Problems of Immediacy

Returning now to Robert Pippin’s Hegel’s Realm of Shadows, he continues his chapter on Hegel’s “logic of being” by raising problems he associates with what Hegel calls mediated immediacy. I would alternatively characterize these as mainly having to do with ambiguities about what we mean by “immediacy” in a “logical” context.

Apparent immediacy plays a large role in experience, but on closer examination I think there it always turns out to be already mediated. So what does pure immediacy even mean in the logical context? My impression at this point is that it is only a failed beginning that creates a problem that motivates further development. I’m still not really used to this idea of taking a complete failure as a beginning, still at least partly holding on to the prejudice that we could not have a legitimate beginning without at least getting something right. (But see also Error.)

Pippin quotes Hegel saying there is “nothing in heaven or nature or spirit or anywhere else that does not contain just as much immediacy as mediation, so that both these determinations prove to be unseparated and inseparable and the opposition between them nothing real” (p. 197).

As he notes, this rules out any “two-step” interpretation of the relation between immediacy and mediation. Hegel cannot be saying that first we have something purely immediate, and then later some mediation is added to it.

The apparent moment of Parmenides’ saying of pure Being was already characterized as a failed thought. In the quote above, Hegel is in effect saying that the moment of pure Parmenidean Being could never really occur. That does not prevent him from nonetheless treating it as a “logical” moment. To paraphrase part of the corresponding part of the Encyclopedia Logic, being is the merely implicit form of the concept; when the concept is made explicit and actual, it “abolishes” the (purported) immediacy of being, or the (purported) form of being as such.

It also seems that all the subsequent logical “movement” will have always already occurred. Hegel’s Logic follows something like an Aristotelian teleological ordering by hypothetical necessity for Kantian conditions of possibility, not the kind of sequential ordering characteristic of the passage of time.

Pippin quotes Hegel’s statement in the Encyclopedia Logic that “Immediacy of knowledge is so far from excluding mediation, that the two things are linked together — immediate knowledge being actually the product and result of mediated knowledge” (p. 198).

This last perspective is what I think of first as the meaning of mediated immediacy. It is like the ability to ride a bicycle — once we have learned it, it is transparent and effortless. Similarly, we recognize complex objects at a glance, once we have learned to do so. (See also Meaningful “Seeing”.)

All these statements by Hegel seem very reasonable and in accordance with experience. But he also says it is “easy to show” (p. 197) that the beginning of philosophy can be neither something immediate nor something mediated. I am more used to saying that we always begin in the middle, that there is no true beginning; or that every beginning has an element of arbitrariness, and will eventually be superseded, and it is the development that matters.

Perhaps Hegel really means the beginning can be neither purely immediate nor purely mediated. But it seems to me that for Hegel, pure thought, pure negativity, and “otherness” are purely mediated. If the context were an account of experience, it makes sense that none of these could be a beginning either, since none of them directly occur in experience. But even though we are in a purely “logical” context, Hegel still seems to disallow these options, and does not seem to clearly explain why.

Maybe the reference here to the beginning of philosophy is meant as a step outside the purely logical context, but the second edition of this part of the Logic was one of Hegel’s last works (1831), and by then Hegel was explicitly presenting his logic as the “first” part of his philosophy.

That the beginning cannot be immediate we have already seen. The failed duality of Being and Nothing that Hegel placed at the beginning seems to conclusively show that any notion of “pure” immediacy as a sort of foundation is a dead end.

My first thought is that Hegel again wants to assert that in experience, mediation and immediacy come always already mixed together, and again in experience, pure mediation with no component of immediacy ought to be just as unthinkable as pure immediacy. My second thought is that pure immediacy has no logical role to play at all. My third thought is that he continues to talk about immediacy anyway, largely because immediacy was given a privileged status by the followers of Schelling and Jacobi, against whom he polemicizes in the Preface to the Phenomenology.

My fourth, tentative thought is that maybe even though pure immediacy itself has no logical role, the failed reflective thought of it still might. My fifth thought is that maybe what Hegel is doing here should be understood as beginning with the logical impossibility of foundationalism — which is after all a common enough kind of explicit or implicit claim about beginnings — as a kind of prerequisite for the Logic‘s real work of showing the conditions that make intelligibility and normativity possible.

According to Pippin, Hegel further complicates the picture by saying (again in the Encyclopedia Logic) that “thinking is the negation of something immediately given” (quoted, p. 199), “even though in the same paragraph he denies that these moments are ever distinct and insists that they are always ‘inseparably bound together'” (ibid). The first part could be taken to suggest a before-after relation that the second part denies. I think the answer has to be that the first part should not be taken that way; the emphasis there is on thinking as negation in Hegel’s special sense. Elsewhere he calls thinking a “pure negativity”, and suggests that at least some the senses of the “negativity” of thought are actually non-transitive, so the language here about a negation of something could be just a figure of speech conforming to the expectation of common sense.

According to Pippin, the failed duality of Being and Nothing, “now that… we can understand what Hegel means by considering thinking itself as a negating, will assume a very general importance. It is the duality between mediation and immediacy, differentiation and unity, and form and what is formed, and amounts to the core argument of the Logic (the inseparability yet distinguishabilty of these moments” (p. 194, emphasis added).

Pippin seems much more worried than I am about the status of what Hegel calls “mediated immediacy”, which I have taken to be Hegel’s name for the inseparable mixtures we actually encounter.

“[Mediated immediacy] is obviously problematic in its very formulation. If any such immediacy is to be considered as mediated, then it is not immediate. A canceled event is not a kind of happening, a kind of event. The event did not happen. A mediated immediacy is no longer an immediacy…. [The] argument has ruled out… any… two-step account. So the problem is not merely how there can be distinguishable but not separably occurring elements in some whole, like, say, pitch and timbre in a musical note…. The problem is how the logical or conceptual character of this relation between activity and receptivity is to be understood, if not in this stepwise way. Hegel’s formulations of the problem seem to take delight in forcing the issue into terms that are initially bewildering” (p. 197).

I don’t think there are any events in the Logic, which seems instead to be about conditions and dependencies of possible thought and judgment.

