“Aporia” is Aristotle’s Greek technical term used by many philosophers in English for what Sachs in his glossary to the Metaphysics calls an “impasse” or “logical stalemate that seems to make a question unanswerable. In fact, it is the impasses that reveal what the genuine questions are” (p. lv).

Book III of the Metaphysics develops many such impasses. I take this as evidence of Aristotle’s extraordinary intellectual honesty and depth of insight.

Aristotle writes, “[T]hose who inquire without first coming to an impasse are like people who are ignorant of which way they need to walk, and on top of these things, …one never knows whether one has found the thing sought for or not. For the end is not apparent to this one, but to the one who has first been at an impasse it is clear. And further, one must be better off for judging if one has heard all the disputing arguments as if they were opponents in a lawsuit” (p. 35).

“About all these things it is not only difficult to find a way to the truth, but it is not even an easy thing to articulate the difficulties well” (p. 37).

For anyone who has been following recent posts a little, we have seen abundant examples of such challenging but fruitful impasses in the development of Hegel’s Logic. Those were not just some weird things that Hegel cooked up, but yet more evidence of Hegel’s profoundly Aristotelian approach.

Aristotle mentions a long series of such impasses related to the subject matter of the Metaphysics, including those about the nature and number of causes; whether causes are universal or particular; whether there are things beyond perceptible things; the status of mathematical objects; and whether there are causes that are independent of what he calls matter (or “material”, as Sachs calls it to help disambiguate Aristotle’s more “logical” distinction from modern physicalistic concepts).

“Furthermore, the most difficult question of all, that has in it the greatest impasse, is whether one and being, as the Pythagoreans and Plato said, are not anything different, but are the thinghood of things — or whether this is not so, but the underlying thing is something different” (p. 36).

“And there is a question whether the sources of things are universal or like particular things, and whether they have being potentially or at work, and in turn whether they are at work in some other way or by way of motion” (p. 37).

“But now if there are a number of kinds of knowledge of the causes, and a different one for a different source, which of these ought one to say is the one… being sought?” (ibid).

“And in general, is there one or more than one kind of knowledge about all beings? And if there is not one, with what sort of beings ought one to place this kind of knowledge? But that there is one about them all is not reasonable; for then there would also be one kind of demonstrative knowledge about all attributes” (p. 39).

“But it is not possible for either oneness or being to be a single genus of things…. [I]f oneness or being is a genus, no differentia would either be or be one…. And on top of these things, the differentia are sources still more than are the genera” (p. 43).

“So from these things, it seems that the predicates applied directly to the individual things are sources more than are the general classes; but then in turn, in what way one ought to understand these to be sources is not easy to say…. For if there is nothing apart from particular things, while the particulars are infinite, how is it possible to get a hold of a knowledge of infinitely many things? For insofar as something is one and the same, and insofar as it is present as a universal, in this way we know everything. But if this is necessary, and there has to be something apart from particulars, the general classes of things would have to have being apart from the particulars…. But we just went through an argument that this is impossible” (p. 44).

“Now if there is nothing apart from the particulars, there could be nothing intelligible, but everything would be perceptible and of nothing could there be knowledge, unless someone claims that perception is knowledge. What’s more, neither could there be anything everlasting or motionless (since all perceptible things pass away and are in motion). But surely if there is nothing everlasting, neither could there be coming-into-being. For there must be something that comes into being and something out of which it comes into being” (pp. 44-45).

“And an impasse no lesser than any has been neglected by both present and earlier thinkers, as to whether the sources of destructible and indestructible things are the same or different. For if they are the same, in what way and through what cause are some things destructible and others indestructible?…. But about mythological subtleties it is not worthwhile to inquire seriously; but on the part of those who speak by means of demonstrations, one must learn by persistent questioning why in the world, when things come from the same sources, some of the things have an everlasting nature but others pass away. But since they neither state any cause, nor is it reasonable that it be so, it is clear that there could not be the same sources or causes of them” (p. 46).

“[B]ut if there are different sources, one impasse is whether they themselves would be destructible or indestructible…. Furthermore, no one has even tried to speak about different sources, but all say that the same sources belong to all things. But they gulp down the thing first stated as an impasse as though taking it to be something small.”

“But the most difficult thing of all to examine, as well as the most necessary for knowing the truth, is whether being and oneness are the thinghood of things…. But surely if there should be some being-itself and one-itself, there is a considerable impasse about how there would be anything besides these — I mean how things will be more than one” (pp. 47-48).

“So it is necessary to raise both these impasses about the sources, and one as to whether they are universal or what we call particular. For if they are universals, they will not be independent things. (For none of the common predicates signifies a this but rather an of-this-sort, while an independent thing is a this….) So if the sources are universal, these things follow; but if they are not universal but are in the same way as particulars, there will be no knowledge, since of all things the knowledge is universal” (pp. 51-52).

The Knowledge Sought

Following the emphasis of al-Farabi on demonstrative “science”, the Latin scholastic tradition treated “metaphysics” as a completed science. Some writers attributed such a completed science to Aristotle, while others, following in the wake of Avicenna, put forward their own improvements.

With respect to being, Aristotle himself speaks of knowledge sought rather than possessed. In inquiring about being “as such”, he is exploring a question given prominence by others. Far from claiming to have final knowledge of being as such, he highlights the ambiguity of “being”. There can be no “as such” — and hence no final knowledge — of an ambiguous thing.

This is not the end of the story, however. The very first sentence of the Metaphysics is “All human beings by nature stretch themselves out toward knowing. A sign of this is our love of the senses; for even apart from their use, they are loved on their own account (Sachs tr., p. 1).

We are after knowledge of something. It is just not clear that that something would be accurately characterized as “being”, full stop.

“[A] sign of the one who knows and the one who does not is being able to teach, and for this reason we regard the art, more than the experience, to be knowledge” (p. 2).

