Evidently, I take great pleasure in seeing other people confused by the same things that confuse me. In the library today, where I was not doing research on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, I nevertheless kept finding myself in the stacks, near places where works on Hegel were shelved. As I wandered past, titles would distract me, and I found myself opening books to the sections where they tried to explain the section on Force and Understanding. In most cases, the result was a sort of summary – the sort of move where you can tell that an author has simply thrown up their hands at the text and gone, “Right then! There’s no making sense of this. Time to paraphrase!” (Lest this comment appear critical, I’m sympathetic to this strategy and, in context, think it’s an entirely appropriate response…)
My favourite randomly-retrieved comment on the section, though, comes from Robert Pippin’s (1989) Hegel’s Idealism: The Satisfactions of Self-Consciousness, where Pippin provides a very nice account of the strategic intent of the section, but still can’t resist expressing a measure of exasperation at the form in which Hegel presents his argument:
It is at this point that Hegel summarizes both the realist and empiricist theories of account giving by saying that both of them generate the problem of an inverted world. The worlds in question are the “supersensible” and “sensible” worlds, or what we might more generally call the “empirically independent realities of force” and the “empirically undetermined legislation of law,” versus the manifold of sensible appearances. To the extent that such realities and such legislation are empirically independent, they simply invert the sensible world into something else and do not explain it (the classic case being Plato’s forms and Aristotle’s objections); to the extent that they are not independent, to the extent that the empirical manifold is the sole criterion of knowledge, the sensible world “inverts itself,” is unintelligible without the supersensible world (itself already caught on the first horn of the dilemma).
Now, to claim that the “true” world, whether supersensuous or sensuous, turns out to be an inverted world, “really” sensuous or supersensuous, respectively, is quite an unusual way of framing the dilemma described at the start of this section. But despite Hegel’s extreme formulations of the point (the sweet is sour, punishment is revenge, etc.), I think that that dilemma is what Hegel is talking about, and the inverted world section simply generalizes and restates that dilemma in as paradoxical a way as Hegel can devise. But what the reader is totally unprepared for is Hegel’s quite baffling, extremely compressed account of the origin of such a problem and his sudden, equally baffling, shift of topics.
First, he tells us that, given such an inversion, we must
eliminate the idea of fixing the differences in a different sustaining element; and this absolute Notion of the difference must be represented and understood purely as inner difference, a repulsion of the selfsame, from itseld, and likeness of the unlike as unlike. (PhG, 98; PS, 99)
Such language alone should tell us that we are suddenly deep in Hegel’s speculative waters, a fact confirmed by the next sentence: “We have to think pure change, or think antithesis within the antithesis itself, or contradiction.” From here, somehow in the next three pages, Hegel introduces the notions of infinity, life, and the dependence of consciousness on self-consciousness that will dominate much of the rest of the book. In short, this is as important a transition as any in Hegel, and it is unfortunately as opaque as, if not more so, than any other. (pp. 137-138)
Pippin then goes on to try to make some sense of all this – but I figure it’s best to leave all of you in suspense… ;-P (Actually, Pippin suggests looking forward – both the to discussion of self-consciousness around the corner in this work, and also to Book 2 of the Logic – although, to be honest, I was reading through this last night, with the explicit intention of comparing back to the account in Phenomenology, and I’m not certain I think the version in the Logic is much less opaque…)
By the way, for those who have been wondering what happened to the series on Capital, which I was promising to sum up back in December: it has evolved (or at least taken a brief developmental detour) into the recent posts on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit and Science of Logic. This happened because some aspects of Marx’s argument seemed to require a quick refresher on Hegel. While I’ll obviously keep blogging on Science of Logic (and perhaps also a few more bits and pieces of the Phenomenology), I’m now – I think – ready to go back to some of the Marx material, in order to try to recast some of what I was writing late last year. Hopefully I’ll find the time for that very, very soon. For the moment, I’m obviously just happy to know that the parts of Hegel that are still confusing me, seem to be generally confusing by consensus – such that my particular confusion is apparently but a vanishing moment of a much more universal confusion… ;-P