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Category Archives: Logic

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takes inspiration from Hegel’s prefaces, and then explores some of the threads connecting Philosophy of Right with the unpublished early work Spirit of Christianity and Its Fate.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…

Science of Logic Reading Group: Countdown

It’s been ages since I’ve written a proper update post for the Science of Logic reading group, which continues to meet in person, albeit with a hiatus around the recent conference. This week and next we are tackling the mammoth section on Quantum and the not-quite-so-mammoth section on Quantitative Relation. The online discussion has been a bit quiet as everyone has been busy with the beginning of the term, other writing commitments, and similar distractions. I’ve added occasional posts, but mostly in the form of comments on isolated paragraphs or short passages. Tom Bunyard, however, has leapt into the breach, offering a fantastic overview post on the structure of the Logic – initially in the comments here, but now cross-posted to his blog Monagyric. In the discussion following Tom’s overview, Tom and I have also managed to replicate the major lines of discussion that have preoccupied the local reading group, so those who are curious to get a rough sense what we talk about in person, might want to peek in on the comments from around here.

The discussion with Tom below may not give a completely accurate sense of the local discussion, however: someone sitting in on the group for the first time last week, commented afterwards that it was like attending the Vienna Circle – so perhaps I should say, if you want a sense of how our discussions go in person, then read the discussion I’m having with Tom in the comments section below, but then imagine that discussion taking place among a group of positivists. Hmmm… I’m not sure even I can imagine that, and I attend these discussions every week… L Magee has generously offered, however, to take the blame for this association, believing that recent thesis work on document formats may have caused a certain positivist air to rub off on the group… Perhaps all this will be useful in the end, as LM and I are hoping finally to get around to our much-delayed project of writing something on The Positivist Dispute in German Sociology, for a conference later this year…

Moving right along… Some background on the group, since I haven’t posted details in quite a while, and an updated list of contributions to the online discussion:

Joining the Fray:

Anyone reading on who would like to contribute some material to the online discussion, but who would like a bit of background on the reading group first, can find some here. Note that, for whatever reason, I’m not finding pingbacks all that reliable lately, so, if you do write something, and I don’t pick up on it here, please email me to let me know.

Online texts of Science of Logic can be found:

In English: from MIA

In German: from Project Gutenberg

Posts so far in the online discussion:

Overviews

Logic Sketch, Monagyric, Tom Bunyard – a follow-up discussion on Tom’s post can be found at Rough Theory

Prefaces

What in the hell… is the spirit of practicality?, what in the hell…, Nate, on the first Preface

What in the hell… happens next?!, what in the hell…, Nate, on the second Preface

Opening Discussions, Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, on the first Preface and a fragment of the Second (Note that I’ve reprised some of this material in the conference paper here – the paper covers a lot of ground on Marx and also on Hegel’s Phenomenology, but ties the comments on the Prefaces I make in the original posts, together with a more extensive commentary on Hegel’s method.)

Preparing for Being, Now-Times, Alexei, commentary on the other contributions on the first Preface

Masters and Slaves, Now-Times, Alexei, commentary on the second Preface, with reference to the issue of emancipatory possibilities

Transformative Negativity, against the Abstract Ought, Now-Times, Alexei, continuation of post above, with specific reference to the ethical import of Hegel’s approach, and with comparisons between Phenomenology and Logic

Introduction

Hegel’s Science of Logic: Introduction, Perverse Egalitarianism, Mikhail Emelianov

Introduction (Some More Random Observations), Perverse Egalitarianism, Mikhail Emelianov

Being

With What Must the New Year Begin?Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, on “With What Must the Science Begin” (Note that I’ve reprised this material in the conference paper here – the paper covers a lot of ground on Marx and also on Hegel’s Phenomenology, but the section on the method of the Logic is more accurate and complete than the material in the original post from which it was redrafted.)

