The Logic’s Ending

We’ve reached the very end of a walk-through of Robert Pippin’s Hegel’s Realm of Shadows, discussing Hegel’s Science of Logic. I have particularly valued the way Pippin brings to the fore Hegel’s close ongoing dialogue with Kant and Aristotle.

It now seems to me there is more hope of giving an ethical meaning to the specifically “logical” part of Hegel’s work than I had realized. My suspicion that Hegel ought to have something interesting to say about his removal of the qualifications in Kant’s recovery of Aristotelian teleology has certainly been confirmed. I also appreciated learning about Hegel’s specific use of the Kantian vocabulary of “reflection”, which plays a significant role in the admirable work of Paul Ricoeur.

I very much like Pippin’s idea that the Logic fundamentally develops a rich and multi-layered notion of judgment. His recognition of the normative character of Aristotelian and Hegelian actuality is salutary. Finally, I appreciate his foregrounding of the effectively hermeneutic rather than “given” notion of being that Hegel adopts from Aristotle.

He quotes Hegel’s ironic remark near the end of the Encyclopedia Logic, “When one speaks of the absolute idea, one can think that here finally the substantive must come to the fore, that here everything must become clear” (p. 317). I think Pippin also stole some of his own thunder for the climax by front-loading his detailed discussion of apperceptive judgment and related matters, rather than treating these in-line in his account of the Logic‘s major transitions.

Hegel’s fusion of the meta-level hermeneutics of Aristotle’s Metaphysics with Kantian “transcendental” logic — concerned with questions of the constitution of meaning — is a very different enterprise from scholastic and classical early modern “metaphysics”, which was supposed to give us “Being” and entities and general truths about the world.

Hegel nonetheless wants to insist that knowing can and does get at the real truth of things. But that truth is higher-order, not any kind of simple correspondence of statements and facts. Hegel insists that it is actually the lower-order, ordinary “truths” that should be called abstract, because they fail to make explicit what they depend on.

“[A] pure concept is not a class concept under which instances fall, but the ‘truth’ of any object” (p. 301).

In the final section of the logic of the concept, Hegel introduces “the idea”, which results from one more reflective turn beyond the preliminary identification of subject and object in the concept. In this final turn, we look back again at the things in experience and recognize how they fall short of what the concept tells us they ought to be. For Hegel, this means they fall short of Aristotelian actuality — as presented, they can’t be “really real” or true in a philosophical sense.

At the same time, Hegel resists the Fichtean idea of an infinite progress, which implies that the actual can never be fully achieved in knowledge. He seems to suggest that the fault is not with the inherent capabilities of philosophical knowledge, but rather with the world, and that it is up to us to do something about that.

Pippin quotes, “But since the result now is that the idea is the unity of the concept and objectivity, the true, we must not regard it as a goal which is to be approximated but itself remains a kind of beyond; we must rather regard everything as actual only to the extent that it has the idea in it and expresses it. It is not just that the subject matter, the objective and the subjective world, ought to be in principle congruent with the idea; the two are themselves rather the congruence of concept and reality; a reality that does not correspond to the concept is mere appearance, something subjective, accidental, arbitrary, something in which there is not the truth” (p. 300).

Pippin comments, “[T]his last non-correspondence of concept and reality takes in all of the finite world, the world we want to know and on which, in which, we act” (ibid).

“[W]hat specifies the realization of [a living being’s] life is always other than such an individual life — it must always work, strive to live — and in so being a manifestation of the idea at work becoming itself and already having become itself, being a living being, it introduces us to the structure of knowing, a striving self-realization that does not achieve what would be the end of such striving — complete wisdom — and that focuses self-conscious attention on this logical structure of knowing, and how one comes to know it by working through the opposition of the subject-object relation in its finitude. (This characteristic is what we know in knowing the Absolute Idea, not the completed knowledge of content. The ‘realm of shadows’ metaphor is relevant again.) Life is presented as the model for understanding the object-concept relationship at the heart of knowing” (p. 302).

He quotes Hegel, “The identity of the idea with itself is one with the process; the thought that liberates actuality from the seeming of purposeless mutability and transfigures it into idea must not represent this truth of actuality as dead repose, as a mere picture, numb, without impulse and movement, … or as an abstract thought; the idea, because of the freedom which the concept has attained in it, also has the most stubborn opposition within it” (ibid).

“Said in a more Aristotelian way, a living being’s form, its principle of intelligibility, is its norm, not just a means of classification. This norm can be realized poorly or well. This is the way we understand the relation between objects in general and the Concept. (This does not amount to any suggestion that Hegel thinks we should view everything as alive, because every being’s truth is its concept. The domain of relevance implied [is] the nonempirical attempt to say what is, for those objects about which we can nonempirically say what they are: Geist [spirit], the state, friendship, art, religion.) Or, said in a Kantian way, pure concepts are constitutive of objecthood itself, not empirical classifications. In knowing this constitutive relationship, we acknowledge both the identity of conceptuality with determinate being, and the speculative nature of this identity, that is, the difference or ‘opposition’ remaining within this identity. Any finite thing can be known to be what it is only by knowing its concept, even though as finite, it is not, never will be, fully its concept, and the full articulation of its concept is not possible. That is what it means to say it is finite. And in just this sense, knowing can genuinely be knowing” (p. 303).

“More properly, in the appropriate philosophical register, we should say that what we want is to understand, not to know in the modern scientific sense, that is, to explain. When we understand something, we understand its cause, but in the Aristotelian sense, we mean we know why it is what it is, its mode of being. And this knowledge does not then ground explanation; it is self-standing. (Hegel is not leading us to: ‘Why does it rain?’ ‘Because it is in the nature of rain to water the crops’.)” (ibid).

