Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Not long ago I wrote a post about Hegel and then today I revised it to add the term "hegelache", which I define as the feeling one gets trying to read Hegel (let alone trying to read an 'explanation' of his system of thought (Gedankensystem)). Well, I googled "hegelache" and already FCA comes up as #2 for the term, so score another neologism for me.

Interestingly, however, according to this online lexicon, eine Hegelache means eine eingehegte Lache, i.e. a muffled/suppressed laugh. If you know anything about the pivotal role of aufheben/Aufhebung (sublimate/sublimation, or negate-by-absorption) in Hegel's philosophy, the pun is pretty rich. In the dialectic intricacies of Hegelianism, we must conceive of a pure, spontaneous laugh (thesis) absorbed by scholarly composure (antithesis) and thus sublimated into a muffled laugh (synthesis), which itself, of course, generates another laugh from an onlooker (thesis) who sublimates it in how own way (antithesis-synthesis), und so weiter, und so weiter. Who says philosophy is no fun!

Now, another thought I had today is how much Hegel's dialecticism has in common with classical Chinese metaphysics, namely, that espoused in the Yijing and the Daodejing. The Yijing is, by all accounts, the intellectual foundation of Chinese culture and is the source of the ubiquitous "yin-yang" circles we know. The bars which often encircle the yin-yang circle are the eight "trigrams" of divination used in the Yijing. According to Michael Rosen, in Hegel's Dialectic and Its Criticism (cf. chs. 3–4), a crucial difference between Kant's transcendentalism and Hegel's absolute idealism, and indeed, between Hegel's Gedankensystem and nearly all other rational systems, is that Hegel ensconces a notion's antithesis (die Anthese eines Begriffs)––whether in empirical terms, as an object distinct from its surroundings, or in conceptual terms as a formally determinate notion among other formally distinct notions––in the notion itself (im Begriff sich selbst). As Hegel writes in the Enzyklopädie der Wissenschaften (§82, Zusatz),

"the abstract thought of understanding is by no means something fixed and ultimate but shows itself as the constant setting aside [Aufheben] of its own self. Everything rational is thus equally to be called mystical––which is to say that it extends beyond the understanding. But by no means is it to be regarded as something which is incomprehensible and inaccessible to Thought."

In a similar vein, in his Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie, Hegel argues,

"Whilst the emergence [Hinausgehen] of the philosophical Idea in its development is not a change, a becoming something other, but equally an internalization [Insichgehen], a process of self-deepening [Selbsttieferung?] in its own self, its progression makes the previously general, less determinate Idea more determinate in itself. … The further development of the Idea or its greater determinacy are one and the same thing" (Vol. III, p. 477).

Thus a concept becomes more truly itself by being dialectically stretched in connection with a non-identical concept. From the earlier scenario, we might say the spontaneous laugh becomes more truly a laugh in the very act––by the very tension––of being suppressed as a laugh. This is a wobbly analogy, I admit, but as I've said from the get-go, I'm a complete amateur in Hegel studies, so bear with me.

Now, the reason Hegel lays so much stress on the dialectic for humankind's grasp of Absolute Thought, is that he believes inferential rationality (Räsonnieren) is a poor basis for philosophy as a pursuit of truth. This explains why he approves of Descartes' understanding of the Cogito:

"Descartes's statements regarding the indissoluble unity of myself as thinking and [my] being––that this relationship is contained and shown in a simple intuition of consciousness, that this relationship is absolutely primary, the principle, the most certain and evident thing of all, so that no scepticism could be conceived so gross as not to concede it––are so eloquent and precise that the modern propositions…on this immediate connection can only be needless repetitions" (Enz., §64).

Hence, Rosen notes (p. 74), Hegel is emphatic that the Cogito is no inference: "If one takes as an inference [Schluss] then it must be because one knows little more of the nature of inference than that in inferences the 'ergo' is present" (Enz., §64) (This quip made me laugh out loud.) As such, Rosen explains (p. 74), "Hegel stresses the observing character of the Scientific activity as part of its unity with its content, and contrasts this with the common conception of argument, as Räsonnieren: "What is required… [of true reasoning is] to sink its freedom into the content and to allow the content to move itself spontaneously according to its own nature… and to observe this movement" (Phänomenologie des Geistes, p. 48). Likewise, Hegel writes in Wissenschaft der Logik, "To ensure that the commencement of the Science remains immanent in proceeding from the determination of pure knowledge nothing needs to be done but to observe; or, rather, putting aside all reflections, all opinions that one otherwise has, to take up what is present at hand" (Vol. I, p. 53) Non-discursive, immanent observation of what is 'at-hand': this is the bedrock of at three of the major figures in more recent Continental thought, anticipating Merleau-Ponty, Husserl, and Heidegger in phenomenology. As it stands, I lack the acumen to explain much more about that anticipation and its elaboration by those three thinkers; moreover, I must return to my point about the Yijing and the Daodejing vis-à-vis Hegel.

