Third Week Response


First, thanks Jon for the chart. At one point, I toyed with the idea of making a “centerfold” chart of where each thinker falls along the various theses, but it didn’t come to anything. If I’m reading it correctly, it looks like columns d & e are flip sides of each other, where d prepares the ground for and motivates the move to e. And great Safranski quote—I haven’t read the book, but that quote sums up the ideas I was trying to express very nicely. I know nothing about Fitch’s Paradox, including what it is and why it’s paradoxical, so I’ll just sidestep that discussion, shelving it for later investigation.

I agree that the move Hegel, Nietzsche, and early Heidegger make in rejecting noumena (R1) somewhat resembles Berkeley’s claim that we have to examine what we really mean when we say that something exists, & that if we do, what we will find is much closer to their views than to realism, despite realism’s appearance of holding a monopoly on common sense. In effect, it’s a matter of shifting the burden from defending the reduction of reality to mere appearance (a realist’s view of idealism/anti-realism) to justifying the postulation of a world behind the world, one we can never see, hear, smell, touch, or taste, can never have any knowledge of, and which, qua noumena, can never impact us in any way (focusing on the theoretical for now), and yet which not only exists but constitutes the really real reality. Then, without a noumenal realm providing an invidious contrast with the world we experience, the “mere” attached to “mere appearance” or “merely apparent reality” drops away, and we are just left with the world. Hegel allows for reality unknown, but not in principle unknowable, arguing that all we mean by unknown reality is what we will eventually run across at some point in human inquiry. Like Peirce, the only sense we can make of an absolutely true account of the world is what we find at the ideal end of inquiry. The division between noumenon and phenomenon is not ontological, but temporal, historical.

One of Hegel’s criticisms is that Kant leaves this gap forever gaping: rather than solving skepticism, Kant actually seals it into place (this is what I take Alexei to mean when he says, “they remain subjective, rather than objective”). The other criticism has to do with the categories, and here the criticism is rather complex. Kant argues, particularly in his moral work, that any factors merely given to us, what we find ourselves “thrown” into in Heidegger’s term, compromise our autonomy. Kant attributes the categorical imperative to our “true and proper self,” but this self itself is something I am thrown into as well. Asserting my identity with this command-issuing self doesn’t escape the problem; I must have chosen it for it to come from me, for my obedience not to be heteronomous. Instead of simply being issued these particular categories & imperative at birth, they must somehow come from me, a conundrum Hegel solves through history. Over the course of generations, various conceptions of how to understand the world have arisen, grown to the point of exposing internal flaws, and then fallen before new ideas, which go on to suffer the same fate. This has been the long self-education/formation (Bildung) of Geist, ie, us qua collectively thinking species. And this millennia-long conversation has finally come to self-awareness with Hegel’s discovery of the process, ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny in its entirety, which we then do by reading PS (as Alexei says).

Hegel preserves Kant’s great insight of A5 Active Knower, as Mikhail suggests, but discards R1 noumena and R3 a single way of organizing the world. By ED paying attention to the concepts people have used to capture experience at different times in history, we discover a panoply of categories. As someone said, Kant has some trouble explaining why so many people got so much science wrong when every normal human ever born has Euclidean geometry and Newtonian physics hardwired into them. Similarly, why the relatively early discovery of the former when it took so long to reach the latter? Figuring out these bodies of knowledge is no snap on Kant’s system since ED we have no direct intuition of them, but must follow the tracks they leave on phenomena, but it does imply that physicists before Newton ignored what was right before their eyes. I think Kant would respond as Mikhail does, that the categories he names are so basic that all scientific, as well as mundane explanations, employ them. We’re all talking about things causing other things to happen, even if one person sees the gods taking revenge where another sees atmospheric electrical discharge. I believe that Hegel’s response would be that that very fact shows Kant’s categories to be abstract to the point of virtual contentlessness. Hegel takes ED deeper and further than Kant (the crack about Scholasticus learning to swim outside the water), insisting that we examine the categories actually employed by specific sciences (fore-shadowing Foucault’s method).

