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.

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.

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).

Parmenides

The late 6th or early 5th century BCE poet Parmenides of Elea was commonly regarded in the Greek tradition as a philosopher. Apparently his only work was a poem of 800 or so verses in epic hexameter form, of which about 160 are known from quotations in later authors, principally the commentary by the neoplatonist Simplicius on Aristotle’s Physics.

Parmenides may have been the first person to make strong claims purportedly grounded in nothing but pure reason. At the same time, he drew a sharp distinction between appearance and reality. He achieved notoriety among his fellow Greeks because his claims contradicted all experience. His disciple Zeno used Parmenidean principles to “prove” that arrows cannot fly, and that the speedy Achilles could never overtake a tortoise that had a head start.

According to Parmenides, we can “neither know, or attain to, or express, non-being”. He concluded from this that all distinction, becoming, and motion were mere appearances of “the way of error in which the ignorant and double-minded mortals wander. Perplexity of mind sways the erring sense. Those who believe Being and non-being to be the same, and then again not the same, are like deaf and blind men surprised, like hordes confusedly driven”.

“But the truth is only the ‘is’; this is neither begotten of anything else, nor transient, entire, alone in its class, unmoved and without end; it neither was, nor will be, but is at once the all. For what birth wouldst thou seek for it? How and whence should it be augmented? That it should be from that which is not, I shall allow thee neither to say nor to think, for neither can it be said or thought that the ‘is’ is not. What necessity had either later or earlier made it begin from the nothing? Thus must it throughout only be or not be; nor will any force of conviction ever make something else arise out of that which is not. Thus origination has disappeared, and decease is incredible. Being is not separable, for it is entirely like itself; it is nowhere more, else would it not hold together, nor is it less, for everything is full of Being. The all is one coherent whole, for Being flows into unison with Being: it is unchangeable and rests securely in itself; the force of necessity holds it within the bounds of limitation. It cannot hence be said that it is imperfect; for it is without defect, while non-existence is wanting in all” (quoted in Hegel, History of Philosophy vol. 1, Haldane trans., pp. 252-253).

Plato treats Parmenides with considerable respect, but fundamentally rejects his blunt teaching about being and non-being, replacing it with far subtler views, e.g., in The Sophist.

Aristotle says that Plato (and the atomist Democritus, whose writings are lost) were the first practitioners of extended philosophical argument, and I consider that the true beginning of philosophy; it seems to me Parmenides only made assertions and claimed they were grounded in pure reason. In his poem, the key claims are presented as revelations from a goddess. Much later, Kant would argue that nothing follows from pure reason alone.

According to Hegel’s History of Philosophy lectures, “This beginning is certainly still dim and indefinite, and we cannot say much of what it involves; but to take up this position certainly is to develop Philosophy proper, which has not hitherto existed”. Hegel says Spinoza tells us correctly that all determination is based on negation, but “Parmenides says, whatever form the negation may take, it does not exist at all” (p. 254). Spinoza scholars have criticized the claim about Spinoza, but in this context that is a side issue.

Hegel’s association of Parmenides with the beginning of philosophy needs to be understood in terms of his insistence on the inherent defectiveness of beginnings and the positive, provocative role of failures of thought. In differing degrees, Hegel also actually recognizes two other beginnings of philosophy as well — in the figurative thought of the world’s various religious traditions before Parmenides (who appears only halfway through volume 1 of Hegel’s History), and in the dialogues of Plato, with whom Hegel’s second volume begins. For Hegel, Parmenides’ bare thought of Being and denial of the basis of all determination represent an absolute failure of thought and an impossibility, but he nonetheless credits that failure and impossibility as having defined a problem that provoked all later development.

I consider it quite possible that Aristotle’s brief remarks about “being qua being” in two books of the Metaphysics were a kind of response to the Parmenidean problem. Traditionally, this has been claimed to be the subject matter of the Metaphysics, but both times Aristotle raises the problem explicitly, his discussion is limited to arguing for the moral necessity of the principle of noncontradiction, against the Sophists. In effect, he says that serious people must by definition take their commitments seriously, and therefore they do not contradict their own commitments.

Noncontradiction has a great importance for integrity in ethics, which was to be taken up anew by Kant and Hegel, with their emphasis on unity of apperception. But as Hegel points out explicitly in the Logic, pure being by itself is logically empty and sterile. In first philosophy, nothing follows from being qua being. (See also Hegel on Being.)

Hegel’s Union of Kant and Aristotle

Aristotle gets more pages in Hegel’s History of Philosophy than anyone else, and Kant gets the second most. This post will show that that is no accident.

Where I left off in Pippin’s account of Hegel’s Logic, he was still discussing the meaning of Hegel’s claim that now “logic” could take the place of metaphysics.

The idea of a “gap” between thinking and being, with the consequent need for an extensive inference to show that the rational categories of thought are after all applicable to being, had been a major theme of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Hegel ambitiously wants to eliminate that gap, while at the same time preserving and extending Kant’s critique of dogmatism. At first glance this might seem impossible, but as I see it, Hegel’s strategy consists of two moves.

First, Pippin has been arguing that a major theme of Hegel’s Logic is an alternative showing of the applicability of something analogous to the Kantian categories. Hegel’s alternative is inspired by Aristotle’s non-psychological view of the content of thought as shareable rational meaning. From this point of view, there is a no discernible difference (and therefore a strict and literal identity) between a thought and that of which it is the thought. Thought in Aristotle is unaffected by the modern distinction of subject and object in consciousness. This is intimately related to Aristotle’s ambivalence on whether or not thought belongs to a part of the soul.

“As with Aristotle, [the] link between the order of thinking (knowing, judging to be the case) and the order of being is not an inference, does not face a gap that must be closed by an inference. Properly understood, the relation is one of identity” (Hegel’s Realm of Shadows, p. 60).

The other, complementary part of Hegel’s strategy uses his critique of representation to express the Kantian problem of dogmatism in a different way. For Kant, dogmatism consists in ignoring or leaping over the gap between thinking and being. For Hegel, there is no such gap. Dogmatism consists in adhering to fixed representations and disregarding the real fluidity and liveliness of both thought and being.

