The Logic’s Ending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life: A Necessary Concept?

Hegel argues that we ultimately cannot explain intelligibility without presupposing Aristotelian/Kantian “internal” teleology, which in turn requires the concept of the distinction between living and nonliving beings.

With nonliving beings, events simply happen. A piece of iron may rust, for instance, and that is that. It is still iron.

A living being, however, is always subject to a normative comparison to its concept. For Hegel, a plant that is dying of thirst is a “failing” instance of what it is to be a plant. There is no comparable status for the rusting piece of iron.

Mechanistic explanation offers an allegedly complete system of causality. But for Hegel, it raises the same “problem of indifference” that the logic of being encountered.

In a similar kind of move to what he has been doing in the Logic as a whole, Hegel argues that mechanism implicitly presupposes a more comprehensive kind of explanation, that it cannot really solve its own problems when it is pursued as the only valid form of explanation. He then considers in succession “chemism”, which additionally takes into account internal properties of materials that affect how they may combine with one another; “external” teleology applicable to artificial things, which explicitly presupposes a designer; and finally the immanent “internal” teleology considered by Aristotle and Kant.

Pippin dwells extensively on the similarities and differences between Kant and Hegel in this area. On the Kantian side, this involves an important evolution of Kant’s thought that occurred while he was writing what became the Critique of Judgment.

“In early 1789 Kant began to formulate the new problem of reflective judgment, as well as a new a priori principle for such a faculty, the purposiveness of nature. What is important to notice for our purposes is that with that development, the shape of the entire critical project began to change dramatically” (Hegel’s Realm of Shadows, p. 290).

“Kant had realized that something like the deep structure of judgments like ‘this rose is beautiful’ actually contravened its own surface structure, that the predicate ‘beautiful’ was not really functioning as a standard predicate, as it appeared to. It referred to no objective property or mere secondary quality. Instead, he concluded, it involved a nonconceptually guided reflective activity on the part of the subject of the experience, whose novel logic required notions like a free play of the faculties, purposiveness without a purpose, disinterested pleasure, a commonsense and universal subjective validity” (pp. 290-291).

“The realization of the distinct features of this reflective activity was only the beginning of a series of more strikingly novel claims of interest to us…. [T]he reflective judging that resulted in aesthetic judgments, also constituted the basic structure of teleological judgments, and so could account for the unique intelligibility of organic beings” (p. 291).

“And then a number of other issues seem to be thrown into the same reflective judgment pot. The formulation of scientific theories not fixed or determined by empirical generalizations involved this activity and its logic, as did the systematizing of empirical laws necessary for genuine scientific knowledge. Finally, even the determination of ordinary empirical concepts now seemed to require this newly formulated reflective capacity…. So reflective judging and its a priori principle were now necessary not only for explaining the possibility and validity of aesthetic judgments, but in accounting for the necessary distinction between organic and nonorganic nature, the formation of empirical concepts, the proper integration of genera and species, the general unification of empirical laws into systems of scientific law, theory formation itself, and the right way to understand the attribution of a kind of necessity to all such principles, judgments, concepts, laws, and systems” (ibid).

“Kant continued to hold that such reflective judging was not constitutively necessary for there being objects of experience at all, and so could not be properly called cognition…. But Kant himself seems to be conceding that that result alone leads to an impoverished notion of cognition…. We wouldn’t know much… without empirical concepts, laws, systems, and distinctions between living and nonliving. So all the above products of reflective judgment must count as indispensable, and in a way that is not just convenient, but nevertheless remains merely regulative” (p. 292).

“Given their necessity and indispensability, given how much we would miss in the world if we could not claim to know that things fall into kinds (that there are empirical concepts), that nature is law-governed with necessity, that species fall under genera, and that some beings are alive, the Hegelian question is: Why does Kant persist, even after the expansion of his system in the third Critique, in claiming that we do not really know any of these things, that we just require them of ourselves and can’t see a way to abandon such commitments?” (ibid).

Kant seems to have held that in spite of its value for subjective understanding, teleology stands in conflict with scientific explanation; that the only objective causality is efficient causality; and that an objective teleology would imply a sort of “backwards” determination in time. Hegel contests all of this.

“For Kant, a living being requires us to think something we cannot, how the whole causes the parts that cause it” (p. 293).

