic concepts. As the aufhebung of Nature, Spirit is autonomous; it produces itself out of itself, and this sort of self-grounding in the Logic is what motivated Brandom's calling Hegel a "semantic optimist" about his logical concepts.

Hegel thinks that we have reached the end of history with the realization that "man as such is and ought to be free" and the development of modern civil society, the nation-state, Protestantism, etc.; he doesn't think that dialectical "contradictions" will lead us to abandon these notions at any point in the future. We might kill ourselves off ("in our age we have found we can make everything totter", as Hegel says in the Lectures on Logic, perhaps referring to the Terror of the French Revolution), and in that way we can prevent the realization of a genuinely free society, but Hegel does not think it possible that there will turn out to be a problem with the idea of a "genuinely free society" itself. What "progress" is left in history is (so to speak) an administrative matter, that existing states need to organize themselves as they ought to be (for instance, Hegel thinks that his Prussian state ought to recognize a right to trial by jury), and Hegel thinks that we can figure out, in broad strokes, what that organization should look like. (That poverty remains a problem in the Philosophy of Right is thus not a merely empirical matter, revealed to us by experience, but a problem within the system; by Hegel's own lights, there ought to be a remedy to the difficulty he sees, but he just can't figure out what it would be. Similarly, the fact that Hegel's proposed "corporations", which are more or less guilds, would be a pretty bad way to organize regulations of the market is not a place where "experience" has shown Hegel's concepts to be flawed, but a sign that Hegel's account of "civil society" in the Philosophy of Right has some problematic aspects considered in itself. Hegel simply does not carry the task he sets for himself to a satisfactory completion -- this not for philosophical reasons, but rather for the homely old excuse that he was not quite as adept a philosopher as he would have liked to be.)

Brandom attributes to Hegel the claim that our empirical concepts are necessarily inadequate; our present conceptual scheme will give rise to contradictory commitments given continued use. Brandom offers no explanation, that I can see, for why this should be a necessary feature of the empirical part of our conceptual scheme, or for why Hegel should think it is. Given that this necessity claim is given as what distinguishes empirical concepts from logical ones, and this sort of revision is supposed to be the place where "experience" plays a role in Hegel, this seems like a problem. (I suspect this is related to Brandom's own avoidance of "experience" in MIE -- it's "not one of [his] words". That Brandom misreads the role "experience" plays in the Phenomenology has been argued by McDowell in multiple places, for instance in his response to Brandom's "Some Pragmatist Themes in Hegel".)

Hegel clearly does think that continued empirical inquiry leads us to revise our concepts as well as our judgements; Brandom is simply right in aligning Hegel with Quine on this point. Consider, for instance, Hegel's remarks about Leibniz's wish for a "universal hieroglyphic", where each term in the language was q solidly fixed symbol, as a remedy for confusion in thought:
At any rate a comprehensive hieroglyphic language for ever completed is impracticable. Sensible objects no doubt admit of permanent signs; but, as regards signs for mental objects, the progress of thought and the continual development of logic lead to changes in the views of their internal relations and thus also of their nature; and this would involve the rise of a new hieroglyphical denotation. Even in the case of sense-objects it happens that their names, i.e. their signs in vocal language, are frequently changed, as, for example, in chemistry and mineralogy. Now that it has been forgotten what names properly are, viz., externalities which of themselves have no sense, and only get signification as signs, and now that, instead of names proper, people ask for terms expressing a sort of definition, which is frequently changed capriciously and fortuitously, the denomination, i.e. the composite name formed of signs of their generic characters or other supposed characteristic properties, is altered in accordance with the differences of view which regard to the genus or other supposed specific property. It is only a stationary civilization, like the Chinese, which admits of the hieroglyphic language of that nation.
Hegel's reference to "mental objects" here should not be taken in a Cartesian sense; he means things like universals and Vorstellungen, which for Hegel are present in the world in addition to being "in the mind" subjectively. As an attempt to interpret this passage: Hegel thinks it is possible to have a "permanent sign" for a sensible object because such a sign is nothing but an arbitrary name; the permanence of such a sign demands nothing more than that we use the same name for the same sensed object*. But any description of that object which is supposed to pick it out will take account of its "generic character", its genus, "and other supposed characteristic properties", and the sense of this description will thus be different depending on what the person doing the describing happens to think about the genus & properties of the object (which it falls under, which apply to it) and the nature of that genus and those properties themselves (how this particular genus & these particular properties are related to other genuses and other properties; what particular properties of the object are "characteristic" and not accidental). For to assign an object to a given genus, or to attribute to it some particular properties, is to rule out alternatives genuses and alternative properties, and what one takes oneself to be ruling out determines what one takes oneself to be doing in making a determination that some particular description holds of the object: Omnis determinatio est negatio; to be determinately some way is to not be determined as some other way(s).