Concretion and Appearance, Now-Times, Alexei, reflections on the relationship between appearance and Concept, spanning Phenomenology and Logic

Let It Be, Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, reflection on one aspect of the discussion of the “Concretion and Appearance” discussion at Now-Times

Not Adding Up, Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, reflection on the remark on “The Kantian Antinomy of the Indivisibility and the Infinite Divisibility of Time, Space and Matter” from the section on Pure Quantity

Mini-Posts and Tangents

The Most Stubborn Error, Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, comment on par. 356, on approaches that regard their own essence as a negation

From Something, Nothing Comes, Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, comment on par. 130-131, on the way in which indeterminacy can be a form of determinacy

Background and General Comments

Online Resources on Hegel – English, Now-Times, Alexei

Online Resources on Hegel – German, Now-Times, Alexei

The Comfort of DeterminismPerverse Egalitarianism, Mikhail Emelianov, reflections on Kant, Leibniz and Hegel’s desire to erase the distinction between form and content

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…

Science of Logic Reading Group: The Most Stubborn Error

I’ve been lagging shamefully in my discussion of the Science of Logic – the Hegel conference (preparing for it and then recovering from it) derailed other sorts of posts, such that the most recent listing of posts on the topic is still the one contained here. The in-person reading group is, however, still meeting (although the group took a break itself for the conference, which all of us were attending), and we’ve trundled our way up to the section on Being-for-Self – meaning that we finally reach the section on Quantity next week… ;-P So it’s been a bit slow… ;-P I will try to blog at least some bits and pieces from this discussion (and – ahem! – L Magee has also promised something soon).

I have only a few minutes this morning before the group meets, so I just wanted to toss up a quotation from today’s material, from the Remark on The Unity of the One and the Many, in the chapter on Being-for-Self. (I’m somewhat tempted to dedicate this passage to Wildly, who might perhaps be particularly well placed to appreciate why this passage attracts my attention… ;-P) I won’t have time elaborate, so consider this just a placeholder, with apologies that this passage might not spark in interesting thoughts in anyone else:

Self-subsistence pushed to the point of one as a being-for-self is abstract, formal, and destroys itself. It is the supreme, most stubborn error, which takes itself for the highest truth, manifesting in more concrete forms as abstract freedom, pure ego and, further, as Evil. It is that freedom which so misapprehends itself as to place its essence in this abstraction, and flatters itself that in thus being with itself it possesses itself in its purity. More specifically, this self-subsistence is the error of regarding as negative that which is its own essence, and of adopting a negative attitude towards it. Thus it is the negative attitude towards itself which, in seeking to possess its own being destroys it, and this its act is only the manifestation of the futility of the act. The reconciliation is the recognition that the object of this negative attitude is rather its own essence, and is only letting go of the negativity of its being-for-self instead of holding fast to it. (356)

There is a sense in which this passage captures the core of what I’ve been trying to do with Marx – this attempt to move beyond approaches that “regard as a negative that which is their own essence”. I’m inclined to agree with Hegel here that it is the “most stubborn error” to treat essence as negation – as something that arises when specific attributes have been stripped away – rather than as what Deleuze might call affirmation – as something constituted actively in a determinate positive shape. The framing of “essence” as “negation” deflects attention from the process of constitution – which is an important process to try to keep in view… From my point of view, critical standpoints are very often posited as negations in precisely this way – often unwittingly, in the context of analyses that see themselves as exploring processes of constitution, but that tacitly only thematise the constitution of what is being criticised, rather than also the constitution of the determinate qualitative characteristics of the critical standpoint itself, which is rather posited as an… abstraction – as something that left behind in the wake of a critical analysis of how other things are constituted. But the reading group is scheduled to begin in ten minutes, and I can’t cash out this comment now – have to run…

HSS2008 Paper

I’m both wired and utterly exhausted. I presented today to the Hegel Summer School conference. Prepping for this event has been a bit all-consuming, and I haven’t been able to get my thoughts together for blogging or even responding to comments. I still won’t respond tonight – I just want to get the paper online, as I promised this at the event, but I need some rest before I can get back into the swing of blogging.

This paper was originally meant to bring together some of what I’ve been working on in the thesis, particularly in the second chapter, with some of what I’ve been writing on the blog, particularly in relation to the reading group posts for the Science of Logic and Phenomenology of Spirit. I had no idea, to be honest, that bringing this material together would prove as productive for me as it has – I now have a much clearer idea (I think…) of what I’ve been trying to say about Marx’s relationship to Hegel and also about the textual strategy of the first chapter of Capital. Most surprising and pleasant to me, was also finally figuring out something I’ve been dancing around for a very long time, about how Marx understands the textual strategy of the first volume of Capital, to relate to what I’ve been calling immanent critique. In a sense, writing this paper was almost too useful for me: now I have to go back and rewrite at least one, and possibly two, chapters in the thesis. One step forward, etc…

An event like this is so unusual and rare. Time to unfold a genuinely complex argument. Space to tackle some extremely difficult theoretical material. Incredible scope for discussion – we went, I think, for something close to three hours. Where many conferences have left me longing for the blog, where ideas can be worked out in detail and the discussion can sprawl, this conference is truly special. It was an extraordinary opportunity, and I’m humbled and a bit stunned by the time and attention and ideas and energy that the participants have put into the event.

