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Science of Logic Reading Group: Not Adding Up

So somehow, in spite of feeling I’ve been doing very little other than writing and talking about Hegel off the blog recently, I’ve nevertheless fallen hopelessly behind in blogging Hegel’s Science of Logic. The in-person reading group has continued to meet, with a brief break around the Hegel conference a couple weeks back, which all of us attended. We’re moving slowly, but we have won our way through to this week’s selection – the opening chapter of the section on Quantity. Meanwhile, I’ve been blogging only on stray paragraphs here and there, without tackling any decent sections of what we have been discussing.

There’s a great deal I would like to go back and write about. Just to get back in the rhythm, though, I think tonight I’ll just write something on today’s selection. Perhaps some of the other reading group folks, either in person or online, can fill in some of the gaps, or perhaps I’ll be able to backtrack in a quieter moment. For today, I just wanted to draw attention to some of the points Hegel makes in the second remark on the section Pure Quantity – an extended reflection on Kant’s importance (and limitation) for critical philosophy.

This remark further develops some of the concerns I’ve written on previously: Hegel starts by recognising Kant’s importance for dissolving an older metaphysics, and thus opening the path to a new philosophy. This recognition is promptly tempered by Hegel’s observation that Kant’s approach is “imperfect” in both its methods and its results. Hegel treats Kant’s antinomies as possessing a rational core that needs to be extracted from its form of presentation. His concern, as always with Kant, is that the approach is intrinsically dogmatic – that it presupposes that cognition possesses characteristics that have not been established (and, specifically, that it presupposes what it claims to prove) – and that the approach restricts reason, predeciding that it “should not soar beyond sensuous perception and should take the world of appearance, the phenomenal world, as it is” (407, 428). In the process of demonstrating these arguments, this remark also casts some light on Hegel understands his own method.

Hegel begins by suggesting that Kant has inappropriately exceptionalised his four cosmological antinomies, not recognising that such antinomies can be found at the heart of any Notion. Hegel argues “as many antinomies could be constructed as there are Notions” (408). Kant compounds this mistake by not locating the antinomies he does identify in the Notions themselves, but rather in a concrete, “applied” form in which such antinomies cannot be explored in their purity, but rather become intrinsically caught up in other determinations extrinsic to the Notion (409). Further, although Kant on one level recognises that these antinomies are not simply illusions, but contradictions that reason necessarily confronts, his attempt to resolve these contradictions contravenes this insight by treating the contradiction as fundamentally something subjective, something residing in the “transcendental ideality of the world of perception” (410).

These problems can only be overcome, Hegel argues, by grasping the antinomies as “two opposed determinations which belong necessarily to one and the same Notion” (410). Such an approach recognises the validity of each determination – but only as sublated within their Notion. By contrast, Kant’s approach is one-sided – it attempts to take up each determination in isolation from the other – to assert the validity of each dogmatically. Hegel’s description of Kant’s method here is not kind:

…this simple categorical, or strictly speaking assertoric statement is wrapped up in a false, twisted scaffolding of reasoning which is intended to produce a semblance of proof and to conceal and disguise the merely assertoric character of the statement… (411)

Hegel proceeds to illustrate his point by examining how the antinomy of continuity and discreteness arises in Kant’s argument relating to the infinite divisibility of matter. Much of the subsequent discussion consists of an argument that the way in which Kant frames his discussion of this problem, already assumes what it sets out to prove, and is therefore a tautological statement, rather than the proof it purports to be. Hegel wields an interesting and somewhat expansive concept of tautology here.

Hegel begins with Kant’s statement that every composite substance in the world is comprised of the simple (the atom) (412). Hegel notes that, by substance in the world, Kant intends substances as sensuously perceived, and that this substance is taken to be indifferent to the existence of the antinomy itself. Hegel argues that the very definition of a composite is that of something externally put together from things other than itself. The “other” of the composite, however, is the simple. Therefore it is tautological to say the composite consists of the simple – we know nothing more by this statement, than we already knew by simply examining the term “composite” (413). In Hegel’s (sarcastic) words:

To ask of what something consists is to ask for an indication of something else, the compounding of which constitutes the said something. If ink is said to consist simply of ink, the meaning of the inquiry after the something else of which it consists has been missed and the question is not answered but only repeated. (413)

Hegel then suggests that satisfaction provided by a tautological response to this question may derive from the tendency in ordinary thinking to presuppose some particular simple, out of which some specific composite has been formed. This intuition of ordinary thinking is, however, inadequate for the present question, which concerns not some specific composite, but rather the composite as such (413).

From here, Hegel dives into Kant’s proofs, to which Hegel objects in whole and in most parts… He thinks Kant could be more brief and more direct (when Hegel says this about your writing, etc…), and that much of the argument is tautological, smuggling in through the back door what it claims to prove. A characteristic example:

It is clear that the apagogical detour could be omitted and the thesis, ‘composite substance consists of simple parts’, could be directly followed by the reason: because composition is merely a contingent relation of substances, and is therefore external to them and does not concern the substances themselves. If the composition is in fact contingent then, of course, substances are essentially simple. But this contingency which is the sole point at issue is not proved but straightway assumed, and casually, too, in a parenthesis – as something self-evident and of secondary importance. (416)

(As a side point, while Hegel is opposed to presupposing anything that you want to prove, he is absolutely incensed by Kant’s parenthesis – it comes up several times in this passage. It offends Hegel deeply. If you are going to presuppose something, don’t do it parenthetically…)

The upshot of Hegel’s argument is that Kant’s conclusion essentially points back to the externality and contingency of composition – the very assumption smuggled in as a starting point for the proof, such that, in Hegel’s tones of rising sarcasm:

its laboured, tortuous complexity serves no other purpose than to produce the merely outward semblance of a proof and partially to obscure the quite transparent fact that what was supposed to emerge as a consequence is, parenthetically, that on which the proof hinges; that there is no proof at all, but only an assumption. (419)

Hegel next moves to Kant’s antithesis, which he treats with similar scorn – “This proof can be called a whole nest (to use an expression elsewhere employed by Kant) of faulty procedure” (419). Here, Hegel complains again about the mixing of metaphors from everyday experience and ordinary thinking – in this case, the assumption that whatever is substantial is spatial – in the construction of the argument. For Hegel, Kant’s assumptions pile up, insights are achieved and then perversely discarded in the movement of the argument, and the argument fails to comprehend its object by grasping it in its Notion. (419-422)

This extended close critique of Kant leads Hegel to a larger objection to Kant’s method – its self-restriction to appearances or phenomena, to what can be sensuously perceived. Contemplating objects as sensuously perceived, for Hegel, is never sufficient to grasp objects in their Notion. Kant’s conclusions are therefore restricted to what is available to sensuous perception – yet Kant extrapolates his conclusions to reason as a whole. Hegel argues that this amounts to an argumentative leap from:

all our visual, tactile and other experience shows us only what is composite; even the best microscopes and the keenest knives have not enabled us to come across anything simple (424)

to:

Then neither should reason expect to come across anything simple. (424)

Close examination of Kant’s method, however, demonstrates a tacit dogmatism – assumptions smuggled in without proof, that composition (rather than continuity) is the mode of relation of substances, and that substances are therefore absolute and are related contingently. From the point of view of Hegel’s argument about quantity, Kant’s approach amounts to a separation of the two moments of quantity, that fixes each moment as absolutely separate. This approach results from treating substance, matter, space, time and similar categories as absolutely distinct and divided from one another – taking these categories as continuous, sublates this division. In Hegel’s words:

Since each of the two opposed sides contains the other within itself and neither can be thought without the other, it follows that neither of these determinations, taken alone, has truth; this belongs only to their unity. This is the true dialectical consideration of them and also the true result. (425)

Hegel’s move here is extremely interesting: this sublation in the category of the continuous, contains division – but as potential, as possibility (425). Hegel will develop from this an interesting critique of non-dialectical positions for confusing abstractions that grasp such potentials, with concrete or really existing entities. Hegel argues:

What is abstract has only an implicit or potential being; it only is as a moment of something real.

