Essence and Concept

Partway through my reading of Pippin’s Hegel’s Realm of Shadows, I suggested that maybe Hegel intended his “logic of essence” as an account of what he takes from Aristotle’s view of the conditions of intelligibility, and his “logic of the concept” or “subjective logic” as a statement of his own and Kant’s contributions in this same area. This is too simple.

To hazard another extremely broad-brush summary, the big message of the logic of essence is that deeper truth is not immediate; it does not just lie on the surface of appearances, ready for us to pluck as a ripe fruit and consume. Nor is it a kind of “secret knowledge” that could be straightforwardly communicated by one who knew, if she chose to do so. We need a long detour in order to better get at things. We should not be simply beholden to appearances, but neither should we neglect them. Rather, we need to interpretively work through them.

Essence was never supposed to be a matter of dogmatic affirmation. The very idea that there is a deeper truth implicitly calls on us to interpret it.

Hegel’s “logic of the concept” focuses on the activity of interpretation and judgment. This is what makes it “subjective”. But this notion of “subjective” has nothing to do with what we think of as merely subjective. It is not about accidents having to do with us, but about the process of getting to deeper truth, which underlies Platonic and Aristotelian “dialectic” (see also Aristotelian and Hegelian Dialectic; Reflection and Dialectic; Reflection and Higher-Order Things; Dialogue).

While Kant and Hegel dwell more explicitly and at greater length on aspects of this process, I don’t see how it is possible to begin to properly understand Aristotle without taking his concern for the process of interpretation and judgment into account. Wisdom — the ultimate object of philosophy — is not knowledge; it is not reducible to a kind of static content.

Hegel wants to say that the logic of essence implicitly presupposes the logic of the concept — that essence presupposes the need for interpretation. I think Aristotle would strongly agree.

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.

Apperceptive Judgment

What Hegel calls “the concept” is not a simple content to be grasped, as if it were already completely formed as what it will turn out to be, and all of that in advance of and independent of the activity of judgment. Rather, it emerges out of the activity of judgment in the space of reasons. It also turns out to have an inherently normative character.

Pippin quotes Kant: “I find that a judgment is nothing other than the way to bring given cognitions to the objective unity of apperception…. I do not mean to say that these representations necessarily belong to one another in the empirical intuition, but rather that they belong to one another in virtue of the necessary unity of the apperception in the synthesis of intuitions” (Hegel’s Realm of Shadows, p. 102).

As a first approximation, “apperception” here means something like apprehension of intelligible meaning. For Kant, “the basic feature” of the “general or content-less logic as rules for valid judgings and inferrings” is that “judging is apperceptive” (p. 103).

The significance of this will become a bit clearer further below. Hegel will go further than Kant in construing apperception in a purely “logical” (as opposed to psychological) way.

“Kant was well aware that with this notion of apperceptive judging he was breaking with the rationalist (and Lockean) notion of reflection as inner perception, and as we shall see, Hegel’s language is everywhere carefully Kantian in this respect” (p. 112).

(Aristotle too carefully distinguishes thought from inner sense, rather than identifying them as Descartes and Locke do.)

Pippin quotes Hegel: “It is one of the profoundest and truest insights to be found in the Critique of Pure Reason that the unity which constitutes the essence of the concept is recognized as the original synthetic unity of apperception, the unity of the ‘I think’, or of self-consciousness” (ibid).

This suggests a three-way mutual explication of the essence of the concept, unity of apperception, and self-consciousness. Self-consciousness for Hegel turns out to be not a separate substantive “subject” distinct from its “object”, but rather an essential adverbial property of self-reference that is intrinsic to the thinking of every concept (see The Ambiguity of “Self”).

From Hegel’s perspective “it is quite misleading for Kant to formulate the point by saying that the ‘I think’ must ‘accompany’ (begleiten) all my representations…. Representing objects is not representing objects, a claiming to be so, unless apperceptive…. And that has to mean, in a very peculiar sense that is important to Hegel and that will take some time to unpack, that such judgings are necessarily and inherently reflexive, and so at the very least are self-referential, even if such a reflected content is not substantive, does not refer to a subject’s focusing on her judging activity as if it were a second consciousness…. Virtually everything in the Logic of significance descends in one way or another from the proper understanding of this claim” (ibid).