My head is spinning from the ideas that came forward from discussion – I’m utterly unable to summarise any of it. I had been planning to wait to post the paper until I could perhaps say something about the issues that came up in discussion, but I’m realising that it may take quite a while for all of that to sink in. I’ll put the paper up now, and will most likely be working through the ideas sparked by the discussion in a more embedded way in whatever it is I write over the next while.

I’m conscious of many debts for this paper. The online and in-person participants in the Science of Logic reading group have been of enormous help as I’ve tried to get my head around at least a small slice of this text. Wildly Parenthetical took the time to read over an earlier version of this paper, and to workshop concepts, and generally to force me to be a little bit clearer (and perhaps bolder ;-P). L Magee somehow got drafted into chairing my session, and managed this last-minute appointment exceptionally well. 🙂 A number of people attended to provide moral support (one of my lasting memories from this event will be of my head of department, overhearing someone ask me during a coffee break, “So is your university a major centre for Hegel scholarship?”, and almost choking on his tea…). And others I haven’t named individually provided genuinely formative feedback on draft work.

I’ll place the intro above the fold to give a sense of the general theme, and the rest below, as of course it’s an hour-long talk, and so a bit bulky for the main page…

Fighting for What We Mean

I’m going to be talking today about Hegel and Marx, two thinkers who analyse relational networks of mutually-determining phenomena. This style of theory makes it extremely difficult to say anything, unless you intend to say everything. Marx and Hegel say “everything” in works totalling thousands of pages – in Marx’s case, works that were never actually completed. Today, we have an hour. An hour in which I have tried to say at least something – but have perhaps included a bit more of everything than might have been ideal. What I suggest is that, particularly if you aren’t familiar with the texts I am analysing, you not worry about the details of the argument, but focus instead on the overarching contour. I can review the details if needed during discussion, and I will place the talk online after this event for anyone who wants to work through the arguments more closely.

The title of the event today – “Solidarity or Community: Philosophy and Antidotes to Fragmentation” – frames the problem confronting us in a very specific way. It suggests that:

  1. fragmentation – understood as the breakdown of the social bonds connecting us to one another – is a central theoretical and practical problem for our time – something that requires an “antidote”;
  2. two potential “antidotes” present themselves immediately to us: one, encompassed in the concept of “solidarity” and the other, encompassed in the concept of “community”; and
  3. philosophy – specifically, Hegelian philosophy – may be able to help us understand why social bonds are breaking down, or how we can prevent or correct this breakdown.

The title suggests that something – let’s call it capitalism – is corrosive of social bonds – that it erodes such bonds, and that such an erosion is a bad thing, something that deserves to be the target of critique. Yet capitalism is presented here, not simply as something that produces negative effects, but as a negation – as something that strips away, leaving us to confront a gap or an absence – which then must be filled by some new sort of positive social bond, in order to avoid fragmentation.

The question I want to consider today is what might be missing from this picture: what are we at risk of overlooking, if we thematise capitalism one-sidedly, as a corrosive force that erodes social bonds? Is there any sense in which we can grasp capitalism as constitutive or generative of some particular kind of social bond? If capitalism can be understood as generative in this way, then why is the problem of social fragmentation so striking? These questions, I suggest, carry us into the heart of Marx’s motivation for appropriating Hegel’s work, when he sets out to write Capital.

Hegel is perhaps Marx’s most consistent theoretical reference point, and Marx critically appropriates a number of Hegelian concepts in his work. Today, I want to focus on two concepts that are particularly important in making sense of the textual strategy of Capital: Hegel’s concept of “science”, and the associated methodology Hegel sets out in the Science of Logic; and a complex set of arguments relating to appearance, essence, and inversion, which Hegel makes with different emphases in a number of works – for today’s talk, I will focus on the version of the argument Hegel presents in the early chapters of the Phenomenology of Spirit.