And:

Such intellect commits the error of holding such mental fictions, such abstractions, as an infinite number of parts, to be something true and actual; but this sensuous consciousness does not let itself be brought beyond the empirical element to thought. (427)

I’d like to explore the implications of this a bit further, but the reading group is about to assemble (contingently?), so I’ll leave things with this summary for the moment. Since I’ve stolen time to write this in a small slice of time before the reading group, apologies if this is unclear or poorly expressed…

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13 responses to “Science of Logic Reading Group: Not Adding Up

  1. Tom Bunyard March 2, 2008 at 12:31 am

    Hi,

    As we discussed, I thought I might put forward a few questions raised by my reading of the Encyclopaedia Logic. Perhaps your understanding of the S of L could help me out.

    I feel – or at least felt when I finished it – that I got the general shape of the book in my head, but I do find some of the transitions and indeed some of the content a little hard to fathom. Principle amongst these are the account of reflection given in the section on Essence; the move from Essence to Actuality, and that from Actuality to Concept; and the nature of the Judgement and of the Syllogism.

    In order to facilitate a conversation about essence I wrote a very quick and crude summary of my understanding of the Logic up to that point. However, i think you say in the post above that you’re still battling it out with quantity, and as such haven’t got as far as essence. Having typed this I might as well post it however; if you disagree with any of it please let me know.

    Firstly, painting it in very broad brushstrokes, I take Hegel’s problematic in the Logic to be as follows:

    Hegel is extrenely sympathetic to Kant’s desire to identify the true nature of reason. However, Kant had tried to state what reason was by providing a transcendental account of it functions and operates, i.e. he effectively posited a perspective beyond and above that of our normal, everyday rational consciousness from which he could identify the nuts and bolts that make its workings possible. Hegel says at one point that this is like learning to swim without getting wet; obviously, one can only reason about what reason might truly be through the act of reasoning. But if that’s the case, how can we know that we end up with the right answers? In order to validate that answer we’d have to know the answer to the question before we answered it. As he writes in the Introduction to the Phenomenology:

    “For if knowledge is the instrument by which to get possession of absolute Reality, the suggestion immediately occurs that the application of an instrument to anything does not leave it as it is for itself, but rather entails in the process, and has in view, a moulding and alteration of it. Or, again, if knowledge is not an instrument which we actively employ, but a kind of passive medium through which the light of the truth reaches us, then here, too, we do not receive it as it is in itself, but as it is through and in this medium.”

    So, there needs to be some way of figuring out what pure reason is without distorting it in any way, and without importing any external material into it whatsoever. Hegel thinks this actually an easy problem to solve: we don’t need to deduce some kind of transcendental account of how reason functions; rather, we can just sit back and let reason do its own thing.

    In doing so there can be no presuppositions: we’re interested in reason itself, and not the act of reasoning about something. There can be no interference from the outside world, or from the philosopher. As such, we need to be thinking about reason, but as we can’t have any preconceptions about what reason might be we need to start off with a something that is effectively a nothing; we have the existence of reason as a starting point, but no content.

    So, we start off with the most abstract, indeterminate thought possible: being, the simple fact that reason itself exists. Reason must reason about something, but in order to let reason reason about itself undisturbed we remove any external, presupposed material, and just let it set to work on itself.

    Being, however, is so abstract and indeterminate, so without content that it is essentially nothing, or not-being. This is a really crucial move (although if we take Hegel at his word he’s supposedly not making any ‘moves’ at all, and just letting reason unfold), and it makes all that follows possible; being is the same as nothing, and this will enable him to say that a positive is also a negative.

    At this point in the Science of Logic Hegel talks about Parmenides, and Plato’s dialogue of the same name, which deal with the relation of parts to whole, of the One that comprises everything. Hegel says that (in Plato’s dialogue) Parmenides takes the statement “the one is” and separates it out; the two component parts, the one and its being (the ‘is’) are shown to be separate, as the statement ‘the one’ is less than the statement ‘the one is’. This is supposed to show that being is something that cannot be ascribed to the One. Being is indeterminate, according to Parmenides, and can only be ascribed to particular things. Being just is being, and nothing is just nothing. According to Parmenides, then, if we just take being on its own we’re not going to get anywhere, as it’s completely static and reliant on particularity to give it content. Parmenides takes particular being and the one, and keeps them separate – and in consequence Hegel describes the resultant dialectic between the two as one of ‘external reflection’. Difference and negation are, for Parmenides (or at least in Plato’s dialogue) not internal to being.

    Hegel, on the other hand, says that abstract, indeterminate being is the same as nothing. Being is the same as nothing (or not-being). From this move he will later be able to say that determination is negation (this is this because its not that), and can claim that this determination arises from the very being of the objects thus determined (i.e. not from an external relation between them imposed by an observer). This move thus allows the organic totality that he wants to arrive at, as all negative difference is the same as positive identity, and vice versa.

    So, being has turned into nothing; in fact, being and nothing have turned out to be the same thing. We thus have a new concept – that of becoming, the transition between being and nothing. With the idea of becoming we have that of determinations of being (negative difference in positive being), and we end up with determinate being. Determinations of being (being becoming being) leads to being-for-itself, i.e. being becoming itself. This is equivalent to immediacy; being is just related to being, whilst negation, the nothingnesss immanent to being, is likewise related to itself. It thus is (positive) and is determined (negative) only in relation to itself.

    This immediacy is now shown to be false, as we’ve only got determinations of being because we’ve got different types of being, and this introduces the notion of quantity: qualitative difference leads to quantitative equivalence. From this we get quantity and quantum, and thereby degree: a form of qualitative difference within quantity itself (i.e. a quantum of quantity). This becomes ratio (a relation of one particular quantity to another), in which we have a quantitative determination which is alterable in relation to another, different quantitative determination. The fact that we have an alterable quantitative determination related to another distinct determination leads to measure, and the relation of quantity to quality. But then measure starts to mutate into essence, and it begins to get very odd indeed.

    The being that we started off with has, by this point, become rather less abstract than when we began. At first we only had being and nothing (which gave us determinate being, ‘being-there’), and this then gave us quality and quantity. But quality became quantity (quantitative amounts of qualitatively distinct things), and quantity became quality (the distinction between different quanta). They thus negated each other, and became united in measure.

    Measure now leads us to the ‘measureless’: if something experiences a qualitative change when we go beyond a certain quantitative measure of it, requiring a different type of measurement, that new measure is ‘measureless’ in relation to the first. Presumably an example of this would be the transformation of water into steam; its boiling point leads to measurements of the gas’ movement or density which mean nothing in relation to the previous measurement of temperature (maybe this is a bad example). We’ve now got qualitative change within quantity – different types of quantitative measurement.

