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Science of Logic Reading Group: Introduction (Updated and Bounced to the Top of the Page!)

Hey! Go to sleep hoping that someone other than me will write something on the Introduction to Hegel’s Science of Logic, wake up, and find that they have! A body could get used to this…

Mikhail Emelianov from Perverse Egalitarianism has gotten us started with some comments on the distinctions Hegel makes between his own approach, and more typical treatments of logic, draws attention to Hegel’s ever-present sensitivity to the relation of form and content, and raises the difficult question of how to understand theological themes in Hegel’s work, with particular reference to recurrent metaphors of redemption and reviving the dead (a favourite theme of mine from Marx, as well).

I’m off to the library for the day, so no detailed comments from my end yet. Just wanted to post the pointer, and get the discussion under way.

Updated 5 Jan: Updated to add that, as promised, Mikhail has supplemented his original post. I hope to pick up on some of Mikhail’s points soon, but just wanted to point folks to the new post for the moment, and bump this thread back to the top of the blog.

Posts so far in the summer Hegel discussion (even if we can’t get you to Australia, Mikhail, I’m formally inducting you into our season… warm thoughts, at least, headed your way from Melbourne…):

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”

Before the Science

On New Year’s Eve, I rudely jumped forward to discuss the section on “With What Must the Science Begin?” from Hegel’s Logic of Science. The first in-person reading group meeting on this work will take place Thursday the 10th, and will discuss that section – but also the Prefaces and Introduction. This suggests that perhaps a bit of backstepping is in order. Hopefully I (or someone else? someone currently writing on the history of logic, perhaps?) will write something on the Prefaces and Introduction before the in-person group actually meets.

For the moment, just an organisational note: as with last year’s discussion of Phenomenology of Spirit, this year’s reading group will spill over online. The parallell online discussion opens things out to a wider range of perspectives – and also makes it possible for people who miss sessions due to other commitments, to catch up and participate in other ways.

As with last year, the parallell online discussion may not lead to posts on all sections. Posts also won’t necessarily aim to move through sections in any step-by-step way, and they may or may not have an overarching argumentative “point”: this will depend on the interests and time of whoever writes them. Last year, we had a bit of everything, from jokes (including some very bad ones), to comments on isolated fragments of text, to duelling interpretations of pivotal sections, to more systematic readings. I wouldn’t expect contributions to be any narrower in format, interest and tone this time around.

Posts from me and, perhaps, other participants in the in-person group will go up here as the in-person discussion moves through the text. Mikhail Emelianov from Perverse Egalitarianism has hinted that he might allow himself to be strongarmed into contributing something on selected sections over there. If others who have blogs are perhaps interested in doing something similar, let me know – or just chime in and include a link back here, and I’ll post a pointer to the discussion at your blog. If I’m the only or the main person posting, chances are good that, as with last year’s discussion of Phenomenology of Spirit, you’ll still be seeing posts on the first third of the text, a year after the in-person reading group took place… Not that there’s anything wrong with that… ;-P But not having to wait on my idiosyncratic writing schedule – particularly during what will be a very intensive writing year for me – has its advantages.

As long as I’m organising: I’ve been meaning to collect into one place a list of all the posts generated (at whatever delay) by the Phenomenology of Spirit reading group last year. This seems as good a place as any to tuck them away below the fold… Read more of this post

With What Must the New Year Begin?

chaoscopeA post for midnight, to confirm a tradition, and to kick off the reading group discussion for this year: some brief, very preliminary reflections on the section on “With What Must the Science Begin?” from Hegel’s Logic of Science.

Hegel begins this section by situating its question in time: “It is only in recent times that thinkers have become aware of the difficulty of finding a beginning in philosophy” (88, emphasis mine).

Earlier periods, Hegel argues, set out a principle – a determinate content – of philosophy, understood either as an objective beginning of everything, or as a criterion of the nature of cognition. In comparison to these determinate contents, the subjective moment of philosophy – and thus the form of philosophy and the question of where to begin – were regarded as accidental and arbitrary, as lacking any necessary relationship to philosophy’s content. Questions of truth or ground seemed to be questions of content – of ontology – alone (89).

Modernity is distinctive in being concerned with how the principle – the determinate content – of philosophy could be established non-dogmatically. To ontology, then, epistemological questions have been added. Hegel points here to a triad of problematic possibilities that have emerged in response to this epistemological anxiety: first, the mirrored antinomies of dogmatism and scepticism, which share the notion that beginnings can never be more than arbitrary decisions, but then divide over whether they accept or reject this move; next, what Hegel regards as an even more fundamental retreat – the attempt to displace method and logic by the appeal to inner revelation. Against these possibilities, Hegel puts forward a fourth option: the subjective moment of philosophy must be recognised as an essential moment of objective truth; the form of philosophy must be united with its principle; the process of thinking must be the process of unfolding the principle (90).