When thinking about how to appropriate Hegel’s work for critical social theory, his concept of science or his arguments relating to appearance and essence are not necessarily the ones that most immediately leap to mind. It is more common to turn to Hegel’s own more direct reflections on civil society, the state, and other recognisably “social” topics, to discuss Hegel’s comments on labour and the master-bondsman relation, or else to explore the complex theme of mutual recognition. These dimensions of Hegel’s work are logical starting points for a social theoretic appropriation, as they seem most directly to touch on questions that we recognise intuitively as “social” – questions relating to intersubjectivity, social relations, or social institutions.

It is therefore particularly striking that Marx’s relies quite heavily on the more abstract, “philosophical” – and, in fact, “idealist” – elements of Hegel’s project, when developing the structure and method of Capital. Today I’ll briefly sketch what I mean by this claim, in order to render more visible the tacit methodology at work in Marx’s text. Focussing particularly on the categories of the commodity and labour power, I then illustrate how recognising Hegel’s influence can help us make sense of elements of Marx’s argument and presentational style that are otherwise easy to overlook. From this foundation, I return to my opening question of whether something might be missed, if we conceptualise capitalism as a negation – as something that corrodes social bonds – without asking at the same time what sort of distinctive social bond capitalism might also generate. Read more of this post

From Something, Nothing Comes

I’m not sure whether to classify this post as a contribution to the reading group discussion on Hegel’s Science of Logic, or instead to treat it as part of the series on Marx. The theme is one I’m trying to work out how to discuss in my current chapter draft, but I’m pointing my argument in that chapter back to these concepts in Hegel, so perhaps these things have become too interpenetrating to distinguish clearly.

In the chapter draft, I’m working on a specific tension. On the one hand, Marx criticises, for example, the political economists for exempting their own position from their analysis – for treating the categories of other economic systems as artificial and as socially and historically conditioned, but treating the categories they use to grasp capitalism as “natural”. This critique shows up in passages such as this one, originally from Poverty of Philosophy, but replicated in a footnote to the first chapter of Capital:

Economists have a singular method of procedure. There are only two kinds of institutions for them, artificial and natural. The institutions of feudalism are artificial institutions, those of the bourgeoisie are natural institutions. In this they resemble the theologians, who likewise establish two kinds of religion. Every religion which is not theirs is an invention of men, while their own is an emanation from God. … Thus there has been history, but there is no longer any.

Given that Marx finds it relevant to replicate this comment in two works quite dispersed in time, and given how this critique dovetails with other sorts of critique Marx offers, evidently this is an abiding and somewhat central concern for Marx. My impulse is to take from these sorts of comments the notion that Marx does not intend to engage in this sort of political economic manoeuvre himself – that he is not simply, so to speak, criticising the political economists for being wrong in viewing their specific position as an emanation from God, but is instead arguing that it would be wrong to regard any position as such an emanation: I take Marx’s argument, in other words, to be that critique should be reflexive and provide an account of its own position of enunciation (I take Marx, in other words to share some of the sorts of concerns with abstract “philosophical” forms of critique that Sinthome has raised this morning over at Larval Subjects).

The challenge for my reading is that Marx also often makes statements that seem to jar with this notion of reflexivity – statements, for example, that compare what actually takes place under capitalist conditions of production, with what appear to be something like “essential” categories that Marx seems to claim would apply to any sort of production. The form of critique here looks very similar to what Marx objects to in the political economists. When, for example, Marx makes a claim like, e.g., the substance of wealth is always use value, and then appears to criticise capitalism for the way that it imposes additional conditions on what gets to “count” as wealth, that go beyond this unavoidable “material” requirement – this structure of argument looks rather similar to that used by the political economists, who argued that, e.g., the feudal guild system imposes additional conditions on the organisation of production, that distorted the “natural” institutions of capitalist society. Marx may offer a different version of what counts as “natural”, but this doesn’t change the apparent structure of the argument, which still involves the criticism of some set of social institutions against a standard that purports to be more “natural” than those institutions. This approach does not appear to correspond to the concept of immanent critique I’ve argued is at play in Marx’s work.