All experiencing seems to involve an element of immediacy, and all experience involving anything contentful seems to involve mediation (and there seems to be no experiencing that that does not involve something contentful).

Pure thought, I think Hegel wants to say, includes no passive or immediate element, but no experience consists in pure thought alone. Every concrete actualization of thought involves more than thought alone. Also, we can think about pure thought, but we never experience it in its pure form. The Logic, however, is concerned with what is thinkable rather than with experience.

The inseparability of immediacy and mediation fits well with a perspective of Aristotelian hylomorphism, which Pippin has been arguing Hegel uses to re-interpret the apparent dualities in Kant. Helpful as this is, Pippin suggests that it is in basic tension with Kant’s insistence on the entirely active character of thought, which Hegel wants to preserve. I have not yet gotten to his resolution of this issue.

On the one hand, Aristotelian hylomorphism helps solve Kantian problems: “In even the simplified and misleading ‘impositionist’ interpretation of Kant that is so common, we will not be able to explain the determination of what to impose if we hold to… an exclusive disjunction [between sensible intuition and thought]” (p. 207). “Every determinate judgment must also involve a reflective determination of which concept to apply, and every reflective search for a concept must already proceed from a particular sufficiently determinate to warrant the judgment for one rather than another” (p. 208).

On the other hand, Pippin recalls “the Kantian innovation perhaps more important than any other: that thinking is discursive, is not itself open to the world in any direct way…. There is no lumen naturale [natural light (of reason)], no nous pathetikos [passive intellect], no Jacobi-esque flash of insight” (p. 207).

This means that “The claim that ‘matter’, in whatever logical register, is to be understood as always enformed and that form is always being enmattered cannot in Kantian terms be leading back to a position that sensible intuiting is a kind of thinking, and thinking is a kind of intuiting, as if along a continuum” (p. 205).

This too seems right. Hylomorphism is wonderful and many things have hylomorphic relations, but thinking and intuiting as such do not form a hylomorphic pair.

For one thing, intuition is only relevant at the empirical level, having to do with experience and how things seem, but the same is not true of thought.

Also, Kantian intuition does not have the right shape for the Aristotelian identity of thought and what it thinks to apply to it. Intuition is rather intuition of something that is transcendent to it. In Hegelian terms, intuition always refers to something “positive” that is opaque to thought.

On the other hand, Hegel seems to claim that his unique formulation of pure thought as purely negative ought to be the perfect shape to be identical to what it thinks, because in being purely “negative” it refers to no opaque element, and is only a pure immanence to itself or — as was said in connection with apperceptive judgment — a pure self-relation or self-referentiality.

I believe the experience of thinking and the experience of intuition do form a continuum. The Logic, however, is not about experience or empirical things, but about “transcendental” conditions of possibility.

Pippin hints that mediated immediacy will turn out to be intimately connected to the notion of reflective judgment that Kant developed in his later Critique of Judgment. Kantian reflective judgment is ancestral to the notion of apperceptive judgment that Pippin finds to be a major theme of Hegel’s Logic.

He also makes the promising suggestion that the solution to the problem of mediated immediacy will look something like the Hegelian use of actuality in ethics (see Hegel on Willing):

“[I]n the same way that we can imagine that the determination of a person’s character from his deeds, from the immediate appearances, is not a once-and-for-all determination, but a reflective determination always attentive to future deeds and so an expanded or revised ‘essence’, and therewith an expanded or revised interpretation of deeds as typical or untypical, we can also imagine that in both logical and empirical determinations of conceptual content, this process or movement can be better considered as a kind of oscillation…, and we will have at least a sketch of how the matter seems to Hegel” (p. 210).

Pippin notes that Hegel in a remark to the section of the Encyclopedia Logic on pure Being calls it “the logical version of the general problem of sensory consciousness” (p. 196) that he treated in the early chapters of the Phenomenology.

He says that in the corresponding part of the Phenomenology, Hegel’s argument is meant to show “the impossibility of any model of experiential knowledge that is understood to be based on a foundation that consists simply in the direct sensory presence of the world to the mind, a putative consciousness of a content that is contentful just by being passively apprehended, contentful on its own, in no relation to any other or any remembered content. By imagining such a model and showing that it has some inner incoherence or necessarily raises a question that cannot be answered in its terms, Hegel shows that the possibility of any such determination requires a capacity beyond mere differential responsiveness, a capacity that, among other things, allows a perceiver to track, keep attending to, any such content over time, and that allows the perceiver to fulfill a condition of such determinacy: that the differentiability of such content from what is other than it be possible. This is supposed to establish the impossibility of any epistemological atomism, and to undermine any idea of a strict separability between our sensible and intellectual faculties. This is so because fulfilling these conditions on experiential determinacy requires, he wants to show, the exercise of spontaneous conceptual capacities in perception itself. This is not at all in any way a denial of our reliance on direct sensible contact with objects in gaining empirical knowledge, or a denial of the difference between sensible and intellectual capacities. It is meant as a denial that such sensory receptivity can properly play its role in the model of empirical knowledge all on its own, conceived as independent of, or prior to, as he would say, any conceptual mediation” (ibid; see also Sense Certainty?; Taking “Things” as True).

It might seem surprising that Hegel sees an analogy between the attitude of “sense certainty” and the metaphysical claims of Parmenides about Being, which run contrary to all experience. But he analyzes both as assertions of an undifferentiated immediacy that is still supposed to tell us something, and he responds to both cases by pointing out that all meaningful saying depends on differentiation.

Meaningful “Seeing”

We ordinarily “see” things with the appearance of immediate meaning — for instance, not just patches of color but recognizable objects and individuals. We experience these as having properties that we expect to hold under various conditions that do not apply at present. We also seem to immediately apprehend subtler aspects of situations that presuppose what Kant and Hegel called “reflection” to discern and express at all. This goes far beyond any simple passive registering of sense data.

The Stoics tried to bridge the gap between a theorized passivity of perceiving and knowing and the already meaningful character of experience in a naturalistic way, by positing some kind of material transmission of “phantasms” from objects to the perceiver.

