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Guided Readings in Philosophy
Comments on §73-75, On the Standpoint of Science/Against Epistemology 
25th-May-2010 06:10 pm
Homonculus
1. How does it stand with being? At the outset we want to set ourselves along the path of science with this most basic question. Yet we can hardly pose it without suspecting we have said something merely silly. What is the truth? Against the perceived vacuousness of such questions, we may try to lend them some clarity with further determinations. How does it stand between us and being? What appears to us as being? What is occurring in the act of being which so appears? Yet we run a risk with such attempts at clarification: are we in fact clarifying, or are we introducing into the field assumptions which now will go unchecked? We ought to guard against such caprice, and so state our case again with simplicity; yet still we must wonder what it is we've just said-- How does it stand with being?

2. From a certain corner comes the demand that we pause just at the moment of stating our question, and undertake instead a necessary prolegomena. How does it stand with being? First, voices this demand, we must ask how it is that we can or cannot know being. Only armed with the knowledge of how it is that we know could we, it supposes, reliably proceed down the path of inquiring into our knowledge of being. Thus, through this demand a different kind of knowledge arrives as prior to and the condition of the one we seek: we must have knowledge of our knowing before we can claim knowledge of being.

How can this be? If being is exactly the object of knowledge, must we say then that knowledge is outside of being, and so is really nothing? Or if we suppose that knowledge is the active party and being something it posits through its activity, is it rather being that turns out to be nothing? Absurdity results--how can sense be made of a move which places something outside of being?

Hegel seeks first of all to show that the promise of this epistemological move must turn out to be empty. Knowledge of knowledge cannot by any procedure bring us closer to that which, it supposes, stands beyond it as an original object. He seeks second of all to show that the epistemological move was after all a capricious one. It in fact does not cause us to pause and reflect on the act of knowing but rather already and arbitrarily conceives of the act of knowing in a particular way, a way set up around conceptions about the absolute, the division of subject and object, the division of knowledge and being, etc.--yet these are, Hegel insists, the very last things about which we can trivially assume in order to find our starting point. They are indeed if anything our desired conclusions, the very things we seek. The epistemology which proceeds on these assumptions cannot then help but return them circularly as its own results, rather then actually producing knowledge about our cognition of being.

3. They are, moreover, assumptions which are from the outset unnecessary. We are already engaged in the cognition of being. This engagement is (being). What alternative is there? This is not to say that we intuit from the outset the absolute nature of this thinking. But it does mean that there is no need, nor even sense, in halting our thinking in order to think first about thinking and only then begin to think per se; or, to put it another way, the only means by which we can actually go about thinking on thinking is just by thinking, the very opposite of what Hegel describes as the halt called by epistemology. The nature of thought can only become evident through thinking, rather than through a calling into question of the same, which indeed is a calling into question which is absurd, given that it brackets the only means by which it may proceed, i.e. thinking and being. Thus it is the epistemological impulse which becomes lost in abstract and capricious formality, unable to do anything but repeat its own assumptions, while the naive question that precedes epistemology in fact refers to what is actual, and so alone provides a starting point. How does it stand with being?
Comments 
26th-May-2010 11:19 pm (UTC)
"If cognition is the instrument for getting hold of absolute being, it is obvious that the use of an instrument on a thing certainly does not let it be what it is for itself, but rather sets out to reshape and alter it. If, on the other hand, cognition is not an instrument of our activity but a more or less passive medium through which the light of truth reaches us, then again we do not receive the truth as it is itself, but only as it exists through and in this medium. Either way we employ a means which immediately brings out the opposite of it's own end; or rather, what is really absurd is that we should make use of a means at all."

This struck me as the most important concept in the first couple of pages as Hegel seems to go after schools of thought which place The Concept in either Space or Time. The Concept is not some other thing placed outside of Time in Eternity, nor is the Concept something existing in a divine gulf of noumena. It exists, and we have direct access to it by not stepping outside of it and reflecting on it, but actually experiencing it. This fact that the individual can attain absolute knowledge seems a central tenant of Hegel, and something which separates him from his German predecessors or the Empiricism of someone like Locke. How we get to knowledge of The Concept Itself is the tricky part that I still don't quite see yet, but I still have 400+ pages to go.
27th-May-2010 12:32 am (UTC)
Yes, I think Hegel is influenced here by the reception of Kant by Jacobi and Fichte wherein transcendental philosophy is corrected by reasserting intellectual intuition as the primary contact of the subject with being. But unlike Jacobi and much more than Fichte, Hegel is going to make this intuition (paradoxically?) something intrinsically mediated. Being is given to us in intuition, but just as given, rather than absolutely. Hegel is I think trying to defend a middle ground, as it were, where being is both intuitively given and yet mediated, and does so by making the mediation the very nature of its givenness. So we must proceed on this basis, as Hegel does, by following the nature of what is given to us, which in this curious way only becomes what it is at the conclusion of science (if it is anything at all, which of course Hegel will argue it is).