According to the Yijing, the two fundamental principles of reality are Yin and Yang, a unified polarity which permeates all such dynamic tensions (e.g. male-female, night-day, hot-cold, strong-weak, active-passive, inner-outer, etc.). Yet, as with Hegel, there is no pure division between the two ontic poles, for they interpenetrate each other and thus dialectically fortify each other precisely as unified opposites. This is why the black side of the yin-yang sphere has a white circle inside it and the white side has a black circle in it. A Chinese doctor I recently met was explaining this to me by saying how, while the feminine (Yin) is the inner (indeed, vaginal) pole of human nature and the male (Yang) is the outward (phallic) pole thereof, it is obvious that all people partake of both poles. 陽中有陰,陰中有陽 (Yin is within Yang and Yang is within Yin)。 Upon hearing this I was immediately reminded of Otto Weininger's archetypes of Male and Female, though I am acquainted with Weininger's thought only from one reading of Wittgenstein Reads Weininger. I quote from his Sex and Character:

"In the widest treatment of most living things, a blunt separation of them into males and females no longer suffices for the known facts. … The fact is that males and females are like two substances combined in different proportions, but with either element never wholly missing. We find, so to speak, never either a man or a woman, but only the male condition and the female condition. Any individual is never to be designated merely as a man or a woman, but by a formula showing that it is a composite of male and female characters in different proportions. … The absolute conditions at the two extremes are not metaphysical abstractions above or outside the world of experience, but their construction is necessary as a philosophical and practical mode of describing the actual world."

I do not know how or to what extent Hegel influenced Weininger, but I believe a comparative study of the Yijing, Weininger, and Hegel's dialecticism would make for a fascinating study––and, as I've been pondering it, may just be what I pursue at the doctoral level!

Now, the second aspect of Hegel's thought which reminds of a major pillar of Chinese thought has already been alluded to, namely, the ancillary role Hegel gives to discursive reasoning in an existential encounter with reality. Rosen explains (p. 75):

[Hegel's] idea of philosophical cognition as the participation of concsiousness in the self-development of the subject-matter does not contradict the requirement that dialectic furnish proof––unless, that is, we make the characteristically modern assumption that proof is a matter of establishing something by means of grounds or reasons. But, in fact, Hegel explicitly rejects this common understanding of the nature of proof for leading to a regress, and puts in its place the idea of a dialectical movement. … The objection that inferences lead to a regress (which goes back to Aristotle) applies to all forms of inferential proof. (This is why all attempts to understand dialectic as a non-standard or non-Aristotelian logic seem to me quite misguided: substituting a non-standard for a standard logic only puts one set of rules of inference in place of another. But Hegel's objection is to the whole inferential procedure itself.) Science, on the other hand, has its character of rigorous proof just because of the self-movement of its content….

Whereupon Rosen cites Hegel in Wissenschaft der Logik:

"This spiritual movement, giving itself its determinacy in its simplicity, is thus the immanent development of the notion. It is the absolute method of cognition and at one and the same time the immanent soul of the content itself. Only upon this self-constructing path, I maintain, is philosophy capable of being objective and demonstrated Science" (Vol. I, p. 7, my emphasis).

Rosen further cites Hegel to the effect that

"Complete cognition belongs solely to the pure Thought of comprehending [begreifenden] Reason and only the person who has raised himself to this Thought possesses a fully determinate, true intuition. … It is true that in immediate intuition I have the whole subject-matter before me. But only when the cognition of the object, developed in all its aspects, has returned into the form of simple intuition does the subject-matter stand in front of my mind as an internally articulated, systematic totality (Enz., §449).

Rosen explains, "Philosophical Thought has a universal content and is carried out by a self-consciousness which is beyond the empirical self" (p. 76). As Hegel says on page 30 of the first volume of Wissenschaft der Logik,

"The pure Science ths presupposes the liberation from the opposition of consciousness. It contains the Thought insofar as it is equally the subject-matter itself [Sache an sich selbst] or the subject-matter itself as it is equally the pure Thought. As Science the truth is the pure self-developing self-consciousness and takes the form of the self, which is the notion known in and for itself…."