Hegel’s approach, however, alters the sorts of questions that can be answered, outside the unfolding of the philosophy itself. Hegel can stage whisper what his answers will be – pointing to the form the philosophy ultimately will take. To his opening question of whether the beginning of philosophy is mediated or immediate, he can answer:

…there is nothing, nothing in heaven or in nature or mind or anywhere else which does not equally contain both immediacy and mediation, so that these two determinations reveal themselves to be unseparated and inseparable and the opposition between them to be a nullity. (92)

Stated this way, though, the answer appears dogmatic – a raw ontological assertion. The adequate demonstration of this answer requires the unfolding of the system as a whole. To abridge this process – to ask how the system will address questions, aside from watching these questions and their responses unfold immanently within the system itself – is a performative contradiction:

…to want the nature of cognition clarified prior to the science is to demand that it be considered outside the science; outside the science this cannot be accomplished, at least not in a scientific manner… (92)

But what does it mean, to unfold a system immanently from a starting point? How is it possible to generate the starting point itself, reflexively, by unfolding its own potentials, in a way that loops back to demonstrate that starting point to be non-arbitrary – non-dogmatic – non-decisionistic?

Hegel foreshadows his answer. He discusses the starting point that he will actually use, in this work, in his system. A starting point that is the result of the “science of manifested spirit”, which began from “empirical, sensuous consciousness”, and led to the “Idea as pure knowledge” (93). He describes this result, this starting point, as without distinction, as simple immediacy – but as simple immediacy that contains a reference to its distinction from what is mediated. He describes it as “being and nothing else, without any further specification or filling” – but as being that has arisen – that has come to be, through a process of mediation that has suspended itself (93-97).

The Science of Logic picks up from this result, taking the result as it presents itself, immediately, without presupposing anything else: “its only determination is that it is to be the beginning of logic, of thought as such” (95, 98). Again Hegel notes the risk of apparent dogmatism: this beginning “can also be regarded as arbitrary”, precisely because it is abstract and does not presuppose anything, is not determined in relation to anything else, is not mediated by anything, and does not have a ground (98). The beginning is immediacy itself – pure being (99).

Hegel has already indicated that other questions must await the unfolding from this beginning – ruling out the concept that metatheoretical comments at this stage could do justice to the nature of the argument, or adequately explain how this beginning will be immanently grounded through the unfolding of the system. Wait, he has said – and will say a number of times again. Be patient. See. There is no answer aside from the unfolding. This is, in fact, a central substantive claim of his approach.

But metatheory tempts him. Perhaps some preliminary gestures will be useful. He sounds impatient with himself for not being able to resist such moves – “preliminary prejudices”, he calls them, and dismisses them from the outset as moves that have no place within the science itself (100).

Yet these preliminary prejudices contain some of the most interesting commentary in this section. He begins by criticising the suggestion that philosophy could only begin with a hypothetical, an interpretive gamble whose outcome is not initially known. Hegel rejects this position, but – as always with his critiques – he also derives something from it: he associates it with an important insight. Specifically:

… progress in philosophy is rather a retrogression and a grounding or establishing by means of which we first obtain the result that what we began with is not something arbitrarily assumed but is in fact the truth, and also the primary truth. (101)

It’s difficult to paraphrase Hegel here in a way that would add anything to his formulations – readers will hopefully forgive me a further quote:

… absolute spirit which reveals itself as the concrete and final supreme truth of all being, and which at the end of the development is known as freely externalizing itself, abandoning itself to the shape of an immediate being – opening or unfolding itself [sich entschliessend] into the creation of a world which contains all that fell into the development which preceded that result and which through this reversal of its position relatively to its beginnning is transformed into something dependent on the result as principle. (102)

So here the starting point, the beginning – the principle – is also the result, the end, of the very process unfolded immanently from that from starting point. For Hegel, this renders the starting point non-arbitrary – non-dogmatic – as it provides the beginning from which can unfold a world which itself unfolds this beginning, which generates this principle.

[If anyone has wondered why I use the ouroboros as a site logo, this conception of critique is the reason… 😉 Although, via Marx, I would argue that a process that would enable this form of critique, is itself the process that must be overcome – this form of immanent theory is something that, if critical, aims to abolish itself, along with its object… But these aren’t thoughts I can develop adequately here… Back to the text…]

At this point in the narrative, Hegel does something extremely interesting – something somewhat unexpected. He draws a distinction between form and content. Specifically, he distinguishes between the particular beginning of the Science – his content, his principle (which is also meant to be form) – and this conception of the form of critique:

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. (102, emphasis mine)

In another author, this sort of move wouldn’t be so striking. And there are ways to interpret this statement without contradicting Hegel’s overarching argument. Hegel is so sensitive, though, to moves that suggest that something is arbitrary or inessential – he is so focussed on the unity of content and form. In such a context, this sentence opens the trace of a potential: has Hegel quite captured what he thinks he has captured, if even his text contains threads of a divide between his content – his principle – and this form? Marx will tug on such threads to unspool his own immanent critique, in Capital.

Hegel moves on from here to provide further details of the movement of this kind of critique: the beginning, although it may appear arbitrary or one-sided at the outset, will itself be shown to be a mediated result and, through progressive determinations, will lose its apparent one-sidedness. The inferences made from this beginning point are not abstract negations or rejections of the starting point, but are instead further – less abstract, more detailed – determinations of the beginning. The beginning is therefore preserved in everything that follows from it, in and through a process of transition and negation – indeed, the process of transition and negation, ultimately, is the process through which the beginning is constituted and preserved. For this reason, the beginning is actually not known at the beginning: it is fully determined only in and through the fully developed system. For this reason, as well, the beginning is not arbitrary, provisional, or hypothetical: it is the only possible beginning from which the totality that generates such a beginning can unfold. (103-107)

Hegel moves on from here, away from this more “essential” requirement, and back into the specifics of his… particular beginning. He foreshadows elements of the argument to come, providing the sorts of preliminary justifications whose validity he has also repeatedly ruled out, and engaging in skirmishes with a few other approaches. I’ll leave this material aside for the tonight – hopefully the post is substantive enough at least to open discussions for the new year 🙂 I have a little one wanting to play with sparklers, now that it’s dark enough to see them – I’ll set this post to go live at midnight.