Variants of this were adopted by many Latin scholastics under the name of “sensible species”. By analogy, Aquinas and others argued for the real existence of “intelligible species” that could be passively received by the intellect.

However, medieval nominalists already anticipated modern empiricism in rejecting both sensible and intelligible species, and medieval Augustinians argued for a much larger role of active powers of the soul in the apprehension of meaning.

Kant and Hegel broadly agree with the nominalist and empiricist critique of the theory of passive transmission of species, and with an abstracted version of the Augustinian thesis of the role of active capabilities in perception and knowledge.

How this all relates to Aristotle involves many subtleties, some of which are mentioned in Aristotle on Perception.

(See also Berkeley on Perception; Kantian Synthesis; Imagination: Aristotle, Kant; Taking “Things” as True; Husserl on Perception; Primacy of Perception?; The Non-Primacy of Perception; What We Saw.)

Aristotle on Perception

Real and meaningful analytic distinctions in experience such as activity and passivity need not be grounded in ontological dualities.

It is common to hear Aristotle summarized as asserting a monolithic passivity in processes of perception. This is a considerable simplification. What is true is that in the absence of something perceptible that does not depend on us for its being, Aristotle would say we have a case not of perception but of something else. This does not mean there are not many active dimensions to typical sense perception as well.

One of Aristotle’s deepest principles involves a recognition of profoundly mixed conditions as being more typical of real life than monolithic or homogeneous ones. Plato treats “mixture” as a first-class topic at the heart of what Aristotle would call first philosophy, and not as a mere derivative from “pure” concepts.

Later authors have often tended to downplay Plato and Aristotle’s emphasis on mixed cases in experience as normal, and instead to privilege pure “black and white” distinctions. I think we should if anything privilege the mixed cases, and demand evidence when confronted with claims that any real-world cases involve “pure” black-and-white distinctions.

Aristotle’s account of perception in book 2 of On the Soul relies mainly on descriptions expressed in terms of actuality, potentiality, and actualization. While it is true that actuality has a character that is mostly active and potentiality has a character that is mostly not active, it is once again an oversimplification to simply equate actuality with activity and potentiality with passivity.

Aristotle’s description of perception is deliberately abstract, which reduces the need to speculatively fill in missing details. Perhaps the most salient overall aspect of this account is that it involves a multi-leveled layering of actuality and potentiality and of active and passive aspects that may be only analytically distinct. He focuses very generally on the various requirements of the kinds of form involved, and works hard to avoid causal explanations not clearly grounded in evidence.

It is very characteristic that Aristotle treats perception and whatever is perceptible in a single context. For instance, his discussion of light occurs here. He has no theory of the transmission of light, which was only experimentally demonstrated in early modern times. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, he sees light as instantaneously diffused through a medium, and reasons that the medium must therefore play a necessary role in perception. For him, light is “the being-at-work of the transparent as transparent” (On the Soul book 2 ch. 7, Sachs trans., p. 101). “By transparent I mean what is visible but not visible in its own right, to put it simply, but on account of the color of something else…. Light is a sort of color of the transparent, whenever it is at-work-staying-transparent by the action of fire or something of that kind…. What, then, the transparent is, has been said, and what light is, that it is not fire or any body at all, nor anything that flows out of any body…, but the co-presence of fire or any such thing in the transparent” (ibid). “Rather, the color sets a transparent thing, such as air, in motion, and by this, if it is continuous, the sense organ is moved” (p. 103).

It is important to recognize that this is a thoughtful interpretation of ordinary experience, with minimal assumptions. We would say, e.g., that light is transmitted at the speed of light rather than instantaneously diffused, but this can only be justified by complex empirical evidence. We associate colors with particular wavelengths of light, and we think of light as consisting of material waves (or alternatively, particles of a particular kind) that cannot be directly observed, but all this depends on complex evidence and test equipment. By contrast, Aristotle aims mainly to do justice to our ordinary experience of seeing things — a dog, a rose, a landscape, and so on. He seems to think of the air in the presence of light as metaphorically “charged” with sensible forms, such that there is a continuous translation of visible configurations of color through the air along each perspectival line of sight.

He somewhat paradoxically speaks of a “transmission” of “forms without the matter” in perception, and of the soul-as-active-form-of-the-body “receiving” them. The soul, as an entelecheia (in Sachs’ translation “being-at-work-staying-itself”, or more literally “in [itself] end having”) of an organic body, is active at root. Perception is then at top level supposed to be the being-at-work of a receptivity of the primarily active soul. Since the “transmission” of color through the air is said to be without matter, it must be more like a translation of color between the medium and the eye.

Some contemporary writers have claimed that Aristotle’s account of perception is of historic interest only, sheerly on the ground that it focuses on potentiality and actuality rather than physical causes. But as usual, Aristotle is far more interested in interpreting experience in meaningful ways, with as few assumptions as possible.

I think it is better to have a very abstract description that remains descriptive of experience, rather than imaginatively positing physical or physiological explanations. That is to say, it is better to be only abstractly descriptive but faithful to ordinary experience like Aristotle, than it is to have a more physically grounded explanation like the Stoics, at the cost of depending on additional assumptions of fact that turned out to be wrong in light of more detailed empirical investigations.

The Stoic theory — following the general Stoic precept that everything that has being must be some kind of body — seems to involve a kind of subtly material forms of objects invisibly but literally flying through the air as distinct wholes, ancestral to the medieval “sensible species”. This is a logically consistent physical and physiological account, which however makes numerous speculative leaps of the sort Aristotle aimed to minimize.

The mathematicians Euclid and Ptolemy geometrically analysed properties of light rays, but believed light rays were actively emitted by the eye, rather than received by it.

The “father of modern optics” and early contributor to scientific method, Iraqi polymath Ibn al-Haytham (ca. 965-1040 CE), known to Latin readers as Alhazen, was the first to explain that vision occurs when light reflected from objects passes to the eye, and to assert that the brain plays a major (active) role in the process of identifying objects. His work was taken up by Roger Bacon, Robert Grosseteste, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Huygens, Descartes, and Kepler, among others.

The reception of light in and of itself is passive, but ordinary seeing has a large cognitive and interpretive dimension, whether considered at the level of events in the brain or at the level of an interpretation of meaningful content. Reception of light rays is passive, but even the most minimal identification of objects cannot be entirely passive.