Alongside this strategy for dealing with Kantian issues, Hegel revives Aristotle’s ideal of normative, teleological explanation of overall processes of actualization, and of the subordination of explanation by the efficient causes that serve as particular means of actualization (see Aristotle on Explanation). For Hegel as for Aristotle, intelligibility and explanation first and foremost involve a rational “ought”, and other forms of explanation are subordinate to that.

Pippin quotes John McDowell’s contemporary distinction between explanation by rational “ought” and by empirical regularity. McDowell refers to “explanations in which things are made intelligible by being revealed to be, or to approximate to being, as they rationally ought to be. This is to be contrasted with a style of explanation in which one makes things intelligible by representing their coming into being as a particular instance of how things generally tend to happen” (p. 61).

Pippin says that for both Kant and Hegel, logic “states the conditions of possible sense, the distinctions and relations without which sense would not be possible” (ibid). Here he is implicitly recalling Frege’s distinction between sense and reference, and making the point that Kant, Hegel, and Aristotle all see meaning mainly in terms of sense rather than reference. “The Logic is never said to seek a determination of what is ‘really’ real, and in a way like Kant, it also concerns the determination of the possibility, the real possibility, of anything being what it is. Hegel calls this Wirklichkeit, actuality, and distinguishes it often from questions about existence” (p. 62).

Possible sense construes real possibility in terms of explanation by a rational “ought”. Logical concepts for Hegel always embody a context-sensitive rational “ought”, rather than a direct simple determination of what exists. For example, “for Hegel to claim that ‘Life’ is a logical concept is to say not that there could not be a world that did not have living beings in it, but that if there is a world at all, the denial that there is any distinction between mechanically explicable and organically unified beings is self-contradictory” (ibid).

Such a contradiction is something we ought to avoid. The overcoming of contradictions in Hegel is a matter of teleological actualization that may or may not occur. Contrary to old stereotypes, no formal or causal determinism is involved. The overcoming of contradictions is in fact intimately connected with the motif of freedom. Kant and Fichte struggled to articulate a very strong notion of practical freedom that did not depend on a one-sided notion of free will. Hegel makes the explanation of freedom much easier by explicitly adopting the Aristotelian priority of explanation by ends and oughts. For him as for Aristotle, the realization of ends and oughts at the level of factual existence is contingent, and involves multiple possibilities. For him as for Aristotle, being has to do primarily with sense and intelligibility rather than brute factual existence.

“So what Hegel means by saying logic is metaphysics, or that being in and for itself is the concept, can be put this way. Once we understand the role of, say, essence and appearance as necessary for judging objectively, we have thereby made sense of essences and appearances, and therewith, the world in which they are indispensable…. In making sense of this way of sense-making, its presuppositions and implications, we are making sense of what there is, the only sense anything could make” (pp. 63-64).

“The actual Kantian statement of this identity is the highest principle of synthetic judgments, and it invokes the same thought: that the conditions for the possibility of experience are at the same time the conditions for the possibility of objects of experience” (p. 64).

Pippin quotes from Adrian Moore: “To make sense of things at the highest level of generality… is to make sense of things in terms of what it is to make sense of things” (p. 65).

He notes similarities and differences between his and Robert Brandom’s approach to Hegel.

On the one hand, Brandom agrees that the job of distinctively logical concepts is “not to make explicit how the world is (to subserve a function of consciousness) but rather to make explicit the process of making explicit how the world is (to enable and embody a kind of self-consciousness)” (quoted, p. 66).

On the other, Brandom sees the making explicit of the process of making explicit entirely in retrospective terms, whereas Pippin argues that Hegel in the Logic takes a more Kantian, prospective approach. Pippin calls Brandom’s retrospective approach “empirical” because it relies on retrospective insight into concrete occasions of making things explicit.

Elsewhere, Pippin had previously criticized Brandom’s emphasis on “semantic descent” in interpreting Hegel’s Phenomenology. Brandom himself introduces semantic descent in the following terms: “I believe the best way to understand what [Kant and Hegel] are saying about their preferred topic of concepts operating in a pure, still stratosphere above the busy jostling and haggling of street-level judging and doing is precisely to focus on what those metaconcepts let us say about what is going on below…. If the point of the higher-level concepts is to articulate the use and content of lower-level ones, then the cash value of an account of categorical metaconcepts is what it has to teach us about ordinary ground-level empirical and practical concepts” (A Spirit of Trust, pp. 5-6).

While I don’t care for the rhetoric of “cash value”, which to my ear sounds too reductive in the context of normative sense-making, the idea that meta-level considerations get their relevance from what they teach us about ordinary life seems fundamentally right to me, and of great importance. Moreover, this is clearly presented by Brandom as his interpretive strategy, which he points out is quite different from the way Kant and Hegel usually talk. Brandom’s reading of Hegel is also mainly focused on the Phenomenology; he doesn’t have much to say specifically about the Logic.

The idea of a retrospective reading of the Phenomenology is encouraged by Hegel himself, and there I think it is fair to say that Hegel’s own method is retrospective. On the other hand, I think the text of the Logic clearly supports Pippin’s claim that it takes a more prospective approach, closer to that of a Kantian a priori investigation. This still does not conflict with the suggestion that its ultimate value lies in what its high concepts have to teach us about living our own lives.

“[W]hatever the connections are in the [Science of Logic], they are clearly not truth-functional or deductive. As suggested, they have something to do with the demonstration of dependence relations necessary for conceptual determinacy” (Hegel’s Realm of Shadows, p. 70).

For Hegel, “concepts can be determinately specified only by their role in judgments, the determinacy of which depends on their roles as premises and conclusions…. And he never tires of noting that the standard subject-predicate logical form is finally inadequate for the expression of ‘speculative truth’…. The basic possibility of sense depends on an act, an act of rendering intelligible or judging” (pp. 71-72).