Most interpreters, of course, are comfortable with the notion that Marx is a straightforward “materialist” who doesn’t problematise the genesis of his own critical insights. Even Patrick Murray’s very sensitive reading of Capital, which captures the Hegelian subtext of the work quite well, regards Marx to be criticising both Hegel and the political economists for not recognising a difference between “genuine” (asocial) abstractions, and abstractions specific to capitalist society: on this read, Marx’s great critical contribution was to disentangle these two sorts of abstractions, and so clarify what is “essential” to material production, from what is only made to “appear” necessary by the distorted configurations characteristic of capitalist production. This reading, however, leaves somewhat unclear where Marx obtains such clarity of insight into what is truly essential, when such insight has eluded so many others.

Certain kinds of theory – Habermas would be the obvious example – try to answer this latter question through a strategy I tend to call “appealing to the historical realisation of the natural”. Here, what is “essential” is not treated as contingently constituted in social practice – the essential is thematised, either explicitly or tacitly, as always having been “natural”, at least as a latent tendency or necessary step in a developmental logic or similar – while an explanation is offered for why we have only recognised or discovered the essential in recent history. This approach still possesses the basic structure of the political economists’ argument, as Marx criticises it above: it positions the approaches being criticised as artificial, and treats its own position as natural. In the process, it treats critique as an abstract negation – as something that is left behind, when everything artificial has been stripped away. Essence is not constituted – at least not in any contingent way. Even where essence is treating as arising in human practice, it is treated as non-contingently arising. Critique takes the form of a criticism of appearance from the standpoint of essence.

I have tried to argue that Marx is doing something quite different – that he is attempting a form of theory loyal to the precepts of his critique of political economy – that he is not simply saying that the political economists are wrong in the specific thing they take to be “natural”, but wrong in adopting a whole structure of critique that does not address its own conditions of possibility. How, then, can I make sense of moments in Capital where Marx himself sets up a contrast between what material production “essentially” is, versus the specific form material production takes under capitalism? How, even moreso, can I make sense of passages in which Marx suggests that it is possible to look back through history, making sense of the changing configurations of social relations with reference to concepts like a “mode of production”?

My full answer to these questions is the subject of the chapter I am working on now, which I will post here for comment when it’s sufficiently complete. That chapter both acknowledges genuine tensions and inconsistencies in Marx’s own work, and also argues that there is a way he could be consistent to his critique of political economy, while still wielding very abstract and seemingly asocial categories like “use value” – so long as he provides an explanation for how those seemingly asocial categories are the categories of a specific form of society. This argument requires a turn to Hegel.

Part of the answer, I suspect, lies in one of the passages in the in-person reading group selection for today. At the beginning of Section One: Determinateness (Quality), Hegel makes the interesting point:

Being is the indeterminate immediate; it is free from determinateness in relation to essence and also from any which it can possess within itself. This reflectionless being is being as it is immediately in its own self alone.

Because it is indeterminate being, it lacks all quality; but in itself, the character of indeterminateness attaches to it only in contrast to what is determinate or qualitative. But determinate being stands in contrast to being in general, so that the very indeterminateness of the latter constitutes its quality. It will therefore be shown that the first being is in itself determinate, and therefore, secondly, that it passes over into determinate being… (130-131, bold text mine)

Hegel is not concerned with social theory, but the argument he makes here suggests the line I follow with Marx’s apparently asocial “materialist” categories: that the indeterminacy of these categories – their apparent detachment from any specific social configuration – is their specific determinacy. In other words, the specific social character of certain categories of capitalist society, consists in their apparent asocial character. This theme, I would suggest, runs throughout Capital.

