So LMagee and I met yesterday for our second discussion on Hegel. Two posts will be forthcoming from this discussion – one from me, on some elements of the argumentative structure of the first several sections of Phenomenology, and one from LM, who will comment specifically on the lordship and bondage discussion. I think that both of us intend our posts more in the spirit of notes-in-progress than of polished commentary, since we would both like to revisit these sections from the standpoint of having worked our way through the piece as a whole. Ideally, I should post my piece, followed by LM’s. In practice, this may not happen, as I’m trying to finish some marking, and there’s something absolutely surreal in moving back and forth between assessing first-year undergraduate work, and trying to make sense of Hegel… I don’t think the order of posting will have a serious effect on anyone’s ability to follow the discussion, since the posts will of course be written by people approaching the text from two different directions, and since my comments will be more about the form of the argument than its contents.
The form of the argument did occupy much of our discussion yesterday, with LM feeling the triadic structure of the text was an arbitrary imposition on the content being analysed, and therefore inclined to perceive the text as a series of deductions from a problematic premise. My suggestion was that the form of argument was not, strictly speaking, deductive – since the whole point of an immanent approach would be to justify the point of departure in the course of the analysis, rather than rely on a “ground” that sits essentially outside the analysis. I understand the triadic structure as something like a fractal – an underlying structure whose existence is demonstrated again and again at various levels of abstraction, where the argument moves by suggesting that, without an understanding of this structure, it becomes impossible to make sense of many phenomena. If this has been done successfully, a competing theoretical approach cannot simply attack the “ground”, as it might attack a first principle – it must instead demonstrate that it can unfold an analysis without reference to the same structure, while still making sense of as many phenomena as the approach being criticised. We went back and forth on this issue in our discussion, and LM followed up afterward, eventually emailing the link to the Hegel article at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (which, I have to admit, I still haven’t read, so I’m not sure if this link was meant to point to a refutation of my position ;-P). LM did, though, gradually warm to Hegel’s triadic structure in the course of evening researches, first emailing the following from the Stanford article:
Hegel’s logical triads are often regarded as expressions of an artificial and functionless formalism, but it should be remembered that in the later nineteenth century, no less a logician than Charles Sanders Peirce came to a similar idea about the fundamentally *trinary* structure of the categories of thought.
And then later, with what I take to be both chagrin and pride:
I have to note with some irony that my thesis table of contents *happens* to have nine chapters, coincidentally structured as three sets of three… Great minds…
These aftershocks aside, I have to say that the discussion was an extremely enjoyable one – there’s something deliciously surreal about reading individual sentences from this text, and trying to make sense of what the hell is being said, while in a mundane environment that keeps tossing you back into an everyday context where you wonder what people in neighbouring tables must be thinking, when you read out – and what’s more seem engaged by – passages like:
The Here pointed out, which I keep hold of, is likewise a this Here which, in fact, is not this Here, but a Before and Behind, an Above and Below, a Right and Left. The Above is itself likewise this manifold otherness–above, below, etc. The Here, which was to be pointed out, disappears in other Heres, and these disappear similarly. What is pointed out, held fast, and is permanents a negative This, which only is so when the Heres are taken as they should be, but therein cancel one another; it is a simple complex of many Heres. The Here that is “meant” would be the point. But it is not: rather, when it is pointed out as being, as having existence, that very act of pointing out proves to be not immediate knowledge, but a process, a movement from the Here “meant” through a plurality of Heres to the universal Here, which is a simple plurality of Heres, just as day is a simple plurality of Nows. (108)
It was a glorious discussion, which I’m looking forward to continuing online, and when we meet again next week – to talk about Reason…