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.

Negation and Negativity

“Hegel is willing to say some extraordinary things about the concept he sometimes calls ‘negation’, sometimes ‘negativity’. What he has been taken to mean has been the source of most of the criticism of Hegel: that he confused logical negation with actual opposition, as in the oppositions of forces or magnitudes in general in the world; that he thought everything in the world contradicted itself, and so believed that pairs of contradictory judgments could both be affirmed; or simply that what he said about negation and contradiction cannot be coherently understood. And any commentator must face the fact that he invoked the notion of negation in many different contexts in many different ways. So the first task is to have in view that variety of contexts before we can understand what they all might have in common (if anything)” (Pippin, Hegel’s Realm of Shadows, p. 139).

Some time ago I touched on the most elementary parts of this thorny issue in Contradiction vs Polarity. My basic sense at this point is that Hegel does indeed have very worthwhile things to say on this very distinctive theme of his, but that the standard connotations of his core vocabulary for talking about it — negation, negativity, contradiction — are so impoverished relative to what he really means in his extensive and varied metaphorical uses of it that the vocabulary does not communicate well.

Pippin identifies five somewhat overlapping contexts that ought to be taken into account in a serious interpretation of Hegelian negation: the nature of thinking; the talk about freedom; the nature of intelligibility; the notion of speculative truth; and the talk about contradiction.

In the context of the nature of thinking, he says “In the simplest sense, we are talking about the logical structure of apperceptive intentional knowledge, as well as the ontological status of agency. What it means to claim that the intelligibility of any content of empirical knowledge is not… wholly ‘positive’… is best understood by contrast. If it were not so and were wholly positive, subjectivity would be something like a mere complex registering and responding device (of the same ontological status as a thermometer) ” (p. 141).

“As we have seen, one is not simply wholly absorbed in the presence of the world to one, not wholly and merely reactive to the stimulation of sensibility, and that ‘not’ is the beginning (but certainly not the end) of all the logical issues of negation that emerge in Hegel’s philosophy, at both the phenomenological and the logical level. In making such a judgment I ‘negate’ the mere immediacy or givenness of perceptual content, negate it as immediate and putatively given, and take up, am always taking up, a position of sorts about what is there, what is the case” (p. 142).

The suggestion is that all “taking” of things to be thus-and-such for Hegel implicitly involves a negation of immediacy.

“What thinking is is such a ‘negation’ of one’s immediate ‘positive’ state. (One can say: this negation of mere immediacy is ‘taking a stand’, rather than being put into a state.) Any thinking could be a seeming-to-be-the-case, not what is the case, and that possibility is constitutive of the act’s being a judging in the first place…. The constitutive feature attended to in a Hegelian philosophical logic is the fact that judgments are potentially responsive to reasons and revisions just qua judgments” (ibid).

Pippin thus cites responsiveness to reasons as another non-obvious instance of negation for Hegel.

“And in being an agent, I am not simply causally responsive to inclinations and desires; there is no ‘fullness of positive being’ here either. I interrupt or negate positive being (what I feel inclined to do, experience as wanting to do) by deliberating and resolving what to do” (p. 143).

Deliberation is another non-obvious instance.

“As noted before, the closest first and general approximation of what he means is Aristotelian: subjectivity (thinking and acting according to norms) is the distinct being-at-work… of the biological life form that is the human, reason-responsive substance; this in the same sense in which Aristotle says, if the eye were body, seeing would be its form, its distinctive being-at work” (ibid).

Subjectivity in general is another.

“Instead of thinking of the fundamental act of understanding as a synthesis of independent, originally unrelated elements, either by subsuming an individual under a concept, or by including one concept under another, we should understand ourselves, both in experience and in logical reflection, beginning with ‘wholes’, never with experiential or logical subsentential simples [individual words] or atoms” (pp. 143-144).