Pippin, like Kant, seems to regard the last formulation as a reduction to absurdity. But he himself notes that in biological reproduction, parts and whole are produced simultaneously. And many processes in nature work by a kind of feedback, which involves circular dependencies that play out over time in an alternating or simultaneous way.

“[J]ust as Kant did not attempt to deduce the necessary existence of events in causal relations, but sought to show that any event that did exist must stand in a necessary relation to some prior event, and just as Kant did not try to deduce the necessary existence of living beings, but tried to show that any world that required mechanistic explanations of what exists, or any world in which change is a matter of efficient causation, must also allow, cannot rule out, that there are changes like gestation, birth, growth, reproduction, disease, and death, which cannot be accounted for by the logical form appropriate for nonliving beings, so Hegel is not out to deduce a priori the necessary existence of living beings, but has an ambition similar to Kant’s… but much greater because Hegel denies that teleological explanations are merely subjectively necessary” (p. 274).

“In terms of the logic of the Concept where the concept of life appears, [Hegel] means to show that there could not be adequate mechanistic and chemical and ‘external’ teleological explanations (say, the production of an artifact guided by a maker’s representation) without the contrasting distinction with living beings, without, following Kant, ‘internal’ teleology. (That is, a case where an element is for the sake of the whole without its being the — impossible — case that the element or part intends to be for the whole, and without reference to any designer’s intention.) His unusual thesis is that teleology is ‘the truth of mechanism’. That is, mechanistic explanations are domain specific, and so represent an abstraction from a more comprehensive and complex domain that includes subjective or intentional teleology and objective teleology in organic beings” (pp. 275-276).

“For Hegel, … the conceptual forms required for the unity of judgment are, at the same time, the forms necessary for any object determinacy. The forms of thought are the forms of being” (p. 276).

This is not because thought has magic powers, but because of the kind of thing that being has turned out to be in the investigations of the Logic. In my estimation at least, Hegel has convincingly shown that true being is inseparable from meaning and intelligibility. It is not some dumb and arbitrary “existence”.

“Life is said to be the ‘immediate’ manifestation of the Idea” (p. 277).

What this means is that “Life will reveal at an initial level the true unity of subjectivity and objectivity. This is said in the sense in which even plants, for Hegel, have ‘subjectivity’ even as objects. Their growth and nutrition cannot be comprehended adequately as just the product of mechanical forces. Each can be said to ‘direct’ the course of its life as it requires; each has an inner distinct from an outer, where this does not just mean inside as opposed to outside its surface” (ibid).

It was not clear to me that the Idea would even have an “immediate manifestation”. At this point, the Idea seems to me to be something that in itself would be purely mediate, even though experience always involves an element of immediacy. But at least within a human subjectivity, something purely mediate can always be represented, and the representation in itself does have a kind of immediacy. This case is a little different, but the argument that a plant has a kind of rudimentary “subjectivity” while also being a kind of object does, I think, suggest a way of understanding this simultaneous subjectivity and objectivity that could be seen as a simple instance of the union of subjectivity and objectivity that characterizes the Hegelian Idea.

“[H]aving shown the truth of the object in self-consciousness, in conceptuality, Hegel proposes to investigate the concept in that status, now understood as being-true, or in its being the ground of the intelligibility of the object. As he says, now ‘the concept determines itself as objectivity’…. This begins after a consideration of the concept in its formality, in the structure of concept, judgment, and syllogism. This then suggests the question of the world of objects, of ‘the truth’, of being-in-and-for-itself, already reflected in the truth-preserving inferential structure of such a syllogistic. To have reached this stage, presupposing everything that has gone before, is to see the logic of the relation among concepts in judgments and of judgments in inferential syllogistic relations as comprehending objects and their interrelations as explicable in a system” (p. 278).

This kind of use of “system” simply expresses the coherence in real intelligible being, and does not have the objectionably pretentious character that was all too common in talk of philosophical “systems” in Hegel’s Germany. Since Hegel does use “system” in this more benign and substantial sense, I am inclined to be forgiving of his rhetorical participation in the enthusiasm for philosophical “systems”.