    This means that being has turned into qualitative difference; qualitative difference led to quantity; quantity led to quantitative difference; and quantitative difference led back to quality, and qualitative difference. Quality turned into quantity and quantity into quality; we’ve thus got the notion of a relation to self in a relation of difference, and this will lead into essence as follows:

    Being and its determinations resolved themselves into a unity (that of quality and quantity), and that unity showed itself to be self-sublating (in the measureless). Hegel has described measure as the immediate unity of quantity and quality. But because measure sublates itself in the measureless, we now have a mediated unity between them; their immediate relation in measure is mediated by the measureless. So, we have the concept of an immediacy that negates itself and mediates itself with itself – an immediacy that sublates itself into mediacy. Likewise, we have a mediacy that relates itself to itself, and which therefore sublates itself into immediacy. An immediacy that mediates itself with itself, that becomes other to itself but which at the same time remains identical to itself in that otherness is, we are told, ‘essence’.

  2. N Pepperell March 2, 2008 at 1:03 am

    Tom – This is excellent. I’ve been keeping a running tally of contributions on things people have written for the online discussion (the most recent list is here – the post date is midleading, as I’ve added new contributions rather than continually re-posting, but I’ve also been lagging on updating recently – I’ll do a completely new post on the group soon, and try to bring the list up to date). Would you mind if, when I do the updated post, I add a link to your comment here to the list?

    Most of my posts recently have been attempts to get some small piece of the text at a more micrological level – as you’ve mentioned above, I often find that I get a sort of feel for what the whole is trying to do, and for the major “moves” (whether Hegel wants to call them this or not), but the smaller steps are where I often find myself stumbling – and I’m never sure how much this is due to lack of familiarity with, say, the science or the state of philosophical discussion or similar at the time: would the moves seem more intuitive to me if I had better background in this? I’m not sure… But the side effect has been that, aside from the initial comments I made on the prefaces and the section on “With What Must the Science Begin?”, most of my posts have been on small chunks of text, just trying to see whether I can reconstruct the logic behind specific moments of the argument. It will be nice to get some more overarching posts into the mix.

    When I have more time (I’m buried in Lukács at the moment), I’d like to pick up on what you’ve written here, and try to talk a bit more about the issue of how Hegel “finds” these overarching categories (like “becoming”) into which he suspends the concepts with which he begins. I very much like the way you’ve focussed on Hegel’s frustration with presuppositions – I’ve tended to emphasise that dimension of his work, as well – his major criticisms of other approaches mostly relate to the ways in which they (from his point of view) drag various presuppositions unrecognised into the argumentative mix. One of the things I’ve found in our in-person reading group discussion is that it’s a bit difficult to communicate why Hegel believes that he isn’t doing the same – here, his argument would I think be that the account must ultimately loop back on itself in some way – that, in a sense, we know that we’ve adequately gotten out of the way of reason, and followed it through its necessary unfolding, when the result has a certain form – when the system can situate everything (including its beginning) in a relational network such that each moment is determined in its relationship to other moments. But I’m just associating here to issues that have come up in discussion – not the best response to what you’ve written.

    Do let me know, though, if you’re comfortable with my listing your comment in the list of online contributions – I think it’s a very good overview, and people will be more likely to see it in the list, than in the comments. If you are posting things at another website, I’m happy to link directly there, as well.

  3. Tom Bunyard March 2, 2008 at 2:41 am

    Hi,

    Yeah, of course – please feel free to pass it on. I’m off to the pub to meet a friend, but I’ll reply to th econtent of your response later. As regards getting an overview of the book: i find that I can’t understand Hegel at all iof I don’t try and do that. If I get myopic about a paragraph, page or even a chapter I lose sight of the whole, and it’s often the case that if you manage to get a (loose, abstract) handle on the whole then you can get to grips with the tricky bits more easily. Anyway, I’ll get back to you later.
    Yes, I do have a website of sorts; I started a blog thing back in January to try and make me write more (http://monagyric.blogspot.com/) but I rarely post anything there.

  4. Tom Bunyard March 2, 2008 at 6:10 am

    Hi again

    Personally, I find it absolutely crazy to actually take Hegel at his word, and accept that these unfolding determinations really are presuppositionless. I think Hegel says that’s what he’s doing, and I think he may even have believed that to be the case – but in so far as we don’t want to be shiny eyed born again Hegelians I think we should be a little sceptical (the born again phrase derives from the gact that I’ve spent too long recently with people who seem to genuinely BELIEVE in Hegel, and who are, to all intents and purposes, pretty much equivalent to Christians).

    Hegel’s philosophy derives from his early work as a theology student. The Phenomenology’s theme of mutual recognition and Spirit derives from his early concerns with the Christian congregation, and his whole project of uniting the universal with the particular arises from his early concerns with humanity’s alienation from God. These ideas don’t just spontaneously emerge from pure reason; they arose from his own project and labours. I think it might even be psychologically impossible for that not to be the case. A born again Hegelian may well say that this is because History has been getting ever closer to the full realisation of the Absolute…but if they did would you not think them to be a bit of a fool?

    I think Hegel certainly wants to say that what he’s doing is completely immanent, and that he imports no presuppositions whatsoever. It may even be the case that Hegel’s claims about reason and the need to deduce it immanently are persuasive, and need to be dealt with accordingly. However, even if we concede all that it remains the case that Hegel can still be criticised on his own terms: are these moves really, truly, genuinely presuppositionless? Doesn’t the rational state, for example, bear quite a strining resemblance to the Prussian state? Aren’t some of the moves a little…well, arbitrary?

    As regards the circularity of the project validating it – yes, I think Hegel would certainly say so, but I’m not so sure that I’d go along with him. Ther whole sequence of eth Encyclopaedia does just that: we start off with the concept of being, but the process of unfolding reason goes on to deduce objective reality as well as the conceptual logic which governs it. This (in the Philosoph of Nature) includes the deduction of plants, animals and then rational animals, and thus Spirit – and then , in the Philosophy of Spirit (third part of teh Encyclopaedia) we find that Spirit must by virtue of its own nature understand itself as actualised reason…and we thus complete the circle. Hegel works through this epic in order to find the rational, cosmic necessity of him sitting in his armchair thinking these colossally complicated and ambitious thoughts.

    …but I don;t see that as validating his claims on anything other than their own terms. OK, so he tells a story about how he came to be sitting there doing this thinking, and he tells us that he’s come up with this story without any presuppositions – but I can’t really see how the circularity of the tale does away with the fact that Hegel must have known where he wanted to get end up when he started.

    Anyway, that’s a problem of interpretation, or of belief in Hegel’s claims. one of my major problems as regards te Logic is one of my own comprehension: i find it really hard to see how the concept of being that we have in our heads, which goes on to perform all sorts of intellectual accrobatics, supposedly describing not just thought but matter as well, can actually be said to marry up to the real world. OK, so Hegel tells us a story about how being becomes plants, aniumals, spirit and us thinking about it. Great – but that’s just a story, and as it unfolded from a concept, at what point did that concept step out of heads and start being objective. Why isn’t this descriptive? Why isn’t there a dichotomy between the world and our logical thoughts about being?
    I can remember scribbling excitably in the margin about this issue being resolved at teh end of the logic, but I can’t remember it now. Will look it up when I have a bit more time.

  5. N Pepperell March 2, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    lol – I should indicate that, when I talk about the issue of presuppositionlessness, I’m not making a commitment that Hegel has done such a thing – only trying to express something about the structure of the work and the commitments that Hegel believes himself to have undertaken. In other words, there’s more going on (or needs to be more going on, in terms of Hegel’s presentation of his own method) than just, say, a sort of phenomenological “let’s really pay close attention to what happens when we reason” sort of move. Hegel is, I think, aware that there is a distinction between the process through which he came up with his system, and the presentation of the system itself – the issue here is a bit like Marx’s distinction between the method of inquiry and the method of presentation: what we’re seeing in a work like the Logic is a presentation, and this presentation is intended (whether it succeeds or not is another issue) to demonstrate that it’s possible to suspend a set of concepts into a mutually-referential relational network, and demonstrate through that presentation that thought, in thinking these concepts, slides from one concept to the next, and then eventually back to the beginning, in a non-random (and therefore “rational”) way.