Judgings as activities are “necessarily and inherently… self-referential”. The suggestion seems to be that apperception and self-consciousness consist in complex self-referential judgings, rather than anything resembling perceptive receptivity or simple consciousness. “Reflexivity” for Hegel is an elemental property of judgments as judgments, not a global property of consciousness. To assert the inherent self-referentiality of judging activity is quite different from asserting the sort of inherent reflexivity of consciousness that Descartes and Locke presuppose.

“[W]e have to be clear that this has nothing to do with inner perception or the mind observing itself” (p. 105).

“There must be some way of saying that the self-conscious dimension of thought and action is a matter of the way a claim is made or an action undertaken. To adopt the formulations used by Ryle in accounting for many similar phenomena, they are accomplished ‘self-consciously’, rather than accompanied by or even identical with another act of consciousness” (p. 106).

“There is a self-referential component in any judgment or action too (‘I think this, I act thus’), but it can be misleading to think that this is the same problem as ‘how does the first-person pronoun have sense, and thereby pick me uniquely out’. As we shall see, it is misleading because it suggests a punctuated moment of awareness” (p. 107).

“Finally, there is little doubt that Hegel realized that apperception was not a kind of consciousness” (ibid).

In support of this he quotes Hegel: “[I]n this original deed there is not yet the representation of the ‘I’…. [T]his objectifying deed, liberated from the opposition of consciousness [between subject and object], is closer to what may be taken simply as thinking as such. But this deed should no longer be called consciousness; for consciousness holds within itself the opposition of the ‘I’ and its intended object which is not to be found in that original deed” (ibid).

It seems to me that apperception thus implicitly becomes the middle term of a syllogism: self-consciousness is apperception; apperception is not a kind of consciousness; therefore (contrary to what the formation of the word suggests) self-consciousness is not a kind of consciousness, but something “else”.

I take consciousness to be a form of presentation in what Aristotle called imagination, and self-consciousness to be the form of the self-referential character of judgment or apperception. Outside the context of the Logic (e.g., in the Phenomenology), self-consciousness has an inherently social or intersubjective dimension; in both the Phenomenology and the Logic it has a normative dimension. Human as opposed to purely animal experience is always a mixture of “consciousness” and “self-consciousness”.

“I know what I am doing not by identifying myself with the one acting, but by being the one acting. So how can such a Two also be One? We are in the middle of everything of significance in Hegel’s Logic, not to mention Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre and Schelling’s early idealism…. This unusual identity is constitutive of ‘theoretical thought’ as such” (pp. 108-109).

“This too is important to state carefully. Hegel scholars often assume that Hegel inherits ‘identity philosophy’ from Schelling, and that it means ‘the identity of subject and object’. They then formulate various implausible versions of such an identity, such as that true reality is divine thought thinking itself, that objects are moments of this thought’s ‘intellectual intuition of itself’. But the Logic is not committed to anything remotely like this” (p. 109).

Rather, the identity Hegel is principally interested in is that “the thought (belief, assertion) of some content… is at the same time the thought of the reasons that are required for such an ‘answer'” (p. 110, emphasis added). This what it means to say that thought is inherently self-referential.

This helps to explain why it is true that “It is a condition of use of a concept that the use is subject to a norm of correct and incorrect use, and that norm is internal to the concept…. Such capacities as judgment and self-consciousness are called into play in a way that can be redeemed if challenged, for example” (p. 106).

Pippin elaborates, “being committed to the truth of a proposition, I am just thereby committed to the denial of everything inconsistent with it. The latter is not a separate inference I draw, on the basis of my first commitment. It is a dimension of the content of my first commitment. This is not to say I must be conscious of these implications and incompatibilities, but just that I could not be thinking of that content were I not able to be responsive to such considerations. This is all so just as someone’s believing something and her thought that it is something right to believe ‘are the same reality‘” (p. 112).

The idea that a proposition should be identified with the distinctions and entailments that it presupposes and that follow from it — rather than with a simple Boolean value of true or false, as in mainstream 20th century logic — has been developed with extraordinary thoroughness by Robert Brandom in Making It Explicit, which Richard Rorty credited with ushering in a new “Hegelian” stage of analytic philosophy.

“[N]o one could be said to ‘just’ assert, or just believe, or just act. Any such undertaking, if self-conscious, must be potentially responsive to the question of ‘Why?’; that is, to reasons. (An assertion is such a responsiveness; the latter is not a secondary or even distinct dimension of the former.)” (ibid).