Hegel complains about this demand for "a sort of definition" because it shows that people are confusing names (which are arbitrary and fixed) with judgements about an object (which depend on what one happens to think, and so are neither arbitrary nor fixed). So someone asks "What is this?" while pointing at a lump of gold, and wants an answer which is not a mere name ("Gold", "Aurum"), but neither do they want to merely be told various facts about the thing they're pointing at -- they want something like a "true name", a description which doesn't depend on one's other conceptual commitments, but which can be relied on to hold come what may. As with "the progress of thought" our concepts change (since our views about the relations of genuses and properties change), so descriptions which we held to hold true of an object come to be rejected, and vice-versa, and so this request is impossible to answer, and betrays a lack of familiarity with the way in which thinking is needed for one to be able to tell what things are.

For Hegel a judgement is a determination of some of our concepts as relating in some particular way; continued exercise of judgement thus leads to continual alterations in our conceptual scheme, since the "internal relations" among our concepts just are the various "judgements" & "syllogisms" which connect them. For our concepts to be "fixed", Hegel thinks we would have to stop thinking, to make our civilization "stationary" (as he erroneously thinks China to be -- he is also in error about the Chinese language being "hieroglyphic"; though Chinese is not an alphabetic language, it does have ways to carry out the functions Hegel thinks only alphabets can provide, such as producing novel signs). Thus Leibniz's desire for a fixed language with which to carry out science is incoherent -- you can have a fixed stock of concepts, or you can have continued inquiry, but not both. You can have a sign which is irrevocably linked to some particular concept only if your concepts maintain constant in their interrelations; otherwise the sign's sense will shift with the reweaving of one's conceptual web, as the concept with which it was connected shifts in its inferential role. And so equivocation in our terms can only be made impossible if there are no possible adjustments in our conceptual web.

Brandom describes the process in which our empirical concepts are revised in terms of his incompatibility semantics, and attributes something similar to Hegel: Continued "lived experience" is supposed to lead us to realize that our current commitments are incompatible, and so in need of revision; experience is supposed to show that our concepts are "contradictory". This is supposed to be necessarily true of all our empirical concepts, but it's not supposed to lead to skepticism about our access to truth because "truth" is supposed to just be this process of making and revising claims, "the bacchanalian revel in which there is not a soul sober." I think Brandom misreads Hegel's "true" as "correct" here; Hegel's normal use of "true" is in the sense of "a true friend". The "bacchanalian revel" which is said to be "truth" is the continual rising-from-the-ground and returning-to-the-ground of actuality, the "shining" of essence in appearances -- this is what Hegel means in this passage by "the evanescent must be regarded as essential", that "essence must appear". (See Robert Stern's "Did Hegel Hold an Identity Theory of Truth" for a nice discussion of this sort of thing, or ss24 of the Encyclopedia Logic for Hegel explicitly apologizing for his use of "truth".) I think the actual reason the revision of our concepts should not lead to skepticism is simply that there isn't any necessary fault with our current concepts. And when we do revise our thinking, our old thoughts are not discarded, but are incorporated within the new way of thinking, at least as an abstract or one-sided view of the matter, in which case the old thoughts may still be judged to have been correct.

And now, some more complaints about Brandom's article. As another howler, on p.157 Brandom refers to "the only two books [Hegel] published during his lifetime", "both of the works in which he presents his systematic thought", meaning the Phenomenology and the Science of Logic. This is the sort of error editing -- or perhaps simply writing while fully awake-- should catch. Brandom is clearly familiar with the Encyclopedia volumes and the Philosophy of Right, since he quotes from both of them repeatedly in the article; his forgetting that Hegel published other four books is thus absolutely mindboggling. I also have no idea how Brandom could think that these four books did not constitute works in which Hegel "presents his systematic thought", even if he somehow thought they'd been published posthumously (despite the Encyclopedia having three separate introductions, due to its multiple editions).