Hegel presents this last point as a sort of inversion of Kant, and it does speak to some of Kant’s language. But I would argue that the true starting point of Kantian synthesis is not experiential or logical atoms, but rather the sensible manifold in intuition, which is only potentially differentiable. This brings Kant closer to Hegel. True, the manifold has such a loose unity that arguably it might have trouble qualifying as a “whole”, but even less does it consist in already predifferentiated “atoms”. In Kant I think we have no basis for identifying putative atoms in experience until “after” the figurative synthesis of imagination has done its work. (It is the preconscious, in a non-Kantian sense “spontaneous” figurative synthesis that for Kant creates an inevitable gap between being and thinking, and that for Hegel gives us the fixed representations relied upon by common sense.)

In the context of freedom, Pippin says that “In the same way that judging, insofar as it is genuine, holds open the possibility of its negation or disconfirmation, just by being judging, not by virtue of any second, reflective act…, a deliberation about action, if it is to be a deliberation, is open to the force of reasons the agent has already accepted by deliberating at all, a possibility criterial for his acting at all…. [Hegel] is insisting on the logical or categorical requirements of the normative, and in that sense (the sense in which freedom is normatively constrained judgment and rational action), the negative (here only the possibility of not doing what I am powerfully inclined to do) is ‘that by which a person is free’. (And he does not mean any uncaused causality, but that which counts to the subject as a reason” (p. 147).

Normativity in general thus counts as depending on a kind of negation.

“In terms of the structure of the Logic, what Hegel will want to argue is that we cannot adequately explain freedom if we consider just a determinate property that some beings happen to have…, and we cannot explain it either as a kind of essential ideal, manifest in but never adequately expressed in its appearances, in concrete individual actions…. We need the logic of the Concept, in which concepts are said to ‘give themselves their own content’ and be ‘self-determining’ in a way indebted to [the] Kantian claim on self-legislation…. Any philosophical determination of actuality must be understood as ‘self-legislating’ in the broad sense [that] reason relies only on itself in determining such a normative structure. These are not empirical questions. There is no flash of ‘essence intuition’ (Wesenschau) giving access to a world of abstract immaterial objects, essences” (p. 148).

Self-legislation too involves some subtle kind of negation.

In the context of the nature of intelligibility, Pippin says “Every determination of every sort of content in the Logic is a negation of some insufficient determinacy that must be able to be conceived positively” (p. 153). This is another way of characterizing the basis of the notorious “movement” in Hegel’s logic.

The determination of content for sure involves negation.

In the context of speculative truth, he mentions that “[E]valuative judgments, like ‘this action is good’, or our familiar ‘this is a bad house’, will be paradigmatic examples of judgment in the logic of the Concept. They do not qualitatively specify a thing by distinguishing it from other things; they do not identify the appearances that show the ‘essence’ of the thing; they understand the content ‘in terms of its concept'” (p. 154).

Evaluation of anything against its concept is another subtle variety.

In the context of the notorious “contradiction”, Pippin says “So in a general sense, one has to say that a thing… ‘includes’ its contrary, or more precisely its relation to its contrary, in order to be, and be known to be, what it is. Neither of these ‘moments’ of negation involves contradiction in the Aristotelian sense because ‘is’ and ‘is not’, while said of the same thing and at the same time, are not meant in the same sense. But Hegel wants for various reasons to call such an analyzed state a ‘contradiction’, and there is some ground in the use of the term for saying that…. In the simplest sense, personifying the process, what someone intends to say, means to say, can be ‘contradicted’ by what is actually said, what he finds he has to or can say” (p. 156).

Evaluation of any outcome against intent is another.

Pippin notes that Hegel says retrospectively at the end of the Logic that the abstract treatment typical of the logic of being and the logic of essence is due to “mere opinion” or lack of awareness of what it is actually treating. “It cannot say what it means to say” (p. 157). This is yet another way of characterizing the Logic‘s “movement”.

Logical “movement” is another.

“Hegel’s speculative notion of contradiction is not predicate or sentence negation…. [H]e means to focus attention on concept negation…. Now concepts, understood as rules, have content by being understood to have the content that they have. To understand a rule is to know how to use it, and in using it, to know one is following it…. So understanding… is not… ‘grasping a content’ but understanding what the rule instructs us to think. That is, the concept is always already a moment of discursive activity, a thinking through of its implications” (pp. 158-159).