This formulation that an assertion is such a responsiveness — which relies on the essential self-referentiality of judgment that Pippin is arguing for here — seems in a way more radical than the way Brandom puts it. For Brandom and Brandom’s Hegel, the concomittant commitments are material inferences, and there is a sort of Kantian imperative that we ought to show such responsiveness to everything with a material-inferential connection to our assertions. According to Pippin’s Hegel, the concommitant commitments are not inferences at all but integral to the true identity of the assertion, and we would not really have made an assertion at all if we did not show responsiveness to them. But they ultimately agree that we ought to show such responsiveness — that addressing the concomittant commitments of our assertions is not something we could legitimately choose to ignore — and that this has something to do with the very nature of assertion-making.

“And it is at least plausible to say that the greater the extent of such potential responsiveness (or said another way, the greater the self-understanding), the ‘freer’ the activity, the more I can be said to redeem the action as genuinely mine, back it, stand behind it. We thus have formulated what [Sebastian] Rödl rightly identifies as the heart of German Idealism, the principle ‘that self-consciousness, freedom and reason are one'” (pp. 113-114).

Statements like “self-consciousness, freedom and reason are one” used to give me no end of trouble, because I assumed they were meant to assert the sovereignty of a Subject (i.e., in this case that the Subject is self-conscious; the Subject has free will; and the Subject is the seat of reason). What I eventually realized through the closer study of Kant and Hegel is that I was assuming dictionary meanings of self-consciousness and freedom that are not applicable, and that Hegel and even Kant are much less “subject-centered” than common readings make them out to be. A strong concern for subjectivity need not be identified with the assumption of a sovereign Subject.

Because what Hegel means by “concept” is so fundamental to understanding the Logic and so far from the way it is commonly understood, Pippin repeats an earlier message in different words:

“[C]oncepts are determinate only by virtue of their roles in judgment, the ‘bringing to the objective unity of apperception’, in Kant’s definition” (p. 115).

“So a concept like ‘essence’, for example, can be said to be delimitable as just that concept by virtue of its possible uses in various contrasts to ‘appearance’ or by virtue of its negation (in the grand structure of the [Science of Logic]) of the concept ‘being’, or its role in distinguishing accidental from essential predicates. These are all roles in judgments (and are thereby tied to judgmental roles in inferences). Any of these uses, though, involves any such claim in a network of justifications, a normative order. The application of any such concept in judgment, since apperceptive, self-consciously applied, must be, just thereby, responsive to its possible misapplication, and the question of the general contours of its correct use implicates any one notion in the normative proprieties governing many others. Hence, as we shall see, the course of the ‘movement’ of the logic” (ibid).

“A proper understanding of the self’s relation to itself in thinking, the form of any conceiving and thereby any concept, and thereby any inferential relation, is also the core meaning of what Hegel calls the ‘infinity’ treated by speculative philosophy” (p. 118).

“This is yet again not an easy thought: some sort of self-relation that is not a two-place relation, but something like a circular structure, in which the self’s self-relation never terminates in a distinct object or determinate posit, but in so attending, returns to itself as a relating…. This is ‘infinity’ in the proper sense, Hegel tells us frequently, and… ‘Self-consciousness is thus the nearest example of the presence of infinity'” (p. 119).

My current impression is that what Hegel calls the “good” infinite has something to do with what I would tentatively call relational structures with cyclic dependencies, and he thinks we can and do implicitly use something like this in life, without getting stuck in what could be a mathematically infinite cyclic traversal of the structure. (That something like this is at least conceivable is anecdotally supported by the existence of computable and hence in that sense “finite” implementations of infinitely extensible data structures.) The more usual notion of infinity — at root mathematical, a paradoxical “value greater than any definite value” — Hegel derides as “bad” infinity, regardless of whether it is potential or actual (which was a key distinction for Aristotle). (See Hegel on Reflection for a somewhat better account of this issue.)

Hegel in effect seems to ask us to suspend the assumption that standard mathematical infinity is what infinity is, and to step back to the more general idea of the non-definite. Further, he identifies the contrasting term of finitude specifically with a non-relational view of things, as being whatever they are even in complete isolation from one another, so his condemnations of finitude are not at all condemnations of the view of things as finite in the sense of depending on other things. Pippin earlier even suggested that some kind of notion of things depending on other things for their intelligibility is the main source of the famous and difficult-to-understand “motion” in Hegelian logic.