"Because of this," Rosen writes,
"[Absolute] Thought cannot be accused, as was the immediate consciousness, of being indiscriminate and accepting whatever comes along. To emphasize the difference between the progress of Thought and 'inner picturing' one might cal the dialectical process of the Logic a process of hyperintuition, to indicate that it is a non-inferential form of development whose specific character consists in being beyond the 'inner picturing' which intuition is normally taken to be; it is accomplished by the purified consciousness of Thought, rather than the everyday one of Vorstellung" (pp. 76–77).

Feeling a hegelache, by any chance?

The point is that Rosen's account of Hegelian hyperintuition strikes me as very Daoist. As we read in the famous opening chapter of the Daodejing:

(The Dao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Dao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name. (Conceived of as) having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth; (conceived of as) having a name, it is the Mother of all things.
Always without desire we must be found,
If its deep mystery we would sound;
But if desire always within us be,
Its outer fringe is all that we shall see.
Under these two aspects, it is really the same; but as development takes place, it receives the different names. Together we call them the Mystery. Where the Mystery is the deepest is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful.)

And in the fourth chapter we read:

(The Dao is (like) the emptiness of a vessel; and in our employment of it we must be on our guard against all fulness. How deep and unfathomable it is, as if it were the Honoured Ancestor of all things! We should blunt our sharp points, and unravel the complications of things; we should attemper our brightness, and bring ourselves into agreement with the obscurity of others. How pure and still the Dao is, as if it would ever so continue! I do not know whose son it is. It might appear to have been before God.)

Both citations convey the mystical-apophatic nature of epistemology in Daoism (cf. e.g. various chapters in this book) and thus tie into Hegel's hyperintuitionist rationality. It is telling that Rosen opens his book with a quotation from St. Augustine, "Si comprendis non est Deus" (If you comprehend [it, it] is not God). In both Daoism and Christianity, the latter which Hegel passionately defended and, in many ways, brilliantly articulated, that which we say about the central content of our worldview always surpasses the verbal formulations, yet does not entirely repudiate those formulations, since they are the very means generated by the immanence of the Central Content itself for getting any sense of the Content. The Dao (or Way of the World) is present in all things, as the generative foundation of their particular 'ways of being in the world', yet it is not to be identified with any-thing in particular. To recall a quotation from Hegel, the Dao might also be construed as a "self-constructing path." Likewise, Absolute Thought, which Hegel presents as the essence of God––in yet another fascinating anticipation, this time of Wittgenstein's views of the mystical (cf. Eddy Zemack's chapter in Essays on Wittgenstein's Tractactus)––is present as the intelligible ground for all things, but is not to be identified reductively with any-thing. God is, as is often said, not a Thing among other things, but Being Itself.

Hence, the mind's total dependence on God as Source and on Being as first principle of cognition are but two sides of the same coin, for in being a finite mind activated by an intuition of Being as such, the human mind simultaneously manifests and, by grace, registers its created contingency and ultimate finality in the objects of faith. Notably, Rosen explains, "The Logic claims to give us both 'knowledge of God' and a 'rational science of nature'… [which] implies that the Logic has a greater scope than empirical science of nature and includes… the traditional objects of metaphysics…." Whereupon Rosen cites Hegel:

"However satisfying this [empirical] knowledge may be in its own field, there shows utself in the first place another sphere of objects which it does not include, namely Freedom, Spirit, God. The reason why they are not found there is not that they do not belong to experience. Perhaps they are not sensibly experienced, but whatever is in consciousness at all is experienced (this is, indeed, a tautology). The reason is that these objects by their very content show at once that they are infinite" (Enz., §28, Zusatz, my emphasis).

Rosen adds that "it is the distinctive feature of Hegel's understanding of the infinite objects that they are not static entities subsisting in a eparate transcendental realm. … [Indeed,] once they are given the 'form of Thought', even the empirical categories of natural science are given an infinite character as part of the speculative movement…" (p. 77). As I noted concerning a quotation from St. Thomas' Summa contra gentiles, such metaphysical impulses naturally find their way into even the most empirically austere scientific discourse. In part I, chapter xviii, of SCG, St. Thomas argues that

"in every genus the simpler a being, the more noble it is…. That, therefore, which is at the peak of nobility among all beings must be at the peak of simplicity. But the being that is at the peak of nobility among all beings we call God, since He is the first cause. … Again, prior to all multitude we must find unity. But there is multitude in every composite. Therefore, that which is before all things, namely, God, must be free of all composition."