“Further, we consider none of the senses to be wisdom, even though they are the most authoritative ways of knowing particulars; but they do not pick out the why of anything” (ibid).

“[T]he person with experience seems wiser than those who have any perception whatever, the artisan wiser than those with experience, the master craftsman wiser than the manual laborer, and the contemplative arts more so than the productive ones. It is apparent, then, that wisdom is a knowledge concerned with certain sources and causes” (p. 3).

This concern with sources and causes, with the why, is the true subject matter of the Metaphysics. This is emphasized again at length in book VI.

“Since we are seeking this knowledge, this should be examined: about what sort of causes and what sort of sources wisdom is the knowledge. Now if one takes the accepted opinions we have about the wise man, perhaps from this it will become more clear. We assume first that the wise man knows all things, in the way that is possible, though he does not have knowledge of them as particulars. Next, we assume that the one who is able to know things that are difficult, and not easy for a human being to know, is wise; for perceiving is common to everyone, for which reason it is an easy thing and nothing wise. Further, we assume the one who has more precision and is more able to teach the causes is wiser concerning each kind of knowledge. And among the kinds of knowledge, we assume the one that is for its own sake and chosen for the sake of knowing more to be wisdom than the one chosen for the sake of results” (ibid).

“Now of these, the knowing of all things must belong to the one who has most of all the universal knowledge, since he knows in a certain way all the things that come under it; and these are just about the most difficult things for human beings to know, those that are most universal, since they are farthest away from the senses. And the most precise kinds of knowledge are the ones that are most directed at first things, since those that reason from fewer things are more precise than those that reason from extra ones” (p. 4).

For long I struggled with this last statement. How could a knowledge of first things be the most precise of all? In the Topics, he says that first principles can only be investigated by dialectic: “[T]his task belongs properly, or most appropriately, to dialectic; for dialectic is a process of criticism wherein lies the path to the principles of all inquiries” (Collected Works, Barnes ed., p. 168).

Some commentators — influenced by al-Farabi and the subsequent tradition’s overwhelming emphasis on the place of demonstration as opposed to dialectic in Aristotle — have considered it a puzzle or a defect that the Metaphysics and other Aristotelian texts do not seem to consist in demonstrations as described in the Prior Analytics. The answer is that the Metaphysics and the others generally do follow the model of dialectic articulated in the Topics, as the Topics itself says they ought to.

Returning to the Metaphysics, Aristotle has already stressed that the most universal knowledge is also the most difficult. Also, he standardly distinguishes between how things are “in themselves” and how they are “for us”. The knowledge of first things would be most precise in itself, not necessarily for us in our relative achievement of it.

To anticipate, I think the final conclusion of the Metaphysics will be something like “All things are ultimately moved by love of the good”. The qualification “ultimately” is essential to making sense of this.

(For Aristotle himself, all becoming and terrestrial motion are grounded in — though not in detail determined by — the entelechy or entelechies of circular celestial motion. The stars are a kind of everlasting living beings endowed with superior intellect, and are directly moved by love of the first cause. This might seem quaint to modern people. I find the love part beautiful in a poetic sort of way, but think Aristotle’s theoretical astronomy in general and his views of the special status of celestial objects have relatively little impact on interpretation of the rest of his work — particularly with respect to the teleology affecting earthly things and the discussions here in the Metaphysics.)

Plato says that the Good surpasses all things in ancientness and power. He represents Socrates as provocatively arguing that all beings desire the good, regardless of how confused they may be about what the good really is. No one deliberately and self-consciously desires what they recognize as evil. That is impossible, because it is logically self-contradictory. For the same reason, there also could not be a “principle” of evil. This is a tremendously powerful thought, of unparalleled importance for ethics. It sets a fundamental tone of charitable interpretation, in diametrical contrast to the kind of point of view that says those people over there are just evil.

Aristotle, however, says that Plato does not clearly explain the mode of activity of the Good, or how it acts as a cause. According to Aristotle, when Plato does gesture in this direction, he lapses into treating the Good as either a formal cause or an efficient cause, or both. But speaking in terms of formal or efficient causality loses what is most essential about the good — what many contemporary philosophers would call its normative character.

Aristotle considered his own contribution in this area to be a thorough account of how all things are ultimately moved by that for the sake of which, and of how the Good indirectly influences things just as that for the sake of which. This, once again, is what Kant called “internal teleology”.

After the horrors of the 20th century, many people have lost faith in the fundamental goodness of life. This is basically an emotional response. The indubitable factuality of horrendous evil in the world is not an Aristotelian or Hegelian actuality, and does not touch actuality. The factuality of evil does pose a roadblock for common interpretations of particular providence or “external” teleology, but not for Aristotelian or Hegelian teleology.

But how could a knowledge of first things be exact? We certainly don’t have knowledge of the first cause in itself. But coming back to my formulation “All things are ultimately moved by love of the good”, this does meet Aristotle’s criterion of simplicity: all things are said to be ultimately moved by one thing (even though more directly, they are moved by their own love of whatever they do love, which seems good to them within the limits of their understanding).

We have exact knowledge neither of the first cause in itself nor of the particulars we encounter in life, but perhaps we can after all have exact, certain knowledge that “All things are ultimately moved by love of the good”. This is the kind of thing I think Aristotle is suggesting. (See also Aristotle on Explanation.)

The Unity of Aristotle’s Metaphysics

The anthology that the ancient editors of Aristotle’s manuscripts entitled literally After the Physics is the original paradigm for “meta level” inquiry in general. Medieval writers like Avicenna, Aquinas, and Duns Scotus took it as an authoritative treatise on Being.