“[T]he considerations discussed so far should not be understood to be matters of formal clarity…. As Hegel insisted, we are not studying how we think about (or talk about) matters (or even how we ‘must’ think). The question is a question about ‘any possible intelligibility’, and so about being in its intelligibility, … not ‘our ways’ of rendering intelligible” (p. 160).

All the above varieties of “negation” involve normativity in one way or another. Here Pippin again emphasizes the universality of criteria of intelligibility that Hegel counterposes to the Kantian gap between thinking and being.

“The forms of intelligibility are the forms of what could be true, although they do not settle the question of what, in particular, is true” (p. 175).

“[O]ur first orientation in trying to understand Hegelian negation should be not the logical operation of predicate or sentence negation, but real opposition…. [Michael] Wolff also thinks that the controversy in the eighteenth century about positive and negative magnitudes, especially as it surfaced in Kant, as well as the emerging clarity about negative numbers, played a far larger role in the development of Hegel’s thinking about negation and contradiction than did a reflection on the logic of the formal operator” (pp. 177-178).

Real opposition is an instance of contrariety, which is actually much more relevant to Hegel than formal logical contradiction.

“Hegel’s category of becoming, so important at the beginning of the logic of being, owes much to Hegel’s defense of Newton and the latter’s doctrine of the becoming equal of magnitudes” (pp. 178-179).

“Critics like Crusius were aghast at the idea of forces having positive and negative values. But Kant understood that such ‘values’ (and here again an important precedent for Hegel) had those values in relation to each other, not absolutely, that they were relative values, arbitrarily reversible even” (pp. 179-180).

Negative magnitudes are another instance of contrariety.

“This is not the sense of contradiction throughout the Logic, but it gives us enough background… to appreciate that Hegel is neither a lunatic for saying that ‘everything is contradictory’, nor a mystical Heraclitean” (p. 180).

Pippin devotes nearly half of this chapter to critical remarks about Brandom’s interpretation of Hegelian negation as material incompatibility, which involves a more nuanced form of contrariety. He says Brandom’s reading very well captures the meaning of negation in Hegel’s logic of being, but is inadequate for what Hegel goes on to do in the logic of essence and the logic of the concept. For example, material incompatibility alone is insufficient to explain things like the “self-legislation” of the concept or the idea of the good, but Hegel at least claims that these have something to do with the concept of negation.

Brandom’s interpretation of Hegelian negation seemed to me incomparably clearer than Hegel himself, so until now I have adopted it enthusiastically as a charitable rendering of what Hegel ought to have said to better express his meaning. This is the first of many counter-arguments to Brandom I have seen that really seems to me to at least raise a serious question, but for now I will forego another lengthy tangent.

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.

Everyday Belief

In ordinary life we are guided by well-founded beliefs about many things of which, strictly speaking, we do not have knowledge. Our beliefs are still well-founded in the sense that if asked, we can give reasons for them, and plausibly respond to questions about those reasons. We ought to continue to hold those beliefs, unless and until we are confronted with better reasons for a different conclusion.

Brandom would remind us that we have an implicit ethical obligation to keep our beliefs in good repair. We have a responsibility for the consequences of applying our beliefs. We have a responsibility not to hypocritically pretend to hold incompatible beliefs. In general, we have a responsibility to take our explicit and implicit commitments seriously. This entails a willingness to participate in dialogue, to explain our reasons and answer questions about them.

McDowell on the Space of Reasons

John McDowell’s paper “Sellars and the Space of Reasons” (2018) provides a useful discussion of this concept. Unlike Brandom, who aims to complete Sellars’ break with empiricism, McDowell ultimately wants to defend “a non-traditional empiricism, uncontaminated by the Myth of the Given” (p. 1).

McDowell begins by quoting Sellars: “in characterizing an episode or a state as that of knowing, we are not giving an empirical description of that episode or state; we are placing it in the logical space of reasons, of justifying and being able to justify what one says” (ibid; emphasis added).