Thanks to everyone who has participated in discussions here over the past year – I have benefitted more than any of you could possibly know from these engagements, and I hope we have opportunities to have many more such discussions in the coming year.

[Note: image @sandyckato]

New Year Traditions

I posted on this last year, but was thinking of it again: a lovely New Year’s tradition that ZaPaper from Chicago-Beijing posted:

A long-held superstition in my family–I’m not sure about others’–is that whatever you do on New Years Day is indicative of what you will be doing all year. We have always have been careful never to have needless arguments or sulky fits, insofar as that is possible, on January 1.

Last year, L Magee tempted me into a midnight post on the Preface to Hegel’s Phenomenology, which we then read together during January. I’m wondering whether to turn this into a tradition – posting a midnight reflection on the Science of Logic, to open our reading group discussion for this coming year? Or perhaps I should pass this tradition on to LM, who is currently writing on the history of logic?

Full of Stars

So I set out to write a bit more on the section on “Force and Understanding” from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit – if only to give Alexei something to read when he gets back from break. Somehow, I’ve written a monster, which goes back over much of the ground covered in my previous post on this section, and then struggles through to the end of the chapter. Even for this blog, I suspect that the resulting post is too long to deposit in its entirety on the front page. I’ve therefore pushed the content below the fold.

Since lately I seem to think of Hegel only in relation to film, and since Wizard of Oz illustrations didn’t quite seem to carry me through the end of this chapter last time, I’ve found myself associating to 2001: A Space Odyssey while writing this post – must be Hegel’s discussion of what happens to consciousness when Understanding encounters Infinity. The illustrations used below are fragments of the full images from the gallery of the 2001: A Space Odyssey Internet Resource Archive. It may just be me, but these images seemed somehow appropriate for a discussion of how consciousness moves from its initial experience of itself in an uncertain and tenuous relationship with an external object, through its confrontation with infinity, toward Self-Consciousness.

Read more of this post

The Man Behind the Curtain

Following the yellow brick roadSo the other day, I was blaming Joseph Kugelmass for the fact that I now can’t think of Hegel’s discussion of sense-certainty without associating to Spaceballs. I will have to blame myself, however, for the fact that the section on Force and Understanding causes me to think of The Wizard of Oz. My only excuse is that this association surely seems inevitable, given how the previous chapter provides a narrative that consciousness is propelled into Understanding via its confrontation with the whirling maelstrom that results when it seeks certainty through Perception, while this chapter closes with a scene in which consciousness finally steps behind the curtain of appearance – to realise that it was itself behind the curtain all along. Random associations aside, let’s see if I can make some sense of at least a small slice of this material.

I’ve discussed with Alexei in the comments to another post, how difficult I find this chapter in particular to read. I think this problem derives partially from how much time I’ve spent recently on the first chapter of Capital. As I mentioned in the previous post on Perception, Marx opens Capital roughly where Hegel begins the section on Perception, and then moves on to spend the bulk of the rest of the first chapter discussing themes that Hegel addresses in the chapter on Force and Understanding (along with some gestures to material Hegel includes in his material on Self-Consciousness). Marx’s argument about the fetish therefore involves an intricate, tacit metacommentary on Hegel’s approach to similar themes – and, as a consequence, my recent work, trying to tease out the nature of Marx’s argument, seems to be creating a fair amount of “interference”, as I now go back now to try to make sense of these parts of Hegel.

My work on Marx can’t be the only thing causing problems for me, however, as I’ve been procrastinating on writing about Hegel’s discussion of Force and Understanding for longer than I’ve been working intensively on the first chapter of Capital. Even though I generally find Hegel’s voicing clearer than Marx’s – in the sense that Hegel is generally more explicit about the perspective from which he is speaking at any given time – something about this particular section seems to blink in and out of focus for me. Hegel seems to me to loop several times in this section back through the shapes of consciousness he has discussed in earlier sections, without always clearly delineating these retrospective moments from the discussion of moments distinctive to Understanding – and sometimes without clearly delineating all of these things from the “for us” perspective he intends the reader of the text to adopt. As a result, I think I have a handle on the overarching argument, but many smaller-scale moves don’t seem to be falling neatly into place for me. Whether this is an intrinsic problem with this section or, as seems more likely, an intrinsic problem with me, every time I sit down to write on this material, I end up putting the text aside, deciding that I’m not yet sufficiently comfortable with my grasp of the material to write on it at any length. This post therefore represents an attempt to break through this long-standing logjam – without claiming that I’ve somehow achieved a breakthrough in terms of the clarity with which I now apprehend the text. Corrections are therefore most welcome.