The German classical scholar Werner Jaeger greatly influenced early and mid-20th century readings, with claims that apparently inconsistent statements in the Metaphysics reflected different stages in the development of Aristotle’s thought. Earlier, the Marburg neo-Kantian Paul Natorp had proposed that parts of the Metaphysics reflected an immature stage of Aristotle’s thought, and should be removed from the text.

The mid-20th century Catholic scholars Joseph Owens and Giovanni Reale, who both produced valuable major studies of the Metaphysics, were prominent opponents of these developmental approaches, emphasizing instead the dialectical character of Aristotle’s thought. My favorite translator, Joe Sachs, strongly agrees with them. Just because Aristotle says apparently conflicting things on the same topic is no reason to assume that he changed his mind.

That Aristotle’s thought is in general highly coherent ought to be clear to serious students. That it is highly dialectical is easy to establish. Aristotle frequently makes preliminary statements that are easy to grasp, and then substantially corrects them later within the same text. If we are serious about interpretive charity, we ought to try this sort of reading first.

But neither is its dialectical coherence proof that the Metaphysics, despite appearances, was originally written by Aristotle as a single work, structured in the order in which it has come down to us. The coherence of his thought is one question; the composition of the manuscript is another. Owens, Reale, and even Sachs tend to write as if the fact that it is dialectically coherent meant that the surviving text must be basically in the form in which Aristotle wrote it (but see quote below). This is also too strong.

Many different linear orderings of presentation may reflect the same underlying dialectical coherence, so the finding of coherence is not sufficient to establish that the order of the text is Aristotle’s.

Sachs notes that “Its first two books are both numbered one (with upper and lower case alphas)…. But in content, the Metaphysics begins over again much more than twice. Of its fourteen books, only books VIII, IX, and XIV are not new beginnings. The eleven sections of the whole inquiry are not set end-to-end like bricks in a row, but are woven together like threads in a complex design” (p. xv). “And there is no question that the composition of the Metaphysics was not a single act; the work is compiled from a number of separately composed pieces” (p. xii).

I like to imagine that my many blog posts are “woven together like threads in a complex design”, even though they were all written separately, and can be read in many different orders. If I were to turn them into a book, it would not consist of all the posts in chronological order, but would be thematically organized in some way. That is part of the art of editing. I do change my mind from time to time, but the great majority of differences in treatment of related topics have to do with differences in context, or different “places” in a more abstract dialectical development.

I see the various “sections” of the Metaphysics in the same way — as originally separate writings that nonetheless cohere, because the thought in them coheres.

What makes this question important is its relative effect on various points of interpretation. For example, I see Aristotle’s two brief discussions of “being qua being” as relatively isolated responses to what would be an important Platonic question that Aristotle himself decisively moves beyond (especially in books VI through IX), and thus as far from defining the subject of the Metaphysics as a whole. Even if the text were a continuous whole, the claim that the whole is adequately characterized as about being qua being ought to be viewed as at best highly contentious.

I very much like Sach’s top-level summary quoted in Long Detour?, which emphasizes not being qua being, but the dependencies of being on forms and the good.

Reflection and Dialectic

As with dialogue, reflection provides a kind of model for dialectic. Reflection can be understood as an either metaphorical or literal dialogue with ourselves. We “question ourselves”, which is to say we examine and potentially criticize or refine the basis of our own commitments. Further, actual dialogue is always implicitly dialogue among fellow rational beings, all of whom are engaged at least to some extent in their own reflective activity, just by virtue of being rational beings, so dialogue implicitly presupposes reflection.

Pippin quotes Hegel: “But at issue here is neither the reflection of consciousness, nor the more specific reflection of the understanding that has the particular and the universal for its determination, but reflection in general…. For the universal, the principle or the rule and law, to which reflection rises in its process of determination is taken to be the essence of the immediate from which the reflection began…. Therefore, what reflection does to the immediate, and the determinations that derive from it, is not anything external to it but is rather its true being” (Hegel’s Realm of Shadows, pp. 238-239).

And again: “In general, this means nothing but this: Anything which is, is to be considered to exist not as an immediate, but as a posited; there is no stopping at immediate determinate being [Dasein] but a return must rather be made from it back into its ground, and in this reflection it is a sublated being and is in and for itself. What is expressed by the principle of sufficient reason is, therefore, the essentiality of immanent reflection as against mere being” (p. 239).

In the first quote, Hegel is again emphasizing that what he means by reflection is not just looking in a figurative mirror, but rather something more like finding an orientation among (or building a synthesis of) the potentially infinite mutual reflections in a hall of mirrors. Reflection “in general” is a name Hegel gives to reflection with this kind of potentially infinite dimension. (That the infinity here should be called potential is my friendly Aristotelian interpolation.)

In the second quote, he is saying that this kind of reflection — lifted out from the distinction between reflective activity and what it reflects upon — is what he would call the “truth” of everything that appears to be immediately determinate.

The principle of sufficient reason as formulated by Leibniz effectively says that for everything that is in some definite way, there is a reason why it is that way. Hegel is saying more specifically that such “reasons why” emerge immanently from the reflective grounding of what he is in a nonstandard way calling essence. What Leibniz cannot show is how a particular essence or monadic point of view results in certain predicates and not others; despite great sophistication, he is still to some extent using essence and monads as unexplained explainers to avoid what Hegel calls the “problem of indifference”. Hegel on the other hand explicitly makes essence and explanation interdependent.

“[T]he ‘principles’ of identification and differentiation are deeply intertwined, not independent of each other” (p. 240).

“[A] thing’s determinate properties are not, cannot be, a mark of that thing’s unlikeness from other things, just by being those properties…. If one thing is red and another square, we do not thereby know one is unlike the other; they are just two different things. A locomotive has nothing to do with a melody; it is not unlike a melody. We are trying to account not for determinate otherness, as in the logic of being, but for how objects that share properties (are like) could be, even with an extraordinary degree of such likeness, still unlike” (p. 241).