For Sellars, to speak of states of knowing is to talk about “epistemic facts”. A bit later, McDowell says that Sellars’ epistemic facts also include judgments and uses of concepts that might not be considered knowledge. Not only beliefs but also desires end up as a kind of epistemic facts. McDowell uses this to argue that the space of reasons is a version of the concept of knowledge as justified true belief. I want to resist this last claim.

McDowell points out that knowledge for Sellars has a normative character. Sellars also regards the foundationalist claim that epistemic facts can be explained entirely in terms of non-epistemic facts (physiology of perception and so on) as of a piece with the naturalistic fallacy in ethics.

McDowell cites Donald Davidson’s contrast between space-of-reasons intelligibility and the kind of regularity-based intelligibility that applies to a discipline like physics, but does not want to assume there is a single model for all non-space-of-reasons intelligibility.

He notes that Sellars contrasts placing something in the space of reasons with empirical description, but wants to weaken that distinction, allowing epistemic facts to be grounded in experience, and to be themselves subject to empirical description. “Epistemic facts are facts too” (p. 5). I prefer going the other direction, and saying empirical descriptions are judgments too.

The space of reasons is only occupied by speakers. Sellars is quoted saying, “all awareness of sorts, resemblances, facts, etc., in short all awareness of abstract entities — indeed, all awareness even of particulars — is a linguistic affair” (p. 7, emphasis in original). “And when Sellars connects being appropriately positioned in the space of reasons with being able to justify what one says, that is not just a matter of singling out a particularly striking instance of having a justified belief, as if that idea could apply equally well to beings that cannot give linguistic expression to what they know” (ibid).

“‘Inner’ episodes with conceptual content are to be understood on the model of overt performances in which people, for instance, say that things are thus and so” (p. 8). “What Sellars proposes is that the concept of, for instance, perceptual awareness that things are thus and so should be understood on the model of the concept of, for instance, saying that things are thus and so” (p. 10). All good so far.

To be in the space of reasons, “the subject would need to be able to step back from the fact that it is inclined in a certain direction by the circumstance. It would need to be able to raise the question whether it should be so inclined” (pp. 10-11, emphasis in original). But McDowell says — and I agree — that this is without prejudice as to whether there is still a kind of kinship between taking reasons as reasons, on the one hand, and the purposeful behaviors of animals, on the other.

McDowell acknowledges that the idea that epistemic facts can only be justified by other epistemic facts is easy to apply to inferential knowledge, but rather harder to apply to the “observational knowledge” that he claims should also be included in the space of reasons. For McDowell, observational knowledge is subject to a kind of justification by other facts.

McDowell and Brandom both recognize something called “observational knowledge”, but Brandom thinks that it necessarily involves appeal to claimed non-epistemic facts, whereas McDowell wants to broaden the concept of epistemic facts enough to be able to say that observational knowledge can be justified by appealing only to epistemic facts. I would prefer to say, observational judgments are subject to a kind of tentative justification by other judgments.

McDowell says that acquiring knowledge noninferentially is also an exercise of conceptual capacities. This clearly implies a noninferential conception of the conceptual, and seems to me to presuppose a representationalist one instead. This has huge consequences.

He says that the space of reasons must include noninferential relations of justification, which work by appeal to additional facts rather by inference. But where did those facts come from? In light of Kant, I would say that we rational animals never have direct access to facts that just are what they are. Rather, if we are being careful, we should recognize that we can only consider claims and judgments of fact, which may be relatively well-founded or not. But appeal to claims of fact for justification is just passing the buck. Claims of any sort always require justification of their own.

As an example, McDowell discusses claims to know that something is green in color. As non-inferential justification in this context, he says one might say that “This is a good light for telling the colours of things by looking” (p. 18). That is fine as a criterion for relatively well-founded belief, but that is all it is.

A bit later, he adds, “I can tell a green thing when I see one, at least in a good light, viewed head-on, and so forth. A serviceable gloss on that remark is to say that if I claim, in suitable circumstances, that something is green, then it is” (p. 19).

This is to explicitly endorse self-certification of one’s authority. It is therefore ultimately to allow the claim, it’s true because I said so. I think it was a rejection on principle of this kind of self-certification that led Plato to sharply distinguish knowledge from belief.