The visible forms of patches of color that are diffused through the transparent medium in Aristotle — just like the reflected light in the modern account — are indeed passively received, but that no more makes the entire process of vision necessarily passive in Aristotle than it does in the modern account.

“But about all sense perception in general, it is necessary to grasp that the sense is receptive of the forms of perceptible things without the material, as wax is receptive of the design of a ring without the iron or gold…; and similarly the sense of each thing is acted upon by the thing that has color or flavor or sound, but not in virtue of that by which each of those things is the kind of thing it is, but in virtue of that by which it has a certain attribute, and according to a ratio” (book 2 ch. 12, p. 118).

Joe Sachs comments in a note that “Some of the difficulty can be avoided if one keeps in mind that, by form, Aristotle does not mean shape or appearance. In the Platonic dialogues, it is always emphasized that the eidos is not the mere look of a thing…. That to which one must look, according to Aristotle, is the being-at-work of the thing. It is, then, no part of the analogy Aristotle intends with the wax impression, that the eyeball, say, becomes shaped and colored like an olive when it looks at one. What it takes on must be some sort of active condition” (p. 118n, emphasis added).

This last point about the active condition, I think, is the import of Aristotle’s phrase in the above quote, “not in virtue of that by which each of those things is the kind of thing it is, but in virtue of that by which it has a certain attribute, and according to a ratio”. We do not directly perceive the kinds of things we perceive, but rather “that by which [things have] a certain attribute, and according to a ratio”. I take this to be a suggestion of what should or should not count as a “perception”.

There is a puzzle here about how “that by which” a thing has an attribute would count as perceptible. I would argue that if this kind of abstraction does count as perceptible in some way, that would be another indication that perception is not entirely passive. Aristotelian “perception” would then be quite rich, including many things I have been calling products of the Kantian synthesis of imagination. But it would still stop short of, say, directly apprehending a complex gestalt or whole “image” as an immediately intelligible unit.

Worries about “passivity”, it seems to me, ought to be directed mainly at the kind of claims of direct apprehension of complex images as meaningful wholes that Aristotle explicitly rules out in this passage.

“But ‘being acted upon’ is not unambiguous either…. For the one who has knowledge comes to be contemplating, and this is either not a process of being altered (since it is a passing over into being oneself, namely into being-at-work-staying-oneself), or is a different class of alteration” (p. 98).

“Being-at-work perceiving is described in the same way as contemplating, but differs in that the things that produce the being-at-work of perceiving are external, the visible and audible things, and similarly with the rest of the senses. The reason is that active perception is of particulars, while knowledge is of universals, which are in some way in the soul itself. Hence thinking is up to oneself, whenever one wishes, but perceiving is not up to oneself, since it is necessary that the thing perceived be present. And similarly too, even the kinds of knowing that deal with perceptible things are not up to oneself, and for the same reason, that the perceptible things are among particular, external things” (book 2 ch. 5, pp. 98-99, emphasis added).

I note first of all the explicit reference to “active perception”. Second, it makes perfect sense that “the kinds of knowing that deal with perceptible things are not up to oneself” — that in some way sensible things are what they are, independent of us, in a way that abstractions and universals are not. Aristotle even seems to think there is an at least abstractly identifiable level at which the particular senses cannot be deceived.

“[T]he means by which we live and perceive is meant two ways, as is the means by which we know (by which is meant in one sense knowledge but in another the soul, since by means of each of these we say we know something)” (book 2 ch. 2, p. 87).

“And neither is thinking the same as perceiving, for in thinking there is what is right and what is not right, … for sense perception when directed at its proper objects is always truthful, and is present in all animals, but it is possible to think things through falsely, and this is present in no animal in which there is not also speech” (book 3 ch. 3, pp. 133-134).

Here he explicitly bounds the analogy between perception and thought. We have already seen that perception for Aristotle is not entirely passive, so thinking, as something that is more up to us, must be less passive than that.

“And it is certainly not the reasoning part, or intellect in the way that word is used, that causes motion, for the contemplative intellect does not contemplate anything that has to do with action…. And even when the intellect enjoins and the reasoning part declares that something is to be fled or pursued one does not necessarily move, but acts instead in accordance with desire, as does one without self-restraint…. But neither is it desire that governs this sort of motion, since self-restrained people, even when they desire and yearn for something, do not necessarily do those things for which they have the desire, but follow the intellect” (book 3 ch. 9, pp. 152-153).

Later he specifies that the motion mentioned here is motion with respect to place, i.e., bodily movement, not anything directly associated with perception or thought. Comparatively speaking, the earlier “motion” of air in the presence of light was said in a different, more figurative way. We should not assume that the way activity and passivity apply in the one context is the same as in the other.

He continues, “But it is obvious that these two things [together do] cause motion, desire and/or intellect, since many people follow their imaginings contrary to what they know, and in other animals there is no intellectual or reasoning activity, except imagination. Therefore both of these are such as to cause motion with respect to place, intellect and desire, but this is intellect that reasons for the sake of something and is concerned with action, which differs from the contemplative intellect by its end…. So it is reasonable that there seem to be two things causing the motion, desire and practical thinking, since the thing desired causes motion, and on account of this, thinking causes motion, because it is the desired thing that starts it. So it is one thing that causes motion, the potency of desire” (book 3 ch. 10, pp. 153-154, emphasis added).

What Aristotle initially mentions as “obvious” is refined and corrected later in the chapter. This sort of thing is very common in Aristotle. In book 2 chapter 2, he says that “what is clear and more knowable by reason arises out of what is unclear but more obvious” (p. 84).

“[B]ut the potency of desire is not present without imagination, while all imagination is either rational or sensory” (p. 156).

The imagination is identified in Aristotle’s On Memory and Recollection as the root of all perception. Here he suggests that it also depends on the particular senses. Both could easily be true if the sense in which imagination is the “root” of perception is teleological, rather than causal in the modern sense.

“For imagination is different both from perceiving [by the particular senses] and from thinking things through, and does not come about without perception, and without it there is no conceiving that something is the case” (book 3 ch. 3, p. 134).