This return to intellectual intuition is in an important sense a return back to the solution of Leibniz, but in another important sense it is not. I think that the German idealists really liked about Kant was the way that he made philosophy, and so reality, a distinctly human enterprise. For Leibniz the doctrine of intellectual intuition is still situated in and reveals a theocentric cosmos. This is the one thing that the German idealists are, I think, really going to have to fend off in their return to intellectual intuition, if they are to keep Kant's spirit alive in their philosophy.

And I think they do this above all by showing how Kant in fact did not complete this project of anthropocentricising philosophy. Kant got rid of God's involvement with being only by the ironic means of making us into God. Being in Kant is still--I think he would never admit this, BTW--the merely potential, the irrational, to which the creative spirit must be added for it to be actual. That this creative spirit is now the transcendental subject rather than God per se is noteworthy, but in Hegel I think we see the demand that this project go further, and reject the view of being which underlies both theocentricism and Kant's transcendental idealism. Thus for Hegel following this solution, being must already itself be something.

Or, if we reconsider again his emphasis on mediation we should say instead that being must already itself be becoming something.
27th-May-2010 01:01 am (UTC)
I haven't read enough German Idealism to say, but in my gut it seemed he was, in this paragraph, going after it and Empiricism while at the same time saying, "Well, there's no need for this tabula rasa stuff, but I'm going to take the other to its logical conclusion." Still, I don't want to confine it to German Idealism. His approach seems rather Platonic and even Neoplatonic in its unfolding and how the book progresses from sense to Spirit, though the Concept doesn't exist in an Eternal Form; rather, it exists in a universal here and now.

Being in Kant is still--I think he would never admit this, BTW--the merely potential, the irrational, to which the creative spirit must be added for it to be actual.

I won't tell on him if you don't! :)

For realz, though, it seems the conclusion of the noumena, and what Hegel drives at later in Consciousness, is that the Concept essentially changes through our apprehension of it. The Concept requires us to truly be. This primary condition of being and the requirement of becoming you allude to in the last sentence seems righto.
27th-May-2010 03:41 am (UTC)
"The Concept requires us to truly be. This primary condition of being and the requirement of becoming you allude to in the last sentence seems righto."

But it's important I think to keep these two points entirely together, as you have here. For reason is present in itself as being, essence, and concept, it is present in mathematics, physics, and biology, and only then, in a sense, present in psychology, society, and ultimately in philosophy, religion, and art. The concept requires us to be not in the sense of us being given as its starting point and it as being strictly ideal, but rather in this curious sense that the concept finds its end in us, and its accomplishment of the end is in this funny way just what it is itself. We supply the condition of the possibility of the concept only, as it were, toward the end of its becoming what it is. (And in particular by recognizing it as it is, this recognition being in the nature of the concept.)

In this way it is through the identification of reason as already in being that the project of anthropocentricising philosophy gets carried out in Hegel's work. The cosmos becomes a human place (a sort of naturalism on its head, in the sense that it identifies human and cosmic nature, but by elevating the latter rather than reducing the former), albeit through this peculiar doctrine of becoming and telos.

I think then the concept becomes what it is through our apprehension of it, and its essence is to become what it is, which is kind of a change and kind of not at all a change!

His logic does seem very Greek, and I believe he studied Proclus, and certainly speaks very highly of Aristotle, but it is a logic which radicalizes 'return' over and against 'procession' which is perhaps even abolished, except insofar as procession is understood as moment of return, i.e. as the implicit entailed in becoming. And of course this path of return is being carried out in history. Without denying the Neoplatonic allusions here, I dare say such an emphasis (and appropriation/response to Platonism) is, above all, Christian.
27th-May-2010 08:55 pm (UTC)
I'd agree there, but it's a particular type of Christian thought, one which to me seems more Platonic and dare I say hermetic than Aristotelian. A cursory google search of "Hegel and Boehme" turned up some interesting things I'll need to read up on eventually. Schelling apparently attacked him for stealing much of his philosophy from Boehme.

