The Comfort of Determinism


Even though I have not had a chance to make considerable progress in reading of Science of Logic, I have read some recent posts on the Prefaces and, again, the Introduction – all excellent observations, including one on the opening of the Doctrine of Being (“With What Must Science Begin?”).  As I was thinking about Hegel’s persistent attempts to draw attention and to criticize a conventional logic and the assumed distinction between “form” and “matter” of thought, I decided to take another look at Kant’s CPR – partly because I have always thought (and I am sure I by no means came up with that, I simply internalized this thought to an extent that I can know say “I have always thought”) of CPR as a kind of Kant’s Science of (Transcendental) Logic.  Just to refresh the memory: CPR’s longest section is Part II (“Transcendental Logic”) of the Doctrine of Elements, a part that itself disproportionately leans toward a detailed discussion of “transcendental dialectic” – so, in a sense, a large portion of the book is indeed a treatise on logic.   

In the Introduction to his “Transcendental Logic” Kant makes several observations that set up the discussion, observations that one might consider commonsensical – cognition is a result of two things working together: sensibility (receptivity of impression) and understanding (spontaneity of concepts).  Pure general (or “transcendental”) logic deals only, and Kant insists repeatedly on this “only” within the space of barely a page, with “the absolutely necessary rules of thinking” and with the “a priori, that is a canon of the understanding and reason, but only in regard to what is formal in their use” (B77).  Now without having to go into Kant in great detail and ruining this wonderful thought experiment, I would like to generalize and say that, if one reads Kant as a transcendental logician, then one can certainly read Kant as insisting that critical philosophy is possible only when the clear distinction between empirical and pure, that is, form and content of thought, is emphasized and maintained.   The distinction between form and content, it seems, has entered our conceptual vocabulary long time ago and has established itself as conventional the way tonal music had succeeded in convincing us that it is “natural” – we do “form and content” right and left, because it is the law of thinking, the law of logic! How can Hegel go against the very basis of thinking? Would Hegel be a kind of atonal musician of philosophy trying to explain to his readers that true logic cannot be operating with the assumption that thought can separate itself from what it thinks?  

Enter Leibniz. Why? Because this is my blog entry and I can make anyone enter if I please.  Leibniz struggled with Cartesian dualism of thought and matter, of soul and body, a dualism that could be understood as correlative to the dualism of “form” and “content” – thus the question of the “union which exists between the soul and the body” would be a question of the union of the form and the content, a question that is by no means new to philosophy.  Now we add all these seemingly random observations together, it seems that if we read Hegel attentively enough, then in his criticism of what goes under the name of logic we can detect his general desire for a metaphysical theory of everything that would combat not only Kant’s critical philosophy, but would go all the way back to Descartes and his Deux ex machina solution to the body-thought problem. 

Leibniz’s famous solution to the problem of the union of body and soul was his idea of “pre-established harmony”: Leibniz’s “pre-established harmony” is a kind of ultra-deterministic doctrine that the interaction between substances is such that it has been already pre-established by God at the moment of creation.  Being mainly a discussion of causality, it seems to me that Leibniz’s assertion – I apologize for lacking in the effort to explicate what he means by “pre-established harmony” – is clearly an attempt to provide a better view of reality and its operations that static and dualistic view of Cartesians, even it has strange implications that both events like Holocaust and a death of a beloved pet are part of the “pre-established” course of events and are not technically “caused” by anything or anyone but their internal monadic force.  

So Leibniz argues that it is certainly possible that “God gives to a substance at the outset a nature or internal force which could produce in it in an orderly way everything that is going to happen to it, that is to say, all the appearances or expressions it is going to have, and all without the help of any created thing…” (“New System,” §15) For Leibniz, the world of Cartesian machines (in the case of humans those machines are miraculously guided by minds and ultimately God) is a world that is more deterministic and sad than a world of “pre-established harmony,” because Cartesian machines are like mechanical logical calculations, they lack soul, active force, spirit – they need to be liberated from their attachment to oppositional consciousness, they need to learn what thinking (and reality) are really about!  And there is certain a kind of quiet comfort not in knowing how things really are but in knowing that it is possible and absolutely necessary to know how things really are.  The logic of “pre-established harmony” is thus not very different from Hegel’s “true logic” that erases the distinction between the form and the content of thought, is it?

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6 thoughts on “The Comfort of Determinism

  1. Pingback: Roughtheory.org » Science of Logic Reading Group: Beginnings

  2. Great entry.

    On a barely related note- Have you read Diana Raffman’s book on music. There does seem to be some inate basis behind the twelve tone scale. It turns out that the ability of even trained classical Indian musicians (who use quarter tones) can only recognize the same note as the same note according to half-tones (this is after a certain temporal threshold has passed). For example, one such experiment has the clinician play a note (say C) first and then a bunch of other notes and have them tell you when you hit the same note, they will collapse the quarter tone above or below C and say it’s the same note.

    And certainly the astounding ease with which western tonal pop has developed a hegemony in Asia suggests (check out statistics on karaoke in China for example) at least that the reason tonal music is so catchy and compelling has some physiological basis.

    This is of course to be distinguished from normative questions. I don’t mean to equate natural and good.

  3. Likewise, I think it’s pretty plausible that people are hardwired to presuppose a form-content distinction, just like we are hardwired to think that momentum works in demonstrably false ways.

  4. Pingback: Hegel’s Science of Logic: Preparing for Being « Now-Times

  5. Pingback: Concretion and Appearance: Problems of Development in Science of Logic « Now-Times

  6. Pingback: Roughtheory.org » Science of Logic Reading Group: To Be or Not To Be

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