    That said, I’m trying to be very sympathetic :-) The exact things you are saying are what come up in our local reading group all the time. Many of the moves are extremely forced, at least as they look now, and outside the context in which Hegel is writing – some are more intuitive, but many… I’m often extremely unclear why he thinks particular categories go in particular orders, or why certain antinomies are suspended in some specific higher-level concept. A charitable read might say that it made more sense at the time, but I’m not clear that it did ;-P And I think it’s quite difficult to recapture, on this end of history, the sort of base anxiety that motivates Hegel’s work, that this sort of comprehensiveness, this sense that everything must have its own place, is necessary in order for reason to be well-grounded… It’s this element of the work – this requirement that everything be amenable to subsumption into essentially the same dialectical move – that feels most mystical to me when I read.

    That said, I think it’s important to consider in what sense the concept steps out of our heads and becomes objective for Hegel: the form of objectivity here, I think, isn’t the objectivity of an “object world” out there, divided from consciousness in some intrinsic way. The objectivity we are exploring here, I think, is an essentially intersubjective one: Hegel explicitly labels “nature” (including human nature) as “irrational” and arbitrary in a number of places. So, in a sense, his claim isn’t so grandiose (although it still probably doesn’t sit so well with contemporary sensibilities): he’s making an argument that the major categories of our culture hang together in some way that we can make sense of, on the basis of those categories themselves. He’s not talking, I think, about plants, animals, etc., unfolding from being, but about our thoughts about being having a determinable connection to our thoughts about plants, animals, etc. I don’t see him so much deducing “objective reality”, as saying that we aren’t dealing in our thoughts with “objective reality”, but instead with ourselves – with an object we can know, because that object is “us”. Admittedly, not “us” individually, but rather collectively – universally – but collectively at we stand at a particular moment in time. He then convicts other sorts of philosophy for getting confused on this issue, for acting as though they are dealing with a different kind of object – with an object “out there” – and therefore generating all sorts of anxieties about the “gap” between “us” and our “object”. Basically, he is attempting to define this problem away, by saying that we don’t need to worry about it, if we recognise that our object has been ourselves all along. At least, this is the most generous way I can think to read the text :-)

    If I’m right in this approach to the text, then what he’s doing doesn’t look quite so strange and arbitrary – although of course this reading means that his analysis “presupposes” the factuality of our history and culture – but I don’t think it’s this sort of presupposition that he’s trying to avoid. There is still a massive metaphysical leap in the assumption that “holding our time in thought” is possible in this particular way – in the assumption that times “hold together” in this sort of totalistic manner. Of course, Hegel would respond that he hasn’t assumed this – he has shown it – that this is the point of the whole demonstration in the Logic. It’s here that the arbitrariness of those small moves starts to build up and wear down the edifice of the argument…

    But I guess this is how I try to tackle the text, when I’m in the mood to be sympathetic to it :-) I try to remind myself that these categories aren’t really “ontological” in the standard way that we think of ontological categories – that there is a sense in which these categories are “for us”, and relate to our forms of social being? So, in a sense, I don’t think it’s a problem for Hegel that his categories are the categories of his time: I think he regards that as a feature, not a bug – that this is a major point of his project, to say that things can be both historical and rational (in the sense of being connected to one another in a “necessary” and non-random way). But of course once he’s read this way, as the sort of voice of the immanent self-exploration of a historical moment, then he certainly does presuppose the whole historical development that led up that point – but he deals with the results of that historical development as they give themselves within the self-understanding of that time, as they have been taken up into his contemporary culture and language – such that his argument doesn’t require any claim that he has stepped outside the immanent frame into to speak about some other object that purports to sit somewhere outside. It’s in this sense, and this sense only, I think, that any claims about “presuppositionlessness” would need to be read.

    And this isn’t to say that he meets those standards, even when read in this way. Only that the project looks a bit less bizarre than when read otherwise…

  6. N Pepperell March 2, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    Tom – I should also say, in case my tone doesn’t carry in the post above, that I keep thinking back to what you’ve written above, and bursting out laughing – in other words, I really do agree with the sense of frustration you’re expressing, and I’m not trying to diminish or dismiss that reaction. What you’ve written expresses in a really accurate way, the sorts of conversations and expressions of frustration we talk about in the in-person reading group. I have a habit of really trying hard to read theorists as sympathetically as I possibly can – and I don’t have to deal, locally, with fully committed Hegelians (although I occasionally run into some at conferences…), so I tend to push for sympathetic readings, because I’m not interacting with people on a regular basis who are inclined to be sympathetic to the text. But I enjoyed your discussion above, as I think it expresses a perfectly reasonable reaction of frustration to the text :-)

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  8. Tom Bunyard March 2, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    Hi,

    This is great, because I think your Hegel may be a little different to my own. As I’m largely influenced by Houlgate’s reading, I take Hegel as presenting a kind of onto-theology, as deducing the true nature of the reason that underlies both mind and matter, and therefore resolving any dichotomy between the two. Your reading seems rather more similar to Pippin’s, who presents the Logic as something purely concerned with our own concepts, and not with objective reality.

    Presumably on that reading the Logic makes no major advance beyond Kant; we are still presented with objects that are absolutely distinct from us, and know them through the complicated mechanisms of conceptual categories. I on the other hand take him as trying to make an advance beyond that Kantian dichotomy, and as deducing the nature of both mind and matter at one and the same time. The being that we start off with is so abstract and indeterminate that to imprt any distinction between mind and matter would be a presupposition. The Object that teh book concludes with becomes other to reason and ‘Nature’ – or rather reason-in-the-form-of-otherness, i.e. a contingent, objective world that holds reason immanent within itself, and which will gradually articulate that reason through the ascent of more sophisticated creatures and structures.

    So, I take Hegel to be doing ontology at the same time as epistemology (although as i sdaid yesterday I struggle at times to see how this is possible). I take him at his word, that he really is deducing the true nature of being itself from a purely immanent process. several of your statements woudl thus conflict with this reading:

    Firstly, there can be no distincton between the mode of presentation and the mode of enquiry, as they should essentially be one and the same thing. This isn;t to say that Hegel is making it up as he goes along – he’s presumably done any number of thought experiments in developing the work – but rather that the sequence that he sets out is in the presentation is precisely that of the enquiry (albeit presumably polished and assembled coherently). If that were not the case, Hegel’s claims to avoid presuppositions would be meaningless: he would already know precisely what he wanted to say, and there would be no necessary link between that content and the process of the Logic. I don’t doubt for a minute that this is an altogether more plausible way of reading him, but I think it ghoes against his own claims.

    Secondly, because of the onto-theological reading that I subscribe to, I disagree with the claim that when Hegel talks about plants, animals and ultimately Spirit he’s really just talking about our ideas about them. Sureky this would intriduce problems of noumena, and a Kantian dichotomy? Sure, yuo could say that Hegel is setting out the necessary conditions for our knowledge of these objects – bit the objects remain fundamentally distinct from these concepts, and knowledge of them would involve the kind of ‘external reflection’ thast he wants to avoid.