“Discriminating what belongs together with what, what is connected to what in a temporal order, knowing that the successive perceptions of a house do not count as the perception of a succession in the world, requires an apperceptive unity; it does not just happen to consciousness” (p. 121).

“Without this ability to distinguish how things are from how they seem to me, there would be as many ‘I’s’ as associated seemings, and no unity of self-consciousness. Or, achieving the unity of self-consciousness is differentiating seeming from being” (p. 122).

Pippin returns to his larger argument about the Kantian basis of what Hegel is doing.

“The attempt has been to understand the Kantian claim about apperception as a logical, not psychological claim, and this goes some way toward understanding the link between this reflexive character of judging as the essence of intelligibility and ‘the intelligibles’. If it is possible to establish that certain a priori judgments have… objectivity, but without Kant’s limitation thesis, restricting that thesis to possible objects of sense experience (phenomena, not noumena), we will have a way into Hegel’s claim that logic can be understood as metaphysics. Our claim about Kant was that even for him, this relation to objects is not established by the imposition of subjective form onto received sensory material. Kant’s position is not ‘impositionist’ in this sense, and both he and Hegel are following the nonimpositionist, more Aristotelian (hylomorphic) line” (p. 125).

He includes several more quotes from Kant and one from Beatrice Longuenesse that offer hints in this more Aristotelian direction, then says, “We need only remember that for Hegel this is the core of Kant’s own position once we give up any notion of separable contributions from sensibility and understanding, and give up referring to pure forms of intuition as species-specific…. If we do, we get the careful statements about the identity within difference of concept and being in and for itself with which we began” (p. 126).

He returns to the more basic point that “There is no indication that Hegel thinks that being or God has an apperceptive discursive intellect and that we are manifestations of it. We are manifestations of the finitude of Verstand [understanding] and the possibility inherent in Verstand of the transcendence of such self-imposed finitude” (ibid).

In referring to “self-imposed” finitude, I think Pippin means the viewing of concepts as independent, isolated objects or fixed representations, rather than as pure moments in the traversal of the relational network of the space of reasons.

“[W]e need a kind of stereoscopic vision to keep in mind two aspects of this issue that Hegel keeps stressing…. The first is that conceiving is an activity and concepts are ‘moments’ of this activity. This is something stressed in a different way when Hegel tells us that concepts are not things, objects. The second is that… such activities are not actions, doings, and that Kant’s position, when properly understood (and so not as Kant understood it), should not be taken as a part of a two-step or impositionist account of such activity” (p. 127).

That activity is not reducible to punctual actions is a thesis I have been pursuing in an Aristotelian context.

“Hegel says that (Kant’s) objective or transcendental logic ‘replaces’… general metaphysics or ontology. Logic so construed also takes account of and replaces special metaphysics, the a priori doctrines of the soul, the world, and God” (p. 128).

Once again, Hegel’s “logical” alternative to rationalist metaphysics and psychology does not presuppose any fixed concepts. Pippin returns to this to avoid misunderstanding, because he has been emphasizing the non-psychological character of apperceptive judgment for Hegel.

“If we think, as some do, of Hegel’s Denkbestimmungen [thought determinations] as something like Fregean thoughts, objective in a Platonic sense, as abstract entities, then what I am quoting [to the effect that the “objective” part of Hegel’s logic is the true critique of such determinations] is very puzzling. Hegel certainly knows that Kant’s transcendental logic is in some sense or other a logic of subjectivity” (p. 129).

The distinction that is beginning to be made explicit here is between subjectivity in general and specifically psychological subjectivity. This will allow Hegel to develop a “subjective” logic that has nothing to do with psychology.

By analogy, Pippin notes that “Frege interpreters argue that there is no reason to go as far as the historical Frege did (a form of Platonism) to differentiate objective thought from mental episodes, private associations, etc.” (ibid).

“In a claim we shall have to return to and investigate, [Hegel] repeats often that the true critical question is not whether subjective forms of thought have any objective purchase, but whether the concepts of a logic ‘in and for themselves’ provide what they are supposed to provide: what is required for successful conceptual determination…. Kant did not sufficiently investigate what these pure concepts are; he did not pursue the question of their ‘nature’ and their very possibility” (p. 130).