“Some of this anticipates topics in the logic of the Concept. Two trees are alike in being trees but unlike in being two individual trees. The idea will be that just in their likeness, their way of being alike, that they are unlike (different trees), just in the way each distinctly instantiates ‘treeness’ that they are unlike. Such a different ‘way of being a tree’ is not another property but the way the tree-properties are ‘had’ by the individual” (p. 242).

“Hegel is thinking of the way in which the specifying work of ‘unlikeness’ cannot be a matter of individual properties, atomistically conceived, but unlikeness within likeness is best understood as some content, the unlikeness of which is strict, even within such likeness. Some charge can be both positive and negative; some number, 4, can be both +4 and -4; some quantity of money can be an asset and also a debt pending; some force can be attractive and repelling; some distance marched east is canceled by the same distance marched west, and all these are ‘opposed’ only within some common likeness” (ibid).

I find “either-or” language more appropriate to these cases than the “both-and” language above, but the intent is the same. The distinctions in each sub-case are concrete “opposites” applicable to some specific context, and each definable only in reference to the other. In each case, it is possible to abstract an indifferent thing being measured or assessed — “positive-or-negative-quantity” for the one, and “virtue-or-vice” for the other.

“The ‘world’s being contradictory’ means nothing more than that, as he says, virtue cannot be virtue just by being other than, different from, in comparison with, vice, but only by ‘the opposition and combat in it’ against vice” (p. 243, emphasis in original).

Pippin complicates the matter with this example, because “relative” seems to have a different significance in the context of virtue and vice than it does in, say, that of positive and negative numbers. But the intended point is a very abstract one about constitution of meanings that is common to both cases. Whatever the difference between the two “oppositions” (positive/negative, virtue/vice), in each case the two sub-terms are somehow measured or assessed “against” one another.

“Hegel is trying to specify how affirming contrary predicates (‘in opposition’) does not amount to a logical contradiction. That is the point of his discussion, to make this distinction, not to treat such oppositions as if they were logically contradictory and then to affirm them anyway. As [Michael] Wolff puts it, Hegel’s orientation… is not from sentence or predicate negation, but from developments in the understanding of negative numbers and from Kant’s defense of Newton on positive and negative magnitudes. In general, then, mathematical, not logical negation” (pp. 243-244).

This is extremely important. The status of negative numbers was still controversial in Hegel’s time. Kant and Hegel contributed to their acceptance. Hegel struggled to invent new language to distinguish ambiguous cases in his Logic and to say reasonable things about them, but readers (certainly including myself) have found his unique idioms very hard to follow. Most of the ink spilled over “contradiction” in Hegel has been based on fundamental misunderstandings. (See also Negation and Negativity.)

“To use an empirical example, if the question is something like ‘Why did the ball fall to the ground?’ we want to avoid two kinds of answers: ‘because whenever a heavy object is dropped from a height, it falls’; and ‘it is in the nature of heavy things to fall’. Doing so, avoiding these alternatives, will allow us to see that the relation between a ‘ground’ and ‘what it grounds’ must be understood as a dynamic relation, one whereby the determinacy of the ground and that of the grounded cannot be fixed in isolation from each other” (pp. 245-246).

He quotes Hegel: “But the being that appears and essential being stand referred to each other absolutely. Thus concrete existence is, third, essential relation; what appears shows the essential, and the essential is in the appearance. — Relation is the still incomplete union of reflection into otherness and reflection into itself; the complete interpenetrating of the two is actuality” (p. 246).

“The general point [Hegel] keeps making is: a strict separation of the two moments, and an insistence that the nature of an appeal to an essence, or to a causal law, or to someone’s reason for acting cannot be understood as punctuated moments on the billiard-ball model of causation, but involve a kind of unity, the development of a kind of unity, much closer (yet again) to Aristotle on energeia. This essential-being-as-activity, manifesting itself in its appearances, is what should count as ‘actuality’. This has the implication that many existing things have no actuality, are not really ‘anything’. A lump of dirt, a cough, a strand of wire” (ibid).

“The question for Hegel is the question of ‘actuality’, not ‘existence’, or the sensibly apprehensible, just as for Aristotle, the question is the ‘really real’, to ontos on.” (p. 247).

Pippin quotes from the Encyclopedia Logic, “The logical is to be sought in a system of thought-determinations in which the antithesis between subjective and objective (in its usual meaning) disappears. This meaning of thinking and of its determinations is more precisely expressed by the ancients when they say that nous [“intellect”, or thought in a non-psychological sense] governs the world” (p. 248).

Here “governs” is meant in a constitutive sense. The important point is that the “thought-determinations” here are indifferent to the ordinary distinction between a subjective “thinker” and an objective “thought content”.

In this context he speaks of “this dynamical relation, this Ur-relation of all relations” (ibid).

“I have tried to show in another book that the most important, most clarifying implications of this Ur-relation occur in Hegel’s practical philosophy, both in his account of human agency, and in the implications of that account for the practical theory of freedom in his Philosophy of Right and theory of objective spirit in general (ibid).

“[T]he full demonstration of the truth of this Ur-relation lies in what it actually illuminates, in the cogency and credibility of, for example, an account of agency based on it” (p. 249).

It was the outstanding (and very Aristotelian) account of Hegel’s view of agency in Hegel’s Practical Philosophy that first attracted me to Pippin’s work.

In his own idiom, Hegel says “thus the inner is immediately the outer, and it is this determinateness of externality for the reason that it is the inner; conversely, the outer is only an inner because it is only an outer” (quoted, ibid.)