Okay. Since this section, I think, loops back through points from the previous two sections, a few words on what binds these sections to one another might make a useful starting point. These three sections – on sense-certainty, perception, and understanding – each unfold within a space where consciousness takes its object to be something outside itself, which consciousness regards as separated from its own process of experience or apprehension. The “for us” of the text – the perspective meant to express the point of view of the reader, which Hegel will also sometimes refer to as the position that remains implicit for whatever shape of consciousness is being analysed at a given point in the text – is meant to grasp, throughout, that what consciousness takes to be distinct entities – an object, a process of apprehension, and a medium connecting the two – are simply moments of the same dynamic process that assumes these particular forms. This dynamic movement uniting these moments, however, is not yet apparent to the shapes of consciousness being analysed here. In each section, Hegel therefore tries to show, both how the moments in a dynamic process could present themselves to consciousness in the inadequate configuration analysed in that section, and also how consciousness’ own confrontation with the immanent limitations of such inadequate configurations, could drive it closer and closer to the “for us” of this text.

While Hegel traces a development of consciousness through each section, in each of these initial developments, consciousness fails to recognise its own implicatedness in the development of its object: consciousness takes its object to be a thing outside itself – as something essential, on which certainty can be grounded, and to which consciousness is opposed as inessential. The qualitative character of that “thing” – of the object – shifts with each stage, and consciousness along with it. But only when consciousness finally transcends Understanding does it confront the truth that it has all along been its own object – that what had previously presented themselves as opposed extremes (subject/object, being-for-self/being-for-other, form/content, etc.) had been moments in the same dynamic process.

Dorothy looks out the window into the tornadoEach section therefore tells a story of consciousness running up against immanent limits that it then transcends, while still preserving insights achieved via the confrontation with the impasse being overcome. Thus the search for sense-certainty, which attempts to achieve certainty through immersion in some particular “this” that is “meant”, leads consciousness to the realisation that such immersion aims implicitly at its opposite: universality emerges as the immanent truth of sense experience, and consciousness steps back from identifying certainty with some particular that is “meant”. Perception, which takes up from this insight, entails a search for certainty via the apprehension of universals conditioned by sense experience. This search in turn also leads, not to certainty, but to a perpetual restless movement that points consciousness toward the need for inherent universals not conditioned by sense perception. Understanding then takes over from this point, and searches for supersensible universals. Yet Understanding also reconstitutes, on this higher level, the problematic divide between consciousness and its object – taking unconditioned universals still as an object apart from consciousness. Understanding thus results in another unstable and restless configuration, which will drive immanently toward its own transcendence in the recognition by consciousness of its implicatedness in its object – in Self-Consciousness. The section on Understanding explores how such a transcendence unfolds.

The Wizard of OzHegel has a great deal of fun with Understanding – positioning the gratification consciousness receives from it as a form of unintentional and misrecognised intellectual onanism. The reader – a voyeur looking in on Understanding’s distinctive pleasures – is meant to recognise that consciousness is enjoying itself in this activity – however much consciousness may protest that it engages in chaste contemplation of some external object, discerned with great effort through the veil of sense perception:

Understanding has, indeed, eo ipso, done away with its own untruth and the untruth in its object. What has thereby come to view is the notion of the truth as implicit inherent truth, which is not yet notion, or lacks a consciously explicit existence for itself (Fürsichseyn), and is something which understanding allows to have its way without knowing itself in it. (133)


This process or necessity is, however, in this form, still a necessity and a process of understanding, or the process as such is not the object of understanding; instead, understanding has as its objects in that process positive and negative electricity, distance, velocity, force of attraction, and a thousand other things–objects which make up the content of the moments of the process. It is just for that reason that there is so much satisfaction in explanation, because consciousness being there, if we may use such an expression, in direct communion with itself, enjoys itself only. No doubt it there seems to be occupied with something else, but in point of fact it is busied all the while merely with itself. (163)

The man behind the curtainThe question then becomes how consciousness can move through the experiences Understanding provides, to achieve the explicit realisation of its own implicatedness in its object. Hegel’s argument here is complex, and I am certain I won’t come close to doing it justice. He begins by stage whispering that the unconditioned universal – although achieved through the negation of perception – has the positive significance of establishing the unity of existence-for-self and existence-for-other, which, for Hegel, involves a unity of form and content. Through Understanding, however, consciousness cannot fully grasp this unity, because it still takes the unconditioned universal as its object – as an extreme opposed to itself. As a consequence, a distinction of form and content is reconstituted in Understanding. The remainder of the chapter explores the permutations of this form/content distinction, in order to unfold an account of how this distinction should finally be overcome.

Hegel first discusses Force (for us) as a dynamic process comprised of a movement through moments of dispersion into independent elements, which Hegel calls the Expression of Force, and moments of withdrawal back into unity, which Hegel calls Force proper. Understanding initially holds Force and its Expression in immediate unity – taking the distinction between these moments to exist only in thought. Yet these distinctions obtain objective existence in the movement of the interaction between Force and its Expression – for Force, understood as the inner, inherent being of things, lying behind the random flux of perceptual experience, must express itself, and this expression presents itself to consciousness initially as the interaction of two forces – one an inciting or attracting force that draws out the inner essential being of the other, enabling this inner being to be expressed. Yet to describe the interaction in this way is to adopt a one-sided perspective, for the interaction is reciprocal: each of the two forces serves as the inciting force that allows the inner essence of the other to be expressed and, in turn, expresses its own inner essence in response to the other’s incitement. This interaction between Force and its Other therefore involves a reciprocity or tautology that drives toward the realisation that these “two” forces are really one and the same – that force has no existence apart from its expression; that form and content are unified; that what are taken as distinct forces are moments of a dynamic unity.