“At such a point, we will have fleshed out considerably the ‘object’s being its concept’ in a much fuller logical system of judgmental interrelations, systematically, and a modally robust one, prescribing what must and cannot happen under this or that condition. In this fuller systematic picture, we need a determinate characterization of the norm, comprehensibility, as such. Such a norm or pure concept of genuine understanding will tell us what a thing is in terms of its relevant relational properties” (pp. 278-279).

With the concept, we have explicitly entered the territory of normativity. A concept for Hegel is never just a representation. Every Hegelian concept has a normative character.

“That determinate norm of comprehensibility is what is introduced by the pure concept Mechanism — more broadly in the claim that true comprehensibility is and is only mechanistic, paradigmatically Newtonian mechanics. Yet again, it is this sort of overreach that reveals the limitations and incompleteness of such a norm of comprehensibility. This is the first, immediate, simplest manifestation of the a priori claim to a norm for determinate explicability…. This is essentially a ‘billiard balls’ model of moving and inertial forces, in which there is what Hegel continually calls ‘an indifference’ in the relation among objects. And therein will lie its chief problem” (p. 279).

The concept of mechanism now shows a dynamic very similar to what we saw before with the concept of Being. In both cases, Hegel wants to extract as much insight and value as possible from their respective failures.

“That is, the indifference of objects external to each other, or comprehended only as matter moving and colliding in space, means there is no real explanation of what happens, just a formalization of what happens. There is no way (except pragmatically or ‘subjectively’ for Hegel) to select in or out the relevant relations among such indifferent objects, and we will find instead that we are awash in infinite contingency, with no real ground for our isolation of the relevant units of comprehension” (pp. 279-280).

“Chemism does make such an appeal to internal properties, the chemical properties, to explain why some chemical compounds are possible and others are not. Objects considered chemically are not ‘indifferent’ but determine their relationality as dependent on the kind they are” (p. 280).

“When we say that average acceleration over a period of time is its change in velocity divided by the duration of the period, or when we say that the hydrogen and oxygen molecules combined to form water, or when we say that that clock functions poorly, or that wolf is deformed, these are not empirical distinctions within a common notion of comprehensibility. In Hegel’s language, they are objective aspects of the logical distinctions between immediacy, mediation, and self-mediation necessary for all objective intelligibility” (p. 281).

Hegel in the Logic aims to develop a kind of universal logical meta-language for explaining the more concrete concepts we use to explain the world.

“A living being’s concept is not external to it as a particular being. That particularity is essentially nothing other than the becoming of its concept. The concept is internal to its nature, and that nature is self-determining, not determined from without. (Hence the claim that life is the first, immediate manifestation of the Absolute Idea, the unity of subjectivity and objectivity.)” (ibid).

“Now, a simple way to sum all of this up, however misleading, would be to say that for Hegel life is an objectively necessary pure concept because we know that mechanism is such a concept, and that chemism is, and that artifactual teleology is, and that these pure concepts are incomplete without teleological concepts, ultimately the concept of living organisms” (p. 282).

“As we have already seen, Kant distinguishes, and Hegel praises him for doing so, between an element in a complex that is purposive because it satisfies the ends of the designer or maker, like a radiator in a car, or external purposiveness, and an element the purposiveness of which is determined not by any appeal to an external designer, but rather ‘internally’ in an organic self-organizing and self-maintaining whole. We explain the parts by reference to this whole, which itself is, reciprocally, the reason the parts are as they are; and all of this without any intention of the parts, such as organs, to represent anything as their end. So, for example, we can say what leukocytes, white blood cells, are for, without reference to a designer of the system, but by reference to the internal ends of the living being, such as maintaining health by attacking foreign invaders like bacteria or parasites. As Kant says, we can show that the parts of a living being ‘as far as their existence and their form are concerned are possible only through their relation to the whole'” (pp. 283-284).

“But, again, [for Kant] this is all a matter of what we must think for the sake of a satisfying explanation…. It must be merely that because… teleological causality makes no sense in the scientific terms Kant considers himself to have established…. ‘Strictly speaking, therefore, the organization of nature has nothing analogous to any causality known to us'” (p. 284).

“But all of this is supposed to be consistent with the unavoidability of teleological explanations, that is, with their necessity…. He asserts as a philosophical truth that we will never be able to [reduce life to mechanistic principles], and even that it is ‘absurd’ to imagine that we could. (No ‘Newton for a blade of grass’, ever.) He says clearly that we can no more give up the teleological principle and the idea of final causality than we could give up the universal causal principle itself” (pp. 284-285).