    Thirdly, if you read Hegel as simply setting out the conceptual categories of his time, you import a rathe more open ended notion of the system than I think Hegel woudl allow, as it implies that were the Logic to be written again nowadays it may well end up looking very different indeed (because culture and all the rest of it have moved on). I don;t think this marries up to Hegel’s own claims; I take him as setting out an Absolute truth about being itself, a truth that has subsisted throghout existence and which will remain true whether or not human beings exist at all – i.e. the true nature of being itself. We are able to know this truth because we are ourselves a part of being; we are rational creatures, and being – ontological, material, concrete being – is itself inherently rational (as proven, supposedly, by the Logic).

    So my Hegel is perhaps a rather more ambitious (possibly foolishly ambitious) figure than your own, at least as far as I understood your post: he’s not just concerned with thought, culture, Spirit and concepts, but rather with the Concept, the true nature of being itself. Perhaps this derives from the sense in which I take him as being very similar to Spinoza – far more similar than he admits, despite his rejection of accusations of pantheism – and also from the fact that I read him as deducing the true Begriff that lies behind the Vorstellung of religion. The Hegelian ‘Idea’ is, on my reading, effectively a Spinozist God, whist the trinity of Concept, Object, Spirit; Universal, Particular, Singular; and all the rest of them reveal the truth that lies behind the ‘picture thought’ of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

    This isn’t to say that I could explain precisely how Hegel manages to do all this; as I said in that post yesterday, I’ve forgotten quite how the intellectual concept of being is able to subsume ontological reality, and it would be stupid to deny that the Pippin-esque reading in which Hegel is a rather more sober and limited figure makes sense. That said, I think Hegel’s own claims point towards something grander, to the true nature of existence itself.

  9. N Pepperell March 2, 2008 at 11:40 pm

    Hey Tom – Many thanks for this. Just to keep myself from forgetting what I’m meaning to say, I’ll intersperse comments between your text below (and apologies that this will make the post length drag out – it just seems the clearest way to do it). I should say at the outset, though, that I don’t have a strong conviction that I’m “right” in the reading of Hegel I’m playing around with – I’d need to do far greater amounts of textual hard yards to try to substantiate these points, and I’m not pre-committed to the notion that those hard yards would bear me out. So, although I’m responding, I’m doing so more to outline how I’m approaching the text, rather than to make a definitive argument for that approach, if this makes sense :-)

    This is great, because I think your Hegel may be a little different to my own. As I’m largely influenced by Houlgate’s reading, I take Hegel as presenting a kind of onto-theology, as deducing the true nature of the reason that underlies both mind and matter, and therefore resolving any dichotomy between the two. Your reading seems rather more similar to Pippin’s, who presents the Logic as something purely concerned with our own concepts, and not with objective reality.

    I think this is fair enough – I’m probably about equally familiar with Pippin and Houlgate, but I have tended to take seriously the moments in the text where Hegel expressly treats nature as “irrational”, discusses things like the simultaneous transformations of the subject and its object, and talks about the task of philosophy relating to holding its time in thought. I do actually see Hegel as doing both ontology and epistemology – it’s just that his ontological and epistemological claims concern a different sort of “object” (and, while he’s at it, a different sort of subject) – so that, yes, I don’t think his approach addresses the same questions that traditional ontology or epistemology would be addressing. But none of this is something I would defend strongly – it’s my current interpretive line of attack for this text.

    Presumably on that reading the Logic makes no major advance beyond Kant; we are still presented with objects that are absolutely distinct from us, and know them through the complicated mechanisms of conceptual categories. I on the other hand take him as trying to make an advance beyond that Kantian dichotomy, and as deducing the nature of both mind and matter at one and the same time. The being that we start off with is so abstract and indeterminate that to imprt any distinction between mind and matter would be a presupposition. The Object that teh book concludes with becomes other to reason and ‘Nature’ – or rather reason-in-the-form-of-otherness, i.e. a contingent, objective world that holds reason immanent within itself, and which will gradually articulate that reason through the ascent of more sophisticated creatures and structures.

    We’ve talked about this in the local reading group – I agree that, if I’m right about this reading, Kant seems to cop an awful lot of flak from Hegel, for what amounts to addressing a different problem. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he makes no advance beyond the Kantian dichotomy – it just means that he makes no advance on the problem, conceptualised in Kantian terms: as a problem of how to bridge the gap between consciousness and a reality conceived as fundamentally separate from consciousness. It would be possible to argue that the formulations you’ve used above are actually a translation of a Hegelian argument into a Kantian space, where whatever unities are achieved would have to be achieved, in a sense, materialistically. Hegel could be seen as posing the question of how we conceptualise nature as an object in materialist terms – the question of what we are doing, when we take our object to be of this form: by doing this, he can “deduce the nature of mind and matter at the same time” – just not in the same sense that someone would understand this deduction, within a framework that posits mind and matter to be existent in a Kantian sense. Given that human societies arguably don’t always perceive identical qualitative characteristics in “matter”, this wouldn’t be a trivial methodological sidestep – whether it’s the step Hegel is definitely making is another question.

    So, I take Hegel to be doing ontology at the same time as epistemology (although as i sdaid yesterday I struggle at times to see how this is possible). I take him at his word, that he really is deducing the true nature of being itself from a purely immanent process. several of your statements woudl thus conflict with this reading:

    The difficulty is that there are so many words to take him at ;-) And they may not mean the same things for both of us. Part of what’s in question is what Hegel has in mind, when he’s talking about being, or about uniting epistemology and ontology, so it’s unfortunately possible for both of us to take him at his word, and yet have room for considerable differences of interpretation.

    Firstly, there can be no distincton between the mode of presentation and the mode of enquiry, as they should essentially be one and the same thing. This isn;t to say that Hegel is making it up as he goes along – he’s presumably done any number of thought experiments in developing the work – but rather that the sequence that he sets out is in the presentation is precisely that of the enquiry (albeit presumably polished and assembled coherently). If that were not the case, Hegel’s claims to avoid presuppositions would be meaningless: he would already know precisely what he wanted to say, and there would be no necessary link between that content and the process of the Logic. I don’t doubt for a minute that this is an altogether more plausible way of reading him, but I think it ghoes against his own claims.

    There can be a distinction between mode of inquiry and mode of presentation – there just can’t be a distinction between mode of presentation and substance of presentation. In other words, by the time you get to the Logic, the form of presentation needs to be non-arbitrary, in order to express what Hegel is claiming is the movement consciousness must necessarily follow, if it is to grasp the network of relationships within which these concepts are all embedded. How Hegel arrived at this order empirically (which is the mode of inquiry) needn’t have anything to do with the presentation of the unfolded system in the Logic. The course of Hegel’s individual thought-process in uncovering these relationships isn’t material to the sort of argument he’s putting forward – just as it also doesn’t contradict his claims to point out (as he himself often does) that ordinary or other sorts of philosophical thinking often follow very different lines than the ones he lays out as “necessary” in his own argument.

    “Presuppositionless” in this context means that every concept will be shown to be just as “necessary” to the expression of the mutual relationships connecting the totality of concepts to one other – that the initial concepts, no matter how arbitrary or dogmatic they appear to be at first, will be shown by the unfolding of the system as a whole, to be the very starting point that was required, in order to unfold the system. I have no stake in arguing that Hegel “succeeds” in making this case, but I think this is the sort of case he is making. Making this sort of case has nothing to do, really, with how he managed empirically to work out this order of presentation – it just requires that the order of presentation be identical to its substantive claim, because the order of presentation actually is the substantive claim.