“In the traditional reading of Kant, it would appear that Kant wants to introduce a step here, as if skeptical about why ‘our’ ways of sorting things should have anything to do with ‘sortal realism’ in the world…. In this picture, there must ‘first’ be sensible receptivity (according to ‘our’ distinct, nonconceptual pure forms of intuition), and ‘then’ there is conceptual articulation/synthesis, which is possible because of the imposition of categorical form” (pp. 73-74).

According to Pippin, Hegel denies this two-step picture, though he “fully realizes the extreme difficulties in stating properly the dual claims of distinguishability and inseparability” of concept and intuition” (p. 75).

“Hegel clearly wants a way of understanding the mutual dependence of each on the other that involves an ‘identity’ even ‘within difference’. In other words, he came to see that the concept-intuition relation was at its heart a logical or conceptual problem, what he would variously call the problem of (how there could be such a thing as) ‘mediated immediacy’, or the inescapably reciprocal and correlated functions of identifying and differentiating. For another, in any apperceptive determination of content, a relation to content has to be understood as a modality of a self-relation….This gets quite complicated because such an apperceptive awareness in the case of perceptual experience… must be distinguished from apperceptive judging…. Neither Kant nor Hegel believes that experience itself consists in judgments” (ibid).

What Pippin here calls apperceptive awareness in the case of perception as distinct from judgment belongs in the same general territory as the “passive synthesis” discussed by Husserl.

“Failing to observe the ‘norms of thinking’ is not… making an error in thinking; it is not thinking at all, not making any sense. The prospect of objects ‘outside’ something like the limits of the thinkable is a nonthought…. But just because it is unthinkable, the strict distinction between a prior, content-free general logic and an a priori transcendental logic, the forms of possible thoughts about objects, can hardly be as hard and fast as Kant wants to make it out to be. Or, put another way, it is an artificial distinction…. For one thing, … the distinction depends on a quite contestable strict separation between the spontaneity of thought (as providing formal unity) and the deliverances of sensibility in experience (as the sole ‘provider of content’). If that is not sustainable, and there is reason to think that even Kant did not hold it to be a matter of strict separability, then the distinction between the forms of thought and the forms of the thought of objects cannot also be a matter of strict separability” (p. 76).

“‘To be is to be intelligible: the founding principle of Greek metaphysics and of philosophy itself…. [T]he formula ‘to be is to be intelligible’ is not, as it might sound, some sort of manifesto, as if willfully ‘banning’ the unknowable from ‘the real’…. ‘What there is is what is knowable’ is an implication of what knowing — all and any knowing — is if it is to be knowing. It is not a first-order claim about all being, as if it could prompt the question: How do we know that all of being is knowable? That is not a coherent question. There may be things we will never know, but that is not to say they are in principle unknowable” (p. 77).

“So those ‘two aspect’ interpretations of Kant’s idealism and his doctrine of the unknowability of things in themselves, those claiming that knowing ‘for us’ is restricted to ‘our epistemic conditions’, leaving it open for us to speculate about what might be knowable but transcends our powers of knowing, cannot be right. The position is internally incoherent. There is no ‘our’ that can be put in front of ‘epistemic conditions’. They would not then be epistemic conditions; the account would not be philosophical but psychological” (ibid).

In place of the Kantian unknowability of things in themselves, Hegel puts the “liveliness” of real things that overflows any particular representation. For Hegel, dogmatism is a disregard for the overflowing character of real meaning and being.

“[I]f we… ask how we can know a priori about nature’s suitability for our cognitive ends…, we have again imported a kind of neo-Kantian version of Kant” (p. 78).

“Yet more care must be exercised here, lest readers get the wrong idea. To say that the forms of ‘thought’ are, must be, the form of objects of thought does not mean that any form of ‘mere thinking’ delineates some ontological realm — as if the forms of the thought of astrological influence are the forms of such influence in the world” (ibid).

“Thought” here clearly does not mean any arbitrary belief. It refers to possible knowledge. Hegel and Pippin are saying only that if and wherever true knowledge is indeed possible, corresponding knowledge of objects must be possible. “It would never occur to us, I assume, to entertain the thought that the form of some piece of empirical knowledge is not the form of the object of knowledge” (ibid).

Pippin points out “what amounts to a kind of operator in Hegel’s Logic on which all the crucial transitions depend, something like ‘would not be fully intelligible, would not be coherently thinkable without…’ What follows the ‘without’ is some more comprehensive concept, a different distinction, and so forth” (p. 79).

This means that Hegelian logic is not about the deduction of consequences from assumptions, but rather aims to be an assumption-free regressive movement from anything at all to a fuller view of the conditions for its intelligibility.

In the introduction to the Encyclopedia, Hegel “notes explicitly that what exists certainly exists contingently and ‘can just as well not be‘, and he refers us to the Logic for the right explication of what is ‘actual’ by contrast with what merely exists. He adds, ‘Who is not smart enough to be able to see around him quite a lot that is not, in fact, how it ought to be?’…. Yet despite Hegel’s waving this huge bright flag inscribed, ‘I believe in contingency!’ one still hears often (even from scholars of German philosophy) that his philosophy is an attempt to deduce the necessity of everything from the Prussian state to Herr Krug’s fountain pen” (p. 87).

Pippin thinks that actuality in Hegel is “congruent with what Kant meant by categoriality” (ibid). I don’t fully understand this particular claim about actuality, unless it is intended as a variant of the Philosophy of Right‘s famous formula about the actual and the rational, which itself makes good sense with a normative or teleological as opposed to factual notion of the actual. I would agree there seems to be a strong “Kantian categorical” component to Hegelian “logic” in general. Pippin agrees that actuality has a normative rather than factual character in both Aristotle and Hegel. However, the generally normative emphasis of Kant’s thought notwithstanding, at this point in my effort to understand Kant, his “deduction” of the categories seems to me to make the categories more like a kind of universal “facts”. I also think of the Aristotelian “ought” as primarily concrete, as when Aristotle says that practical judgment applies to particulars. Kantian normativity by contrast aims to be universal in an unqualified way, which is certainly closer to categoriality. So, there is a question whether Hegelian actuality inherits more from Aristotelian actuality or from Hegel’s incorporation of Kantian universalizing normativity.