The development of this argument, which I attempt in the chapter itself, at least as a preliminary sketch, involves an argument about real abstractions. A real abstraction is an abstraction that involves more than simply a conceptual stripping away of determinate content. A real abstraction is effected in social practice, and involves (in my appropriation of this concept) a process of mutual constitution of conflictual dimensions of practice – one of which renders particular forms of qualitative determinacy socially meaningful, while another is actively indifferent to those specific forms of determinacy. In Marx’s argument, for example, a category like “use value” – which appears to be nothing more than a catch-all conceptual abstraction that generalises from any sort of useful thing, and seems transparently capable of extension to the analysis of any human society – is actually effected in collective practice in capitalism, as the value dimension of the commodity must appear in some use value or another, but is structurally indifferent to how it appears. In this sense, an apparently asocial category like “use value” – which presents itself as a substance of wealth, indifferent to social form – is in fact closely tied to value as the social form of wealth in capitalism, which generates at the level of social practice “use value” as a meaningful, socially-immanent category. This doesn’t mean that we can’t then take such abstract categories, and apply them to the past – or, more important for Marx’s purposes, apply them to the critique of capitalism, to assist us in thinking alternative organisations of production. It does, though, provide an immanent account of such categories, and also situates the categories socially and historically, making it possible to explain why these categories are part of the “in and for itself” of our society, but did not emerge in other historical eras.

This approach repositions Marx’s apparently asocial and “materialist” categories as determinate negations – as negations that emerge out of a specific “something”, and therefore carry the traces of what they negated, in their determinate qualitative form. I’ve drawn attention to such a concept previously, in discussing this passage from Hegel’s Phenomenology:

The completeness of the forms of unreal consciousness will be brought about precisely through the necessity of the advance and the necessity of their connection with one another. To make this comprehensible we may remark, by way of preliminary, that the exposition of untrue consciousness in its untruth is not a merely negative process. Such a one-sided view of it is what the natural consciousness generally adopts; and a knowledge, which makes this one-sidedness its essence, is one of those shapes assumed by incomplete consciousness which falls into the course of the inquiry itself and will come before us there. For this view is scepticism, which always sees in the result only pure nothingness, and abstracts from the fact that this nothing is determinate, is the nothing of that out of which it comes as a result. Nothing, however, is only, in fact, the true result, when taken as the nothing of what it comes from; it is thus itself a determinate nothing, and has a content. The scepticism which ends with the abstraction “nothing” or “emptiness” can advance from this not a step farther, but must wait and see whether there is possibly anything new offered, and what that is – in order to cast it into some abysmal void. When once, on the other hand, the result is apprehended, as it truly is, as determinate negation, a new form has thereby immediately arisen; and in the negation the transition is made by which the progress through the complete succession of forms comes about of itself. (79)

The reading group starts soon, and I need to review a bit before everyone arrives. And ack! Russ has shown up early!! (How dare you, Russ – you know I read material before we meet!!) No time to edit… Apologies…

P.S. Since Russ so rudely interrupted, I posted this before I got the chance to nudge back at Wildly Parenthetical, who has been trying valiantly to make sense of my often opaque use of terms like “abstract” and “determinate” negation – if it weren’t already clear, this piece is intended as (er… yet another?) gesture to that ongoing conversation… 🙂

Let It Be

I had hoped to write a post tonight for the Science of Logic reading group on the first part of the discussion on Being. Unfortunately, I find myself in one of those vampiric states where, every time I try to sleep, I bounce back up again with something I feel I must jot down for the chapter I’m working on. This has built up an enormous sleep deficit, and I simply don’t feel I can write anything coherent until I’ve slept a bit more 🙂

I was, though, intensely enjoying the discussion of this section started by Alexei’s reflections over at Now-Times. There is some first-rate commentary from Alexei and Daniel around how to understand the relation between the Phenomenology and the Logic, as well as some material I wish I were awake enough to take up adequately here, around the “necessity” of the particular beginning Hegel uses in the Logic. Among many other fantastic points in this exchange, I am particularly interested in Daniel’s claim that:

For if the true starting-point of the Logic is not “merely” an abstract concept, but is our own thought of the abstract concept, then we can take a different tack on Hegel’s comment in ss98 of the Logic that “all that is present is simply the resolve, which can also be regarded as arbitrary, that we propose to consider thought as such.” We don’t have to start with “Being”! We can start anywhere, but regardless of where we choose to start, we can only end our inquiry into thought by canvassing the entire system of Logical categories. Thus the choice of a “starting point” is arbitrary; the only part of the beginning that is important as a beginning is the fact that (wherever we are starting off at), we are aiming to consider thought, here (as opposed to considering biology, or history, or sociology, or physics, or psychology, or some other such topic). So the “invocation of Being” here is just — an aesthetically pleasing way to start the book.