Aristotle is saying that while conceiving that something is the case depends on imagination and imagination ultimately depends on the particular senses, we never directly perceive that something is the case. That something is the case is a practical judgment about particulars, rather than a perception. “Thinking things through” (dianoia) is discussed separately from pure thought or intellect (nous), and is a rational activity of the soul grounded mainly in imagination. To really “occur” in a human, pure thought depends on the activity of thinking things through as its vehicle.

“[F]alsehood is always in an act of putting things together…. What makes each thing be one is intellect” (book 3 ch. 6, p. 144). “[B]ut thinking what something is, in the sense of what it keeps on being in order to be at all, is true, and is not one thing attached to another” (p. 145).

Here he seems to be emphasizing that the idea of what something truly is, in the sense of being-at-work-staying-itself, is not adequately expressible in terms of a simple combination of pre-existing parts or independently defined features. Also, no expression of a “what” by itself forms an assertion that could then be either true or false. A “what” by itself has more of the character of a definition that could be either accepted by hypothesis or considered hypothetically.

If the thought of a being-at-work-staying-itself is simply “true”, it seems to me it must be true in some sense other than correspondence — perhaps a being-true-to-itself through coherence. This use of “true” is also different from the way it is defined in On Interpretation, where truth and falsity are said to apply if and only if we say something about something, which means a “what” taken in isolation would be neither true nor false. Only what is said about the what could be true in that sense, but then it could also be false, depending on what is said. So “true” is being said in a different, special way here.

“Knowledge, in its being-at-work, is the same as the thing it knows, and while knowledge in potency comes first in time in any one knower, in the whole of things it does not take precedence even in time, for all things that come into being have their being from something that is at-work-staying-itself. And… the perceiving thing is not [merely] acted upon nor is it altered. Hence this is a different kind of event from a motion” (book 3 ch. 7, pp. 145-146, brackets in original, emphasis added).

Here he emphasizes a distinction between motion in the primary sense of ordinary bodily motion on the one hand, and the actualization of a potential on the other, identifying perception with the latter.

What We Saw

In passing in the last post I argued that “because I saw it” is not a reason, but a mere reiteration of an assertion. I claimed that we ought always to be able to say something more about why we believe what we do, and suggested that in the current example, this would typically take the form of more detailed claims about what we saw. (See What and Why.)

Previously, I argued against John McDowell’s claim that the space of reasons includes cases in which empirical claims may be non-inferentially justified by reference to other empirical observations. In the current analogy, what McDowell counts as justification in such cases amounts to saying “because I saw something else”. In effect, it is an appeal to another completely indeterminate “seeing”.

By contrast, when we make more detailed claims about what we saw, even though these supplementary claims are not themselves inferences, because they analyze the initial “what”, they may provide the basis for subsequent inference to the original “what”. The axis of justification shifts from other immediate observations to articulated claims about the original observation.

Because the justification now appeals to articulated content rather than to other seeings that are as completely indeterminate as the first, it can now be inferential. Such inferential justification is weaker than deductive proof; unlike a mathematical proof, for instance, it is potentially refutable. But now we have truly entered the space of rational dialogue.

In the situation of “he saw X, she saw Y“, no dialogue is possible. “He saw, she saw” is just as vacuous as “he said, she said”. In both these latter cases, one mere assertion is merely counterposed to another mere assertion, and we can say categorically that no insight could ever be gained from the exchange.

By contrast, as soon as the discussion shifts from a contest of assertions to the articulation of content, something can potentially be learned from it, whether or not we end up endorsing what is said.

An empirical observation may still provide a useful heuristic basis for belief about the world. Additional observations may add to the heuristic “weight” of that basis. But contrary to McDowell, I would not count that heuristic basis as part of the space of reasons. I call something a “reason” if and only if it provides a basis for some reasoning, which is to say some inference or inferences. To call something a non-inferential “reason” makes no sense.

And contrary to both McDowell and Brandom, I do not recognize the existence of non-inferential “knowledge” at all. Every observational report is just a claiming about appearance, and no mere claiming about appearance should count as knowledge.

What we have in the putative case of “observational knowledge” is observational belief. An observational belief may turn out to be well-founded, but any such well-foundedness depends on factors that go beyond the brute fact of the existence of observations.

We can have dialogue about claims about other claims. We cannot have true dialogue about claims about raw appearances — or indeed, properly speaking, about first-order claims at all.

This, I think, is part of the upshot of Hegel’s “logic of being”. Any first-order claim “A is Bconsidered in isolation fares no better than Parmenides’ saying of Being. It is logically vacuous, just because it is isolated. Isolation would mean, for instance, that we have no definition for A or B.

(The way I am using “first order” here for claims is different from the way it is used in predicate logic. In standard mathematical logic, what I am calling an “isolated first-order claim” corresponds to a proposition, rather than any construct in predicate logic. According to Frege, a proposition can only mean either “true” or “false”, so we have a similar lack of information.)

In Aristotelian terms, the claim then reduces to a mere saying, which is actually charitable, because for Aristotle, in the absence of meanings for A and B, we would have failed to express a proposition at all. Mere saying in this sense actually fails to properly say anything at all. If we don’t know what A and B are, “A is B” is the logical equivalent of arbitrary noise.

Conversely, when we do take a first-order claim as meaningful — as we indeed do all the time — we must always already have some higher-order perspective on it that makes it meaningful. All meaningful saying is saying something at a higher-order level.

A Logic of Being?

We’ve reached part 2 of Robert Pippin’s important Hegel’s Realm of Shadows. Despite recently mentioned peripheral caveats, I’m enormously impressed with the way he makes sense of Hegel’s Science of Logic, possibly the most difficult philosophical work ever written.

He now begins a high-level survey of the three separate “logics” Hegel develops. It is essential to Hegel’s scheme that the first two will be regarded as failures in the explanation of what is involved in making things intelligible. For Hegel, failures of thought play an essential, irreducible role in the attainment of new insights. The perspectives achieved by thought are not “refuted” by other perspectives external to those achieved; instead, the achieved perspectives metaphorically “discover” their own inability to solve their own problems.