Pippin comments, “He does not mean here anything as obvious as: when I do something, my ex ante intention is fulfilled and so becomes something outer, just as what was done, the bodily movement, counts as an action because it expressed this ex ante intention. The passage does not say that the inner becomes the outer, nor that the outer is the expression of the inner. It says: there is no ex ante intention except as outer. It is the outer. And there is no outer except as what must count as inner, nor that it expresses a separable inner. There is no such separation” (pp. 249-250; see also Hegel on Willing).

This concludes Pippin’s chapter on the logic of essence. Unsurprisingly, we have not uncovered any magic formula that would tell us which appearances manifest the essence in particular cases. Such a thing seems completely impossible to me; we should not expect to be able to find any general formula covering an unspecified collection of particulars. Any judgments involving particulars must in part at least come back to something like Aristotelian deliberation and practical judgment, which yield only particular results.

Nonetheless, in discussing the logic of essence we have ruled out some important classes of misunderstandings, and we have set the stage for the climax of Hegel’s Logic in the “logic of the concept”. The logic of the concept will take as a starting point the non-separation of “inner” and “outer” that has been shown in the logic of essence.

Foreshadowing the Concept

This will conclude my walk-through of the Preface to Hegel’s Phenomenology. Here he gives an explicit anticipation of what he calls “the concept”, which will be a key term in the Phenomenology‘s successor work, the Science of Logic. Along with “idea”, “concept” for Hegel represents something that is already beyond the naive opposition of subject and object.

If we imagine the naive view of subject and object as a pair of distinct points, a preliminary analogy for Hegelian concept and idea would be a line between the subject and object points. This can be understood as including all the meaningful content of experience, and can be taken as close as you like to either or both endpoints, but does not include either endpoint. Then the inversion of point of view that Hegel speaks of between ordinary consciousness and the standpoint of his logic would correspond to the relation between seeing experience in terms of the static duality of subject and object, and seeing it in terms of “living” concept and idea.

He begins this part with some remarks about mathematics that are overall very negative-sounding. This is setting up for a contrast between mathematics as the paradigm of static “formal” reasoning, and the meaning-oriented, becoming-oriented “dialectical” reasoning he wants to promote. To put the negative remarks in proper perspective, it is worth knowing that he will devote nearly 200 pages in the early part of the Science of Logic to a serious and sympathetic discussion of mathematics that shows good familiarity with the leading mathematical writers of his day.

“As for mathematical truths, one would hardly count as a geometer if one only knew Euclid’s theorems by heart without knowing the proofs” (p. 25).

Here he repeats the important point that knowledge does not consist in bare conclusions or propositions.

However, I think he goes astray when adds that really, “The movement of mathematical proof does not belong to the object but is a doing that is external to the item at hand” (ibid). I would say almost the opposite: the appearance of externality between theorem and proof — the idea that theorems have a status of simple truth independent of their proofs — reflects the very same kind of error that he pointed out before in the separation of results from the development that produced them.

It is true that a mathematical proof viewed as an object does not consist in the kind of becoming of knowing that Hegel attributes to good philosophical thinking. To mix terminology from computer science and Aristotle, mathematical proofs are in principle “statically” evaluable; this means they do not depend on any runtime accidents. In Platonic terms, mathematical objects are “eternal”, and proof is a kind of strict unfolding of their essence that we can imagine after the fact to have been predetermined, even though we don’t see the full predetermination in advance.

Earlier in the Preface, Hegel has argued that in the genuine becoming of knowing, “accidents” play an essential role, just as I would say they do in any actual working out of Aristotelian teleology. The means is not irrelevant to the end to the extent that we care about the end’s actualization. Like Aristotle, Hegel treats the process of actualization as primary.

Thus he is right that the becoming of knowing that philosophy ought to aim at does not — and ought not to — follow the canons of mathematical proof. In philosophy, we learn as much from our mistakes as from our successes, but errors in mathematics do not present the same kind of opportunities for improving our wisdom. Mathematics is not philosophy but something else. It is not “conceptual” in Hegel’s sense that involves a kind of “life” and “self-movement” of the concept.

However, he goes on to say that “In mathematical cognition, insight is an external doing vis-à-vis the item at issue” (p. 26, emphasis added). I don’t find this to be true today, and think it was, if anything, further from true in Hegel’s day.

Surely the maximal externalization of human insight from proof would be today’s computer-based proofs. While it is now possible to produce purely symbolic proofs whose validity depends only on the syntactic rules of a functional programming language, and sometimes even to produce proofs in a fully automated way, the really big successes of computer-based mathematical proof in recent decades have involved automated proof checkers that eschew fully automated proof development in favor of “dialogue” with an insightful human. At least in the current and foreseeable state of the art, human insight is not at all external to the development of mathematical proofs, even though the checking of completed or partial proofs for errors can be fully automated.

I say that mathematics is not philosophy, but its practice is far from being the mindlessly formal “defective cognition” he makes it out to be here in the Preface. Mathematical objects including completed proofs are static, but I say that the doing of mathematics essentially involves the activity of human intelligence.

“[W]hat is formal in mathematical convincingness consists in this — that knowing advances along the line of equality. Precisely because it does not move itself, what is lifeless does not make it all the way to the differences of essence…. For it is magnitude alone, the inessential difference, that mathematics deals with” (p. 27).

Mathematics only deals with things that are in principle strictly univocal. Strictly univocal things lack “life” for Hegel, and are therefore inessential.

“In contrast, philosophy does not study inessential determinations but only those that are essential. The abstract or the non-actual is not its element and content; rather, its element and content is the actual, what is self-positing, what is alive within itself, or existence in its concept. It is the process which creates its own moments and passes through them all; it is the whole movement that constitutes the positive and its truth. This movement just as much includes within itself the negative ” (p. 28).

Philosophy for Hegel is especially concerned with actuality, and as with Aristotle, what is actual is not simply to be identified with what is factual.

