27 January 2009

Pippin Interview

Skip to the last part of this (PDF) for a long-ish interview with Pippin about various things Hegelio-Academic. It's a good read.

I didn't know that Pippin started out as a literature guy, or that he had a seminar with Sellars. And the stuff about the structure of universities and the analytic/continental split is really interesting -- Pippin discussed some related topics on the first day of his Hegel seminar; he clearly feels pretty strongly about all this.

(HT: Perverse Egalitarianism -- incidentally, bjk's comment on that post is something sublime.)

17 January 2009

Eliminating Externality

I found this Sebastian Roedl paper while looking through some old e-mails. It's a response to McDowell's "Hegel's Idealism as a Radicalization of Kant" (now available in "Having the World in View"); the first footnote in McDowell's paper refers to a response by Roedl from when the paper appeared in English, and that's what this is.

It's good. I really don't have anything to add to it; just go and read it. It's only 14 pages.

The last part has Roedl working out in more detail how the Critique of Pure Reason's categories turn into the Science of Logic's categories, once one eliminates a problematic part of the intuition/concept dualism. The example is a fairly standard one for the from-Kant-to-Hegel genre -- it's a Hegelian treatment of the first Antinomy -- but Roedl's presentation is one of the nicer versions I've encountered. Roedl also looks at why Hegel doesn't have a Kantian architectonic, which isn't a topic I can recall seeing explicitly treated of before. It was nice to see the details of that laid out.

Roedl also disagrees with McDowell's reading of the structure of the Transcendental Deduction; that particular topic is one I'd need to do more work on to judge concerning it. Roedl's reconstruction looks more like what's actually going on in Kant's text, from what I recall of it, but I'd have to go through the Deduction with McDowell's version in mind to really decide the matter.

In any case, Roedl seems to me to be entirely right in saying that Mind and World isn't really concerned with trying to be a "simple route" from the first Critique to Hegelianism, nor is it trying to be another version of the Transcendental Deduction (contra the last footnote in McDowell's paper). In the responses in "Reading McDowell" McDowell made it pretty clear that he wanted to avoid having to give a Transcendental Deduction a la Kant, and that avoiding this obligation was one of the goals of Mind and World. And while McDowell certainly intended Mind and World to be a bridge to Hegel in many respects, calling the book a "simple" version of what Hegel does in the Science of Logic is just disingenuous. The Science of Logic is concerned with a good deal more than just correcting Kant's idealism. Mind and World is a much more modest work. Which of course is no criticism of it; McDowell's rhetoric simply got away from him, I think.

13 January 2009

First impressions of "The Representation of Life"

This quarter is busy. I'm currently sitting in on four classes (three of them seminars) in addition to the courses I'm actually signed up for. And I'm considering trying to sit in on the Mill seminar, since apparently Donatelli wants more people in there and I figure he's a very pleasant lecturer in "Twentieth Century Moral Philosophy.

All of this is very tiring. I have been getting to sleep pretty early recently, just because I can't stay awake anymore after days like these. So, I haven't found time to edit/revise a post I wrote up about Thompson a week ago. It seems a shame to not post it, so here it is, sans revisions. I stuck it behind the fold, since it's rough.

This quarter is looking pretty good so far!

A while back someone recommended Thompson's stuff to me as being a contemporary attempt to "rehabilitate Hegel" (in a similar vein as McDowell). Having read "The Representation of Life", I can certainly see what he was getting at. This article reminded me quite a bit of Jim Kreines's "The Logic of Life: Hegel's Philosophical Defense of Teleology", which is now available in the Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth Century Philosophy -- though I read it online in January of '07 (I know the date because I know where I saw it linked).

I like Kreines's article a lot better, though I should perhaps reread it before coming down too hard on Thompson. (A quick glance shows that "The Representation of Life" is footnoted once, so Kreines plausibly draws some of the things I like from Thompson.) I certainly prefer Kreines's context as a way of getting at these issues -- discussing teleology in light of Kant strikes me as a promising approach; discussing it in light of Frege seems to lead to really awkward prose and load-bearing metaphors. (You can discuss teleology with Kant and he provides you with ready-made terms: regulative ideal, constitutive ideal, reciprocal causation of whole and part. Frege gives you nothing to work with except for the idea of a logical distinction akin to concept/object.) Kreines's article is a pleasant read; Thompson's prose is... distinctive.

It saddens me to see that Thompson wants Swampman to do work for him. I still think that Swampman is a lousy "intuition pump", and I'm not a fan of those to begin with. Extending Swampman-type conclusions (not only can't he think, but he can't be alive!) seems to me to be hopeless -- if anyone is convinced by this sort of hypothetical, it can only be because they already agreed with Thompson to begin with. Kreines's article mentions the same idea (a simple one-celled organism created by a lightning strike) in the context of a Kantian response to Hegel, and I'm inclined to prefer his take on it to Thompson's: skepticism is unmotivated here, because insofar as the thing maintains itself organically it looks like a perfectly good organism. Swampman would only look like he can't be alive, then, because we look at him at a snapshot, or else we dogmatically presume that since his birth was miraculous he can't be a perfectly normal animal. Kreines stresses that such an entity might reproduce ("reproduce", to avoid begging the question against Thompson), and that the offspring would be unproblematically alive: they have the features they have because of the sort of thing they are. (If it's "indeterminate" what sort of thing they are, which seems to be the sort of thing Thompson wants to say about Swampman, based on his "poly-metamorphic butterfly" example -- well, I guess I don't see what's the problem with having an "indeterminate" species. It's not as if it's utterly indeterminate; many things are ruled out by even a snapshot of Swampman's life/"life". An elephant doesn't look like Swampman even for an instant, so he can't be an elephant, etc.)

Looking to Hegel rather than Thompson also makes it less unsettling to see natural selection so rarely mentioned when talking about specieses. I suspect Thompson would stress that he's discussing something logical/conceptual rather than empirical, and so Darwin is out of place here; I worry about the idea that we can happily talk about how we understand living things without looking at... how we moderns understand living things. (Is it a form of scientism to feel unnerved that when Thompson gives examples for how species are described, he cites Aristotle's Historia animalium?)

I don't know what Thompson is trying to get at when he mentions "Cartesian-Davidsonian" intermediaries at the end of section two. I think he's siding with Anscombe against Davidson, but I can't tell quite what the issue under discussion is. Hopefully reading Intention will clear it up.

I don't like the ethical direction things seem to be heading.

If someone then asks, "But what does 'what most of them do' have to do with what it does?", the answer will have to be, "Not much, really." But if, in the other case, someone asks, "What bearing does 'what they do' have on what it does?", the answer will have to be, "Everything." A true judgment of natural defect supplies an 'immanent critique' of its subject.
Well, it could show that (say) some wolf is a bad wolf. But a bad wolf may be just what one wants, or just what the wolf wants. ('The' wolf does not live particularly long in many environments. 'The' wolf suffers in many circumstances. In view of these sorts of aristotelian categoricals, wolves might be advised to be bad wolves.) -- I can easily imagine someone thinking that one ought to be "more than human" -- that to be a "good human" (and not more) is really something blameworthy. (Nietzsche probably said something like this. Kojeve clearly has something like this kicking around.)

I don't want to give the wrong impression: I find a lot of what Thompson says perfectly congenial. I'd just prefer to get it from other sources. Such as Hegel directly.