Hegel uses his analysis of force to unfold a distinction between force as substance, and the true inner being of things. The play of forces now becomes the realm of Appearance – which Hegel positions as a development of the negative, in the form of a restless process of moments turning into their opposites, but with a positive content: the universal – here, however, positioned in the form of the object existing per se, with truth conceptualised as the inner being of the object. This true inner being, however, is taken to exist in a mediated relationship to consciousness, which can directly access only the realm of appearance. Understanding thus seeks to pierce the play of forces in order to discern the stable background that is now taken to be real and true – but also taken to be a negation of sensible world, such that the object of consciousness has come to be a supersensible realm lying beyond the sensuous world of appearance.

(A very quick aside: readers of the series on the first chapter of Capital may already have recognised that these are more or less the same moves Marx makes when analysing the category of Value – which he presents as a category of a supersensible realm that cannot be detected by immediate empirical observation, as a category that necessarily expresses itself in the Form of Value (exchange value), as something that appears initially to be a distinction in thought, but then is realised in the form of universal laws that emerge from the apparently random flux of the process of exchange, etc. Marx deploys the discussion in Capital to overtly similar effect to Hegel’s analysis here – embedding a kind of “Kantian” sensibility in his analysis of the reproduction of capital – while also tacitly offering a metacommentary on Hegel’s work as a buried subtext.)

Consciousness, in Understanding, takes the world of appearance as a mediation between itself and the inner being of things. The inner world, posited here as something beyond consciousness, presents itself as empty and inaccessible to knowledge. Hegel gestures in passing at approaches that stop at this point – accepting this barren “beyond” as the necessary limit of consciousness. He argues that such approaches fail to recognise that this barrenness derives from consciousness’ taking inherent being as an object outside itself – starting from the position that the inner, true realm is devoid of objective reality (and thus supersensible), and holding the position that it is also devoid of consciousness – leaving only a void that tosses consciousness necessarily back into the phenomenal realm of appearance. For Hegel, this conclusion follows, however, only if we remain bound to Understanding.

Hegel counterposes the position that the supersensible arises only in and through the realm of appearance, such that the play of forces in the realm of appearance, the flux of the sensible realm, is the mediation through which the supersensible inner world is generated. The realm of appearance thus fills what, to Understanding, presents itself as a void, by establishing an inner world through which the sensible world is transcended. At the same time, consciousness, as itself a moment in this dynamic process, is not walled off from an inner being intrinsically beyond itself, but is rather already implicated in its object.

As I write this section, with the text sitting beside me, open, but untouched, this chapter has spontaneously separated itself from the spine, and slithered out of the book and onto the floor: the entire section on Force and Understanding – and only the section on Force and Understanding – has now self-excised from my copy of the Phenomenology. I’m wondering how to interpret this. The silent unweaving of Spirit? Regardless, it’s getting late, and I need to stop for the night – unfortunately at what is probably a slightly misleading juncture (even assuming I haven’t been massively misreading Hegel’s voicing to this point). Worse, I have left myself still to write on the parts of this section that I find most difficult. Still, it would undoubtedly lead to worse results, for me to try to write on this text even later into the night… Apologies if I should have made this decision much earlier than this…

Note that, while my various posts on Phenomenology are working notes, written with long gaps in between and without a strong guiding thread linking the posts, this post does draw on some points developed in earlier posts on the section on Perception and Sense-Certainty. A compilation of links to other occasional posts on Phenomenology are listed in this post.


Some aspects of the recent discussion of Brandom have led me to read a bit more of Brandom’s interpretation of Hegel, which has led me in turn to think again about some dropped tangents from last summer’s reading group discussion of Phenomenology. I had meant to write much more on Phenomenology than I was able to do at the time, but have instead largely incorporated the stray thoughts that emerged from that reading, into some of the work I’ve been doing on Marx. Marx, of course, was directly engaging with the Science of Logic, rather than with the Phenomenology, when he was writing Capital – one of the reasons I’ve been so gestural and, in a sense, sloppy when pointing Marx’s strategy back to Hegel’s work, has been my awareness that it would make more sense, and be more intuitively persuasive, in terms of Marx’s own statements about his work, to raise these sorts of claims about textual and analytical strategy in relation to a discussion of the Logic. Fortunately, I seem to have conned a few stray souls who will be trapped in Melbourne over the holidays into working through the Logic with me – perhaps now creating the beginnings of a tradition of summer Hegel reading, but in all events instituting something more immediately practical for me than it likely will be for the other participants… ;-P