If we were talking about Hegelian “concrete universals”, this might provide a basis for reconciling Aristotelian and Kantian perspectives on the “ought” involved in actuality. Do the Hegelian incarnations of Kantian categories in the Logic — called by Hegel a “realm of shadows” — qualify as concrete universals? At this point I am in doubt. I suspect Hegel might say that the concrete universal is reached only at the very end of his development. Maybe the ultimate bearer of categoriality and the place where it unites with actuality will be the “absolute” idea.

“What we know is what we know in exercising reason, what we know in judging” (p. 90). In the Encyclopedia Logic, “Hegel remarks that Kant himself, in formulating reason’s critique of itself, treats forms of cognition as objects of cognition…. He calls this feat ‘dialectic’. Mathematical construction in mathematical proof makes essentially the same point…. And most suggestively for the entire enterprise of the Logic, practical reason can determine the form of a rational will that is also itself a substantive content. The self-legislation of the moral law is not volitional anarchy but practical reason’s knowledge of ‘what’ to legislate. It ‘legislates’ in being practical reasoning about what ought to be done. It legislates because in knowing what ought to be done it is not affected by some object, ‘what is to be done’, about which it judges. It determines, produces, what is to be done. Said more simply, when one makes a promise, one legislates into existence a promise. One is bound only by binding oneself…. Being bound is the concept of being bound, applied to oneself” (ibid).

Pippin is suggesting we look for ethical meaning in Hegel’s logic.

“Thought’s self-determination in the course of the book makes no reference to the Absolute’s self-consciousness in order to explain anything…. Any thinking of a content is inherently reflexive in a way that Hegel thinks will allow him to derive from the possible thought of anything at all notions like something and finitude, and ultimately essence, appearance, even the idea of the good…. Hegel thinks that thought is always already giving itself its own content: itself, where that means, roughly, determining that without which it could not be a thought of an object…. But all this can only count as previews of coming attractions” (pp. 91-92).

This is important. The thought that is self-legislating and one with its object, while it doesn’t include mere belief, is being said to include at least some thought that occurs in ordinary life. According to Pippin, thinking far enough through with any content at all has a self-legislating and category-generating character for Hegel.

“The suggestion is that Hegel thinks of anything’s principle of intelligibility, its conceptual form, as an actualization in the Aristotelian sense, the being-at-work or energeia of the thing’s distinct mode of being, not a separate immaterial metaphysical object. In understanding Hegel on this point, we should take fully on board the form-matter, actuality-potentiality language of Aristotle, and so the most interesting kind of hylomorphism, soul-body hylomorphism, as our way of understanding this nonseparateness claim.” (p. 92).

Here I can only applaud.

“To think that for creatures like us, we must distinguish the sensory manifold from the form that informs it is the great temptation to be avoided for Hegel. The power of the eye to see is not a power ‘added’ to a material eye…. The seeing power is the distinct being-at work of that body. The form-content model central to Hegel’s account of logical formality works the same way” (pp. 92-93).

That seeing is not somehow “added” to the eye is another Aristotelian point. The eye is what it is in virtue of what it is for the sake of. Incidentally, Joe Sachs’ translation of Aristotlian energeia as “being-at-work” appears to have a precedent in Hegel’s German.

Pippin’s identification of a being-at-work or actuality with a power here is novel. “Power” commonly appears in translations of (especially Latin scholastic) discourse about potentiality rather than actuality. Power seems to me to be some kind of capability for efficacious action, whereas potentiality and actuality both belong primarily in the register of ends and “for the sake of”. It does make sense that a capability could follow from an actualization or be attributed to it. Paul Ricoeur makes a nice ethical use of capability, but in general I worry that talk about power privileges efficacious action over the intelligible ought and the “for the sake of”.

Pippin returns again to the unity of thinking and being.

“So it is perfectly appropriate to say such things as that for Hegel reality ‘has a conceptual structure’, or ‘only concepts are truly real’, as long as we realize that we are not talking about entities, but about the ‘actualities’ of beings, their modes or ways of being what determinately and intelligibly they are. To say that ‘any object is the concept of itself’ is to say that what it is in being at work being what it is can be determined, has a logos…. We can say that reality comes to self-consciousness in us, or that the light that illuminates beings in their distinct being-at-work is the same light that illuminates their knowability in us, as long as we do not mean a light emanating from individual minds” (pp. 93-94).

“And here again, Hegel’s model of metaphysics… is Aristotelian. And Aristotle’s metaphysics is not modern dogmatic metaphysics, does not concern a ‘supersensible’ reality knowable only by pure reason. In many respects it is a metaphysics of the ordinary: standard sensible objects, especially organic beings and artifacts. This means that in many respects Kant’s critique of rationalist metaphysics in effect ‘misses’ it” (p. 94).

“By and large Hegel means to ‘denigrate’ the immediately given, how things seem to common sense…. This has nothing to do with doubting the external reality of tables and molecules…. The point of Hegel’s denying to finite, empirical reality the gold standard badge of true actuality is not to say that it ‘possesses’ a lesser degree of reality in the traditional sense (whatever that might mean). It is to say that finite objects viewed in their finitude, or considered as logical atoms, can never reveal the possibility of their own intelligibility” (pp. 96-97).

This provides a clue to the negative connotations of finitude in Hegel. It has far more positive connotations for me, but I consider the primary meaning of “finitude” to be a dependence on other things, which is as different as could be from logical atomicity. This is another different use of words, not a difference on what is or ought to be. If “finite” is taken to mean “to be treated as a logical atom” as Pippin suggests, the negative connotations are appropriate.

Logic and Metaphysics

In Emancipatory Logic? I began a walk-through of Robert Pippin’s important Hegel’s Realm of Shadows. This post borrows its title from his second chapter, though it only addresses the first part of it.

According to Pippin, Hegel’s Science of Logic is intended to exhibit the “spontaneous” or “self-generating” actualization of intelligibility. This takes places through the higher-order universals that Kant following Aristotle called “categories”.