Broadly speaking, the answer will be that concepts are not Platonic forms but get their meaning from their uses, as normatively evaluated in the space of reasons.

“Commentators are sometimes so eager to observe the spirit of this sort of critique of Kantian ‘subjectivism’ that they assume that the Logic is something like the ‘pure’ manifestation of the objective dependence and implication relations among ‘pure essentialities’, thoughts in the objective sense, logical entities that are in those relations in ways that have nothing to do with anyone ‘thinking them'” (p. 131).

The delicate point here is that we can take the activity of thinking into account by treating it as its own “subject”, rather than attributing it to a separate Subject.

“But the apperceptive or inherently reflexive determination of conceptual content… is no more external than the ‘I think’ is external to a content thought. Judgment and the consciousness of judgment are one act. No content represents anything except as thought/judged” (ibid).

Recalling the syllogism I constructed above from Hegel’s statements — which concluded that what he calls self-consciousness is not a kind of consciousness — I think Pippin should have said “self-consciousness” rather than “consciousness” in the above. “Self-consciousness” for Hegel is normative and non-psychological. What he calls “consciousness” (the aspect of immediacy and of presentation in the form of objects) does have a psychological character. In real life, we encounter mixtures of the two.

“The movement of pure thought is like the movement in a proof, on the assumption that the moves are inferences a thinker, on pain of contradiction, must make, and not merely formal-structural functions, as in a symbolic logic” (p. 132).

A proof involves not just a sequence of propositions but a sequence of judgments or assertions. Frege explained this difference in terms of an additional dimension of “assertoric force” alongside his Platonic view of concepts and propositions. For Pippin and Brandom, the consideration of assertoric force is where normativity enters into logic.

“[I]t is also question-begging to assume that anyone who makes the assertoric force inseparable from the logical structure of a unit of meaning (as Hegel unquestionably does) is thereby guilty of psychologism, or of relying on some ‘experiential’ standard of adequacy. Even Frege was willing to make the question of assertoric force a part of ‘logic’ in his own terms” (ibid).

Hegel takes assertoric force into account by treating it normatively rather than psychologically. Meanwhile, the movement of judging activity that is the bearer of Hegel’s notion of truth must also be distinct from the mere inspection of logical structure.

[O]bjects moving about [in Hegel’s Logic]… is a mystification. At any rate, I have no idea what it would be to ‘observe’ one thought-object developing into another. (We don’t observe what happens when one step in a proof ‘becomes’ another; the inference has to be drawn, and drawn for a reason.) Such an objectivism makes it almost impossible to understand what Hegel calls the Logic‘s inner ‘drive’…, and it especially does not take account of the claim that conceptual form is itself apperceptive, that ‘the truth is self-consciousness’ (pp. 133-134).

“Essentialities do not move or establish relations with other essentialities…. A proposition cannot be the bearer of truth, does not even represent any state of affairs, except as judged, and therewith the identity of the acts of thinking involve[s] a wide variety of other commitments at the same time…. (I mean such things as being committed to the denial of all judgments inconsistent with the one that one asserts as true, and this not as a second act of thought.) By contrast, the basic unit of intelligibility for Hegel is not an internally complex object, even if in relations with other objects, but as he says in many ways and many different times, a result, the accomplishment of the ‘active universal’, which activity is judging…. The mode of logical connection is inseparable from the mode of connecting. They are co-constituting” (pp. 134-135).

Objective “thoughts” in Hegel’s sense are not just pure Platonic essentialities but judgments that have a shareable meaning and that inherently invite normative evaluation.

“Said another way, a strong way of insisting that Hegel’s new ‘metaphysics’ is a logic, none of this has anything to do with what anything is made of, consists in, with the furniture of the universe. What we want to know… about these concepts is their ‘logic’, how they function with account-givings governed by the norms of explanatory satisfactoriness and truth” (p. 137).

“This means that any concept of thinking and of the content of thought involves normative proprieties, exclusions, and implications, without which any thinking a thought could not be the thinking and the thought that it is. These normative commitments are independent of what a thinker might herself be able to acknowledge, but they cannot be denied on being noticed, on pain of incoherence, of not thinking anything at all” (ibid).

Thus apperception — or what we might call “pure” as opposed to empirical subjectivity, which need not be tied to an assumed separate Subject, but only to some judging activity — for Hegel is purely “logical” (having to do with the determination of meaning). It is independent of anything psychological, and at the same time it is inherently normative.