“One brief reason [Kant] gives for this is that this abandonment would leave us without anything ‘for guidance in observing’…. While we have the possibility of a physical and chemical account of cell division, we are not observing a mere series. With that account alone, we would have no way of understanding that these processes are part of one series, no way to isolate anything like ‘what comes next’ and so no language to explain what happens when it does not” (p. 285).

“What [Hegel] tries to show is that mechanism as a principle, as a pure or logical principle…, already amounts to, implicitly, what is most distinctive about teleology, an ‘explanation by concept’, how a thing ‘matches up’ to its concept, although in mechanism this concept is only ‘in itself’, not ‘for itself’…. [H]is claim is that while mechanism posits a radical independence among objects in motion, the results of mechanism itself reveal a regular dependence, fixed and unvarying, among such putative independent objects, and it must transform itself into a position that can do this justice, not treat it as an astonishing accident” (p. 288).

Unconditioned Knowledge?

Kant speaks of reason’s dissatisfaction with “conditioned” knowledge, and of a practical necessity for us to posit the existence of some unconditioned knowledge (e.g., about God, the soul, and the world), even though we can only posit it and it remains finally unavailable to us as knowledge.

Hegel, though well aware of the limits of the knowledge we have, wants to decisively reject the idea that “knowledge” could exist that is in principle beyond the capabilities of finite beings. Leibniz had already suggested that if we take the universality of reason seriously, this means there ought to be nothing, even in divine understanding, that would be in principle beyond the ability of finite rational beings to understand. Hegel claims that such a view ought to be compatible with Kant’s critical principles, even though Kant does not seem to think it is.

“In the realm of finite objects, any specification of determinate intelligibility, even if relatively successful, is still limited, or in Kant’s sense ‘conditioned’…. Since any such rendering intelligible must be self-conscious to be such a judging, such conditionedness and limitation are inseparable from determinate intelligibility itself, and so can be said to ‘demand’ completion in an unconditioned…. With this established, however, we seek a higher degree of intelligibility (one not subject to such limitations), indeed the highest. And so the concept itself, or conceptuality itself, the truth of finite objectivity, is now our object. In this sense, pure thinking’s determination of itself, not just qua the truth of objects, but qua itself as its own object, represents, ultimately, Hegel’s unconditioned” (Pippin, Hegel’s Real of Shadows, p. 252).

“Hegel… goes on to note the many Kantian affinities of his project. The concept of the concept, or conceptuality, or conceiving as the truth of being, is the ‘”I” or pure self-consciousness‘… and he notes Kant’s own version of the truth of any object: Kant defined the object as ‘the concept in which the manifold is united’…. Being as such a ‘positedness’, which is nevertheless being-in-and-for-itself, means that the objectivity of any concept is ‘none other than the nature of self-consciousness, has no other moments of determination than the “I” itself'” (p. 253).

We could equally say that for Hegel, it is the concept of the concept — or the self-referentiality in apperceptive judgment — that says “I”.

Objectivity is not a matter of conformity to something given that could serve as a standard. It is ultimately a matter of good judgment that can be recognized as such and shared by others. It is up to us rational beings to work out the detail of what that means.

Hegel’s approach to the unconditioned is enabled by his removal of the qualifications Kant had placed on his revival of Aristotelian teleology in the Critique of Judgment. Implicitly in his works overall and more explicitly in the logic of the concept, Hegel seems to follow the same kind of top-level explanatory strategy as Aristotle, combining teleology and hypothetical necessity.

“[I]f we understand the structure of [Hegel’s] Logic as some kind of ascent or progress, and if we think of that progress as measured by degrees of any rendering intelligible, the former stage always requiring the latter as a condition, then the essential predicative forms we study in the Logic‘s three books will be (i) S is P, (ii) S is essentially P, and (iii) S is a good P. Teleological explanation (for artifacts, actions, and organic beings) is the beginning of wisdom about such a higher degree of intelligibility…. (On this scale the ‘absolutely’ intelligible would be, to use Aryeh Kosman’s phrase for a similar claim in Aristotle, ‘thinking thinking thinking’)” (pp. 254-255).