Still, turning back to Phenomenology as I have been over the past couple of days, it’s easy to be struck once again by certain similarities connecting the concerns and style of this text, with the sorts of moves Marx makes in Capital. I’ve been looking back particularly at the sections on Perception and Force & Understanding. It feels somewhat strange now, reading these sections, which have shaped the sorts of claims I’m making about Capital and which in particular sensitised me to the sorts of subtle textual cues that hint at the different perspectives or voices being expressed in particular moments of Marx’s text, to see now how this reading of Capital then reacts back and distances me from Hegel’s text in turn. I don’t intend specifically to develop this line of thought here, but I did want to take the opportunity to toss up a few scattered notes on these sections, while I’m thinking about them – I’ll start tonight with the section on Perception, and hopefully follow up soon on the section on Force and Understanding – although, given that I’ve promised to write on these sections before, this may be a somewhat tenuous offer… ;-P

The section on Perception takes over from the discussion of sense-certainty (Joseph Kugelmass has ensured that I will never be able to think of Hegel’s sense-certainty discussion without thinking of Spaceballs – I’m not sure whether to thank or criticise Joe for this apparently indelible association), which sought to demonstrate that a shape of consciousness that understands itself to be bound to sensuous immediacy – bound to “the This” – instead expresses its direct opposite: universality. I’ve discussed how this argument unfolds in greater detail previously.

Perception, by constrast, starts with the universal – but a universal it experiences in terms of two moments that are immediately distinguished from one another: a universal “I”, confronting a universal “object”. In one of his many stage whispers designed to keep readers from losing themselves in the shape of consciousness being analysed at particular stages in the text, Hegel reminds his readers that “for us”, looking at perception from a standpoint not immanent to perception itself, the “I” and its “object” exist in a logically necessitated relation, and represent two different forms in which the same process can appear, depending on whether this process is viewed from the perspective of pointing out and indicating (the “I” or process of perceiving), or whether this process is viewed from the perspective of a “simple fact” (the ”object” perceived). “We” grasp the essence of perception to be the universal as principle, and “we” see that perception fails to grasp the logical necessity that connects the “I” to the “object” as different moments or perspectives of the same process. Perception, however, sees the “I” and the “object” as only contingently related, and thus parcels out the distinction between essential and nonessential between these moments, treating the moments as indifferent to one another – and, in terms of the shape of consciousness analysed here, initially taking the “object” to be essential, and indifferent to whether it is perceived or not by the “I”, while the “I” is taken to be inessential and variable – more contingent than the object it perceives.

Hopefully readers will forgive me the tangent that this is where Marx starts Capital: with objects that present themselves as “things” “outside us”, whose material properties we can “discover” over time. These material properties are associated with use value, which presents itself as the invariant – in Hegel’s terms, the “essential” – substance of wealth, regardless of that wealth’s social form. That social form is contingent, nonessential, and historically variable – the “I” that understands itself to be only contingently and accidentally related to the material “object”.

Marx opens Capital in this way, I would suggest, to express that he has set himself a problem analogous to Hegel’s: how can we grasp the necessity that underlies this apparent contingency? How can we understand the intrinsic interconnectedness of this particular kind of “I” – the sort of consciousness whose self-understanding is expressed at the beginning of Capital – and the particular kind of “object” to which that “I” addresses itself – a material world that is understood as intrinsically disenchanted and indifferent to human perception? What sort of process involves the constitutions of such “I’s” and such “objects” as moments in its dynamic unfolding?

Okay. Back to Hegel. Hegel needs to unfold the “for us” of the text from within the categories available to the shapes of consciousness being analysed: otherwise, his own analysis would be applied to its object from the “outside” – it would be only contingently connected, rather than expressing a logical necessity that justifies Hegel’s approach as more than one among many possible duelling assertions, each dogmatically claiming superior access to some privileged perspective that stands outside what is being analysed. Hegel’s notion of science is bound together with his advocacy of this kind of argument:

For science cannot simply reject a form of knowledge which is not true, and treat this as the common view of things, and then assure us that itself is an entirely different kind of knowledge, and holds the other to be of no account at all; nor can it appeal to the fact that in this other there are presages of a better. By giving that assurance it would declare its force and value to lie in its bare existence; but the untrue knowledge appeals likewise to the fact that it is, and assures us that to it science is nothing. One barren assurance, however, is of just as much value as another. Still less can science appeal to presages of the better, which are to be found present in untrue knowledge and are there pointing the way toward science; for it would, on the one hand, be appealing again in the same way to a merely existent fact; and, on the other, it would be appealing to itself, to the way in which it exists in untrue knowledge, i.e. to a bad form of its own existence, to its appearance, rather than to its real and true nature (an und für sich) . For this reason we shall here undertake the exposition of knowledge as a phenomenon. (76)

Instead, Hegel wants to demonstrate the logical necessity, the intrinsic interconnectedness, of the shapes of consciousness he analyses, such that his own position emerges as a determinate negation, rather than an abstract or sceptical rejection, of what he criticises:

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 merely a negative process. Such a one-sided view of it is what the natural consciousness generally adopts; and a knowledge, which makes 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. [Note: Hegel is self-conscious here that his form of presentation is not adequate to the analytical principles he is, as a service to the reader, outlining here, and he therefore flags very explicitly that he does not intend to exempt, even the programmatic sorts of statements he makes here, from the sort of analysis he is calling for in this passage.] 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 the same 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)

Motivated by his concept of critique, Hegel shifts from the “for us” of his commentary on perception, to the question of what can be unfolded immanently from perception itself. He determines perception initially as a shape of consciousness that starts from the opposition between the “object” and the “I”, taking the “object” to be essential and indifferent to its perception, and the “I” to be insubstantial, inconstant, and inessential. In Hegel’s account, perception provides the determinate negation of sense-certainty, expressing sensuous, immediate universals that escaped expression in sense-certainty, which, confined to pointing to some immediate particular that is “meant”, instead managed only to express the negation of immediate particulars – the “most universal of all possible things”.