We’ve already seen the first move of the first of these failed accounts of what it is to be intelligible, the logic of being.

Hegel uses the further development of this account as a vehicle for discussing the Kantian categories of quantity and quality. If his first point was that being qua being is utterly sterile because intelligibility depends on the ability to make definite determinations, the elaboration begins to show the relational character of all determination, and at the same time the failure of any simple assertion of properties of things (“judgment”, in the severely truncated early modern form that reduces it to predication) to adequately make those things intelligible.

Pippin does not go into detail on Hegel’s lengthy discussion of quantity and quality, so for instance there is no more mention of the issue about good and bad infinity, though this is where Hegel treats it. Pippin reserves the most space for the final logic of the concept that is supposed to be successful, and gives the least to the logic of being, which according to Hegel is the least adequate.

In discussing the logic of being, Pippin is mainly concerned to extract takeaway points relevant to understanding the high-level “movement” of Hegel’s logic as a whole. I have been highlighting his suggestion that this notorious “logical motion” is teleological in a genuinely Aristotelian sense, rather than being either deductive, or somehow univocally driven forward by contradiction. It is all oriented toward the merely hypothetical necessity of what is required if we aim to reach a deeper truth. Pippin is at pains to point out that for Hegel as for Aristotle, every teleological actualization involves contingency.

“The idea is to begin with the thought of anything at all, in its immediate indeterminacy, simply being, Sein. But the thought of anything at all is not the thought of anything…. Nothing is excluded, so nothing is included…. It is a failed thought, not the thought of this failure or even just the enactment of the failure. This is the beginning of everything of significance in the Logic; it (the thought of Sein being nothing other than Nichts [nothing]) is the reflective relation to what is being thought that is inseparable from anything possibly being thought. It is thought’s apperceptive moment…. Just thereby, thinking is thinking its failure to be thinking, not thinking of a strange object, Nichts. It is only in this sense that the first moment has a second moment, a realization of what thinking must be to be thinking of anything” (p. 186).

“Such a reflective determination reveals both that such putative immediate indeterminacy must itself already be a determination, and that such a putative content, anything at all in its immediate indeterminacy, has not been transformed, has not ‘become’ Nichts, but that it always already was” (p. 187).

“Hegel here is doing something like making a case for, or at least in some way showing us, the apperceptively discursive nature of any possible discursive intelligibility. This also means that in judging anything, I am always also implicitly holding open the possibility of the self-correcting of judging…. Or, any judgment always implicitly applies, is implicitly applying, the concept of judgment to itself” (p. 189).

That apperceptive judgment always implicitly applies the concept of judgment to itself follows from its apperceptive, reflective nature. To be apperceptively reflective is to be self-referential, Pippin has been saying.

“As Kant insisted, in any such case I must be able to ‘stand above’ what I judged and what I now judge correctly and take the latter to be a correction of the former in order for it to be that, a correction. Otherwise, there is just a succession of episodes. This is why he could say that the understanding, the power of claiming, is the synthetic unity of apperception (in the same way, I am ultimately claiming in this book, Hegel is claiming that what he calls the concept is the synthetic unity of apperception)” (ibid).

“This also means, as we have been stressing, that given certain concepts of the power of knowing — say, a knowing that must be indeterminate and immediate, a ‘resolve’ to begin with such a notion — we already have thereby the concept of the object of such pure knowing, Being. If we are talking about a case of knowing, as we are, the two are, must be, inseparable…. There is no question, here or anywhere in the Logic, of the need to ‘move’ from the order of knowing to the order of being. If that were claimed to be necessary, how would we have begun with a case of knowing?” (pp. 189-190).

This intimate connection between the form of knowing and the object of knowing is Hegel’s alternative to the difficult “transcendental deduction” by which Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason aims to establish that the categories of thought really are relevant to experience. Pippin suggests that Hegel generally reinterprets Kantian dualities as cases of Aristotelian hylomorphism, and notes that even Kant occasionally makes remarks tending in this direction. In this particular case, reinterpreting the duality as a hylomorphism eliminates the “gap” between thought and being that in Kant creates the need for the transcendental deduction.

I confess, though, that it was not obvious to me that we had begun with a case of knowing. I have trouble identifying any kind of failed thought or thought that fails to have a content with knowing; I am not used to recognizing the possibility of an empty “knowing”.

But we are at least implicitly talking about an instance of thought here, even if it is a degenerate instance. Pippin is arguing that even that failed, empty thought must still be self-referential, just in being a case of thought in Hegel’s sense at all. By virtue of its form as thought or apperceptive judgment, it is already reflectively turned back on itself. I think Pippin is suggesting that that turning back on itself counts as a kind of knowing at the meta level, even though the thought failed at ground level.

“[T]here is no objection in Kant or among the relevant post-Kantians, in their denial that thinking is a kind of perceiving or primarily receptive, to the general form of such claims as ‘I know it because I saw it’, especially because that is the invitation to establishing that it can be seen by anyone…. But for thinking as such, there is nothing like: ‘I know that is the essence because I had an essence-intuition…'” (p. 190).

I am more reserved about claims like “I know it because I saw it”. Plato would not accept this as an instance of knowledge, and I am inclined to follow suit. I would say, “I believe it with confidence because I saw it”. But Pippin makes a good point here about the implicit invitation to treat this as the claim that it could be seen by anyone.

As I have noted before, what I prefer to call belief and others call a form of immediate, noninferential empirical “knowledge” are not just arbitrary assertions. Though we arrive at such beliefs “spontaneously” (in the ordinary sense, which is nearly the inverse of the Kantian sense), after the fact it is always possible to ask about the reasons for them.

I am claiming that after the fact, it should always be possible to express something of why we believe what we do. “Because I saw it” is not a reason, but a reiteration that it appeared that way to me. Intrinsically, it has no more value than “because I said so”. The kind of reasons that can be provided in this case will be persuasive (or, in Aristotle’s usage, “probable”) to some degree or other, but also potentially refutable. Typically they will take the form of more detailed claims about what we saw.