My own interpretation of the same passage isn’t quite the same (not that this should necessarily be seen as significant, as my reading of the text is very provisional). My impulse, though, is to think that it’s significant here that Hegel says the beginning can be regarded as arbitrary: my temptation is to take this phrasing as quite deliberate, and to read this is saying something like “sure, it may seem arbitrary now – but this doesn’t mean it actually is arbitrary”. I take it more that the non-arbitrariness of the beginning won’t be visible until the system as a whole has been developed – until that point, it may in fact look as though you could as well begin anywhere else. Hegel periodically challenges those who suggest that they could achieve something similar, from a different start, to go ahead and try 🙂 (apologies – much too tired at the moment, or I would look up an example). So I think more is at stake here for Hegel than simple “aesthetics” (although I do agree with Daniel’s more general point about grasping this as a consideration of thought, which therefore intrinsically confronts the issue of how to consider something that is also carrying out that process of consideration…).

Nevertheless, I think Daniel is onto something – although my instinct was to see it as something of a tension in the work, rather than to take literally the statement about the arbitrariness of the starting point. I drew attention to a strange distinction Hegel makes in par. 102:

The essential requirement for the science of logic is not so much that the beginning be a pure immediacy, but rather that the whole of the science be within itself a circle in which the first is also the last and the last is also the first.

Hegel moves immediately from here, back to a defence of the claim that being must be the beginning, but there is a tacit disjoint here between the methodology and its content – a disjoint that I find interesting, in light of some of Hegel’s other methodological suggestions.

Much too tired to say anything of substance, but I did want to draw readers’ attention to a very good discussion-in-progress. While I’m at it, I also want to put in a plug for Daniel’s SOH-Dan blog – which I just discovered via this exchange, and which is a fantastic site, with some rich material up on Hegel, Brandom, McDowell and others – the site should be of great interest to readers here who haven’t yet discovered it.

Science of Logic Reading Group: To Be or Not To Be

So the in-person reading group on Hegel’s Science of Logic is meeting again on Thursday, having decided last week to slow our pace a bit, and move more slowly through the Doctrine of Being. This week, we will be discussing Chapter 1, Being (and, you know, Nothing…), and we’ll trundle along at a chapter per week through this section, and then decide whether we want to maintain this pace, or speed things along.

The online discussion since last week has been driven by the exceptional efforts of Alexei at Now-Times, who has written a series of posts that have moved from the first preface through to the section on Being, exploring connections between Phenomenology and the Logic along the way. This is fantastic stuff, to which I want to respond substantively – after I get my next chapter out of the way (with high hopes that this won’t be the monster that the previous one has proven to be). I will, though, try to write something tomorrow on one particular aspect of the discussion of Being – something that I find important (wait for it!) for what Marx is doing in Capital. (I promise to be less one-note in my writing soon – at the moment, I am enjoying precious and rare uninterrupted writing time, and am hording as much of it as possible for the thesis.)

Joining the Fray:

Anyone reading on who would like to contribute some material to the online discussion, but who would like a bit of background on the reading group first, can find some here. Note that, for whatever reason, I’m not finding pingbacks all that reliable lately, so, if you do write something, and I don’t pick up on it here, please email me to let me know.

Online texts of Science of Logic can be found:

In English: from MIA

In German: from Project Gutenberg

Posts so far in the online discussion:

Prefaces

What in the hell… is the spirit of practicality?, what in the hell…, Nate, on the first Preface

What in the hell… happens next?!, what in the hell…, Nate, on the second Preface

Opening Discussions, Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, on the first Preface and a fragment of the Second

Preparing for Being, Now-Times, Alexei, commentary on the other contributions on the first Preface

Masters and Slaves, Now-Times, Alexei, commentary on the second Preface, with reference to the issue of emancipatory possibilities

Transformative Negativity, against the Abstract Ought, Now-Times, Alexei, continuation of post above, with specific reference to the ethical import of Hegel’s approach, and with comparisons between Phenomenology and Logic

Introduction

Hegel’s Science of Logic: Introduction, Perverse Egalitarianism, Mikhail Emelianov

Introduction (Some More Random Observations), Perverse Egalitarianism, Mikhail Emelianov

Being

With What Must the New Year Begin?Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, on “With What Must the Science Begin” (Note that I’ve reprised this material in the conference paper here – the paper covers a lot of ground on Marx and also on Hegel’s Phenomenology, but the section on the method of the Logic is more accurate and complete than the material in the original post from which it was redrafted.)