Hegel’s “logic” provides his alternative to Kant’s notoriously long and difficult argument for the possibility of a priori knowledge that is not merely analytic, and to Kant’s derivation of the categories. As an exercise in what Aristotle called first philosophy, it is not supposed to depend on anything else.

By his own lights Hegel is extremely concerned with concreteness. He is therefore very conscious that his “logic as first philosophy” only addresses possible actualizations of intelligibility, and doesn’t derive anything real. We might think that the actualization of intelligibility would be a realm of light, but here the concern is with the emergence of light, hence his curious metaphor that “logic” is a realm of shadows.

“Hegel follows Kant’s innovation in his response to the empiricist challenge…. The basic question is, How could there possibly be objectively valid concepts, true of all objects, but not derived from experience? Where could they come from? In Hegel’s terms, this amounts to the question, How do concepts that are the products of thought alone ‘give themselves’ content, where by content we mean something extraconceptual?” (pp. 39-40).

Pippin says that Hegel will want “to determine objects in their thinkability, where that means their suitability not for a finite, subjective power, but for thought as such, that is, objects in their intelligibility, in their being at all intelligibly what they are. Their being what they are is their concept, or their ‘being their concept’, for Hegel. The concepts did not come from anywhere, any more than the thinking power comes from anywhere” (p. 40). Hegel aims for a “logic of the knowable as such” (p. 41).

“[Kant’s] critique concerns the modern tradition stemming from Descartes, embodied in Arnauld’s and Nicole’s Port Royal Logic in 1662, as well as the Leibnizian/Wolffian metaphysical tradition. The former held that clarity about the relations between ideas could lead the mind closer to the bearers of philosophical truth, clear and distinct ideas, known passively by the ‘light of reason’. For the latter, the laws of thought simply are the ‘laws of truth’ (to use Frege’s phrase), or a general logic is just thereby a logic of objects, because all philosophical truth is what Kant would call ‘analytic’, arrived at by logical analysis alone” (pp. 41-42).

Pippin emphasizes that Kant and Hegel both reject the early modern (originally Thomistic) idea of passive illumination by a “natural light” of reason. In the original Thomistic context, the idea of a natural light of reason played what I think was a very positive role as a counter-weight to sectarian tendencies in religion, but in the early modern context it led to a new kind of dogmatism.

“With general logic as it was understood in the Port Royal and the Wolffian traditions, [Hegel] agrees that logical reasoning, understood in that way, does not provide knowledge of objects. He especially agrees with Kant that reason and understanding are activities, not passively ‘illuminated’. As ‘that great foe of immediacy’, in Sellars’ phrase, he does not mention or rely on such receptive or noetic intuition. As such a great foe, Hegel is opposed to any notion of self-standing, atomic conceptual content. As he wants so famously to show in a dialectical logic, determinateness is a function of determination, always an identification ‘through an other’, his formulation for discursivity” (p. 42).

For Hegel, there is no determinateness without a prior activity of determination. That activity is a discursive articulation of otherness in its concreteness by means of language.

Hegel’s Science of Logic is divided into what he calls an “objective” logic, consisting in a “logic of being” and a “logic of essence”, and a “subjective” logic, consisting entirely in a “logic of the concept”.

“The logic of being seems clearly to correspond to the Kantian categories of quality and quantity, what Kant called the mathematical and constitutive categories, and the logic of essence certainly seems to correspond to the categories of relation and modality, or the dynamic and regulative categories. The logic of the Concept makes use of the same syllogistic central to Kant’s conception of the role of such an inferential structure in the activity of reason” (p. 43).

Incidentally, I find it intriguing and highly plausible that Hegelian essence would express relation and modality. As much of an improvement as this is over the early modern notion of essence as a putatively self-contained content, it still does not yet address the fluidity of what would have been essence in development over time.

Pippin notes that in an 1812 letter, Hegel also said the objective logic roughly corresponds to the “ontology” he saw articulated in Aristotle’s logical works. I would add that Hegel’s “logic of the concept” moves beyond the “objective” logic in somewhat the same way that the discussion of “substance” in Aristotle’s Metaphysics moves beyond that in the Categories.

Pippin says “there is no question that Hegel both wholeheartedly agreed with Kant’s critique of substantive metaphysics, and realized that that critique applied only to modern metaphysics and left several possibilities open” (p. 44). He quotes Hegel saying “What Kant generally has in mind here is the state of metaphysics of his time…; he neither paid attention to, nor examined, the genuinely speculative ideas of older philosophers on the concept of spirit” (ibid).

He begins to clarify what Hegel more specifically means by logic.

“[F]or both Kant and Hegel, the unit of significance for any logic is not the proposition or any static formal structure but acts of reasoning and assertion” (ibid).

“Hegel’s logic does not primarily concern relations among, operations upon, propositions, and is instead oriented from a logic of terms. So we don’t see a syntax specified by axioms, a proof theory, and a semantics” (ibid).

In mainstream 20th century logic, the older term logic was regarded as a mere historical relic. But since the late 20th century, type theory has provided a formulation of term logic in higher-order mathematics that subsumes not only first-order but also higher-order predicate logic, so even in strictly mathematical terms, term logic is once again highly relevant.

“But as becomes clearer in the logic of the Concept, conceptual content is not provided by analysis of atomistically conceived concepts. Concepts are understood, as they were in Kant, as ‘predicates of possible judgments’, and the roles they play in possible judgments in various contexts, involving other concepts, and the roles they can and cannot play in such judgments (including the inferential relations among the judgments) are necessary to specify such concepts. This is why Hegel metaphorically speaks of concepts as alive, in movement, and why the logic’s ‘motion’ is the key to the specification of any concept…. Concepts are rules for judgmental unification, and judgmental unifications are always apperceptive” (p. 45).

“So the structure of concepts in use is the structure of the apperceptive ‘I’ (ibid; see also Ideas Are Not Inert).

“The concept of the Concept, the apperceptive understanding of the implications of this apperceptive structure, is what Hegel calls ‘the Absolute'” (ibid).

He compares Hegel’s view of concepts to that of the contemporary philosopher John McDowell in Mind and World.