Gary Williams writes, “Historical evolution was “necessary” because if it had been any different, we would either not be here or would be talking about things very differently and furthermore, we can’t accept bivalence because we need to approach earlier cultures with the linguistic relativism of Sapir-Whorf.”
I don’t think I’m following you here. The course of intellectual evolution was necessary for Hegel because it obeys the internal logic of the ideas; no matter where you begin, your tributary of thought will eventually run into this stream, ending up at the self-awareness of the course itself. Nor is he a relativist. His rejection of bivalence is precisely due to the fact that every historical instantiation of attempts to know the world is partially successful, tho none (until him) entirely so. Each perspective gets part of the story, but none gets it all, hence each has a mixture of truth and falsity. Rather than the relativist who refuses to judge the validity of other ways of knowing from the outside, Hegel feels fully entitled to evaluate the degree of truth each achieves by seeing how close it comes to the end result. While the teleological element is rather troubling, I find the idea that categories solidify out of the conversations of generations (as Gadamer & Popper later say) a very persuasive account of knowledge. I think the end-point just happening to arrive with Hegel’s thought is universally rejected, esp. by the post-modernists, so I disagree with Mikhail’s claim that it is widely accepted, or did I misunderstand your point? Gadamer gets it right when he proclaims himself a fan of the bad infinity, of Hegel with his head cut off. Just as Hegel takes some elements from Kant & leaves others, so later thinkers do the same with Hegel, as the rest of my book tries to show.

Jon Cogburn writes, “I wonder if Heidegger’s epochs are really different conceptual schemes. Heidegger does take himself to be able to describe what he takes to be the Greek way of thinking of being, the medieval way, and the Cartesian way. So difference in conceptual scheme can’t be incommensurability here. Or can it?”
The last section of my chapter on early Heidegger tries to address this issue by setting up a dialogue between him & Davidson, who frames the issue of alternate conceptual schemes in terms of untranslatability. Of course, once these ideas are identified, the notion of a meaning that we can’t get at becomes a semantic noumenon, which is hardly palatable. In order to talk about differences, we must be able to talk about them. However, Davidson wants to identify talking about someone’s ideas with simply translating them into one’s own language, using already existing terms in their standard sense and without remainder of any kind, a very uncharitable and unrealistic conception of translation (Forster’s great on this). The middle path accepts alternate meanings that we can grasp & translate, but only with a great deal of work and with holistic repercussions on our words used to translate. For a very brief example, think of Aristotle’s arête. Excellence and/or virtue don’t capture it. The only way to grasp the idea is by learning a lot of Aristotle and using aspects of a bunch of English words to build a parallel idea where their connotations overlap. We don’t have to fall into Davidson’s dilemma where either you can’t talk about alternative ideas or, if you talk about them, then they aren’t genuinely alternative.

On the issue of religion, I’m rather hard-nosed & immanent in my reading of Hegel (I can’t remember if this makes me a left or right or young or old Hegelian). He says that religion gets the ideas right, but puts them in the wrong format, in particular in the immature format of stories. Philosophy takes the correct ideas but dusts them off of all anthropomorphic pictures. The second coming/going to heaven represents the union of known & unknown, phenomenon & noumenon that comes at the ideal end of history. At this point, humanity becomes God since there will be nothing beyond us (absolute literally means ab solus, by itself), which is the true meaning of the incarnation. But this really isn’t my area of expertise.

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About Lee Braver

Books: A Thing of This World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0810123800/ref=s9_simz_gw_s0_p14_t1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_r=1NNE5YFYCN5R8H66D668&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=470938811&pf_rd_i=507846 Heidegger's Later Writings: A Reader's Guide http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0826439675/ref=s9_simz_gw_s0_p14_t4?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_r=1NNE5YFYCN5R8H66D668&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=470938811&pf_rd_i=507846

15 thoughts on “Third Week Response

  1. “However, Davidson wants to identify talking about someone’s ideas with simply translating them into one’s own language, using already existing terms in their standard sense and without remainder of any kind, a very uncharitable and unrealistic conception of translation (Forster’s great on this).”