“Fichte insists on the same point that is made in the first move in the Logic… by pointing out the difference logically between ‘A’ and ‘A = A’. For the latter, we need… an ‘I’ that is ‘= I’…. But this identification is something done, a Tat [deed], the equivalent here of ‘bringing contents to the unity of apperception’ in Kant’s account, an active unifying necessary for the I to be continuously that I in experience” (p. 191).

As Aristotle pointed out, merely saying something (“A”, “Being”, or whatever) is not yet saying something about something, which turns out to be the minimal condition for truth or falsity. This formulation points to some kind of self-relatedness in the attitude toward content that seems to be a minimal condition for any kind of assertion. This self-relatedness in the content of assertions seems to be related to the inherent self-referentiality of thought for which Pippin is arguing, as if the one were a sort of hylomorphic reflection of the other.

I used to misunderstand the above argument of Fichte as additionally requiring the existence of an “I” like a rabbit out of a hat, but again we are only dealing with hypothetical necessity here. If I want to be able to conclude “A = A”, then I need to be able to apply the same identification “A” twice within the context of one judgment. That the two identifications of “A” must be combined within the context of one judgment is the sole import of Fichte’s “I = I”. If there is any existence of an I involved here, it is by hypothesis.

Pippin stresses that although Hegel speaks of logical “movement” in temporal metaphors, each part of the “movement” has always already occurred. Once again, Hegel is not talking about what drives the course of events, but something like the conditions of possibility of the constitution of intelligibility and normativity.

He goes on to discuss more problems related to immediacy, and the transition to the logic of essence, each of which I’ll address separately.

Passive Intellect?

Pippin seems to accept the common gloss of Aristotelian (potential) intellect as “passive”. Although this particular equation of potential with passive is common among Latin scholastics, it is an interpolation that does not come from Aristotle himself. At the same time, scholastic discourse in general was actually full of talk about the human subject and its complex relations of activity and passivity, especially in theological contexts. Meanwhile Plato and Aristotle already also emphasized the discursive character of thought — its relation to dialogue and articulation in language, and the importance of development and mediation.

I think it is a serious historical error to say that Aristotelian “intellect” (nous) just passively receives intelligibles, and we had to wait for Kant to get any different view. What Kant did was to deny that the understanding (as distinct from sensibility) passively receives anything at all, while developing a very original account of the active aspect of understanding (and imagination) in the synthesis of experience. The historic source of the common-but-not-universal traditional assumption of an overall passivity of intellect is neither Aristotelian nor Platonic, but rather Stoic.

The great Arabic commentator Averroes argued that potential and actual intellect were hylomorphically inseparable and only analytically distinguishable, and also that potential intellect, even taken by itself, had some active characteristics. Meanwhile he also spoke of a third, more passive “intellect” that was not really intellect, but rather associated with a part of the Aristotelian imagination that he called the cogitative faculty. Even this is not truly passive.

Alexander of Aphrodisias had described potential intellect in terms similar to that of Averroes’ cogitative faculty, and Aquinas partially endorsed the position of Alexander. On the other hand, unlike Alexander, Aquinas also located located actual intellect within the soul. Things are further complicated by Aquinas’ introduction of the natural light of reason and his defense of a variant of the medieval doctrine of passively received “species”. Neither of these comes from Aristotle.

Pippin doesn’t mention actual or “active” intellect explicitly, but all historic versions of Aristotelianism recognize some variant of this. No one claims that actual intellect is passive. The problem is that Aristotle’s own account of intellect has a very minimalist character.

Aristotle himself is partially to blame for the historic unclarity on the activity and passivity of intellect. He suggests an analogy between intellect and sense perception. The latter is described mainly in passive language, though even perception in Aristotle is not entirely passive. I think the analogy of intellect to sense perception is intended only as a kind of first approximation in terms of something more universally familiar, but most of the Latin tradition took it as decisive, and treated intelligibles as things passively received. Still, this is far from the whole story about views of activity and passivity in the human being.

Pippin generally does a great job explaining Aristotelian points. This one about passive intellect is an exception. An extenuating circumstance is that Hegel too seems to have a blind spot on this particular Aristotelian issue.

I wonder about the relation of this to Pippin’s claim in a footnote about “the emergence of subjectivity”, “not just in philosophy but as a world-historic event. At the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth century, some sort of awareness that the world and others were not unproblematically available for observers and agents, but that the subject was in some sort of relation to itself in its possible relation to the world and others, was clearly emerging in Cervantes, Caravaggio, Shakespeare, and others, until it finally found its radical philosophical expression in Descartes” (Hegel’s Realm of Shadows, p. 266n).

It’s fine to celebrate the creativity of late Renaissance and early modern literature, but the rather cliché reference to Descartes is disappointing after such excellent work on all of Kant and Hegel’s efforts to overcome early modern prejudices, and on Hegel’s explicit recovery of many Aristotelian insights, of which early modernity generally had lost sight. Standard as Pippin’s view is on the alleged pivotal role of Descartes in giving philosophical expression to subjectivity, it is simplistic and historically wrong.

Forms of subjectivity have indeed developed historically, but subjectivity did not just “emerge” in early modernity. This is a huge and intricate topic, in which I am extremely interested and on which I have written more than a bit already. Alain de Libera has made major contributions in this area with his “archaeology of the subject”.

Being the One Acting

Another passing doubt in my reading of Pippin’s Hegel’s Realm of Shadows came up when he said something along the lines of “I know I am the one acting because I am the one acting”. This certainly captures an intuitive feeling that I have too, but on reflection it seems to rely on what I would call an appearance of inner sense.

With Aristotle I call all inner immediacy an appearance of inner sense. Then my Platonic instincts say that no appearance qualifies as knowledge.

Does Pippin mean to suggest that Hegel — “that great foe of immediacy” — believes in a sort of immediate self-knowledge of individuals via the identification of thinking and being? But he pointed out that Hegel’s German selbst is strictly an adverbial modifier that has no dual usage as a substantive noun, the way “self” does in English. What he wrote in Hegel’s Practical Philosophy seems at odds with this as well.