“[I]n McDowell’s view we can certainly distinguish thinking from what is thought (the world is not a thought-thing; thinking is a discursive activity; the world is not a discursive activity) and still insist that the world ‘is made up of the sort of things one can think. (That discursive activity is, in its unity, the unity of anything that can be known would be expressed on the ‘object side’ by claiming that a determinate object is articulable as a single unity.) Or, for example, the profound-sounding (even Heideggerian) claim that there is no ontological gap between thought and world just comes down to the fact that ‘one can think, for instance, that spring has begun, and that very same thing, that spring has begun, can be the case’. What I think when I know (think truly) that something is the case is simply what is the case. It is thus a truism of sorts that, with the issue posed in a Kantian way, ‘the forms of thought are the forms of things…. The distinction between ‘conditions on the possibility of knowledge of things’ and ‘conditions on the possibility of things themselves’, which some use to characterize Kantian idealism, should be rejected ‘on the ground that the relevant conditions are inseparably both conditions on the thought and conditions on objects, not primarily either the one or the other'” (p. 47).

Frege said a fact is a true thought. The early Wittgenstein identified the world with what is the case. Aristotle said there is no difference between thought in the strong sense (nous or “intellect”) and that of which it thinks. Pippin quotes Hegel’s implicit invocation of Aristotle on this point:

“The older metaphysics had in this respect a higher concept of thinking than now passes for accepted opinion. For it presupposed as its principle that only what is known of things and in things by thought is really true [wahrhaft Wahre] in them, that is, what is known in them not in their immediacy but as first elevated to the form of thinking, as things of thought. This metaphysics held that thinking and the determination of thinking are not something alien to the subject matters, but rather are their essence, or that the things and the thinking of them agree in and for themselves (also our language expresses a kinship between them); that thinking in its immanent determinations, and the true nature of things, are one and the same content” (p. 48; see also Form and Things).

Pippin points out that Hegel does not simply identify facts with propositions. Rather, in the spirit of Kant’s unities of apperception, he is concerned with “thought’s agreeing with itself” (p. 51). “The force of a judgment is judgment’s own force; it is not a natural force or the result of the accumulation of empirical data” (p. 52). In a footnote Pippin adds that “‘I did it because I thought I ought to’ could be appealed to to make the same point” (ibid).

“A wolf is not simply, in itself, what it is to be a wolf but to some degree or other a better or worse exemplification of such a concept ‘for itself’. The object is not just ‘as it is’; it is ‘for’ (here, in the sense of ‘for the sake of’) its concept and hereby itself…. This is all in keeping with Hegel’s general tendency to gloss his use of for-itself with Aristotle’s notion of an actualized potential” (pp. 54-55).

“To say that an object is ‘for its form’ is just to say that there is an intelligible dynamic in its development. (As in Aristotle, the particular kind of unity by which any thing or process or activity is what it distinctively is is the unity by virtue of which it is intelligible.)…. This intelligible dynamic is its concept and is not something that exists separate from or supervening on some physical attributes and efficient causation. It just is the intelligible way a development develops; there is nothing ‘over and above’ the development” (p. 55).

Pippin quotes Hegel’s Encyclopedia logic where Hegel specifically recalls Aristotle’s criticism of Plato for neglecting the actuality of forms.

“Self” and “other” are inseparably related in the Logic, as they are in the discussion of self-consciousness in the Phenomenology. In the Logic, “‘for itself’ and ‘for an other’ will be reciprocally dependent notions” (p. 56).

For Hegel, a being “is what it is and not anything else (it is ‘in itself’), but only by virtue of the properties that can intelligibly distinguish it from its contraries (can determine what it is ‘for itself’)…. Accordingly, everything… turns on the sweeping claim that ‘truth [the truth of being, the determination of what things truly are] is self-consciousness [the forms of self-conscious judgment]…. This does not claim it exists only as conceived, or that the conceiving on which its determinacy depends should be understood as subjective mental episodes” (pp. 56-57).

“Thought can determine its objects, but not by appeal to the light of reason, not ‘immediately’…. Much more will have to be said about this, but it will be very important to Hegel that to consider things in their intelligibility is also and at the same time to consider them in terms of the only beings for whom beings can be intelligible, rational beings” (p. 57).

Pippin says that Hegel rejects Kant’s “distinction between things considered in their possible intelligibility and things considered simply as they are in themselves” (p. 58). He again notes that Hegel is neither simply identifying things with thoughts nor identifying thought’s self-determination with anything like the Absolute’s knowledge of itself.

“[T]he initial, simple point at issue now is that anything’s being at all would be mere indeterminate and indistinguishable being were it not conceptually determinate, articulable — in the simplest sense, an instance of a concept” (p. 59).

“And this raises Hegel’s main question in the Logic: how to account for conceptual content…. The answer to that question will depend on two very difficult elements in Hegel’s project: … that the form of the concept is the form of the self, and that, accordingly, truth is self-consciousness; and the claim that the way to understand this content is to understand these concepts as ‘self-negating’, but in a way that promises a positive result” (ibid).

Heidegger, Sartre, Aquinas?

The heyday of existential Thomism is well past, but Etienne Gilson and others were certainly not wrong to take note of a close connection, despite other large differences.

Heidegger in Being and Time (1926) famously claimed that philosophers since Plato had been preoccupied with questions about beings and had lost sight of the central importance of Being writ large. Many 20th century Thomists partially accepted this argument, but contended that Aquinas was an obvious exception, citing Aquinas’ identification of God with pure Being. Heidegger rejected that identification, and would have insisted that Being was not a being at all, not even the unique one in which essence and existence were identified. Nonetheless there is a broad parallel, to the extent that Heidegger and Aquinas each in their own way stress the dependency of beings on Being.

In some circles, Aquinas has been criticized for promoting a “philosophers’ God”. But according to Burrell, Aquinas argued in effect that on the assumption that there is only one God, the God of Summa Theologica and the God of common doctrine must be acknowledged to have the same referent even if they have different senses, like Frege’s example of the morning star and the evening star.