    Forster is a hugely, hugely uncharitable reader of Davidson (and of Gadamer, and of Wittgenstein, and of Hegel…). Davidson is actually very sensitive to hermeneutic concerns; he wrote essays on Joyce and Gadamer, not just his early programmatic pieces on “constructing a theory of truth for a natural language”. Forster is blind to all of this; he sees in Davidson a nasty sort of philosophical imperialist, determined to trample over cultural difference. Absolute fiction. (He even tries to pin nasty politics on Davidson, since he thinks Quine’s politics were nasty and that this is where Davidson gets his imperialist ideas; he faces a difficulty in the fact that Davidson was a man of the left, just as Foster is.)

    The reason we can’t make sense of the idea of alternative “conceptual schemes”, for Davidson, is that we can’t make sense of the idea of a “conceptual scheme” at all — the dualism of “conceptual scheme” and “empirical content” is incoherent, the Myth of the Given. (As he says at the end of “On The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme”, it’s not as if rejecting the dualism, as he bids us to do, means that we turn out to all share a scheme, the One True Scheme, and so it also can’t turn out that we (lucky us) have a scheme adequate to all comers, or that others might have schemes which are inadequate for this.)

    Nothing in Davidson commits him to the absurd idea that we can understand absolutely anyone/anything by using “already existing terms in their standard sense”; Davidson rejects the idea that we are in any way committed to using words in a “standard sense” (either as others use or have used them, or as I have used them in the past). In interpreting another, in trying to make sense of their utterances by “translating” them into a language I understand (which can be an idiolect), I am free to introduce new terms, take over terms the other uses, and change the meanings of my own terms. The intertranslatibility of all languages is, for Davidson, exactly parallel to the openness of all horizons to one another, for Gadamer. All languages are intertranslatable because no one is “locked in” to any language. (See McDowell’s “Gadamer and Davidson on Understanding and Relativism” in “The Engaged Intellect”.)

    This is, after all, one of the reasons Davidson speaks of radical interpretation rather than radical translation: the field linguist does not need to hold his language constant, in trying to make sense of the native. (Nor does he need to hold his beliefs constant, or hold the beliefs he attributes to the native constant: his beliefs, the beliefs he attributes to others, the meanings he attributes to other’s utterances, the meanings he gives his own utterances, and his view of the world which he shares with the other are all open to revision in light of each other, with none having a priority.)

    The connection between the “intertranslatibility” of all languages and the rejection of the idea of incommensurable conceptual schemes is this: by modifying, piecemeal, the language one begins with (the view of the world one begins with, one’s initial horizon of understanding), one can come to understand any other language (view of the world, horizon of understanding), for we always already share a world with those with whom we attempt to communicate. I am in their world; they are in my world — that is how the idea of communication (or of failing to communicate) can become intelligible to begin with, we are there together with the other. A view of the world which can, in principle, never be made open to anyone but those who currently possess it would be a view of the world through a “conceptual scheme” which is incommensurable with our own. We would have no reason to call such a thing a use of language (a view of the world, a conceptual scheme) at all — we would have no reason to presume that what was going on was conceptual (linguistic, understandingish). To be able to tell that something is not senseless is to be able, at least to some extent, to understand it. (I cannot tel the difference between Russian and gibberish written with Cyrillic characters, except to the extent that I can (to a small degree) understand what those who communicate in Russian are doing — what they are trying to make understood, what they are trying to carry out, etc. And where I can’t tell this, or where I get it wrong, I may very well try to make sense of something where there’s nothing to understand.) The thing Davidson rejects as incoherent isn’t ideas that are difficult to grasp or which are (as a matter of fact, for a particular thinker) impossible to grasp (Davidson said he would never understand quantum mechanics, and he never did), but the idea of something which is in principle impossible to make sense of from within “our worldview” (and so demands that we step outside of our view of the world, which is as incoherent as living without one’s own life).

    “(I can’t remember if this makes me a left or right or young or old Hegelian)”

    Left/Young and Right/Old go together; the view you described sounds vaguely Feuerbachian, who was a Young Hegelian (i.e. a Left Hegelian).