Anyway, your comments are helpful here. This was a good summer idea!
2nd-Jun-2010 10:43 pm (UTC)
Kant got rid of God's involvement with being only by the ironic means of making us into God.

Don't you mean, given your subsequent comments (i.e., "…this creative spirit is now the transcendental subject rather than God per se…"), "only by making us fulfill a role previously assigned only to God"? For God "per se" still has a role in Kantian philosophy, however comparatively marginalized it is.
5th-Jun-2010 03:48 am (UTC)
Well, yes. By 'God' there I mean that particular function; certainly Kant's philosophy is still theistic, but in the curious manner that arises from the priority of practical philosophy.
(Deleted comment)
24th-Jun-2010 04:15 am (UTC)
"Why does a return to intellectual intuition risk landing the German idealists in a theocentric conception of knowledge?"

I don't think it does necessarily. What I am saying is just that if we look at the history, the basis by which the rationalists determined concepts like 'substance' for transcendentally real use was intellectual intuition, and its on this basis that we get a system like Spinoza's. Kant understands this, and his argument for transcendental idealism has the two-pronged attack of (i) establishing the transcendental idealist of the objects of sensible intuition (i.e. the Transcendental Aesthetic), and (ii) denying the possibility of intellectual intuition (i.e. the Refutation of Idealism). If our response to Kant is simply that we're admitting intellectual intuition, it seems like we're back into classical rationalism.

But I don't think this is the necessary conclusion. Actually I think rationalism already contains the seeds of a kind of anthropocentric philosophy. Precisely because intellectual intuition grounds judgments by means of sympathy (e.g. I know myself enduring, and thereby understand what it means for other things to endure), it inclines a tendency or indeed a necessity to understand the world in human terms. This is evident in Leibniz's panpsychism for example, but in Leibniz we still seem rather alienated from this community of things that constitute the world, as if it is being described from God's eye, which of course it really is.

What German idealism is going to have to do I think, and what it in fact at least attempted to do, was produce an account of intellectual intuition not as a means to determine concepts for transcendentally real use so as to deduce a dogmatic metaphysics, but rather to follow the thread I highlight above and discover through it a thoroughly human world. On the success of this project is, I think, hangs the success of German idealism, insofar as it aims to retain the opposition to dogmatism and the anthropocentrism of transcendental idealism while cleansing the later of dogmatic residue like the thing in itself. Perhaps such a project is impossible--it certainly seems problematic--but I think this is where the issues are going to hang.

24th-Jun-2010 04:15 am (UTC)
"One big problem I'm having with understanding the Introduction is the issue of the transcendental object."

Yes, I really think this is the difficult thing. Yes, I think the passage in §85 is preliminary, in the sense that he is making there a methodological point about how to proceed on the issue of the thing in itself, not in fact admitting the transcendental idealist position on it. We can think of the dogmatist as the one who supposes a determinate thing in itself as the standard of truth, and Hegel clearly says there that that won't work. We can think of the skeptic conversely as the one who supposes that knowledge of this thing is not possible at all (or except in its relation to the appearance that is known). Again, I think Hegel is trying to walk a line between the position that appeals to 'immediate intuition' and that which appeals to 'no intuition' of the determinate thing. He does this of course by elaborating a doctrine of mediate intuition. We approach the issue of the thing in itself not indeed by affirming that we can get around behind the veil of appearance to know it, nor by setting it aside as our 'X', but through the education of the knowing which has posited it as a thing in itself, an education through which it comes to recognize what in fact is staked in its knowledge.

I mused in my comment on §87 whether this is the sense in which Hegel remains a student of transcendental idealism. For what goes on here is certainly alien to Kant--we do have intellectual intuition here, in the transformative activity of reflection on the shapes of consciousness we do seem to have a kind of determinate use of reason which is not bounded by the empirical use of the categories or anything like this... But this entire issue of self-education of the spirit takes as its content the form of the spirit's apprehension of phenomenon. We are always grounded here in this way on the phenomena. We aren't doing anything like deducing from the determinate concept of substance an infinite being. We have--to tie these two points together--intellectual intuition, but it is elaborated through a thorough focus on human activity.

The big question I think we are left with, even if we ideally understand everything in the introduction, is whether this project can have success. It is fine to say that the dialectic of consciousness will posit a certain set of determinate moments and ground itself on an absolute knowing which comprehends the movement, but it's another thing to show that this is the case! Of course, that is presumably the rest of the book...
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