In perception, however, the “object” shows itself to be mediated by presenting itself as a “thing with many properties”. Here, and not in sense-certainty, sense knowledge can be expressed – not in the form of apprehension of an immediate particular, but instead in the perception of sensuous, immediate universals: the determinate properties an object possesses. Perception, in Hegel’s account, understands each property possessed by an “object” to be only self-related and indifferent to other properties. These properties are in turn differentiated from what Hegel calls “pure self-relation” – “Thinghood” – as a “medium” within which these properties coexist without affecting one another. Perception thus retains and repositions the “Here” and the “Now” discussed originally under the perspective of sense-certainty, as a medium for sensible properties – as a “Thing”.

Hegel next argues that, if determinate properties were truly as indifferent to one another as they are taken to be in this initial perspective, these properties would actually be indeterminate – properties become determinate and distinguishable from one another, not from residing indifferent to one another within the simple unifying medium of “Thinghood”, but instead as properties positioned in relation to other properties as their opposites. This relation of opposites, however, falls outside the simple unifying medium of “Thinghood”, pointing to a different sort of unity – a “repelling”, excluding unity, a moment of negation – which Hegel calls the “One”.

Hegel hints in various passages that more is to be said – but not at this point in the analysis (remembering, again, that he seeks to unfold his points immanently from perspectives available at each moment in his analysis). At this point in the text, he determines the “Thing” – the “object” of perception – in terms of three mutually-determining perspectives: a “universality, passive and indifferent” that unites constituent elements or “matters”; a simple negation that excludes opposite properties; and the multiplicity of properties, in relation to the first two moments. Hegel slides among these three immanently-unfolded perspectives, examining how the “Thing” is constituted in perception:

Taking the aspect that these differences belong to a “medium” indifferent to what is within it, they are themselves universal, they are related merely to themselves and do not affect each other. Taking, however, the other aspect, that they belong to the negative unity, they at the same time mutually exclude one another; but do no necessarily in the shape of properties that have a separate existence apart from the “also” connecting them. The sensuous universality, the immediate unity of positive being and negative exclusion, is only then a property, when oneness and pure universality are evolved from it and distinguished from one another, and when that sensuous universality combines these with one another. Only after this relation of the unity to those pure essential moments is effected, is the “Thing” complete. (115)

Hegel argues that consciousness is perceptual, to the extent that it takes this “Thing” as its object, and assumes an attitude of pure apprehension. Having thus unpacked moments of perception, with reference to perspectives on the “object” (or the “simple fact” perceived), he then moves to an analysis of perception viewed from the perspective of the “I” (or the process of perceiving).

In Hegel’s account, the “I” of perception directs itself to this complex “object”, assuming that truth can be found in the apprehension of the object. The “I” takes its “object” to be essential, but takes itself to be variable and non-essential – it takes its own relation to the “object” to be a contingent happening, and therefore worries that it might perceive the “object” wrongly and deceive itself as to the nature of the object. Perception takes the criterion of truth to be selfsameness – correspondence with an “object” that is taken to be selfsame. Any perceived nonidentity of the object is interpreted as due to a flaw in the process of perception – a flaw in the contingent perceiving “I” – not as something that might express a nonidentity of the “object”. Yet Hegel has just determined the “object” as nonidentical – as immanently pointing to multiple perspectives across which consciousness will therefore necessarily slide in the process of perception. The result of the apprehension of such an object is therefore not the fixed knowledge that the “I” of perception expected to find, but rather a restless movement around a circuit that nowhere provides a stable ground. Hegel then rapidly sketches the path followed by consciousness on confronting this circuit, first taking into itself – into the perceiving “I” – characteristics it had previously attributed to the “object”, and then taking as its object the process it had previously divided into the separate moments of the “object” and the “I”, and then attempting to secure the identity of the “object” by allocating the object’s contradictory moments to different things.

Hegel argues that each of these perspectives fails to secure the desired non-contradictory and selfsame “object”, but rather points necessarily back toward the perceptual object’s essentially relational character: the attempt to posit an object whose essential nature lies in what that object is “for itself”, indifferent to the process of perception, is undermined by the ways in which the form of universality associated with the perceptual object is conditioned by its derivation from sense knowledge, which introduces an intrinsic nonidentity that sits in tension with the reach of perception toward universality. As in his discussion of sense-certainty, Hegel follows the reach, rather than the grasp, of perception, arguing that the whirling restlessness characteristic of the movement of perceptual consciousness points to the necessity to transcend perception, in search of “unconditioned absolute universality”. In this way, perception immanently points beyond itself – to understanding.

More on subsequent sections as I have time. The posts on Phenomenology were never as organised or gathered into a series as the recent series on Capital has been. I have never aimed to present a coherent narrative on this work, and so the posts are much more scattered, both stylistically and conceptually. For the curious, some compilations of links back to previous Hegel discussions can be found in these older posts.

