Reflective Grounding

In Essence and Explanation, I introduced Hegel’s generalization from essence to “ground”, which is anything that explains something else and could be said to metaphorically “underlie” it.

Essence and ground in Hegel’s sense are not simply definable once and for all. Instead, he emphasizes dynamic relations of “grounding”, in accordance with his unusual notion of truth as a process. These dynamic relations correlate with movements of the reflective judgment that Kant discusses in the Critique of Judgment.

Kant distinguishes “determinative” judgment — corresponding to ordinary predicative assertions like “S is P“, and to the subsumption of individuals under universal concepts — from “reflective” judgment, which open-endedly looks for universals appropriate to the individual. Pippin suggests there is a kind of reciprocal dependency involved in the actual working of these two kinds of judgment.

It seems to me that reflective judgment has a great deal in common with the deliberation that lies behind Aristotelian practical judgment, even though Aristotle speaks of these as concluding in action rather than knowledge or opinion. Perhaps we might also say with Brandom that undertaking a commitment about how things are is a kind of action.

Hegel argues that even determinative judgments presuppose a reflective component, and speaks at length of “reflective determination”.

This use of “reflective” has nothing to do with the immediate inspection or direct consciousness of some content, or even with any single stage of reflection, or indeed any kind of move that could be completed all at once.

Paul Ricoeur’s works make a similar point, in tying the term “reflective” closely to his other notion of the “long detour” needed for philosophical understanding, which is itself very Hegelian in spirit. This is anything but a rabbit-out-of-hat “reflexivity at a glance”.

If there is a metaphor here, it is not gazing in a mirror to see something, but finding an orientation within the potentially infinite reflections of a hall of mirrors. Note also that we see the potentially infinite reflections in an “immediate” representation, even though each layer of reflection is an additional mediation when we interpret what we are seeing.

At the level of nature, similar potentially infinite reflection occurs in biological and ecological processes that achieve stability through feedback cycles.