Here Pippin is using “explanation” in the limited sense of accounting for empirical events, and “understanding” for something broader and more hermeneutic, taking into account form and ends. I use “explanation” in a more Aristotelian way, as what promotes what Pippin here calls “understanding”.

“Thinking can either overcome any opposition of being to knowing, by transforming itselfor transform the world in order to overcome the one-sidedness of subjectivity. The semblance of objectivity — that some being is the ‘actuality’ it presents itself as — can be penetrated, understood not to be such an actuality, and transformed by ‘the drive of the good to bring itself about'” (p. 305, emphasis in original).

Thinking transforming the world means us as thinking beings transforming the world.

“[I]n practical knowing, the subject does not face the world as an alien element that must be transformed on the basis of a subjective demand descending wholly from pure practical reason. Practical knowing consists both in acknowledging the ‘reality of the good’ and in participating in the world’s own constant realization of its ‘purpose’ by acting” (ibid, emphasis in original).

Hegelian practical “knowing” or practical judgment has the attitude of what I have called being “at home in otherness”.

“Material assumptions… must be and are present, are usually hidden, and reflect a specific historical context. We need to know something material about human beings to make any progress, and human beings being historical, some sort of practical knowledge is necessary to determine any rightful relation to others, a knowledge of practical reality inseparable from an assessment of what is to be done” (p. 306).

The Logic aims among other things to help us find the reflectively grounded wisdom to be able to formulate this kind of practical judgment of what ought to be in concrete cases.

He quotes Hegel, “The unsatisfied striving disappears if we know that the final purpose of the world has been brought about and to the same degree eternally brings itself about” (p. 307).

“It is this last phrase, ‘eternally brings itself about’… that makes it impossible to ascribe to Hegel the claim that with the arrival of representative institutions, a market economy, the bourgeois family, romantic art, and Protestant Christianity, the ‘world’s purpose’ simply has been achieved and may now only be contemplated in full reconciliation, or even that there is an ‘end of history'” (ibid).

“It is at least clear that Hegel is making an implicit distinction between, on the one hand, distinctly practical reasoning, as it is understood in Aristotle — that is, reasoning that concludes in an action, not in a judgment about what is to be done — and practical knowledge of the situation in which action is called for. (Something close to what the practically wise person, the phronimos as Aristotle understands her, would understand.) The assumption is that any such reasoning always relies on some knowledge of what we would call ‘practical actuality’, the ability to rightly distinguish between the ‘surface’ actuality, ‘vacuous and vanishing’, and ‘the genuine essence of the world’. We know from our discussion of the logic of essence that this is not a strictly either/or picture; such an essence is manifest in, and has to be seen in, such a surface or Schein. And Hegel is insisting that any exercise of action-oriented practical rationality is inseparable from such an attempt at practical knowledge, a knowledge that will have the speculative form we have been investigating” (p. 309).

Again there is a terminological difference from Sachs’ translation of Aristotle that I have been using for these terms, but the inseparability of what Sachs calls deliberation and what he calls practical judgment (which for Aristotle results in action) is the same in Hegel and Aristotle.

“Hegel’s position on the historicity of reason is quite complicated, and can sometimes seem like a moving target, at times making conceptual, a priori claims about what it is to be spirit (i.e., free, in the sense of self-realizing), and at times linking any understanding of spirit to an account of concrete historical actuality” (pp. 313-314).

In a way, this is Hegel’s whole point. He is neither simply a “historicist” affirming the relativity of circumstances, nor a Kantian/Fichtean moralist aiming to make universal prescriptions of what ought to be, but rather commends an Aristotelian mean that avoids the one-sidedness of both.

“The absolute idea, or ‘the logical idea’, is also called, revealingly for our interests, ‘the idea of thinking itself’…. Pure thinking, in determining what could be the object of a true self-conscious judgment, has turned to itself as the object of speculative judgment, since it has discovered, in detail, that the ‘truth’ of objects is the relevant pure ‘concept’, that conceptual determination without which no empirical determination would be possible, that is: qualitative and quantitative predication, a determination based on an essence-appearance distinction, the right understanding of substance, causality, and now the right understanding of the ‘thoughts’ that have made up the account thus far. Pure thinking is now in a position to ‘recollect’ what it ‘was’ to have been thinking purely. (We don’t thereby know any qualities or essences or attributes of modes of substance. We know the logic of substance-attribute, essence-appearance, and so forth…)” (p. 316).

At this final stage of the Logic, we are recollectively turning back to survey the whole “long detour” that was necessary for Hegel to be able to say what intelligibility is, and consequently, according to Hegel, for us to be able to judge what is actually true and good and right in concrete situations.

Pippin quotes, “Each of the stages considered up to this point is an image of the absolute, albeit in a limited manner at first, and so it drives itself on to the whole, the unfolding of which is precisely what we have designated the method” (p. 317).

“[T]his last characterization of method as the culmination of the entire book, as the absolute idea, is crucial” (ibid).

He quotes, “[The absolute idea] has shown itself to amount to this, namely that determinateness does not have the shape of a content, but that it is simply as form…. What is left to be considered here, therefore, is thus not a content as such, but the universal character of its form — that is, method” (p. 318).

Hegel is here telling us that what he has been discussing has been intended to clarify the “method” he implicitly follows throughout his work. Conversely, a fuller justification of that method will come from the concrete results of its use.

For Hegel, “truth, … the absolute idea, just is self-conscious conceptuality, or the right understanding of the implications of the logical structure of apperception, or purely logical knowledge, and in this purity the manifestation of absolute freedom” (p. 319; see also The True and the Good).