Transforming Communication

I’ve cut and pasted the ASCP conference paper on Habermas and Brandom below the fold, for those interested. The process of preparing for this paper has been interesting, among other things, in shaking out certain “what the hell is going on there?” questions that L Magee and I both share in relation to Brandom’s work – while these questions, and our debates around them prior to the presentation, led us to recast slightly what we said at this event, the material posted below the fold doesn’t clearly indicate those areas where we have open and active questions about Brandom’s project: when both of us are back in Melbourne, we’ll hopefully have time to put a few of those issues up on the blog, through some follow-up posts on Making It Explicit.

This particular talk hugged very close to the terms of a debate between Habermas and Brandom, and also provided a lot of background information that might not be as useful to folks who regularly read things here. Some of this background material – particularly on Brandom – suffers from code switching problems: those are my fault, as I wrote those sections of the piece, and so I’ll apologise for trampling all over Brandom’s vocabulary (and, likely, his framework as well).

We are actually intending to develop a more polished and rigorous article out of this, so critical comments and questions would be extremely helpful, for those who have an interest in this sort of material. (Note that, as we had a generous 40 minute allocation for speaking, the piece is somewhat long!) Read more of this post

Habermas and Brandom, Facts and Norms

Update: This piece has subsequently been revised into a conference paper. The revised version is available online, and the comments section there includes a very good discussion and debate about the conference paper. We recommend that readers interested in this piece, consult the revised version and the subsequent discussion to see the further development of the thoughts originally outlined here.

Habermas and Brandom, Facts and Norms

In spite of the obvious difficulties of joint-authoring a paper with a fictional collaborator, NP and I have decided to submit a presentation for the upcoming Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy conference entitled Dialogues in Place. This comes on the back of a welcome return to the Reading Group, which has been in temporary hiatus. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a position to blog or comment here, but notwithstanding… NP has exhorted invited me to initiate a discussion around some aspects of our proposed presentation. The conference itself

will focus on the conception of dialogue
in philosophy, but with particular emphasis on the opening
up of philosophical dialogue between traditions and cultures
especially between east and west and on the way the happening
of dialogue in place sheds light on both the nature of dialogue
as well as on the place in which such dialogic engagement
takes place.

Our own presentation is somewhat tangential to these concerns, but closely enough related: it aims to examine the work of Habermas and Brandom in relation to the question of normative ideals. The purpose of the following discussion is to outline, in suitably rough and tentative fashion, some thoughts in relation to a recent interchange between Habermas and Brandom, following on from the publication of Brandom’s Making It Explicit. Signficant caveat lector: both NP and I are still slowly progressing through the substantive portions of Making It Explicit, and the following remarks should be interpreted in the light of an as-yet incomplete reading of Brandom’s work. I’ll start with an overview of the exchange, and an all-too-brief synopsis of Brandom’s account, followed by a break-down of Habermas’ objections and Brandom’s replies.

Read more of this post

Carded (Updated)

Since I clearly have nothing substantive to read and write about…

Adorno Theory CardI seem to remember L Magee having an idea like this some months backtheorycards:

The Trading Cards are a pack of 32 online cards featuring theorists and concepts close to the hearts of people interested in social and cultural theory, gender and identity, and media studies.

It’s very funny – I was just telling someone yesterday that Adorno is most widely known as “that guy who wrote elitist things on popular culture”. What timely confirmation! ;-P

My favourite description, though, has to be of Luhmann, whose answer to the question “what are your research plans” I might consider borrowing…

Hat tip Wildly Parenthetical – whose post also preserves a priceless reflection on the theoretical symptomology of styles of baldness.

Updated to add: Andrew over at Union Street seems to think these trading cards are “tokens to true nerdiness” – but hasn’t he seen the game that goes along with them? Doesn’t he believe most people would want to spend their evenings doing something like this?

1. Divide cards between players.

2. Decide who will go first.

3. The player whose turn it is, studies the card on top of their pile and selects either ‘Strengths‘, ‘Weaknesses / Risks‘ or ‘Special Skills‘.

4. All players then look at their own top card, and discuss who has got the best characteristic in this category.

For example:

— The Giddens risk, “Misguided postmodernists may attack”, is preferable to the Butler weakness, “Increasingly impenetrable writing style”. (It doesn’t matter if some postmodernists misunderstand your argument and slag you off. But if no-one can understand your argument in the first place, that’s bad). So here, when comparing ‘Weaknesses / Risks‘ , the player with the Giddens card wins (unless someone else’s card beats theirs).

— The Foucault strength, “Model of power innovative and realistic” is better than the Psychologists strength, “Resistance to postmodern self-doubt”. (Self-belief isn’t much of a contribution to the world, but good ideas are). So here, when comparing ‘Strengths‘ , the player with the Foucault card wins (unless someone else’s card beats theirs).

5. The winning player takes one card — the card which just lost that battle — from each other player.

6. If several players are involved, the discussions about who has the superior characteristic on their card will inevitably be more complex. In case of dispute, a majority vote decides the outcome. If this still does not decide it, then for God’s sake, go and watch TV instead or something.

7. The player with all (or most) of the cards at the end, wins.

Actually, my reading group sessions sort of work like this already… (Hmm… I wonder what sorts of cards could be written about the reading group members… ;-P)