Teleology After Kant

Kant is responsible for recovering something like the modesty stemming from deep seriousness with which Plato and Aristotle approached claims of knowledge, though I don’t think he realized just how far they were from the dogmatism that broadly characterizes the intervening tradition. Kant indeed often speaks as if all previous philosophy had a dogmatic cast. I don’t think the tradition between the times of Aristotle and Kant was the uniform sea of dogmatic positions that Kant makes it out to be, either, but I agree that a dogmatic cast was dominant.

Kant also goes further than Aristotle or even Plato in positively asserting a principled basis for limiting claims to knowledge. Plato emphasizes sharp distinctions between appearance and reality. Aristotle is more inclined to emphasize that we do after all indirectly encounter something real in and through appearances, but he is in agreement with Plato (and Kant) that there is no magical overleaping of the fact that what we experience directly are only appearances.

For all three of them, knowledge in a strong sense could only be a product of the indirect work of reason reflecting on experience. Aristotle further emphasizes the variability of things in the world, and the large role of ambiguity in experience. Kant on the other hand is still beholden to the early modern assumption that knowledge ought to be subject to a completely univocal account. But his notions of synthesis are a great contribution to the understanding of how experience works — how “immediate” experience is a result of pre-conscious processes of constitution. In a nutshell, this is the additional principled basis for limiting knowledge claims that we owe to Kant.

With extremely broad brush, it could be said that Hegel takes up the Kantian emphasis that experience is a result of processes of synthesis but, unlike Kant, he also wants to emphasize that synthesis is not a self-contained activity of each individual. At the same time, he takes the more Aristotelian perspective that we really do indirectly encounter reality in and through appearances. For Hegel, to deny this would be to deny the possibility of knowledge altogether.

Hegel sees synthesis taking place at the level of what he calls spirit — i.e., the level of the universal community of rational beings across space and time, of shareable thought contents, and of broadly (but not entirely) shared values. But he also recognizes Aristotelian variability and ambiguity. At this extremely high level of generality, Hegel is a Kantian Aristotelian or an Aristotelian Kantian. Spirit for Hegel transcends nature, without being opposed to it.

In the Preface to the Phenomenology, Hegel glosses reason as purposeful activity, while sympathetically referring to Aristotle’s view of nature as purposeful activity. In the Science of Logic, he carefully distinguishes the internal kind of teleology Aristotle attributed to nature from the external kind that refers particular events to the will of God. He distinguishes three kinds of determination. Mechanism and “spiritual mechanism” determine things from outside, in ways that are indifferent to their specific character or content. An intermediate form he calls “chemism” determines things from outside in ways that do involve their specific character or content. These are both contrasted to teleology, which according to Hegel is the internal determination of things by what I at least would call their nature or essence.

For Hegel, mechanism and chemism together represent means by which ends are realized. He explicitly identifies these with efficient causes operating in ways ultimately subordinate to final causes. I was unaware of this when I previously glossed the Aristotelian efficient cause as fundamentally a means by which an end is realized, but it is nice to know it has Hegel’s concurrence.

For Hegel, the external determination of things is subordinate to their internal or “self”-determination. Self-determination meanwhile is anything but the result of arbitrary will; it develops out of the concrete detail of the “self-relatedness” in which the very forms of things consist. He treats this as an elaboration of the Phenomenology Preface’s assertion that “substance is also subject”.

The very essence or substance of things is able to act in subject-like ways, because form for Hegel is explainable in terms of self-relatedness. Meanwhile, Science of Logic translator George di Giovanni notes that Hegel’s selbst or “self” has no interpretation in German as a noun. As I would put it, “self” is purely adverbial and relational, and therefore is constituted in what Hegel in the Phenomenology Preface calls otherness. So, for Hegel the primacy of internal determination is perfectly compatible with the logical primacy of otherness. “Self” refers to a constitution in otherness, rather than being opposed to it. From the start, Hegelian otherness is conceived as beyond any naive opposition between a substantive self and what is other than it.