We should not be put off by the apparent impersonality of “thinking thinking thinking” or the Hegelian “concept”. The very abstractness of the Kantian “I” serves to make it a transparent vehicle for our most deeply held (i.e., most “actual”) values. Aristotle and Kant and Hegel are bypassing the petty foibles and opacity of an empirical ego in order to bring to the fore what I would call our deep ethical essence.

“Hegel tells us that, with the topic of the concept as such, we are entering ‘the realm of subjectivity and freedom’…, a language that has an unmistakable but mysterious practical air…. [H]e moves immediately to explain that metaphor with several other metaphors…. There is, he notes, a textbook understanding of concepts and their roles in judgments and the role of judgments in syllogisms. But he complains that such ‘material’ is not only ‘finished’… and ‘entrenched’… but ‘ossified’…. His task, he says, is to introduce a ‘fluidity’… into such material and to spark or ignite or animate… a living concept in such dead matter…. He then complains about the difficulty of his task, switching metaphors again, and compares his project to building a new city in a ‘devastated’ land…, a task rendered all the more difficult when the land is occupied by an ancient and ‘solidly constructed’ city. One must decide above all, he insists, not to make use of what is already there, ‘not to make use of much otherwise valued stock” (p. 255).

There is a great deal that is perfectly unobjectionable from the point of view of common sense that turns out to be incompatible with the self-determination of reason.

“[B]eing is conceptuality, not a material ‘made’ intelligible by the exercise of a subjective power…. What a thing is, in truth, is its intelligibility…. In the Logic, the question is dual: What is being such that it is intelligible? What is the intelligibility of being? For us, Hegel complains, the question seems to live on only in religion” (p. 257).

“The chief task of philosophy is to account for this conceptuality” (p. 258).

This accounting — a kind of articulation — is key. Philosophy does not make mere assertions.

“[Hegel] will say things like: philosophy (and he seems to be thinking of philosophy as exhibited in the Phenomenology of Spirit) is interested not in a simple factual narrative of what happened but instead in what ‘is true in what happens’, where that seems to mean what, in what happened, reveals something about what it is to be Geist [spirit]” (ibid).

“In [Kant’s] sense a cognitive mental act is neither mere ‘activity’, in the sense in which we might speak of a computer’s processing as its current activity (cognitive activity is norm responsive), nor an intentional action (one does not perceive or believe ‘on purpose’)…. We may intentionally or ‘on purpose’ take up the task of trying to understand why something happened, but as we gather evidence and test hypotheses, we are not — in, say, perceiving, or in judging on the basis of perceiving — intentionally doing something for the sake of something. The power of perceiving or the power of knowing (or their failure) is what it is (has its distinct end) in independence from whatever else we may also be trying to accomplish. According to Aristotle, for example, the actuality of an axe, its formal and final cause, is cutting, the actuality of the eye is seeing. None of this implies that the axe or the eye is purposively acting in its proper actualization. Cognitive activity is an actualization in that sense. But it is also true that the capacities of the eye are for an end, its distinct end as what it is, or qua eye. And in that sense the capacities for knowing are for an end which knowing has, qua knowing. (The spontaneous capacity too has a formal and final causality, not serial or successive, but immanent and simultaneous.)” (p. 259).

Individual perceptions, judgments, and thoughts thus occur in us “spontaneously”, even though at a higher level reason is purposeful. For long I’ve been mystified by Kant’s choice of the term “spontaneity” for our self-conscious doings. (As I am accustomed to using the word, it seems more to apply to something like the pre-conscious syntheses of imagination.) Pippin provides a valuable clue to Kant’s thinking about spontaneity here, when he points out that perceiving and judging are not doing something for the sake of something in the way that ordinary actions are for the sake of something.

“The understanding and reason (and finally, reflective judgment) are manifestations of one capacity, thinking, the spontaneous faculty…. There is understanding, Verstand, or thinking, considered with respect to what is the case, or in terms of the possible objects of thought, in the basic sense of claiming or judging about objects other than thought, objects that must be provided to such thinking, cannot be self-given, all on the one hand; and, on the other, reason, Vernunft, thinking considered without restriction, or thinking in so far as it is purely self-determining, thinking whose object is itself. In this latter sense, one thinks first, of course, of pure practical rationality, self-determining both in the sense that only reason can determine what the exercise of practical reason consists in, and in the sense that to act is to have a maxim one must give oneself, or it is to have a reason for the action that one counts as a reason. But reason in its theoretical use, what Kant calls its ‘hypothetical use’, is also self-determining” (p. 260).