    Secondly, because of the onto-theological reading that I subscribe to, I disagree with the claim that when Hegel talks about plants, animals and ultimately Spirit he’s really just talking about our ideas about them. Sureky this would intriduce problems of noumena, and a Kantian dichotomy? Sure, yuo could say that Hegel is setting out the necessary conditions for our knowledge of these objects – bit the objects remain fundamentally distinct from these concepts, and knowledge of them would involve the kind of ‘external reflection’ thast he wants to avoid.

    I actually agree with you here: in other words, I think Kant gets a really unfair beating, if my reading is correct, as Hegel would be dealing with the “problem” of noumena essentially by saying this problem is nothing we should be concerned about, as our proper object is only the universal within history and language. On the other hand, he still has critique of Kant for a kind of reification of the properties of the transcendental subject, for failing to capture what, to Hegel, would be “necessary” relationships connecting various antinomies, for what Hegel sees as a reduction to empirical, sensuous experience, and similar moves. In spite of these sorts of critiques, given that Hegel does in a number of passages point to a sort of irrational factuality of nature, you would think he could offer a more charitable reading of Kant… But I’m not certain his lack of charity means that he is trying to do away with noumena by arguing that reality “out there” is conceptually structured – although I don’t want to say this point too strongly, as I think the reading is perfectly fair and probably more normal than the one I’m playing with.

    Thirdly, if you read Hegel as simply setting out the conceptual categories of his time, you import a rathe more open ended notion of the system than I think Hegel woudl allow, as it implies that were the Logic to be written again nowadays it may well end up looking very different indeed (because culture and all the rest of it have moved on). I don;t think this marries up to Hegel’s own claims; I take him as setting out an Absolute truth about being itself, a truth that has subsisted throghout existence and which will remain true whether or not human beings exist at all – i.e. the true nature of being itself. We are able to know this truth because we are ourselves a part of being; we are rational creatures, and being – ontological, material, concrete being – is itself inherently rational (as proven, supposedly, by the Logic).

    My reading certainly makes it possible to appropriate Hegel in a more open-ended way, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that he saw the system that way himself: he could think that things have reached a sort of culmination in his own moment, even if he thinks he is talking about the universals sedimented within the language and history of his own time. He certainly wouldn’t be the only thinker in that period to think of modernity in terms of a kind of historical realisation of what was naturally social, achieved through a stripping away of artifice that had previously encrusted over such a universal core… He certainly thinks he’s talking about something that has been historically achieved or that has won through to realisation in time – whether he thinks this process must end with him, whether he thinks he’s done the best he can do within the limits of his time, whether he thinks that some new transformation will once again alter subjects and objects and make possible and even better system in the future, which we could never imagine now – I’m agnostic on these sorts of issues, and could see someone plausibly appropriating him in any of these ways. By itself, though, that Hegel might have considered himself to be engaging with language and culture, however, doesn’t force the system to be open-ended.

    So my Hegel is perhaps a rather more ambitious (possibly foolishly ambitious) figure than your own, at least as far as I understood your post: he’s not just concerned with thought, culture, Spirit and concepts, but rather with the Concept, the true nature of being itself. Perhaps this derives from the sense in which I take him as being very similar to Spinoza – far more similar than he admits, despite his rejection of accusations of pantheism – and also from the fact that I read him as deducing the true Begriff that lies behind the Vorstellung of religion. The Hegelian ‘Idea’ is, on my reading, effectively a Spinozist God, whist the trinity of Concept, Object, Spirit; Universal, Particular, Singular; and all the rest of them reveal the truth that lies behind the ‘picture thought’ of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

    In all this, I don’t mean to contest the notion that there is a sort of religious conviction driving Hegel’s method: to me, to be honest, it sounds fairly metaphysical to think it should be possible to lay out major concepts sedimented in language and culture, and expect them to be necessarily connected in some rationally-determinable way. Something like this concept, of course, lurked behind the notion of the “spirit” of a time – popping up in a lot of early sociology – and in a slightly messier way still informs certain kinds of sociology and history. But the mess makes all the difference: I don’t think too many historians or sociologists have run around, trying to construct something like the Logic for the period they study, thinking that a culture (or even the “universal” bits of a culture) would hang together in this sort of systematic way… So I’m sympathetic to the argument that there is a religious impulse, driving the very sense that this sort of project ought to be possible.

    I’m more reluctant about the analogy to Spinoza, of whom, as you say, Hegel is quite critical, but my memories of his specific critiques of Spinoza are too vague, and in any event, this comparison of course would make sense, if you’re correct about what Hegel is trying to do.

    This isn’t to say that I could explain precisely how Hegel manages to do all this; as I said in that post yesterday, I’ve forgotten quite how the intellectual concept of being is able to subsume ontological reality, and it would be stupid to deny that the Pippin-esque reading in which Hegel is a rather more sober and limited figure makes sense. That said, I think Hegel’s own claims point towards something grander, to the true nature of existence itself.

    The funny thing is, though, these may be compatible: the Pippin-esque read and Hegel’s conviction that he’s onto something grander – all it takes is a notion that his project sees the true nature of being, at least as it concerns science or philosophy, to be a different sort of object than it has been taken to be – not an object outside us, but us – in a context where Hegel thinks that, whatever object we think we’ve been playing around with, this is the object we’ve actually contemplated all along…

    Again, though, I’m far from pre-committed on this – I’ve treated Hegel shamefully in a certain respect, reading him, but with one eye always glancing over to work on Marx. This isn’t necessarily the best recipe for coming up with a definitive set of commitments on what I think Hegel is trying to do :-) So it may well be that I’ll swing around to a different view :-) In a sense, that’s the sort of thing I hope for from these sorts of discussions.

  10. Tom Bunyard March 3, 2008 at 2:16 am

    Starting with your last point; yes, I know what you mean; i started off reading Hegel to shed a bit of light on Marx and Hegelian Marxism, and once I started to see the homologies between Marx’s claims and those of the other writers I’d been puzzling over I got extremely excited, and fell headfirst into the trap of reducing Marx to Hegel, i.e. of reading Marx through Hegelian eyes.

    However, I also came to the conclusion that I wanted to read Hegel as Hegel, and not through Marxist eyes; Lenin says you can’t understand Capital unless you’re read the Logic, but his advice to translate everything Hegel says into materialist termsm seems crazy to me. Althusser’s claim that you can’t understand the Logic unless you’ve read Capital is even worse. This kind of stuff bothers me as I’m always impressed by critiques of Marxist interpretations of Hegel that are offered from a genuine, solid and knowledgeable basis in Hegelian philosophy.

    Now, that no doubt sounds terribly pious, and it should be qualified with the following: having spent a while trying to work through this stuff it’s been made very apparent to me that many people have very different interpretations of what Hegel’s actually up to. As such, although I think it is both possible and desirable to attain a correct interpretation of ‘what Hegel really meant’, I’m certainly not going to lay claim to any such knowledge myself.

    In that respect, although I guess I disagree with your own interpretation I do so rather tentatively – and I’d also add that I think your interpretation is certainly a useful way of reading Hegel nowadays, and is similar in some respects to the ways in which I want to use him (once I’ve finally got my head around him).

    With that in mind:

    I’ll start with the Spinozist thing, as that’s the basis for the other comments. Beiser talks of “Hegel’s Aristotelian transformation of Spinoza’s monism”, arguing that Hegel renders the single substance the teleological goal of all existing things (everything united in the Idea, everything developing towards the realisation of its concept). In addition, he points out that Hegel had described the Absolute in terms of Spinozan substance in the Differenzschrift, whilst his claim that Hegel’s Absolute Idealism should properly be understood as ‘objective idealism’ is a pretty good way of summarising my own position.

