Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Anticipating Hegel

I’m coming down with a cold – and working on Lukács – and one or the other of these things is making it very difficult for me to write anything intelligible to anyone else. I did want to mention, for anyone who hasn’t clicked through in a while, that Tom Bunyard from Monagyric and I have continued our discussion on Hegel in the comments here, gradually working out a common vocabulary so that we can figure out where, if anywhere, we might disagree on Hegel’s work. Tom has the final word for the next few days at least, but I hope to pick up the threads from that discussion as soon as I’m feeling a bit better and have gotten through some of the work that pays the bills (or, in this case, pays for conferences…). It strikes me, though, that this conversation might be particularly interesting for those who have been following the reading group, as the discussion revolves around the method and intention of the Logic, with Tom approaching things from a reading of the Encyclopedia Logic and my approaching from a (fairly tentative) reading of Science of Logic, and with much of the discussion revolving around the sorts of metatheoretical themes that Hegel raises in his prefaces and introductions “by way of anticipation”, before he dives down into his more rigorous formal presentation (which, among other things, is much harder to read).

Over at Grundlegung, Tom (not Bunyard!) has a fantastic post up on “Hegel and the Form of Law”, which also takes inspiration from Hegel’s prefaces, and then explores some of the threads connecting Philosophy of Right with the unpublished early work Spirit of Christianity and Its Fate. Tom argues for a continuity underlying the apparent differences separating these works (somehow this seems oddly appropriate, as an argument to make about Hegel – that his work contains its own immanent order, constituted amidst the flux of its own transformation…). In his words:

I take it to be a key feature of Hegel’s mature views that freedom (secured by a relation to law) requires two central components: that certain objective conditions obtain and that certain subjective conditions obtain. It is in light of this two-fold approach that I suggest that we can find a perspective from which the apparent tension between Hegel’s early and late conceptions of lawfulness can be resolved. In the early Hegel, the pressures shaping his reaction to Kantianism mean that the emphasis is laid upon these subjective conditions—namely, our orientation towards our responsibilities, how we think, feel and enact them. In the later Hegel, his more conservative tone (whether genuine or feigned to avoid the real threat of censure) leads to an emphasis upon the necessity of our duties as citizens and ethical beings, as well as the broad shape of the objective social structures needed to realise our freedom, and which Hegel thought that progressive modern states were approaching.

Nevertheless, I think we can see both early and late Hegel as bringing together substantially similar subjective and objective conditions, taken as encompassing our own comportments and wider societal structures understood via an analysis of the concepts of right, in his diagnoses of modern life. Both share the idea that the form of law, of universal principles, can present a threat to liberty. This is so whether the danger is agents becoming self-alienated through enslavement to laws they legislate to themselves, or through the all-too-familiar alienation engendered by the impersonal legal-bureaucratic sphere that underlies the institutions of modern public life. But it seems to me that neither of Hegel’s positions represents a rejection of law which would seek to replace the law with something else (e.g. desire, well-being or community).

For the early Hegel, the solution is an ethics that attempts to ameliorate the imperative form of law which brought an oppressive element with it. As for St. Paul though, whose influence I see throughout that book, ‘love fulfils the law’, rather than replaces it. (I am not sure how well this fits with the picture of Paul and the law presented by Adam here.) I have taken up the suggestion that such an ethics is partially illuminated by reference to the ‘holy will’; and if it is right to say that God is love, then a will infused by love may merit description as such a holy will. But again, there is an important sense in which law remains in place regardless; the universal demands of politics and ethics have normative force whether or not we can escape the alienating effects of the law-form.

In the mature Hegel, the insistence on the absolute injunctions of the law are easier to see. But this remains coupled with an analysis of the necessary response to laws if they are to set us free rather than dominate us. We find Hegel saying of laws, “they are not something alien to the subject. On the contrary, the subject bears spiritual witness to them as to its own essence.” Here, I suggest both subjective and objective aspects are in play. To overcome alienation from laws will require us to understand them in a way that shows their inner rationality, so that we can come into a ‘homely’ affective and cognitive relation to them. The flip-side of that is ensuring that they, and the institutions and practices that give body to them, actually be rational such that we can express our freedom through them.

Much more in the fully developed argument…

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2 responses to “Anticipating Hegel

  1. Joe March 9, 2008 at 9:57 am

    “take it to be a key feature of Hegel’s mature views that freedom (secured by a relation to law) requires two central components: that certain objective conditions obtain and that certain subjective conditions obtain.”

    Sans the extra comment about being “secured by a relation to law,” I’ve come to a similar conclusion, but by way of Kierkegaard, his “leap of faith,” and what he has to say about Socrates and skepticism.

    My more general thought is that freedom of the sort Hegel gets us to think about is the free determination of thought and being, and the problem of skepticism has been trying to ground truth in terms of this dualism, when in fact, I think, it’s to be found in its absence. That is to say, the absence of a theoretical pre-supposition like that is action itself. Similarly, Hegel’s problem is, as I put it in my new post today, that he doesn’t take himself seriously enough when he tries to ground the truth of his system in logical, historical necessity rather than the creative coherence of the text itself.

  2. N Pepperell March 12, 2008 at 12:50 am

    Hey Joe – Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you – been trying to shake off a cold, and so not online much. Your piece on Hegel was quite nice – the issue of history and the meaning of the concept of “necessity” in Hegel are thorny questions – ones I’d have to take up when I’m feeling more fit :-) I think it’s right, though, to point to Hegel’s desire to get past what he regards as a sort of circuit that runs from rationalist dogmatism, to rationalist scepticism, to irrationalist rejections of reason. Whether the sort of necessity to which Hegel then appeals to try to transcend this impasse is exactly historical necessity, may depend on how you understand this term – or perhaps how you understand the relation of the terms logic and history, which you mention together above. Apologies for not being able to respond more adequately – just wanted at least to comment that I think this is a particularly interesting constellation of issues…

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