Thus Hegel can be seen as more thoroughly vindicating the content of Aristotelian internal teleology from a Kantian point of view. Kant himself made an important start at this in the Critique of Judgment, but qualified the legitimate application of internal teleology to nature as ultimately only having a heuristic value useful to our understanding, that would not be literally applicable to nature as it is in itself. Hegel in the Science of Logic carefully and at length develops objectivity out of something like what I would call reasonable interpretation, and on this basis recovers a valid notion of internal teleology as something real. This notion of objectivity as something constituted is a further development of another Kantian theme. (See also Aristotle on Explanation; Nature, Ends, Normativity.)

Nature, Ends, Normativity

From an Aristotelian point of view, the works of nature result from an ordering of ends. In modern terms, nature for Aristotle is not “value free”, and I take this to be a good thing. But from a strict Kantian point of view, we are the bearers of value, and the attribution of ends to nature independent of us is only a kind of beneficial heuristic projection. But if we radicalize the Kantian primacy of practical reason in the way that Brandom sees Hegel as doing, then all our theoretical accounts of nature, including those commonly regarded as value-free — and everything else we think, feel, and do — ultimately have a dependency on our inquiries into value and normativity.

From a Kantian point of view, our only access to objective nature is through our rational, discursive understanding. The very objectivity we attribute to nature depends on the objectivity of our understanding of it. Objectivity itself is a normative attitude. I think Kant and Aristotle ultimately agree in recognizing that we don’t have direct access to how things are in themselves, and that how things are in themselves is always a matter of discursive inference, in which the last word is never said.

Hegel emphasizes that the objectivity of understanding we achieve in this way is not a private possession, but something larger than us in which we participate. (See also Teleology After Kant.)

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.)

Ethical Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berkeley on Perception

George Berkeley (1685-1753) is most famous for his provocative claim that material objects don’t really exist. Positively, he claimed that “to be is to be perceived”. Berkeley took as a starting point the view of Descartes and Locke that perceptions are “ideas” in the mind, but took issue with the further assumption of Descartes and Locke that ideas nonetheless also “represent” things that exist independent of the mind. It seems to me that the implicit concept of mind in this kind of usage assumes way too much, but for now I won’t dwell on that.

Berkeley has been the subject of superficial ridicule as a poster child for extreme subjectivism, but that is a caricature. Famously, he is supposed to have maintained, e.g., that a tree falling in the woods and heard by no one makes no sound. As 20th century analytic philosophers have noted, however, even if his positions are ultimately untenable, the quality of his arguments is actually quite high. Apart from the abstract “metaphysical” question of the real existence of external objects, he also generally wanted to vindicate common sense.

Far from denying the existence of any objective reality, what he really wanted to do was articulate an alternate account of objectivity, based on something other than the independent existence of discrete objects. He had two different kinds of responses on the falling tree. One invokes counterfactual conditions; all that is of practical relevance to us are the conditions under which a perception would occur. The other invokes God as a universal witness.

From within the tradition of British empiricism, Berkeley partially anticipates the non-representationalist accounts of objectivity developed by Kant and Hegel, using the resources of a kind of Christian Platonism. Unlike Kant and Hegel, he flatly asserts that what really exists are what he calls spirits, which combine Christian-Platonic attributes with those of minds in a broadly Cartesian-Lockean sense.

A bit like the monads of Leibniz but without the infinite nesting and mutual inclusion Leibniz posited, Berkeley’s spirits are inherently active, and inherently endowed with perception. Spirits have experience that is expressed in purely immanent and immediate — but entirely passive and inert — contentful ideas.

Berkeley wrote an important early work on the theory of vision, arguing that what we really see is immediate phenomena of light and color, rather than inferred “things”. This was an important source for phenomenalism in early 20th century philosophy of science. Like the later phenomenalists, he tried to explain all cognitive error as bad inference from good immediate perception. From this point of view, “ideas” cannot be wrong, because they are purely immediate and purely inert; the possibility of error depends on the actions of finite spirits.

The common tradition of Cartesianism and British empiricism insists that there is a layer of immediate apprehension that is immune to error, and wants to ground knowledge and science by more authentically getting back to that immediate layer. I think Kant and Hegel convincingly showed that everything we experience as immediate actually has a prehistory, so that immediacy itself is only an appearance, and all immediacy that we experience is really what Hegel called mediated immediacy. Mediated immediacy has the same general kind of explanation as what is called “habit” in translations of Aristotle. We “just know” how to ride a bicycle once we have already learned. We don’t have to think about it; we just spontaneously do it. Similarly, I think “immediate” perception involves a complex unconscious application of categories that is affected by large bodies of previous experience.