Pippin has argued that thought for Hegel is inherently self-referential. I think I want to affirm this, but the relational “self” of self-referentiality and unity of apperception is not the immediately contentful, more noun-like empirical “self” of me and mine (see The Ambiguity of “Self”), which I think we experience through the medium of Aristotelian/Kantian imagination rather than thought. Pippin’s remark with which I began seems to blur the line between transcendental self (-referentiality) and empirical self. The relation between transcendental and empirical “self” is one of neither isomorphism nor hylomorphism, I want to say. Something like what Plato called “mixing” does seem to occur in experience, but how to characterize it is a very difficult question.

Aristotle used episteme (knowledge as rationally articulable) and gnosis (direct personal familiarity) in contrasting ways, but it is common to see them both rendered to English as “knowledge”, as if they were interchangeable. With Hegel too we have to be careful, because multiple German words get translated by English “knowledge”.

Anything at All

I was surprised to see the way that Pippin talks about “the thought of anything at all”. For him “anything at all” is apparently the unique failed thought of the utterly indeterminate, taken as a single abstract pseudo-thing with no characteristics.

What I thought of first on seeing this phrase was rather the indefinitely vast multitude of different things of all sorts that could be thought of. “Anything at all” could be idea of the good, or Hegel’s left shoelace, or absolutely any other “thing” in the broadest possible sense, but in each case I would want to say that it is something. The one (pseudo) thing I think “anything at all” excludes is the symbolic term “nothing” and its analogues.

As Hegel points out, the thought of “the indeterminate immediate” is in reality the thought of nothing at all. I think he is right that without distinction there is no intelligibility, and that the abolition of all distinction in Parmenidean Being makes it inferentially and thus “logically” equivalent to Nothing. No consequences could follow from anything that has no characteristics.

The utterly indeterminate is already equivalent to Nothing, independent of the mention of immediacy. Things are equivalent or not based on the equivalence of their characteristics, so all nominal or pseudo “things” with no characteristics are equivalent to one another. Parmenidean Being falls to Hegel’s critique because Parmenides denies that it is determined in any way whatoever.

Although I agree with Hegel that the utterly indeterminate is nothing, I don’t at all want to identify the phrases “anything at all” and “nothing at all”, which is the direction in which Pippin’s usage of “anything at all” seems to me to tend. I take “nothing at all” to name the one case that “anything at all” (i.e., any thing at all, i.e., anything that can be distinguished) excludes.

What Pippin really meant was “the thought of ‘anything at all'”. Adding explicit scare quotes around “anything at all” makes it clear that it is intended as an “immediate” concept, rather than invitation to substitute what we please. The thought of “anything at all” is equivalent to the thought of nothing at all. This is a very specific point about terminological clarity that has little to do with the important and valuable main argument of Hegel’s Realm of Shadows.

I mention this only because I seriously misunderstood the first reference Pippin made to “the thought of anything at all”, before he explicitly connected it to Hegel’s thesis of the nullity of Parmenidean Being. He said something like, “For Hegel, logic begins with the thought of anything at all”, and I initially took that to refer to any of the vast multitude of possible thoughts. I mistook the message to be that what we begin with is of little import; what matters much more is the form of the course of development and actualization and making explicit. That is true also, but in the passage, it turns out that Pippin was referring forward to the material I covered in the last post.

Hegel on Being

Being, pure being — without further determination. In its indeterminate immediacy it is equal only to itself and also not unequal with respect to another; it has no difference within it, nor any outwardly. If any determination or content were posited in it as distinct, or if it were posited by this determination or content as distinct from an other, it would thereby fail to hold fast in its purity. It is pure indeterminateness and emptiness. — There is nothing to be intuited in it, if one can speak here of intuiting; or, it is only this pure empty intuiting itself. Just as little is anything to be thought in it, or, it is equally only this empty thinking. Being, the indeterminate immediate is in fact nothing, and neither more nor less than nothing” (Hegel, Science of Logic, di Giovanni trans., p. 59).

“[Hegel] begins the book with a sentence fragment, the linguistic representation of a thought that is, can be, no true thought” (Pippin, Hegel’s Logic of Shadows, p. 188).

“[T]he opening as such is the resolve to attempt to think Being as such…. This is what will fail (or more precisely, will prove itself to be incomplete as a possible thought, and through that failure we learn… the essential discursivity of thought and the first determination of being as such, determinacy, articulability. (This lesson is what Aristotle wants us to learn when he argues that being as such cannot be a highest genus…. This is, I want to claim, the same lesson we are to learn at the beginning of Hegel’s Logic)” (p. 185).

“But the attempted thought of immediate indeterminacy… is a failed thought…. Just thereby, thinking is thinking its failure to be thinking” (ibid).

“We begin in effect… with ‘Father Parmenides‘… Hegel accepts the challenge of the hypothesis, the thought of… ‘indeterminate immediacy’, as his beginning” (p. 184).

“Its determinacy simply amounts to a thing’s distinguishability from what it is not…. And herein lies Parmenides’ famous problem. This would, as noted, appear to commit us to the existence of ‘what is not’…. It does not, of course; this all rests on a confusion between not-being as not being anything, not existing, and being as being other than… as Plato demonstrated in The Sophist” (pp. 185-186).

Deeper Truth

Hegel’s Logic, it now seems to me, is an exploration of what contemporary philosophers call the space of reasons, with the practical aim of eliciting and exhibiting what it is to move toward deeper truth.

He wants to focus our attention on how reasoning and judgment are transformed as they move toward deeper truth. He wants to say that the deeper meaning of truth is the movement toward deeper truth.

For Hegel, reason attains to deeper truth mainly by experiencing failure of the truth that it thought it had. Such failure has nothing to do with being “vanquished” by an opposing view.

Brandom argues that we can understand such failure in terms of the unsettling of beliefs about how things are in the world, by some unaccounted-for difference or new evidence in ordinary experience.

Pippin argues that the Logic aims at something hugely more ambitious — still not some master key to the explanation of things or events in the world, but an account of the forms of the movement of reason toward deeper truth that ought to be applicable to any thinkable thinking being.

The way that Pippin is arguing Hegel combines Kant and Aristotle I find tremendously exciting. For now I’m reserving judgment on his apparent claim that the movement Hegel describes succeeds in being unconditionally universal.