“And in general, reason in this hypothetical use results in descending or ascending specifications…. But understanding… cannot be a distinct object for or to reason, as such objects are normally understood. That would be psychology. Reason’s determination of the unity of the ‘manifold cognitions’ of the understanding is the determination by thought of itself, of its own unity. (This perfectly parallel’s the Analytic’s claim that experience, the possible representation of an object at all, requires a unity that cannot be supplied by experience. Thinking provides this unity for itself, by itself.) Any such higher unity can never be an object of experience, but it is also the case that such postulations are not mere heuristic posits, dispensable or alterable as practical needs dictate. Every exercise of reason qua reason is a necessary self-determination” (p. 261).

Such a necessity of reason is still hypothetical, not categorical — if this, then that, never simply “that” as a conclusion out of the blue.

“All thinking is a spontaneity, an activity, not a perceiving or grasping. This is true for reflective judging as well” (ibid).

“Kant is interested in the Critique of Pure Reason in what he says our ‘cognitive faculty… provides out of itself’…. Hegel will ask why we should not also say that the categorical structure of experience is what reason requires of itself, with no threat of subjectivism if understood properly; why not say that the moral law is what reason requires of itself?” (p. 262).

Hegel is using deeply Kantian principles to question Kant’s conclusions about the inaccessibility of the unconditioned for us.

“Since, according to Kant’s apperception requirement, any judging is also the consciousness of judging (no one can be claiming something without knowing what she is doing), judging must be implicitly a subscription to the requirements of any such judging (thus including a commitment to be able to provide reasons for the judgment, to be denying anything inconsistent with the judgment and so forth, to be able to integrate the judgment in a consistent whole of other beliefs held), and more broadly, any putative act of knowing involves apperceptively a putative realization of what knowing should be. In this sense the attempt to know, as centrally a judging, is also a self-consciously purposive activity, end-directed (it aims at knowledge, unqualifiedly and unconditionally knowledge) and self-constituting (only reason can determine what the removal of such qualifications would amount to). In the case of the understanding, or judging informed by sensible intuition, this means that any instance of judging is an awareness that judgment is a piece of conditioned knowledge, and no such awareness, since it is an awareness of an attempt to know, can avoid in the completion of the pursuit of such an end this ‘need’ to seek the unconditioned. Such an end is inseparable from any pursuit of the end of knowing itself” (pp. 263-264, parenthesized German words omitted).

“[Kant] is suggesting that our relation to these issues is not a relation of knowing in the experiential or empirical sense…. The relation is some sort of practical relation, … which carries with it its own sort of practical necessity, one that can be said to have a priority — again a practical priority — over the capacities and limitations of reason in its theoretical use” (p. 264).

With respect to the strict self-determination of reason and the reality of this practical necessity to seek the unconditioned, Pippin says he cannot see any essential difference between Kant and Hegel. But “Hegel certainly has a different evaluation of the results…. He sees them not as self-imposed limitations on reason, but as constituting the intelligible structures of reality, and there is a radical boldness in his rejection of the idea of a reality or truth beyond any ability of ours to determine what it is” (p. 268).

“If we keep in mind this Kantian context, recall the essentially practical and productive character of the power of reason, recall that the sense-bearing unit of intelligibility for both Kant and Hegel is the judgment, and that judgments are necessarily self-conscious judgments, and so claimable only in the context of some awareness of their finitude or conditioned nature, then claims like these by Hegel look less mysterious” (ibid).

Pippin says the biggest difference between Kant and Hegel in this area is Hegel’s idea that the progress of the self-determination of reason is somehow driven by contradiction. But “the contradiction that Hegel is referring to is always an essentially practical contradiction, an activity’s contradiction of its own end, something that gets clearer, I hope, if we recall Kant’s account of the inherent purposiveness of reflective judgment and the hypothetical use of reason” (ibid; see Reflection and Dialectic).