    An aside on Fitch’s Paradox: I remembered that I’d discussed this in comments elsewhere before. I don’t think the paradox shows anything interesting; I think it’s a bit of sophistry (or, more modestly, a sign that one has to be very careful when dealing with epistemic logic, since some distinctions which are important to mark when thinking about knowledge are not easy to mark in the epistemic-logical symbolism). If I do not know some particular fact, then it is true that I don’t know that fact, and it is not possible that I do know that I don’t know that fact (since if I knew that, I would know the fact, too). There is therefore no reason for anyone to accept KP, if one wants to hold on to the idea that any particular thinker might not know whether or not she knows everything. And if one accepts KP despite this, then it is not surprising that it turns out that all thinkers are omniscient. Accepting the results of Fitch’s paradox is thus consistent with holding that, for all truths which are not truths about what-so-and-so-knows-to-be-the-case, truth entails possible knowability. Which captures all an antirealist/verificationist should want from KP, unless they want to jettison the idea that they are finite, fallible thinkers.

    • First, I really like your point about the myth of the given.

      Second, the “Essays on Truth and Interpretation” Davidson where you somehow use Tarski’s truth theory is not hermeneutically sensitive. But that’s the Davidson that had the most influence on philosophy in the 70’s and 80’s (there have been a couple of Leiter threads trying to figure out why Davidson’s influence has declined so radically in the last decade).

      From a linguistics perspective, Davidson is radically inconsistent from paper to paper on how the convention T stuff is supposed to go; the clearest he ever was was when he tied it to the theory of “Generative Semantics” which nobody accepts now, neither Chomskyans nor their computationally friendly (and Montagovian formal semantics friendly) opponents. One of the real virtues of Braver’s discussion is that he does not tie Davidson’s substantive philosophical insights to any claim about the supposed mechanisms of grammar. Even if you disagree with his critique of Davidson in the Heidegger chapter, I hope that you laud Braver for so skillfully separating these two issues. Vis a vis the Leiter discussions, I think that Davidson is going to survive as a philosophical force only to the extent that this catches on (and rightfully so, read Fodor and Lepore’s chapter in the Holism book; it all slams Davidson on questions about how the convention T stuff is supposed to go; once you separate that from the substantive philosophical arguments the criticism has no bearing).

      Third- This is a weird experience. Something like my own published views are being quoted against me to the dismissive conclusion that one shouldn’t bother publishing about such things.

      You write, “all truths which are not truths about what-so-and-so-knows-to-be-the-case, truth entails possible knowability.” Before expressing the weirdness, let me note that that is way too strong a restriction to block Fitch’s proof. You don’t need to go that far. Tennant’s restrictionist solution (the one I defended in the Canadian piece) shows that you only need to restrict the principle of knowability (for all P, if P, then it is possible to know that P) to propositions such that it is consistent to assume they are known. So the knowability principle can still apply to all other claims involving knowledge.

      This being said, the dismissiveness in the way you are addressing these things is philosophically dangerous I think. You can’t just dismiss a huge area of philosophy by asserting that we don’t need to worry about it because of a formal trick. You always need to minimally ask (e.g. in this case)- Is the restriction well motivated? Does it shed light on the underlying principles? (Kvanvig’s excellent critique of Tennant is along these lines.) Can the restricted principle still do the philosophical work it was originally supposed to (in this case- arguments for intuitionistic logical revision on the one hand, and verificationist theories of meaning on the other)? And perhaps most interestingly, how does the principle relate to other areas of philosophy?

      Consider by analogy Field’s restriction to DeMorgan logics without excluded middle to prevent self referential paradoxes (I think that’s what you meant in the context of discussing intuitionism earlier; but we need to note that intuitionism does not block these paradoxes as P ~P is intuitionistically inconsistent). It’s not enough just to note that the paradoxes no longer arise. You have to then see what the new notions of truth and logical consequence do and hook these notions up to the broader dialectic. Not only does this allow you to see if the restriction is good, but it yields interesting philosophy in its own right.

      For example, in my paper I show how Tennant’s solution is the same as Mavrodes’ solution to the paradox of the stone. In doing so I was able to show that there are a set of issues about knowability and doability that are analogous. As a result, I hope to be able to show what a Dummettian theory of modality will look like. This is how philosophical dialectic goes, you notice interesting analogies and similarities.

      But if you always dismiss those analogies and similarities out of hand via interpretative nominalism (“Philosopher X did not say Y, but Y prime; end of story!”) or the claim that some “solution” ends the story (“We can just accept a DeMorgan logic for truth paradoxes; end of story”) all you are doing is refraining from philosophy. It’s just a move to justify not thinking about something. But why do we need to justify that? What’s the point? Why not just go and think about something else?