“Appearance is both an emergence and a passing away which does not itself emerge and pass away… which constitutes the actuality and the living moment of truth…. Judged in the court of that movement, the individual shapes of spirit do not stably exist any more than do determinate thoughts, but they are also equally positive, necessary moments just as much as they are negative, disappearing moments” (pp. 28-29).

Here he is using “appearance” in a very different way from what Plato called mere appearance. It seems to be something like the concrete manifestation that is necessarily implicit in actuality.

“In the whole of the movement… what distinguishes itself in it and what gives itself existence is preserved as the kind that remembers, as that whose existence is its knowing of itself” (p. 29).

Previously, he said that the true is the whole. In this movement of self-knowing, which is quite different from being an object for oneself, the subject and object that are quite distinct for ordinary consciousness become interwoven.

“It might seem necessary to state at the outset the principal points concerning the method of this movement…. However, its concept lies in what has already been said, and its genuine exposition belongs to logic, or is instead even logic itself, for the method is nothing but the structure of the whole in its pure essentiality” (ibid).

The entry point for what Hegel calls “logic” is what I have glossed as being at home in otherness. For Hegel, logic is not about formal manipulations. It is a very non-ordinary way of looking at things that leaves distinctions of subject and object behind. The Phenomenology is supposed to provide a way into this perspective, starting out from what Aristotle would call the way things (ordinarily) are “for us” (see Otherness; At Home in Otherness).

“In everyday life, consciousness has for its content little bits of knowledge, experiences, sensuous concretions, as well as thoughts, principles, and, in general, it it has its content in whatever is present, or in what counts as a fixed, stable entity or essence…. [I]t conducts itself as if it were an external determining and manipulation of that content” (p. 30).

Ordinary consciousness regards things in the world as fixed, pre-known, and manipulable. It regards itself as somehow standing off to the side from the order of the world, and implicitly as able to act in complete independence from that order. It is “Cartesian”. The weakness of this point of view is progressively exhibited in the Phenomenology.

“Science may organize itself only through the proper life of the concept…. [D]eterminateness… is in science the self-moving soul of the content which has been brought to fulfillment. On the one hand, the movement of ‘what is’ consists in becoming an other to itself and thus in coming to be its own immanent content; on the other hand, it takes this unfolding back into itself, or it takes its existence back into itself, which is to say, it makes itself into a moment, and it simplifies itself into determinateness” (p. 33).

Hegelian rational “science”, sustained in otherness, examines a movement of “logical” unfolding and return that (unlike the unfolding and return in neoplatonism) occurs not in eternity but in worldly coming-to-be. The fact that the return occurs in becoming and in time gives it the form not of a simple circle but of an open-ended spiral that never literally returns to its origin.

“[S]cientific cognition requires… that it give itself over to the life of the object” (ibid, emphasis added).

In the main body of the Phenomenology, the Consciousness chapter shows the limitations of the ordinary view that we are wholly separate from the object, and the Self-Consciousness chapter develops a sharp critique of the attitude of the master who attempts to claim unilateral control over both objects and other people.

“[T]he stable being of existence… is itself its own inequality with itself and its own dissolution — its own inwardness and withdrawal into itself — its coming-to-be. — Since this is the nature of what exists, and to the extent that what exists has this nature for knowing, this knowing is not an activity which treats the content as alien. It is not a reflective turn into itself out of the content… [W]hile knowing sees the content return into its own inwardness, its activity is instead sunken into that content, for the activity is the immanent self of the content as having at the same time returned into itself, since this activity is pure self-equality in otherness” (p. 34).

Here we have a direct statement about what overcoming alienation ought to look like.

“Its determinateness at first seems to be only through its relating itself to an other, and its movement seems imposed on it by an alien power. However, … it has its otherness in itself…, for this is the self-moving and self-distinguishing thought, the thought which is its own inwardness, which is the pure concept. In that way, the intelligibility of the understanding is a coming-to-be, and as this coming-to-be, it is rationality” (p. 35).

Overcoming alienation is anything but the suppression of what is other. Neither is it a return to an original perfection. Rather, it consists in a non-ordinary sense of self that is not opposed to the other or to the field of otherness.

Logical necessity in general consists in the nature of what it is [for something] to be its concept in its being. This alone is the rational, the rhythm of the organic whole, and it is just as much the knowing of the content as that content itself is the concept and the essence…. The concrete shape which sets itself into movement… is only this movement, and [its concrete existence] is immediately logical existence. It is therefore unnecessary to apply externally a formalism to the concrete content. That content is in its own self a transition into this formalism, but it ceases to be the latter external formalism because the form is the indigenous coming-to-be of the concrete content itself” (ibid).

In emphasizing the contentfulness of the concept rather than formal syntax as the true driver of logical necessity, he seems to be talking about something like what Sellars and Brandom call material inference.

“Although what is stated here expresses the concept, it cannot count as more than an anticipatory affirmation. Its truth does not lie in this narrative exposition” (p. 36, emphasis added).

Truth, once again, must lie in an extensive development that is never truly finished by us humans. This remark could reasonably apply to the whole Preface, but I am struck by the reference to the concept and by the place in which it occurs, just after an explicit reference to logic. Here he is looking forward not only to the main body of the Phenomenology, but even more so to what will become the Science of Logic.

He goes on to criticize “clever argumentative thinking” at length, and to contrast it with “comprehending thinking”.

“[C]lever argumentation amounts to freedom from content and to the vanity that stands above all content” (p. 36).

By Hegel’s high standards, any argument that assumes meanings are determined in advance at least tends toward the vanity and irresponsibility of what Plato and Aristotle denounced as sophistry.

Hegel wants to recommend instead that “This vanity is expected to give up this freedom, and, instead of being the arbitrary principle moving the content, it is supposed to let this freedom descend into the content and move itself by its own nature…. This refusal both to insert one’s own views into the immanent rhythm of the concept and to interfere arbitrarily with that rhythm by means of wisdom acquired elsewhere, or this abstinence, are all themselves an essential moment of attentiveness to the concept” (pp. 36-37).