As Aristotle pointed out in discussing the relation between what he respectively called “demonstration” and “dialectic”, we can apply the same kinds of inference both to things we take as true and to things we are examining hypothetically. We can make only hypothetical inferences (if A, then B) from claims or judgments of A; we can only legitimately make categorical inferences (A, therefore B) from full-fledged knowledge of A — which, to be such, must at minimum not beg the question or pass the buck of justification.

The great majority of our real-world reasoning is ultimately hypothetical rather than categorical, even though we routinely act as if it were categorical. One of Kant’s great contributions was to point out that — contrary to scholastic and early modern tradition — hypothetical judgement is a much better model of judgment in general than categorical judgment is. The general form of judgment is conditional, and not absolute.

I think it’s fine to include beliefs, opinions, and judgments in the space of reasons as McDowell wants to do, provided we recognize their ultimately hypothetical and tentative character. But once we recognize the hypothetical and tentative character of beliefs, I think it follows that all relations within the space of reasons can be construed as inferential.

I don’t think contemporary science has much to do with so-called observational knowledge of the “it is green” variety, either. Rather, it has to do partly with applications of mathematics, and partly with well-controlled experiments, in which the detailed conditions of the controls are far more decisive than the observational component. The prejudice that simple categorical judgments like “it is green” have anything to do with science is a holdover from old foundationalist theories of sense data.

I would also contend that all putative non-space-of-reasons intelligibility ultimately depends on space-of-reasons intelligibility. (See also What We Saw.)

Logic for Expression

In recent times, Robert Brandom has pioneered the idea that the role of logic is primarily expressive. In his 2018 essay “From Logical Expressivism to Expressivist Logic”, he says this means its purpose is “to make explicit the inferential relations that articulate the semantic contents of the concepts expressed by the use of ordinary, nonlogical vocabulary” (p. 70).

In my humble opinion, this is what logic was really supposed to be about in Aristotle, but the tradition did not follow Aristotle. Aristotle insisted that logic is a “tool” not a science, but most later authors have assumed the contrary — that logic was the “science” of correct reasoning, or perhaps the science of consequence relations. Several scholars have nonetheless rediscovered the idea that the purpose of logical demonstration in Aristotle is not to prove truths, but to express reasoned arguments as clearly as possible.

Brandom says that “the task of logic is to provide mathematical tools for articulating the structure of reasoning” (p. 71). People were reasoning in ordinary life long before logic was invented, and continue to do so. But the immensely fertile further development of logic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was mostly geared toward the formalization of mathematics. Reasoning in most specialized disciplines — such as the empirical sciences, medicine, and law — actually resembles reasoning in ordinary life more than it does specifically mathematical reasoning.

According to Brandom, “The normative center of reasoning is the practice of assessing reasons for and against conclusions. Reasons for conclusions are normatively governed by relations of consequence or implication. Reasons against conclusions are normatively governed by relations of incompatibility. These relations of implication and incompatibility, which constrain normative assessment of giving reasons for and against claims, amount to the first significant level of structure of the practice of giving reasons for and against claims.”

“These are, in the first instance, what Sellars called ‘material’ relations of implication and incompatibility. That is, they do not depend on the presence of logical vocabulary or concepts, but only on the contents of non- or prelogical concepts. According to semantic inferentialism, these are the relations that articulate the conceptual contents expressed by the prelogical vocabulary that plays an essential role in formulating the premises and conclusions of inferences” (pp. 71-72).

“Material” relations of consequence and incompatibility have a different structure from formal ones. Formal consequence is monotonic, which means that adding new premises does not change the consequences of existing premises. Formal contradiction is “explosive”, in the sense that any contradiction whatsoever makes it possible to “prove” anything whatsoever (both true statements and their negations), thereby invalidating the very applicability of proof. But as Brandom reminds us, “outside of mathematics, almost all our actual reasoning is defeasible” (p. 72). Material consequence is nonmonotonic, which means that adding new premises could change the consequences of existing ones. Material incompatibilities can often be “fixed” by adding new, specialized premises. (As I somewhere heard Aquinas was supposed to have said, “When faced with a contradiction, introduce a distinction”.)