Brandom also claims that the Science of Logic and the Phenomenology present essentially the same "system", only presented in different modes:
Thus in the Phenomenology he selects from the actual history of the development of philosophical concepts a sequence of transformations each of which can be seen, retrospectively, as conceptually epoch-making, and as cumulatively determining and revealing to us the systematic idiom – the constellation of philosophical claims-and-concepts – whose use is the final form of semantic self-consciousness he calls “Absolute Knowledge.” In the Logic, what is essentially the same system(fn) is presented as the culmination of a course of development that begins with the very simplest form-determinations of concepts – metaconcepts codifying a semantic self-consciousness so rudimentary that without it no concept-use at all is intelligible at the ground level – and progresses in a trajectory that does not at all pretend to track or be drawn from the empirical-historical tradition of thought by which the systematic concepts actually developed.
In the footnote he adds "So I claim; of course this is controversial." Well, yes. To say the least.

If anything, I think Hegel pretends to "track" the "empirical-historical tradition of thought" more closely in the Logic; if one looks at his History of Philosophy lectures, the beginning of philosophy matches the beginning of the Logic, and the progress of philosophy pretty well tracks the categories of the Logic. Philosophy starts with Parmenides's "What is, is, and what is not, is not", which Hegel identifies with his category "Being", not with sense-certainty. But in both the Logic and the Phenomenology, I think that pretending is an apt word for Hegel's historical discussions; the actual progression of the text is determined by the internal reasoning of the text, and not by the sequence in which Hegel's examples occurred temporally.

*I think Hegel slips here, if this is what he is saying. For that some singular object is the singular object it is depends on how the sort of object that it is is individuated. But I don't see that this particular claim is important for Hegel's general account of signs, names, thoughts, etc.

25 June 2008

Double-Checking References Is Good

I'm reading Brandom's "Sketch of a Program for a Critical Reading of Hegel". So far, it's the best bit of Brandom-on-Hegel I've come across; I can more-or-less see how Brandom could think that what he calls "determinate negation" is actually what Hegel calls "determinate negation".

But I was pretty surprised to see this:

When [Hegel] says, for instance, that “In this motley play of the world […] there is nowhere a firm footing to be found” (EL, § 123) he might not mean just that we can’t be sure that what seems now to be firm won’t at a later point slip. Some of his formulations
suggest that he is putting forward the much stronger claim that the very idea of an adequate, stable system of determinate empirical concepts is deeply incoherent.

Now, EL §123 struck me as a weird place for Hegel to say something about this, and the claim itself struck me as odd. So I looked it up. It's from the second part of "Essence", "Existence" -- as a first complaint, Brandom gives the citation wrong, since the remark is from the Addition, not the paragraph proper. Here's how Geraets/Suchting/Harris give the passage:
This is the general shape in which the existing world is presented initially to reflection, namely, as an indeterminate multitude of existents, which, being reflected simultaneously into themselves and into something else, are in the mutual relationship of ground and grounded with regard to each other. In this motley play of the world, taken as the sum total of all existents, a stable footing cannot be found anywhere at first, and everything appears at this stage to be merely relative, to be conditioned by something else, and similarly as conditioning something else. The reflective understanding makes it its business to discover and to pursue these all-sided reflections; but this leaves the question of a final purpose unanswered, and, with the further development of the logical Idea, the reason that is in need of comprehension therefore strikes out beyond this standpoint of mere relativity.
"At first" seems like the sort of phrase that modifies Brandom's quoted sentence in an important way: Hegel is not saying that this is how things are, but that it appears that this is how things are, from the standpoint of "Existence". That this is patently unsatisfactory is blamed on "reflection", on the Understanding, and is said to be left behind by "the reason that is in need of comprehension". Specifically, the "pan-relationalism" of §124 is aufgehoben in the movement to categories like "substance and property", "contingency and necessity", "causal relation" etc. The appearance that everything is "merely relative" is overcome by realizing that not all relations are of equal standing; the endless play of conditions becomes the orderly proceedings of mechanical, chemical, and organic happenings, where the "bloomin', buzzin' confusion" of existents show themselves as related in determinate ways. Hegel's problem, at this point, is not that we might be wrong about how things are; his problem is that the standpoint of "Existence" can only comprehend the relations between events as a sort of vapid holism: "Everything is related to everything". At this point in the dialectic, there's not yet anything sufficiently determinate that we might get it wrong.