“[Hegel] will often say things that seem outrageous [, for instance] that philosophy gives the form of necessity to what would otherwise appear merely contingent…. This can sound as if Hegel wants to say that the actual course of that development, philosophy can prove, could not have happened otherwise, as if, in science as well as philosophy (logic), there is a development over time that could not have been otherwise. If that sort of claim is supported by a claim about a self-transforming, underlying metaphysical entity, ‘cosmic spirit’, or ‘God’, developing according to some necessary law of internal teleology, then the claim seems hopeless” (p. 269).

I thoroughly agree that this kind of necessity — a purely deterministic unfolding of events in the world — is as foreign to Hegel as the idea of unlimited free will.

“At a more modest level, though, (and this is very much how I think he wants to be understood), he could mean that a significant transition in art history, or political history, or religious history, a shift in collective ethical commitments, or a development in a speculative logic (that the content of some determinate concept cannot be fixed without reliance on a successor, more comprehensive concept) can all be rendered intelligible by a philosophical account” (ibid).

“This account is based on a form of practical contradiction that introduces a more familiar form of necessity and one different from logical necessity or material necessity, the form appropriate to ‘he who wills the end must will, or necessarily wills, the means’ (otherwise we have evidence that he has not truly willed the end)” (ibid; see Hegel on Willing).

Any kind of historical interpretation — indeed any interpretation whatsoever, insofar as it aims to reach firm conclusions — ultimately faces the “problem” of the unconditioned. Pippin’s previous example of interpreting the actuality of a person’s character helps to bring all this down to earth. Hegel’s argument is that we do this kind of interpretation all the time, so whatever that necessarily presupposes must be possible.

“The” Concept?

Whenever we are deeply engaged in reflection, we tend to “lose ourselves” in the subject matter. At the same time, what we are thinking about becomes a part of “us”. This kind of immersive unity that we can experience affords a glimpse of what Aristotle and Hegel are talking about when they speak of “thought thinking itself”.

This kind of inquiry will not directly answer any questions about how things are in the world, but Hegel implies it has the potential to make us wiser, in the same sense in which Aristotle associates first philosophy with wisdom.

Pippin has been arguing that Hegel’s Logic really is fundamentally about the kinds of questions Aristotle associated with first philosophy, and especially “What is it to say what something is?” (Hegel’s Realm of Shadows, p. 251).

This is an example of what I would call a “higher-order” question, as opposed to a relatively lower-order question like “What is that thing?”. What makes it higher-order is its reflective or self-referential character, here a “saying about saying”.

We have now reached the third and final part of the Logic, the “logic of the concept”. The logic of the concept is about “thinking about thinking” (and implicitly, I think, aims to address a yet higher-order concern for an account of higher-order questioning).

In short, “the” concept, or the Concept with a capital “C”, is for Hegel the concept of the concept, or conceptuality itself. Here we will be concerned no longer with the conditions of possible intelligibility of objects, but with conditions of the possibility of intelligibility as such.

The logic of being through its failure indirectly showed the conditions of possibility for merely identifying objects. The logic of essence asked what makes it possible to know or judge what something really is. Now that we are turned toward thought itself, the concern is how to judge well, and correlatively, what makes something a good whatever-it-is.

At the level of what Hegel calls the concept, we have left the subject-object split behind, and rejoined Aristotle’s perspective that what makes “pure” thought pure is that it “just is” what it is “about” — the thought is “identical” with what it thinks. (Recall again the experience of being immersed in reflection.) At the same time, Hegel’s Kantian “I” is something that emerges out of the self-reference in thinking about thinking, as a kind of name for the implicit unity of apperception in thinking about thinking.

Instead of a pre-existing substantive “I” entity confronting a pre-existing substantive object entity, the “I” and the object become meaningful signs both associated with what I would call the real or true “substantiality” that fills the whole space that is figuratively “in between”, while reaching vertically and horizontally far beyond any direct relations of “I” and object.

(That substantiality, I would say, is grounded in mutual relational articulation and in processes of constitution and synthesis of meaning, value, and form that cumulatively define what I really care about, as shown in my actions in the overall course of a life, which in turn defines who I am. At the same time, nothing that is is really external to it. Spinoza, Leibniz, and Fichte each in their own very different way are Hegel’s partial precursors in developing this kind of insight.)