Brandom notes that “Ceteris paribus [“other things being equal”] clauses do not magically turn nonmonotonic implications into monotonic ones. (The proper term for a Latin phrase whose recitation can do that is ‘magic spell’.) The expressive function characteristic of ceteris paribus clauses is rather explicitly to mark and acknowledge the defeasibility, hence nonmonotonicity, of an implication codified in a conditional, not to cure it by fiat” (p. 73).

“There is no good reason to restrict the expressive ambitions with which we introduce logical vocabulary to making explicit the rare material relations of implication and incompatibility that are monotonic. Comfort with such impoverished ambition is a historical artifact of the contingent origins of modern logic in logicist and formalist programs aimed at codifying specifically mathematical reasoning. It is to be explained by appeal to historical causes, not good philosophical reasons” (ibid). On the other hand, making things explicit should be conservative in the sense of not changing existing implications.

“…[W]e should not emulate the drunk who looks for his lost keys under the lamp-post rather than where he actually dropped them, just because the light is better there. We should look to shine light where we need it most” (ibid).

For relations of material consequence, the classical principle of “explosion” should be replaced with the weaker one that “if [something] is not only materially incoherent (in the sense of explicitly containing incompatible premises) but persistently so, that is incurably, indefeasibly
incoherent, in that all of its supersets are also incoherent, then it implies everything” (p. 77).

“The logic of nonmonotonic consequence relations is itself monotonic. Yet it can express, in the logically extended object language, the nonmonotonic relations of implication and incompatibility that structure both the material, prelogical base language, and the logically compound sentences formed from them” (p. 82).

Material consequence relations themselves may or may not be monotonic. Instead of requiring monotonicity globally, it can be declared locally by means of a modal operator. “Logical expressivists want to introduce logical vocabulary that explicitly marks the difference between those implications and incompatibilities that are persistent under the addition of arbitrary auxiliary hypotheses or collateral commitments, and those that are not. Such vocabulary lets us draw explicit boundaries around the islands of monotonicity to be found surrounded by the sea of nonmonotonic material consequences and incompatibilities” (p. 83).

Ranges of subjunctive robustness can also be explicitly declared. “The underlying thought is that the most important information about a material implication is not whether or not it is monotonic — though that is something we indeed might want to know. It is rather under what circumstances it is robust and under what collateral circumstances it would be defeated” (p. 85).

“The space of material implications that articulates the contents of the nonlogical concepts those implications essentially depend upon has an intricate localized structure of subjunctive robustness and defeasibility. That is the structure we want our logical expressive tools to help us characterize. It is obscured by commitment to global structural monotonicity—however appropriate such a commitment might be for purely logical relations of implication and incompatibility” (pp. 85-86).

“Logic does not supply a canon of right reasoning, nor a standard of rationality. Rather, logic takes its place in the context of an already up-and-running rational enterprise of making claims and giving reasons for and against claims. Logic provides a distinctive organ of self-consciousness for such a rational practice. It provides expressive tools for talking and thinking, making claims, about the relations of implication and incompatibility that structure the giving of reasons for and against claims” (p. 87).

Ethical Practice

In Kant, practical means ethical. This initially seemed counter-intuitive to me. Like many, I used to think of the “practical” in technical and utilitarian terms, as how we realize desired results. I also used to think considerations of value needed to be guided by considerations of truth, and that pursuing the truth far enough and sincerely enough would spontaneously provide sufficient answers to ethical questions. I would no longer put it that way. I now think that the pursuit of truth, taken far enough, shows things to be “normative all the way down”, in Brandom’s phrase. Even the most narrowly technical considerations ultimately involve questions of value. Conversely, inquiry into values is the one kind of inquiry that need not presuppose any other.

Ethics are not a spontaneous byproduct of inquiry into the truth. In order to sincerely inquire into the truth, we need to deliberately focus on all the questions of value that come up along the way and affect our judgments. As a result, I now think of ethical practice as subsuming every other kind of practice.

Ethical inquiry is concerned with what we should do, which includes the details of how we do it. Every kind of doing is subject to this kind of consideration.