Thus I want to say that there is no layer of human experience that is immune to error. On the other hand, through reflection and well-rounded judgment, we genuinely but fallibly participate in objectivity. Objectivity is not something that is simply “out there”; it is a real but always finite and relative achievement.

Things Themselves

Husserl continues his Logical Investigations with a long critical discussion of the then-current tendency to reduce logic to psychological “laws” of mental operations, which are in turn supposed to be reducible to empirically discoverable facts. He then begins to discuss what a pure logic ought to be. “We are rather interested in what makes science science, which is certainly not its psychology, nor any real context into which acts of thought are fitted, but a certain objective or ideal interconnection which gives these acts a unitary relevance, and, in such unitary relevance, an ideal validity” (p. 225).

To do this, we need to look at both things and truths from the point of view of their interconnections. In his famous phrase, we need to go “to the things themselves”. As Aristotle emphasized before, we need to look carefully at distinctions of meaning.

Expressive meanings are not the same thing as indicative signs. Meaning for Husserl is not reducible to what it refers to; it originates in a kind of act, though it is not to be identified with the act, either. Verbal expressions have an “intimating” function. “To understand an intimation is not to have conceptual knowledge of it… it consists simply in the fact that the hearer intuitively takes the speaker to be a person who is expressing this or that” (p. 277). “Mutual understanding demands a certain correlation among the acts mutually unfolded in intimation…, but not at all in their exact resemblance” (p. 278). “In virtue of such acts, the expression is more than a sounded word. It means something, and insofar as it means something, it relates to what is objective” (p. 280). “The function of a word… is to awaken a sense-conferring act in ourselves” (p. 282).

“Our interest, our intention, our thought — mere synonyms if taken in sufficiently wide senses — point exclusively to the thing meant in the sense-giving act” (p. 283). “[A]ll objects and relations among objects only are what they are for us, through acts of thought essentially different from them, in which they become present to us, in which they stand before us as unitary items that we mean” (ibid).

“Each expression not merely says something, but says it of something: it not only has a meaning, but refers to certain objects” (p. 287). “Two names can differ in meaning but can name the same object” (ibid). “It can happen, conversely, that two expressions have the same meaning but a different objective reference” (p. 288). “[A]n expression only refers to an objective correlate because it means something, it can rightly be said to signify or name the object through its meaning” (p. 289). “[T]he essence of an expression lies solely in its meaning” (ibid).

“Expressions and their meaning-intentions do not take their measure, in contexts of thought and knowledge, from mere intuition — I mean phenomena of external or internal sensibility — but from the varying intellectual forms through which intuited objects first become intelligibly determined, mutually related objects” (ibid). Meanings do not have to do with mental images.

“It should be quite clear that over most of the range both of ordinary, relaxed thought and the strict thought of science, illustrative imagery plays a small part or no part at all…. Signs are in fact not objects of our thought at all, even surrogatively; we rather live entirely in the consciousness of meaning, of understanding, which does not lapse when accompanying imagery does so” (p. 304). “[A]ny grasp is in a sense an understanding and an interpretation” (p. 309).

“Pure logic, wherever it deals with concepts, judgments, and syllogisms, is exclusively concerned with the ideal unities that we here call ‘meanings'” (p. 322). “[L]ogic is the science of meanings as such, of their essential sorts and differences, as also of the ideal laws which rest purely on the latter” (p. 323). “Propositions are not constructed out of mental acts of presentation or belief: when not constructed out of other propositions, they ultimately point back to concepts…. The relation of necessary consequence in which the form of an inference consists, is not an empirical-psychological connection among judgements as experiences, but an ideal relation among possible statement-meanings” (p. 324).

“Though the scientific investigator may have no reason to draw express distinctions between words and symbols, on the one hand, and meaningful thought-objects, on the other, he well knows that expressions are contingent, and that the thought, the ideally selfsame meaning, is what is essential. He knows, too, that he does not make the objective validity of thoughts and thought-connections, … but that he sees them, discovers them” (p. 325).

“All theoretical science consists, in its objective content, of one homogeneous stuff: it is an ideal fabric of meanings” (ibid). “[M]eaning, rather than the act of meaning, concept and proposition, rather than idea and judgement, are what is essential and germane in science” (ibid). “The essence of meaning is seen by us, not in the meaning-conferring experience, but in its ‘content'” (p. 327).