Moreover, what plays the role of the subject of thought is not at all the same for comprehending thinking as it is for clever argumentation.

“[C]lever argumentative thinking is itself the self into which the content returns, and so too, the self in its positive cognition is a represented subject to which the content is related as accident or predicate. This subject constitutes the basis in which the content is bound and on the basis of which the movement runs back and forth” (p. 37).

He continues, “Comprehending thinking conducts itself in quite a different way. While the concept is the object’s own self, or the self which exhibits itself as the object’s coming-to-be, it is not a motionless subject tranquilly supporting the accidents; rather, it is the self-moving concept which takes its determinations back into itself. In this movement, the motionless subject itself breaks down; it enters into the differences and the content and constitutes the determinateness, which is to say, the distinguished content as well as the content’s movement, instead of continuing simply to confront that movement” (pp. 37-38).

Comprehending thinking “enters into the differences and the content”.

“[T]here is an obstacle based in the habit of grasping the speculative predicate according to the form of a proposition instead of grasping it as concept and essence” (p. 41).”

The form of a proposition is simply to be true or false. He may also have in mind the form of predication. Grasping something as concept and essence is treating it as articulable meaning to be interpreted, rather than as a mere thing to be pointed at.

“True thoughts and scientific insight can be won only by the labor of the concept. Concepts alone can produce the universality of knowing” (p. 44).

Facts and Incomplete Information

A modern notion of hard-nosed common sense is to appeal exclusively to positive facts. This is also a major basis of simplistic notions of empirical science. Serious scientific methodologies are more indirect, and quite a bit more involved.

From a broadly Kantian point of view that I think Plato and Aristotle would also endorse, all putative facts are really just assertions of facts, made by people. The validity of the corresponding assertions depends on the soundness of the reasons that lead us to believe them. Thus, regardless of whether our concern is ethical or scientific, it is always the quality of reasons that matters in assessing the validity of assertions.

The notion of a fair and objective weighing of evidence for or against an assertion presupposes that we symmetrically consider the pro and con, as Plato emphasized in his discussions of “dialectic”. But the simplistic bias for positive facts results in an inherently asymmetrical treatment any time we have to deal with incomplete information, because what putative facts we currently have in our possession is in part a matter of sheer chance.

In a fact-biased approach, if there happen to be insufficient facts in our possession to adequately support a hypothesis, the hypothesis is likely to be be dismissed out of hand as “speculation”, regardless of how inherently plausible it might otherwise be. We end up assuming something is not true merely because we cannot empirically prove it is true. This is independent of any other prejudice that may also enter into situations involving human judgment.

Once again, I want to recommend a prudent suspension or qualification of belief in cases of incomplete information, rather than active disbelief. (See also Debate on Prehistory.)

Beauty and Discursivity

Plotinus was a huge inspiration for me in my youth. Revisiting a piece of his Enneads just now, I am again struck by the majesty of his thought and writing. These days I have a much more positive view of discursive reasoning, but I first wanted to let him speak for himself.

I still agree that there is far more to knowledge and understanding than an accumulation of propositions. But as a teenager, I definitely considered step-by-step reasoning to be something inferior to the kind of holistic intellectual intuition Plotinus emphasizes when he talks about Intellect. The latter I considered to be the true source of insight — “silent mind before talking mind”.

Nowadays, I think that kind of unitary vision is achievable only as the crowning result of much patient work. I no longer take it to be the original source that discursive reasoning imitates in an inferior way. Intellect or Reason does form a relational whole, and the whole is more important than the parts. But today I would emphasize that the relational whole is an articulated whole, and it is the articulation — the making of connections — that is the real essence.

From many connections, we get larger unities. Larger unities are still the goal, but the work of making connections is what makes such fused views possible. The contemplation of well-formed wholes by the silent mind of an embodied human depends on prior work that must include open discursive questioning and reasoning, if the result is to be genuine.

Aristotle made a vitally important distinction between what is first in itself and what is first for us. To directly aim for the highest truth in itself while being dismissive of what is “first for us” is to disregard our nature as rational animals. Put another way, to directly aim for the highest truth is simply to miss it. This is the kind of illegitimate shortcut that Plotinus himself criticized the gnostics for.

We rational animals need the “long detour” of dialectic to properly grasp any kind of real truth. Otherwise, our visionary experiences will just be fever dreams of the sort that incite fanatics. The goal is not just immediacy but mediated immediacy, as Hegel would say. I think Plotinus at least partially recognized this.

To no longer regard things in the manner of “a spectator outside gazing on an outside spectacle” is to overcome naive dichotomies of subject and object. To really do this, we have to clear our minds of prejudice, not just do meditative exercises to silence internal dialogue. Clearing our minds of prejudice is what requires the long detour.

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.)

Proclus’ Elements

The later neoplatonist Proclus (412-485 CE) was head of the Platonic Academy in Athens, at a time when the Athenian Academy was somewhat notorious as the intellectual center of resistance to the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Nonetheless, his work had a profound influence on the Arabic, Byzantine, and Latin traditions. He is usually cited as the main philosophical influence on the early Christian theologian pseudo-Dionysius, who was taken very seriously by Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas.

Proclus wrote extensive commentaries on Plato, as well as an influential commentary on book 1 of Euclid’s Elements of Geometry. Hegel called him the greatest dialectician of antiquity. Though I think Hegel by his own principles really should have given that title to Aristotle, Hegel was right to recognize Proclus as important.