Engineering, to take one non-obvious example, is not just about coming up with designs that “work”, but about coming up with good designs. Various kinds of arguments that are relatively “value free” can be made about criteria for good design in specific contexts, but ultimately what matters most is that the design be “good” or better than the alternatives, however that is to be understood in the particular case.

An ethics-first view of philosophy puts ethics or “axiology” (inquiry into values) before epistemology, ontology, or formal logic in the order of explanation.

All doing has ethical implications of one sort or another, and all inquiry (also a kind of doing) ultimately involves questions of value.

Responsibility as Two-Sided

It is all too easy to judge others — to hold them unilaterally responsible for what we deem to be wrong. The saying “Judge not lest ye be judged” recognizes that there is something wrong with this.

I wanted to say a bit more about Brandom’s account of responsibility as inherently two-sided. This is related to the very simple — if uncommon — idea that there should be a correlation between the degree of one’s responsibility for something and one’s authority over it. This means that in ethical terms, no one has a monopoly on authority over anything, and no one is responsible for something without having some authority over it. Two-sided responsibility comes hand in hand with the sharing of authority.

In the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel develops an allegory of the softening of the heart of a hard-hearted judge. For Brandom in A Spirit of Trust, this allegory serves as a kind of climax of Hegel’s monumental work.

Traditional views commonly define morality in terms of obedience or conformity to authority. What we should do is simply given to us from an external source. Brandom calls this the authority-obedience model.

At least from the time of Socrates, those concerned with ethics have recognized that mere obedience or conformity is at best only a very rudimentary level of ethical development, and therefore the same must apply to naked authority.

In diametric opposition to the authority-obedience model, Kant famously emphasized autonomy as a necessary basis of morality. For Kant, we are only truly moral insofar as we genuinely think our judgments through for ourselves, rather than relying on external authority.

While fully endorsing Kant’s rejection of the authority-obedience model, Hegel criticized the Kantian alternative of autonomy as one-sidedly individualistic. It would be a bit arrogant to claim that we really did think everything through all by ourselves. Moreover, there is a kind of symmetry in the all-or-nothing attitudes of the authority-obedience model and the autonomy model. It would be more reasonable to acknowledge that most things in life depend partly on us and partly on something or someone(s) outside of us.

As Brandom reconstructs Hegel’s argument, Hegel wants to say that genuine moral responsibility is always two-sided. The hard-hearted judge in the allegory, moved by a lawbreaker’s sincere confession, confesses in turn that she too is not without fault. I think this applies even more clearly to conflicts and people’s judgments of one another outside a judicial setting.

The point is not at all to obliterate distinctions or impose an artificial equivalence between the actions of the participants. It is rather just to recognize that nothing of this sort is ever completely unilateral, and then to systematically take heed of this in real life.

Brandom and Pippin on Hegelian Ethics

Robert Brandom and Robert Pippin are two major “deflationary” readers of Hegel these days. Counter to the old bad stereotype of Hegel as an extravagant metaphysician who turned his back on Kant’s critique of traditional metaphysics, they both see Hegel as further developing the most essential aspects of Kant’s innovations. Both aim to carry forward Wilfrid Sellars’ Kant-inspired critique of the “myth of the given”. They both see human intentions in terms of shareable meanings rather than private mental contents.

Brandom sees Hegel’s notion of mutual recognition not only as leading to a radically new, expanded notion of responsibility, but also as providing a basis for a novel general account of the objectivity of knowledge. Pippin meanwhile has developed an innovative, strongly Aristotelian reading of Hegel’s practical philosophy. I like putting the two of these together.

Brandom radicalizes the Kantian theme of the primacy of practical reason, effectively putting ethical inquiry before epistemology, ontology, or formal logic. He replaces metaphysics with a new kind of meta-ethics. Unlike many who have used the term “meta-ethics”, he does not seek some naturalistic or empirical foundation for ethics; rather, he sees “normativity all the way down”. Normative considerations are involved in the interpretation of anything at all. Judgments of fact depend on value judgments, and value judgments implicitly depend on the possibility of dialogue under conditions of mutual respect. It is principally through being subject to open-ended rational dialogue that judgments are verified.