Sartre in his 1945 lecture “Existentialism is a Humanism” put forth the formula that “existence precedes essence”. Aquinas in Being and Essence had argued that God has no essence other than existence. Sartre argued in effect that the human has no essence other than existence. In his context, this is to say either that the human essence consists only in matters of fact, or that there is simply no such thing as a human essence.

Sartre’s use of the word “essence” reflects a straw-man caricature of bad essentialism. Whatever we may say that essence really is, contrary to Sartre’s usage it is supposed to be distinguished from simple matters of fact. On the other hand, in formal logic, existence does reduce to matters of fact.

What Aquinas, Heidegger, and Sartre have in common is that they all want to treat existence as something that transcends the merely factual and formal-logical. Speaking schematically, it is rather the analogues of essence that transcend the merely factual in the Platonic and Aristotelian traditions. Thus Aquinas made a major innovation in inventing a new, unprecedented concept of existence that transcends the factual. I’m inclined, however, to sympathize with Dietrich of Freiberg’s argument that the concept of essence could already do all the work that Aquinas’ new supercharged concept of existence was supposed to do.

What is important for practical purposes is that there is something that transcends the merely factual. I think the close connection of “essence” with form and ends makes it an ideal candidate. The big difference between form and ends on the one hand and facts on the other is that logically speaking, facts can be arbitrary, whereas any form or end or essence necessarily implies some nonarbitrary order.

For Aquinas, God is simultaneously a fact and more than fact, and is unique in this regard. Nothing else has this dual status. Sartre transferred this unique dual status to the human. By contrast, the neoplatonic One is strictly more than fact — in traditional language, the One as source of being was said to be “beyond being” altogether. The 20th century theologian Paul Tillich quipped that it could be considered blasphemy to say that God exists (because “existence” is mundane and factual).

The “To-Be itself” of Aquinas, while profoundly innovative with respect to previous tradition and certainly not strictly Aristotelian, is nonetheless arguably more Aristotelian in spirit than the neoplatonic One, insofar as it is less ambiguous about the goodness of the actual world. Plotinus struggled mightily to reconcile a commitment to the goodness and beauty of this actual world with an ascetic tendency to devalue all finite things in face of the infinite One. In Aquinas there is still some tension between the reality of secondary causes and the absolute dependence of everything on God, but I think it is fair to say that the way Aquinas sets up the problem makes the reconciliation easier to achieve. This was a huge accomplishment. Nonetheless, taking into account other factors like assertions about the place of omnipotence and sheer power in the scheme of things, my overall sympathies lie more with the neoplatonic “strictly more than fact” perspective, and even more so with Aristotle’s more modest view that the “First” cause is strictly a final cause.

A Thomistic Grammar of Action

David Burrell’s Aquinas: God and Action (1st ed. 1979; 3rd ed. 2016) is a very interesting unorthodox sympathetic treatment that provides much food for thought. Burrell’s reading of Aquinas’ notion of action is quite different than what I expected to find — more Aristotelian and less proto-modern. How to relate this to the less favorable picture of Aquinas that emerges from Gwenaëlle Aubry’s account — which heavily emphasizes how Aristotelian concern with ends and the good is displaced by the notion of the priority of divine omnipotence, which is not discussed by Burrell — is an open question.

“This is philosophy as therapy, not as theory” (p. 17). “[P]roofs play an ancillary role at best in the theological task [Aquinas] sets himself: to elucidate the parameters of responsible discourse about God” (p. 9). “It seems that he regarded philosophy’s role in these matters less after the model of a scientific demonstration than as a manuductio: literally, a taking-by-the-hand-and-leading-along…. This somewhat novel contention is designed deliberately to help us rediscover philosophy in its proper medieval dress” (pp. 15-16).

“He is not proposing a synthesis of religious experience. He does not write to edify, nor does he appeal to religious life or practice as offering relevant evidence for his assertions” (p. 18).

Noting the intensive preoccupation of 13th century writers with logic and language, Burrell characterizes Aquinas’ work as principally a sort of philosophical grammar designed mainly to show what cannot be properly said of God. He suggests that we take Aquinas’ expressions of negative theology with utmost seriousness. Aquinas’ positive theology should be taken not as a doctrine of God (which would undermine the seriousness of his negative theology), but rather as an exploration of the limits of language.

God for Aquinas is ipsum esse, “to-be itself”. “Odd as it may seem, however, this assertion does not succeed in telling us whether God exists. For its form is not that of an existential assertion, but of a definition giving the nature of the thing in question” (p. 8).

For Aquinas according to Burrell, “to-be itself” cannot be properly described. What appear to be descriptions of God in Aquinas’ works need to be interpreted in some other way. Aquinas uses language indirectly to show what it cannot say, “to increase our awareness of what we are doing in speaking as we do” (p. 7). “Where less patient thinkers would invoke paradox, Aquinas is committed to using every resource available to state clearly what can be stated….We cannot pretend to offer a description of a transcendent object without betraying its transcendence. But reflecting on the rules of discourse brings to light certain contours of discourse itself. And those very outlines can function in lieu of empirical knowledge to give us a way of characterizing what we could not otherwise describe” (ibid).

Metaphysics involves no arcane method or privileged noetic access, only “an adept use of skills commonly possessed” (ibid).

“What people have failed to do is to take seriously Aquinas’ disclaimer about our being able to know what God is…. By attending closely to what Aquinas does, we can see that he is scrupulously faithful to that original limitation. What God is like is treated in the most indirect way possible” (p. 15). When we say that we clearly know a proposition about God to be true, we are in fact speaking only “of God in so far as he is the proper cause of certain effects” (p. 9). “If whatever we can say about something reflects the formal feature of compositeness, anything lacking it will lie quite beyond the range of our linguistic tools” (p. 17).

“[O]ne could easily mistake the logical treatment for a more substantive doctrine…. [Aquinas] even encourages the confusion by using object-language constructions to do metalinguistic jobs. Yet he had clearly warned us that he was not undertaking to treat of God’s nature” (p. 19).