Aquinas is credited with recognizing that the Latin Book of Causes — a translation of the Arabic Discourse on the Pure Good — was mostly derived from Proclus’ Elements of Theology. Aquinas treated Proclus himself with considerable respect. Dietrich of Freiberg made significant use of his work, and his student Berthold of Moosburg wrote a very long commentary interpreting the Elements of Theology in Christian terms. The Renaissance theologian Nicolas of Cusa and the maverick Giordano Bruno were much inspired by Proclus.

Along with Spinoza’s Ethics, Proclus’ Elements shares the peculiar distinction of being written in a style visibly influenced by Euclid’s Elements. Euclid’s work has often been cited as a sort of paradigm of demonstrative reasoning. Though Proclus, unlike Spinoza, did not work from explicit definitions and postulates and used a looser style of demonstration, his Elements consists of theorems and a sort of demonstrations.

Proclus defends the neoplatonic idea of a One that transcends being, but as Gwenaëlle Aubry and Laurent Lavaud point out in the introduction to the French collection Relire les Éléments de théologie de Proclus (2021), perhaps his most influential idea is that of a very strong continuity from the highest principles to the most mundane effects, which has been read as a strong assertion of immanence as well as transcendence. He is an important source for all the later theological traditions that want to argue for simultaneous immanence and transcendence.

Proclus very explicitly crystallizes what I have called the generalized “unmoved mover” model of causality in Plotinus. For Proclus, “higher” and “lower” causes cooperate in the constitution of worldly things, but the higher cause is always more of a cause than the lower cause. At the same time, he rejects Plotinus’ identification of matter with evil, while emphasizing all of Plotinus’ more positive affirmations of the goodness of manifestation and the beauty of the cosmos.

In a separate treatise On Providence, he develops a sort of epistemic analogue to the generalized unmoved mover theory. “Providence” (pronoia — literally, “forethought”) is a knowledge-like thing that is superior to knowledge in that it is supposed to be eternal and unextended, and to involve no separation of what we might call subject and object. Proclus develops a subtle and suggestive account of something metaphorically like implicit, unextended “seeds” of forms within the overflowing of the One that transcends all extended form. While the One does not “know” worldly things, it “pre-knows” their unextended “seeds”, within something like what Schelling later paradoxically called the identity of identity and nonidentity.

In the Elements, Proclus argues for an interdependence of being, life, and intellect. While one obvious reading of this would emphasize a foundational role of spiritual beings in Proclus’ metaphysics, I am intrigued that it can also be interpreted as a somewhat “deflationary” account of being, closer to Aristotle, and far removed from later notions of pure abstract existence. We can’t begin to have an account of being, without also having an account of life and intellect. With his endorsement of a One beyond “being”, Proclus had no need for a commitment to a notion of pure “being”.

Hegel on Skepticism

The next shape of self-consciousness after “Stoicism” in Hegel’s Phenomenology is “Skepticism”. H. S. Harris in his commentary thinks some of Hegel’s remarks apply specifically to Carneades, perhaps the best known “Academic” Skeptic, who shocked the Romans by arguing for opposite theses on alternating days, as an exercise on Platonic dialectic. Carneades also wrote a work arguing in detail against the great early Stoic Chryssipus. Although I like to stress the less textually obvious role of Aristotelian dialectic in Hegel’s work, Hegel’s explicit remarks emphasize a kind of Platonic dialectic with Skeptical inflections (see Three Logical Moments).

For Hegel, neither pure Understanding — which excels in clarity, utility, and systematic development but tends toward dogmatism — nor a skeptically inclined Dialectic, whose movement undoes everything that is apparently solid — is adequate to characterize what he wants to call Thought. Thought ought to involve a sort of Aristotelian mean that combines the insights of both.

Hegel writes, “Skepticism is the realization of that of which Stoicism is merely the notion, and is the actual experience of what freedom of thought is…. [I]ndependent existence or permanent determinateness has, in contrast to that reflexion, dropped as a matter of fact out of the infinitude of thought” (Baillie trans., p. 246). “Skeptical self-consciousness thus discovers, in the flux and alternation of all that would stand secure in its presence, its own freedom, as given by and received from its own self…. [This] consciousness itself is thoroughgoing dialectical restlessness, this melée of presentations derived from sense and thought, whose differences collapse into oneness, and whose identity is similarly again resolved and dissolved…. This consciousness, however, as a matter of fact, instead of being a self-same consciousness, is here neither more nor less than an entirely fortuitous embroglio, the giddy whirl of a perpetually self-creating disorder” (pp. 248-249).

Harris comments, “[T]he Stoics had to be taught by the Sceptics that no Vorstellung [representation] (not even that of the great cosmic cycle) could comprehend Erscheinung [appearance]” (Hegel’s Ladder I, p. 393). “[Skepticism] knows that ‘language is truer’… than the simple assumption that truth is the name of an extralinguistic Sache [thing or content]” (ibid).

“The Sceptic ideal is to be untroubled in the face of the sensory flux. Sceptical reason tells us not to worry about what we cannot help” (ibid). But “Far from behaving like one who is undisturbed, [Carneades] enjoys being an active disturber; and on the practical side his life has to be controlled by the felt motive actually present at a given moment” (p. 394). “Achieving ‘suspension of judgment’, by setting whatever contingent arguments one can discern in the whirl against those that someone else offers, is a cheat. The Sceptic lives in the world, and allows himself to be guided by senses which he says we ought not to trust” (ibid).

“Every effort the Stoic makes to realize his freedom is tantamount to a serf’s fantasy that he really owns the land” (p. 395). “The Sceptic is a laughing sage because he has the Stoic to laugh at. We laugh at both of them” (ibid).

“[The Skeptic] has not recognized that the [self] he identifies with is only a formal ideal by which the concretely actual self can measure itself. Nobody is that ideal self. No finite consciousness can be that self (by definition). There is no Lord walking the earth: not the one that the serf fears; not the Stoic who thinks he is free; and not the Sceptic who knows what thinking is, and what it is not” (p. 396).