Brandom’s expanded notion of responsibility is aimed at promoting greater and wider forgiveness, while simultaneously eliminating common excuses for misdeeds. Aristotle and important strands of the Christian tradition already promoted the idea that people should not be blamed or punished for unintended consequences of their actions (or for things they were coerced into doing). Brandom attributes to Hegel the novel view that everyone shares responsibility for all unintended consequences.

Pippin makes the profoundly Aristotelian point that what we actually did is the best guide to what our intentions really were. He argues that for Hegel, our own interpretation of our intentions has no privileged status in comparison to the interpretations of others. He would undercut excuses of the sort “I did x, but I really wanted y“. Rather, he would say that what we really wanted — not in the abstract, but under all the conditions that actually applied — was just what we did.

The actuality referenced here is a matter neither of simple fact nor of empirical consensus or majority opinion, but is itself a matter of normative evaluation under conditions of rational dialogue and respect for all.

Direct and Indirect “Knowledge”

For now, this will be the last installment on Alain de Libera’s Archaeology of the Subject. Though he has promised another four and a half volumes, I’ve reached the end of what has been published so far. Here I’ll briefly summarize the remainder of volume 3 part 1.

After analysis of an anonymous Averroist text of the 1270s that criticizes Aquinas in sharper language than that employed by Siger of Brabant, de Libera briefly discuses substance dualism and the plurality of substantial forms in the later Augustinian tradition. He documents the beginnings of the shift toward modern usages of “subject” and “object” in the 13th century. He notes the large difference in connotation between Aristotelian ousia and Latin substantia, glossing ousia as what something is in its depth. (I’ve been continuing to use “substance”, with Aristotle’s own gloss from the Metaphysics of “what it was to have been” a thing.)

He then turns to a long and delicately nuanced review of Aquinas’ compromise between Aristotle and Augustine on the soul’s knowledge of itself. The title of this chapter in French is a pun: by homonymy, it suggests “The Subject Supposed to Know Itself”, but literally, it is “The Subject Supposed to Have Itself”.

At summary level, Aristotle holds that all self-knowledge is indirect, while Augustine holds that the soul directly knows itself through its essence. But de Libera points out that there are elements of directness in Aristotle, and elements of indirectness in Augustine. He emphasizes that “knowledge” is said in many ways, from mere undifferentiated awareness to the strong knowledge that was called “science”. If we want to discuss claims about self-knowledge, we need to distinguish what kind of “knowledge” we are talking about.

In the final chapter, de Libera again mentions the Franciscan Peter Olivi, who in the 13th century criticized the representationalism of the medieval theory of “species” in the name of direct realism. Olivi also further sharpened Augustine’s claims that the soul directly knows itself by its essence. According to de Libera, while Olivi was far less influential than Aquinas, it was the interaction of their legacies that ultimately led to the modern notion of the human subject as agent and ego. Toward the end, de Libera again mentions the 18th century Scottish philosopher of common sense Thomas Reid, who was completely unaware of medieval Augustinian criticisms of representationalism, and re-invented direct realism.

Once again, we have to be careful about too easy assumptions regarding “isms”. Here, it turns out that both advocates of representationalism and advocates of direct realism may make strong appeals to immediacy and presence. The difference is that in modern terms, representationalists appeal to the alleged immediacy of mental representations, whereas direct realists appeal to the alleged immediacy of external objects. I read Aristotle as acknowledging a modest role for immediacy in common sense apprehensions, but as rejecting the idea that immediacy has any kind of privileged status in knowledge. I read Kant, Hegel, Brandom, and Ricoeur among others as strongly supporting this Aristotelian view.

Earlier, de Libera had noted a common Franciscan criticism that for both Aristotle and Aquinas, all self-knowledge is inferential. These days, I would take that as a compliment. In my youth, I uncritically absorbed a large bias toward immediacy myself. Immediacy was supposed to give a truth hidden by ordinary alienation. But in more recent years, I have become sympathetic to Brandom’s thesis that all apparently immediate knowledge is just that — apparently immediate, and that a kind of inference actually is the most primitive source of knowledge.