    When Houlgate discusses the transition from Concept to Object he also makes note of the relation to Spinoza when he talks about nature and objective reality as reason-in-the-form-of-otherness. Being has determined itself to be itself, and at the end of the Logic what we have is the totality of being in and for itself – its completely developed itself and is related only to itself. But in becoming a static, completed, developed whole, being loses the character of self-determining reason that has characterised it (because the process is finished). Consequently, being becomes other to reason as Nature. Houlgate writes that:

    “Hegel’s claim is not that nature is something quite distinct from reason – and that reason, correspondingly, is something separate from and independent of nature – but that nature is reason is simply absolute reason itself existing in a form that is other than that of explicitly self-determining rationality. Hegel claims further that it is only as this imperfect embodiment of itself – as nature – that absolut reason actually exists (until, that is, nature itself gives rise to explicitly rational human consciousness).”

    In the Encyclopaedia Logic this transition is informed by the claim htat being has determined itself (in much the same way that it did in being-for-itself at the start of teh Logic) to be itself, but in so doing has deduced the necessity for its self-comprehension. If this self-understanding were to take place within itself the Absolute would in effect be limited by itself, and not truly infinite – and as such it becomes other to itself as Nature, i.e. the nature that will arise through Spirit to understand the logic of being. It must become other to itself in order to subsume that otherness within itself. This otherness of Nature is thus reason-in-the-form-of-otherness, and not just purely other to reason.

    So, I’d claim that Hegel presents us with both an epistemology and an ontology at the same time: the Logic describes the conceptual structure that both mind and matter share, allowing the identity of difference between the two, and thus ruling out any Kantian noumena, ‘external reflection’ and dichotomies between the two.

    AS you say, there are quotations that support bot your position and my own – but this one from eth Philosophy of History seems to put it fairly clearly: “Reason is not so powerless as to be incapable of producing anything but a mere ideal, a mere intention — having its place outside reality, nobody knows where; something separate and abstract, in the heads of certain human beings.”

    The passage in question reads as follows (huge quotation, sorry):

    The only Thought which Philosophy brings with it to the contemplation of History, is the simple conception of Reason; that Reason is the Sovereign of the World; that the history of the world therefore, presents us with a rational process. This conviction and intuition is a hypothesis in the domain of history as such. In that of Philosophy it is no hypothesis. It is there proved by speculative cognition, that Reason — and this term may here suffice us, without investigating the relation sustained by the Universe to the Divine Being, — is Substance, as well as Infinite Power; its own Infinite Material underlying all the natural and spiritual life which it originates, as also the Infinite Form, — that which sets this Material in motion. On the one hand, Reason is the substance of the Universe; viz. that by which and in which all reality has its being and subsistence. On the other hand, it is the Infinite Energy of the Universe; since Reason is not so powerless as to be incapable of producing anything but a mere ideal, a mere intention — having its place outside reality, nobody knows where; something separate and abstract, in the heads of certain human beings. It is the infinite complex of things, their entire Essence and Truth. It is its own material which it commits to its own Active Energy to work up; not needing, as finite action does, the conditions of an external material of given means from which it may obtain its support, and the objects of its activity. It supplies its own nourishment and is the object of its own operations. While it is exclusively its own basis of existence, and absolute final aim, it is also the energising power realising this aim; developing it not only in the phenomena of the Natural, but also of the Spiritual Universe — the History of the World. That this “Idea” or “Reason” is the True, the Eternal, the absolutely powerful essence; that it reveals itself in the World, and that in that World nothing else is revealed but this and its honour and glory — is the thesis which, as we have said, has been proved in Philosophy and is here regarded as demonstrated.”

    So, with these claims in mind:

    You seem to be saying that the Logic simply organises Hegel’s conceptual mechanics of cognition in a systematic way, and therefor justifies them. It works as a stamp of approval on a body of ideas that have already been developed and deduced. i’d suggest in contrast that what we have here (or rather what we are supposed to have here) is the immanent deduction of those ideas from being itself, and therefore a truth that will persist for as long as being itself exists: a truth that has been immanent in the past, that might be forgotten in the future, and will remain immanent until it is re-discovered. just as gravity didn’t pop into existence when it was first theorised, so too the Conceptual truth of Being has existed and willalways exist whether we think with it or not.

    Finally, this means that the relation between a mode of enquiry and a mode of presentation that you present seems problematic to me: the way you’re describing it, it seems that the mode of presentation is just a seal of approval given to a presupposed body of knowledge, whereas I’d argue that the mode of enquiry and the mode of presentation are one and the same.

    This is of course different from Marx, who explicitly states that there is a distinction between the mode of enquiry and the mode of presentation – but that’s because he’s dealing with presupositions! Marx is dealing with a real, partiuclar, concrete set of social circumstances. he abstracts them, figures out what makes them tick, and then sets out their relations to each other in his ‘dialectical’ mode of presentation. BUT this is NOT a hegelian dialectic; marx just borrows the idea of unfolding concepts from Hegel, and sets out his account in that way. he does not immanently unfold the pure concepts of capitalism from his own pure reason.

    In consequence, some Hegelian scholars have argued that there can be no such thing as a Marxist dialectic (I’m thinking here of Maker in Thinking Without Presuppositions). Likewise, there can be no such thing as a ‘dialectical method’; Hegel himself doesn’t have a dialectical method, because if he did he’d have a presupposed set of conceptual schema that he’d impose on the objects of enquiry. True Hegelian dialectic means letting the object do it all for you; if at the end you can look back and say ‘yeah, that was a dialectic’ then all well and good – but you can’t set to with some crude mechanical thesis-antithesis-synthesis framework.

    …I’m rambling a long way from what I wanted to say; seem to do that a lot. Think I better stop here

  11. N Pepperell March 3, 2008 at 3:26 am

    Hey Tom – A much too groggy reply before I’m off to sleep – and apologies if this means that the reply isn’t too coherent – I’m not likely to have much time online over the next couple of days, so it’s now or not for a while :-)

    I should perhaps clarify that, by mentioning that I’ve been reading Hegel with an eye to work on Marx, I don’t specifically mean that I’ve been reading his work as often interpreted by Marxists – I’m not sure my reading of Marx would even fit into that category ;-) The issue is more that I find that, in order to feel like I have a halfway decent sense of what Hegel is on about in specific passages, I have to make myself write on what he’s doing – unfortunately, though, these days I only have time to write about pieces that are relevant in a very specific way to what I’m doing with Marx. So I feel my sense of Hegel is detailed in strange places, and vague in other important places where I’d like to nail things down much more adequately. This makes no practical difference to the point that I’m deliberately tentative about my reading – I just wanted to clarify that I’m not so much trying to unfold a “materialist” reading of Hegel, or even a particularly non-metaphysical reading, but instead just have a very partial and incomplete reading at the moment :-)

    The strange thing about the passage you have quoted, is that I can actually read it as compatible with what I’ve outlined above :-) In other words, part of the difficulty is what particular terms mean for Hegel – such that it takes a thoroughgoing reading of his work, to interpret particular passages. I’m unfortunately – and apologies, I know this is deeply irritating in a conversation like this – too tired tonight to present an alternative reading of what you’ve quoted, to try to illustrate what I mean in anything like a proper way. The question becomes one of what sort of substance reason is – and what it means when Hegel talks about reason revealing itself in the world – such that we are talking about something implicit that comes to be rendered explicit.

    I think there is a strong metaphysical moment to this – I just don’t locate it in quite the same place.