Concretion and Appearance, Now-Times, Alexei, reflections on the relationship between appearance and Concept, spanning Phenomenology and Logic

Let It Be, Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, reflection on one aspect of the discussion of the “Concretion and Appearance” discussion at Now-Times

Background and General Comments

Online Resources on Hegel – English, Now-Times, Alexei

Online Resources on Hegel – German, Now-Times, Alexei

The Comfort of DeterminismPerverse Egalitarianism, Mikhail Emelianov, reflections on Kant, Leibniz and Hegel’s desire to erase the distinction between form and content

Scratchpad: How Must the Science Begin? (Not This Way, Surely…)

*sigh* This is awful. But I’m tired of looking at it, I need to move on now and write other things, and dumping it on the blog seems the best way to draw a bright, embarrassing line under it, and force myself to move on. Some version of this piece in the near future will be much better. It has to be. But that’s not going to happen this week. So below the fold this goes – a sort of framing mini-chapter, intended to do roughly the same work that the “Fragment on the Textual Strategy of Capital post did for the blog series on Capital, now that I’m finally ready (as I had mentioned wanting to do in the blog series) to outline this argument a bit more adequately, with reference to the work I’ve been doing on Hegel’s Science of Logic. My problem with this piece isn’t so much how it reworks these specific arguments – it’s more with everything else that somehow sneaked in along the way, with how many unintegrated layers this text seems to have acquired in its very brief life, and with the many sections where I know – please trust me, I know – I need to develop further what I have said, but where every time I add something, it just seems to make everything that much worse…

So below the fold it goes. Good riddance, for the moment at least…

Read more of this post

Science of Logic Reading Group: Beginnings (Updated and Bounced)

Just another quick update on the Science of Logic reading group. The first in-person group meeting takes place in Melbourne on Thursday, discussing (or beginning to discuss) the Prefaces, Intro, and the section on “With What Must the Science Begin?”.

The online discussion has so far drawn posts from Mikhail Emelianov of Perverse Egalitarianism and Nate from what in the hell…. Anyone else who’d like to contribute is most welcome – just post something and link back here. I’ll periodically assemble links so that people reading along can see who has written what.

To Mikhail and Nate: I’ve been needing to focus on some dissertation-related work this week, but want to pick up on what both of you have written in a post over here, in a few days (perhaps after the in-person reading group meets, when I roll together observations on what happens there, with the things that have come up so far in the online discussion). Apologies that I’m having to do this at a delay.

Anyone wanting more background on the reading group before diving in, can find some here.

Online texts of Logic of Science can be found:

In English: from MIA

In German: from Project Gutenberg

Mikhail and I have been following the convention of quoting from the MIA version in our posts, and using the paragraph numbers from that version for easy reference to those reading on.

Updated to add: I stuffed up the link to Nate’s original post, on the first Preface, so I’ve corrected that (and a conversation has broken out over there, so check it out). I’ve also added a link to Nate’s second post, on the second Preface.

Updated to add: Alexei has written an excellent response to other posts from this first round, and Mikhail has also added some nice reflections on Hegel’s relationship to Kant and Leibniz. I’ve updated the list below to include these links, as well as a link to my own partial reflections on the Prefaces, and bounced the post to the top of the blog again for ease of reference.

Posts so far in the online discussion:

What in the hell… is the spirit of practicality?, what in the hell…, Nate, on the first Preface

What in the hell… happens next?!, what in the hell…, Nate, on the second Preface

Opening Discussions, Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, on the first Preface and a fragment of the Second

Preparing for Being, Now-Times, Alexei, commentary on the other contributions on the first Preface

Second Preface: Masters and Slaves, Now-Times, Alexei, commentary on the second Preface in light of themes from the Phenomenology of Spirit

Hegel’s Science of Logic: Introduction, Perverse Egalitarianism, Mikhail Emelianov

Introduction (Some More Random Observations), Perverse Egalitarianism, Mikhail Emelianov

With What Must the New Year Begin?Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, on “With What Must the Science Begin”

The Comfort of DeterminismPerverse Egalitarianism, Mikhail Emelianov, reflections on Kant, Leibniz and Hegel’s desire to erase the distinction between form and content