You may notice that Brandom's quoted phrase is not present in this passage in the form in which he quotes it. Googling reveals that he's actually quoting the Wallace translation, not Geraets/Suchting/Harris, despite the fact that only the latter occurs in his bibliography. Tut, tut, Professor Brandom.

But that is not the only problem. For here's the Wallace translation, with what Brandom omitted in bold:
In this motley play of the world, if we may so call the sum of existents, there is nowhere a firm footing to be found: everything bears an aspect of relativity, conditioned by and conditioning something else.
So: Here Hegel's "motley play of the world" is just "the sum of existents". It's a very restricted sort of "world"; it's the "world" that can be in view if one is restricted to the categories so far introduced in the Logic. Brandom makes it sound like Hegel is here talking of the world as experienced; Hegel doesn't even have things in view yet. ("Thing" begins in §125.)

I don't know how a misreading this severe can happen. The only explanation I can think of is that Brandom works from notes he's made, or something like that, rather than actually looking at the texts he's citing.

But even with all that, it's the best Brandom-on-Hegel article I've yet seen.

24 June 2008

Hegel's "Lectures on Logic"

I had not heard of this book before finding it at Barnes & Noble today. Apparently the German version was only published in 2001; the manuscript was in a private collection until a few decades ago. The book contains Carl Hegel's lecture notes from Hegel's 1830 course on Logic. Hegel was lecturing off of the Encyclopedia Logic, and the notes are keyed to its subsections (by the editors). The general structure of the two is the same. But in comparing what I've read of Lectures on Logic to the Zusatze in the Geraets/Suchtig/Harris Encyclopedia Logic, there's surprisingly little overlap. So far I've only had time to read the introduction and "Quality" (and half of "Determinate Being (Dasein)"), but the differences are pretty striking -- not in matters of philosophical substance, but in how Hegel presents his system. The variance between the Lectures and the Encyclopedia isn't as high as it is in the Realphilosophie (especially the "Philosophy of Religion" lectures), but it's still higher than I expected.

"Becoming" features much more prominently in Lectures on Logic than in the Encyclopedia text. Heraclitus is one of Hegel's heroes, and he's front & center here. Hegel structures most of his discussion of "being" and "nothing" by looking at them as two moments of "becoming". There's a large amount of text between the introduction of "becoming" and "determinate being", and very little between the start of "Quality" and "becoming". Hegel even suggests that we might say we start the Logic with becoming:

We could begin the progression by saying that we have analyzed the beginning. We could then say that being is contained in this beginning. But what is only beginning to be at once is not yet. We might cursorily say in such an analysis that we want to start with becoming, and then proceed to see what it is. [He then contrasts "becoming" to "alteration", "something", "determination", etc.]
(Note: When he says that "we have analyzed the beginning", he's not referring to something earlier in the text, where he analyzed something. He's saying that one way to answer the "With What Should Science Begin" question is to say that "analysis" of "the beginning" gives us an answer: being, or maybe becoming, is where we start. Because we haven't gotten to anything more interesting yet, so that must be what's left. It's a joke.)

Hegel's discussion of "beginnings" in this book is downright playful; he says that we can't begin with the beginning, because the beginning is only "the beginning" once you've progressed past it, and that still needs doing, so the beginning can't be where we begin. He ends up saying that "we must begin with Eleatic thought" (which says a lot about how to take Hegel's "must"s). He anticipates the objection that Parmenidean aphorisms need a foundation in some anterior reasonings before they can be intelligibly looked at:
Through philosophy, the retreat into an abstract Eleatic foundation does come to be founded. It is founded in the result of the science of logic as the self-concept* of this very science. This self-concept of the science of logic, the result, is the true foundation of the logic [in its beginning -- translator's addition].
Given that I keep returning to the question of the "starting point" of the Logic, I found this passage pretty interesting. The only justification given for starting with "being" is: the result of the whole system will vindicate it. The true foundation of the Logic is its result.