    The discussion about mode of enquiry and mode of presentation is likely to be a vocabulary issue: Hegel does not differ from Marx, in this one very narrow respect of separating out his personal research process or the ways in which individuals empirically think, from the subject matter and form of presentation of the Logic. The presentation of the argument in the Logic needs to show how reason must slide through all these categories, in this order – this is unrelated to the issue of the work Hegel does to figure out this order of presentation, as long as, in the text of the Logic itself, the argument “moves itself”. Hegel isn’t making a causal argument about how people must think – he is demonstrating how rationality is immanent to a network of concepts.

    I don’t really think it’s this distinction in my argument that you want to go after: your main concern is with whether Hegel thinks he is grasping timeless truths, and using his system to demonstrate, in effect, that the concepts dominant in his time can be seen as a sort of “best of all possible worlds” – this issue is unrelated to the point I was trying to make about mode of enquiry. I don’t see Hegel as trying to derive the categories of his time from timeless Being: I think this is more where our substantive dispute lies, but as always, from my end, in the context of a very provisional reading of Hegel.

    But apologies for addressing your points so inadequately – it’s very very late here, and so I’m unfortunately fading in and out a bit. I just wanted to write something, as I may be drowning a bit in other obligations over the next couple of days…

  12. Tom Bunyard March 3, 2008 at 4:44 am

    No worries, and there’s no hurry to get back to me on this – but please do so when you have times, as these are interesting issues.

    I didn’t mean to imply that you yourself were reduicing Marx to Hegel or vice versa, and I’d be very interested to hear more as to how you’d dispute my reading of Hegel.

    Very briefly, I’m harping on about the mode of enquiry – mode of presentation thing because separating them out in Hegel involves splitting what’s meant to be a unity, and introduces problems relating to presupposutions; if Hegel already knows what he wants to say beforehand a) that content is not Absolutely true, as it hasn’t arisen from the correct process, and b) that process is no longer Absolute itself, as presuppositions have been imported into it.

    That’s fussy, and not a particularly substantial point – as I said before, I think it’s crazy to believe Hegel really did let reason unfold all of its own accord – but I’m interested in distinguishing a unity of presentation and enquiry in Hegel from their necessary separation in Marx, which I hold takes place because Marx’s work is based on empirical presuppositions.

    Anyway, I was daydreaming earlier whilst not doing my Kant reading, and it occured to me that it could perhaps be argued that Marx’s mode of enquiry is almost Kantian, whilst his mode of presentation is Hegelian: like Kant, he abstracts from particular (presupposed and given) contents in order to get at the (transcendental?) nuts and bolts by which the operate; he then borrows Hegel’s mode of presentation, and arranges the concepts that he’s figured out accordingly.

    …I’m not sure how much mileage there is in that – probably not a great deal.

    Have fun,

    Tom

  13. N Pepperell March 3, 2008 at 10:30 am

    Hey Tom :-) Not much fun, unfortunately, in what I have to do today :-)

    Just very quickly on the mode of inquiry/presentation thing (and I know there are more important and more interesting issues I’m leaving hanging): Hegel isn’t claiming to be the personal incarnation of reason, nor claiming that individual human thought processes are compelled to take the shape of the Logic – or even that, when people read the Logic, what’s written there will seem particularly intuitive or strike them as true. It’s not a problem that there should be a distinction between inquiry and presentation, in the sense that the presentation of the Logic might differ from some process through which that presentation was worked out by Hegel. Presuppositionlessness doesn’t entail Hegel sitting alone in a room, allowing his personal, individual subjectivity take its course and seeing where it leads him, and then his discovering to his astonishment that it leads him to the major claims of his own time – I really don’t think that’s the nature of the argument.

    In this sense, I do think that the argument becomes more along the lines of: it is significant that it is possible for a presentation like this to be unfolded, that reason can be shown to knit these concepts together, so that it is possible to grasp them as sitting in a necessary order. It is a demonstration of tacit order that can be (and generally is) missed in the empirical play of thoughts – in part because the reason that is playing out here is not an individual category. It’s really not a problem for Hegel to need to work out the argument beforehand, as long as he demonstrates this tacit necessity at work, determining the order of presentation. Even if Hegel is claiming far more grandiose things than my Pippin-esque reading would accommodate, his many comments and asides to people critical of his work, where he distinguishes between the difficulty of thinking philosophically, talks about philosophy as needing to prove its claims, etc., suggest very strongly that he is not claiming the Logic springs full-formed from the head of the Geist onto his page.

    To me, it seems a bit uncharitable to read his claims that way – in a way that it doesn’t seem uncharitable to claim, say, that he is trying to talk about a conceptual structure to matter “out there”. More substantively, I think it might miss the sense in which the argument about presuppositionlessness is an argument – one that claims to derive its own standards of adequacy in the course of its unfolding, such that what initially looks arbitrary and dogmatic, will be established as the system unfolds – but not a claim to revelation. It may also understate the extent to which Hegel is trying to talk about tacit elements of a transpersonal or intersubjective object – such that the reason being discussed, isn’t quite the reason of individual subjectivity. The concepts outlined in the Logic can be immanent to that intersubjective entity, forged in its historical emergence, and yet the recognition of the rationality immanent within this process might still require the sort of speculative reconstructive work prior to the presentation that the Logic carries out and that is the substance of its argument. The key is not that Hegel brings nothing to the table from the outset – that he be some sort of philosophical tabula rasa – but that, in the Logic, he make use of no concepts or modes of argument that are not themselves unfolded by the system itself. Since the system cannot be read all at once, some of those concepts or modes of argument necessarily look dogmatically asserted in the beginning – Hegel’s job is to show over the course of the argument how this is not the case. Again, I do think there is something metaphysical about the whole conception of the project, but I don’t think the metaphysics takes the specific of form of Hegel believing that he is personally the subject-object of history – nor that it contradicts anything he claims, for him not to think this…

    I agree that Marx is doing something different – I take the “Hegelian” structure of Capital as, among other things, a meta-critique of Hegel: an argument that Hegel confuses qualitative properties of the reproduction of Capital, and of the forms of subjectivity that arise in the course of that reproduction, with the sort of object Hegel thinks he is dealing with. Marx will both suggest that certain elements of the reproduction of capital have distinctive qualitative characteristics – that there is a “logic” or a non-random pattern of transformation at work, beneath apparently lawless flux – and that some of the forms of subjectivity that Hegel analyses can be shown to be generated as practical dispositions in moments of the reproduction of capital. I don’t think per se that the distinction Marx draws between mode of investigation and mode of presentation is Kantian – there is actually a place where Hegel makes a similar distinction, although I’ll need to find it, and don’t expect my statement on this to be persuasive until I do – I remember noting at the time that Marx’s formulation was very similar. I agree, though, that Marx isn’t “Hegelian”, although I would take Marx to have his critiques of Kant as well…

    Edited to add: I am wondering, though, whether there still might be a vocabulary issue in play in this discussion – just different things we have in mind by the whole presentation/inquiry issue. I do take Marx’s metatheory about the process of formation of theoretical concepts to sit in tension with Hegel – Marx’s discussions of the ways in which people first enact a situation, producing tacit sorts of practical dispositions from which theoretical categories are then constructed – and some of the ways Marx describes his specific process of investigation I would also take to sit in tension with Hegel’s work. It’s only the very basic distinction – the claim that, in a sense, it’s okay for Hegel to have drafted the Logic, and that the concept of presuppositionlessness is not an empirical claim about Hegel, but rather a descriptor of the logical requirements of a particular kind of immanent argument, which must demonstrate immanently the validly of its claims and modes of arguments – that I’m trying to talk about above.

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