The Ancients and the Moderns

The mature Hegel’s generalizations about the ancient world — discussed at length by Brandom and Pippin — remains a lingering puzzle for me. I would think, given Hegel’s deep appreciation for Plato, and even more so Aristotle, that Hegel would have recognized that Plato and Aristotle regarded normative statuses as anything but unproblematically given. But Hegel repeatedly imputes a naive, precritical attitude resembling that of the Consciousness chapter of the Phenomenology to the ancient world as a whole, apparently including Plato and Aristotle.

Talk about subjects and objects is distinctively modern, due mainly to Kant and Hegel. I want to say it is due to shallow readings of Kant and Hegel. I think not only Hegel but even Kant already wanted to overcome this dichotomy. I would argue that the transcendental in Kant is a third kind that is neither subjective nor objective, and that some of Plato and Aristotle’s discussions of form and its knowability were already at something like this level.

Kant famously criticizes the kind of realism that takes objects as unproblematically available to be known (“dogmatism”), without ever seeming to clearly recognize that the greatest philosophers of the ancient world would never have wanted to defend it. See separate post “The Epistemic Modesty of Plato and Aristotle”.

Even Robert Pippin, a very close reader of Hegel who pays considerable attention to his affinities to Aristotle, seems to join the chorus when it comes to the quarrel of the ancients and the moderns. (See also Hegel on the Ancients; Enlightenment; Heroism and Magnanimity; Modernity Clarified; Alienation, Modernity; Modernity, Again.)

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