Hegel goes on about the "abstract" and "indeterminate" nature of "being" in these lectures, as expected, but these claims are separate from his discussions of where to begin the Logic; they don't give the appearance of justifying Hegel's choice of a starting-point, like they do in Science of Logic and the Encyclopedia "Quality". That being is "entirely abstract and indeterminate" isn't why Hegel starts with it, but is what Hegel has to say about it once he's already started -- it's how he segues into the identity of "being" and "nothing", and then on to the rest. If this analysis of "being" was supposed to be part of how we came to decide on a starting-point for the system, then we'd never stop until the system was already complete -- at which point we don't need to start it.

But what follows the above passage is more interesting, and is why I made this post:
The Phenomenology of Spirit teaches us to contemplate the onward movement of consciousness. The last truth reached in the Phenomenology is pure knowing, pure thinking, conceptually comprehending knowing. It is this last truth in the Phenomenology that makes its start within the Logic as being in general. The last truth in the Phenomenology, absolute knowing, thus grounds the beginning in the Logic. But this grounding of the beginning of the Logic is found once again in the subsequent progression of the Logic [in the philosophy of spirit -- translator's addition].

So, here's Hegel still claiming that the Phenomenology's endpoint is the start of the Logic, in 1830. But he also claims that this "grounding of the beginning" shows up later on -- this is not what one would expect if the Phenomenology was supposed to be a necessary propaedeutic to the Encyclopedia system, if it was "presupposed" or was supposed to be the way the reader of Hegel is initiated into Speculative Thought. And "absolute knowing" is identified with "pure thinking", which is how Hegel describes the Logic in general. If these are the same thing, then the various introductions to Hegel's Logics seem to be a rather shorter route to them than the Phenomenology's way of sorrows. So, I'm inclined to think that this passage doesn't support the notion that the Phenomenology is a part of the mature system, though it can certainly be included if one pleases, since it's largely there already, in another ordering.

But, it did surprise me to see that Hegel appears to have regarded his earlier statements about the relation of the Phenomenology to his full system to still be correct near the end of his life. I have perhaps been overhasty in deciding that I'd figured out the answer to a question I had about Hegel; I suspect I may not figure out how the beginnings fit together until I figure out all the rest of it. Which is how it should be. I think.

*"Self-concept" is der Begriff, and "science of"/"of logic" is often added by the translator (to "logic" and "science", respectively) without noting the addition, to try to meliorate Hegel's now-embarrassing use of "science" and "logic" for his peculiar project. Some of the translation choices seem like they're different just to be different, which Hegel would've frowned upon, and so do I -- the strangest one is translating "an sich" as "upon itself", except when used with reference to Kant, when it is translated as "in itself" (with scare-quotes!). In the introduction, the translator notes that he hopes this book will "make Hegel's logic teachable". Certainly the style is smoother than that of Science of Logic or the Encyclopedia Logic, but I would've liked more translation notes, in the style of the G/S/H Encyclopedia Logic, and a translation which didn't vary from existing standards without better reasons than those given. But it is a very nice read so far, and I wish I could spare the forty bucks to take it home.

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.

05 June 2008

It occurs to me that there might be some persons who do not read "Language Log" regularly.

This would be an error on their part. Language Log is great fun; I would be surprised if the sort of folk who like Wittgenstein & Davidson and all that would not also like much of what is discussed at Languge Log. "Grammar" in the unphilosophical sense is pretty neat, too.

I've almost finished Paul Redding's "The Logic of Affect". I was hoping that it'd offer a more detailed picture of the connections between aesthetic judgements and individuals that Redding'd addressed in "Hegel and Piercean Abduction", but so far the book doesn't seem to be coming together very well. Hopefully the last two chapters, on Hegel and evolution respectively, will help the rest of the book to gel. But the connections he draws between "intellectual intuitions" and qualia are certainly interesting, I'll give him that.

As far as philosophical-type content on this blog goes, I have recently been busy elsewhere.