As I noted, the same principles resurface in scientific discourse: the simpler a theory is, the better; the higher a theory stands in relation to the cosmos, the more of the cosmos it includes; etc. This illustrates how exact physical science (EPS) inevitably expands into metaphysics, unless, of course, it is hamstrung from doing so by an ideology which has no place for nobility and perfection of being. The point is that Hegel is "on to something" very rich with his emphasis on the-infinite-within-the-finite. As he says in §28 of the Enzyklopädie, Zusatz, "The thought-determinations as they are met with immediately and in isolation as finite determinations. But the true is the intrinsically infinite, which does not allow of being expressed and brought to consciousness by means of what is finite. … Thought is only finite insofar as it keeps to limited determinations which it treats as ultimate." To fixate on one particular formulation of an infinite truth is to make an idol of that formulation, an idol which intrinsically strangles the infitnite plenitude of that truth. This is why, for instance, there cannot be a "theory of free will," for free will transcends verbal formulation not only because verbalization is included in the power of free will but also because language itself is infinite and indeterminate in a freedom-preserving––nay, freedom-grounding way.

As a caveat, I will add that I don't think Hegel's claim that the finite cannot express the infinite (à la finitum non capax infiniti) does not undermine Christian orthodoxy as it might seem to do. For example, while there is a dogma of transubstantiation, this is a normative (i.e. minimal) criterion for orthodoxy, not an exhaustive 'articulation' of the object of the dogma itself. The Real Presence––like any real, personal presence, as a matter of fact–– is greater than any verbal description of it, though certain verbal statements fall 'heretically' short of what the Real Presence means. The only way the finite can capture the infinite in, say, Eurcharistic conception, is because to receive Christ in the Host is not merely a verbal act but in fact a pure act of freedom, and, insofar as freedom is also infinite, it is totally 'open to' the infnitude of life in the Eucharist. A bottomless well can swallow a bottomless well.

In any event, to return to the epistemological focus of Hegel's claims, I would also like to note a deep resonance his views of the Infinite being cognized immanently within finite cognition has with St. Thomas' epistemology. In De veritate, q. 22, a. 2, ad 1, St. Thomas famously says, "Omnia cognoscentia cognoscunt implicite Deum in quolibet cognito," which is translated in Henri de Lubac's The Discovery of God as, "All knowers implicitly know God in whatever they know." I have written before about this axiom: To know 'this' is 'this' is implicitly to know 'this' is not 'everything else', and is therefore implicitly to bracket it off from 'All'. If any objects were ontologically self-sufficient, as the All is, then no object would be 'this' or 'that'. "The understanding," Henri de Lubac writes in The Discovery of God (p. 70), "is open to an infinity of objects; a sign, surely, that it is open to the infinite itself." Nonetheless, he adds the following quotation from St. Thomas (ST Ia, q. 79, a.2) as a qualification: "No created intellect can be like an act with respect to the whole universal being; because in such a case it would have to be an infinite being. Wherefore every created intellect, by reason of the very fact that it is what it is, is not the act of all intelligible beings." As Hegel says in Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie,

"What is real nature is the image [Bild] of divine Reason. The forms of self-conscious Reason are also forms of nature. Nature and the sporitual world––history [!]––are the two realities. We saw the emergence of the Thought which grasps its own self, which strove to make itself concrete. Its first activity is formal [i.e. its essence is Pure Act!]. Aristotle was the first to say that nous is the Thought of Thought. The result is the Thought which is independent [bei sich] and at the same time encapsulates the universe and transforms it into an intelligible [intelligente] world. The natural and spiritual universe permeate one another in the activity of comprehnsion [Begreifen] as a single harmonizing universe which, fleeing into its own self, develops the sides of the Absolute into totality, so as to be conscious of itself in its unity, in Thought."

Rosen adds a gloss: "What makes reality rational is its independent constructibility in Thought, and not the mere fact that it exists" (p. 79, my emphasis). I was struck immediately by Rosen's gloss, since it recalls an argument I have presented before, and which I would like to develop, that logic in nature presupposes, and thus demonstrates, the existence of the Divine Logos. The only––crucial––qualification I must add at this juncture to Hegel's claims about the Divine Reason as the image for the world, is that this Image is only really actual in the world in Christ Himself, and that (in Keefian terms!), in the One Flesh of the Eucharist in real spacetime, and not, as Hegel suggests, in the form of some archetypal Pure Form in the metaphysical 'heavens'.

That's enough for now! I suppose I will have more to say about these topics in the near, or not so near future, but I'm just glad to get some thoughts down as I process Hegel's thought. Stay tuned.

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