Aquinas is commonly understood to have taught that although “being” has no one univocal meaning, there is an “analogy of being” that makes its meaning uniform by analogy. I have been at some pains to point out that scholarship does not support attributing this view to Aristotle, as is also commonly done. Burrell says it is a serious mistake to attribute it to Aquinas — the analogy of being was actually pieced together by Cajetan, and depends on views significantly different from those of Aquinas.

Actus stands out as the master metaphor guiding Aquinas’ grammatical treatment of divinity” (p. 130). “It is the distinctively human activities of knowing and loving which offer Aquinas a paradigm for understanding action more generally” (p. 131). Here we are very far indeed from Gwenaëlle Aubry’s emphasis on the relation of action in Aquinas to a very non-Aristotelian notion of power. This certainly complicates the picture.

Burrell thinks Aquinas would agree that “exists” is not a predicate. He also thinks that “existentialist” readings of Aquinas miss the mark, and are distinguished by an inattention to language.

“Aquinas’ account neatly avoids what most of us today are persuaded lies at the heart of human action: decision” (p. 140). “[F]or Aquinas willing remains an activity of reason, broadly speaking. So it is proper that the pattern of receptivity be preserved in the consent which lies at the heart of more manifest voluntary actions like choosing. Furthermore, properly speaking, it seems that ends or goals are rarely chosen or even decided upon. Rather they grow on us. Or is it that we grow into them?” (ibid).

“It is at this point that one appreciates how a philosophical analysis works, especially in dissolving pseudo-problems. I have remarked how Aquinas’ analysis of action appears truncated. For it seems that the development of habitus [Latin for Aristotle’s hexis] as a proximate principle of activity demands one more step: to articulate what it is who acts. Such a step would carry us to the ‘transcendental ego’. But Aquinas neatly avoids that problem by recognizing there is no step at all. The one who acts, as Aquinas views the matter, is articulated in the remote and proximate principles of action. Nothing more need be said because nothing more can be said: the self we know is known by those characteristics that mark it” (p. 144).

“Aquinas manages to clear away certain endemic yet misleading ways of conceiving causal process by refusing to accept ’cause’ as the primary meaning of actus” (p. 146).

“Let me first put it paradoxically: the act of making something happen (causation) is not itself an action. As Aquinas analyzes it, causing an effect is properly a relation. The fact that A causes something to happen in B requires acts, of course, but it itself is not an action distinct from these” (p. 147). “In short, what happens is what we see happening to B (or in B). We say that A is causing this to happen, not because we ascertain that something is going on between them…, but simply because we understand that B depends on A to this extent…. Thus, causing does not have to be explained as a further act by the agent. It is, in fact, more accurately structured as a relation of dependence” (p. 148).

“The merit of Aquinas’ analysis is to exorcise the demand that a specific action be identified as ‘the causal process’. He succeeds, moreover, in locating ‘the causal nexus’ squarely in the category of relation. Causality can thus be explained as an ordering relation, given the capacities to act and to be acted upon in the factors so related…. [But] considerable intellectual therapy is always required to render plausible a formal or relational account of causality” (p. 158).

“A causal model misleads us, moreover, when we inquire into the source of action. That road leads one to adopt the language of will. We have already noted how elusive a notion will is…. Actions, however, require justifications rather than explanations — precisely in the measure that they are actions and not movements. Whoever understands actions to be the sort of thing for which the agent takes responsibility appreciates the import of this distinction. Hence Aquinas insisted that the will is an intellectual appetite, thus consciously adopting an intentional rather than a causal model in accounting for action” (p. 190).

All this is much closer to my reading of Aristotle than I expected. There is apparently also a much bigger distance between efficient causes in Aquinas and in Suárez than I thought. Suárez reportedly had just the notion of “influence” between cause and effect that Burrell finds to be absent in Aquinas.

Being and Creation

Gaven Kerr in Aquinas and the Metaphysics of Creation (2019) argues that Aquinas’ original notion of esse (being or existence, as distinct from essence or the “what it is” of a thing) is the common root of both his account of creation and his distinctive metaphysics (see Being and Essence). “In focusing on esse Thomas is the first to take note of the centrality of the actual existence of things as a metaphysically significant feature of them, rather than simply a general fact about them” (p. 50).

“All other metaphysical components such as matter and form are subject to esse, so that without esse there would be no actuality. Esse then is the act of all acts, and in being so it is the perfection of all perfections” (pp. 50-51). Pure esse is a name for God. Other beings receive the esse without which they would not exist from God’s act of creation.

Kerr cites arguments that neither Plato nor Aristotle had a concept of being as sheer existence. Only Avicenna seems to have preceded Aquinas in this regard. Aquinas considers the emphasis on being as existence to be more universal, and therefore an advance.

It seems to me that Aquinas’ esse as sheer existence is a new super-concept that will implicitly redefine the meaning of existing Aristotelian concepts, for which the old names will still be used. The novelty of esse will be largely hidden due to a combination of ordinary practices of translation; its apparent common-sense character; and the use of familiar Aristotelian terms with transformed meanings.

Aquinas developed a correlative notion of ens commune or “common being” as the subject matter of a reformulated metaphysics, based on his famous interpolation of a uniformly analogous sense of being in Aristotle.

Creation as the immediate bringing of things into being from nothing becomes the new model for efficient causation (quite unlike Aristotle’s art of building). Efficient causes meanwhile become the most important kind of cause.

According to Kerr, the act of creation should not be conceived as the first event in a series. It is characterized more abstractly in terms of what Kerr calls the absolute dependency of beings on Being. It is not a kind of change. Whole causal series are created instantaneously. What is created is the total substance.

Aquinas steered a middle course between Bonaventure, who claimed to prove that creation implied a beginning in time, and Siger of Brabant, who held that natural reason implied the eternity of the world. Aquinas argued that both are possible according to natural reason.

Kerr argues that Aquinas’ notion of creation is agnostic to questions of natural science, and fully compatible with, e.g., Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. “When it comes to metaphysics, Thomas is committed to thinking through the issues involved therein on the basis of natural reason” (p. 4).

Kerr makes the interesting argument that mathematics and natural science are limited because they consider only the essence of things, and not their existence. He says Aquinas would have us focus on what it means for things to be rather than not to be.