      If I don’t want to read Derrida or whomever fine, I can go read something else. Why do I have to put him down and the people who take him seriously down? Maybe this is just a function of their being a finite number of jobs and journals and presses, so people feel threatened when the conversation concerns things about which they’d rather not think.

      I don’t know, but I do think that some of Heidegger’s most beautifully expressed thoughts concern the nature of openness (coming from Nietzsche’s idea that the thought thinks me), and I do think that this kind of bloggy dismissiveness is philosophically dangerous because it destroys this.

      Blogging (versus paper and book writing or even just talking in person) seems to encourage this closing off, because there isn’t enough time to patiently develop the analogies and show where they go. And actual conversation is much more on-the-fly collaborative.

      Anyhow, sorry for getting off topic here at the end. It does relate to the active/passive knower discussion as Braver shows it moving through Heidegger, Foucault, and Derrida, which is one of the most interesting and philosophically fruitful aspect of what they are doing (see my colleague Francois Raffoul’s fascinating new book as an extended meditation on how this Heideggerian development transforms ethics).

      • Fodor and Lepore are terrible, terrible readers of Davidson. Davidson’s response to them (for instance in “Radical Interpretation Interpreted”) is to find basically no criticism made of his actual position in their work, since they so wildly misunderstand what he’s up to.

        Publish on whatever you find fun to write about. I only objected to Fitch’s paradox being brought up because I don’t think it actually tells us anything about realism/antirealism. It’s just a goofy little logical puzzle. This is also why I didn’t give the narrowest way to avoid the paradox: I wanted to show that any sort of attractive antirealism would be able to ignore it (since nobody claims we’re omniscient), and so it doesn’t matter how the details work, for broader philosophical purposes.

        “You can’t just dismiss a huge area of philosophy by asserting that we don’t need to worry about it because of a formal trick.”

        That actually is a way to dismiss a great deal of confused philosophy.

        “Consider by analogy Field’s restriction to DeMorgan logics without excluded middle to prevent self referential paradoxes (I think that’s what you meant in the context of discussing intuitionism earlier; but we need to note that intuitionism does not block these paradoxes as P ~P is intuitionistically inconsistent).”

        Nope. All I meant was that Priest’s decision to drop LNC rather than LEM strikes me as absolutely wacky. I don’t much care how one handles the self-reference paradoxes; I’ve never seen anything to indicate that they have any interesting broader philosophical repercussions.

        “But if you always dismiss those analogies and similarities out of hand via interpretative nominalism (”Philosopher X did not say Y, but Y prime; end of story!”)”

        If “Y prime” is inconsistent with Y, then this is an instance of disjunctive syllogism, and as fine a reason to reject a position as could be wanted. If “Y prime” is not inconsistent with Y, then I guess you’re accusing me of just saying random things and declaring the game is over? I must’ve missed those parts.

  2. Pingback: A Thing Of This World Reading Group. « Perverse Egalitarianism

  3. Since no one else is biting, I thought I would ask a friendly question or two.

    Lee, do you really think that Hegel Rejects Bivalence? I mean, I’m tempted to invoke the (Kierkegaardian?) distinction between The True and particular truths, and say something like, Although ‘The True is the Whole,’ you still can’t get a dialectic up and running if you don’t hold that either P or not-P is true, but not both. What sense, in other words, would there be in making Negativity the motor of history, if bivalence isn’t necessary? Or, perhaps too strongly rephrased: The True is not a matter of bivalence because it corresponds to R3, i.e. the unique description of the truths that compose our environs. And this leaves open the possibility — in fact the necessity — of affirming R4, bivalence (otherwise one would be forced to accept several contrary and competing unique descriptions), at a lower level of analysis (i.e. the evaluation of various chapes of consciosuness, which fail to become absolute — the True — because they fail to be consistent).

    Rephrased slightly, contradiction implies bivalence, which means that R4 is something Hegel really needs to affirm (i take it that this is also why identity is basic for hegel, and why negativity is restless) both for the sake of methodological coherence (why else would we be bothered by contradiction unless bivalence is true?), and for the sake of the coherence of the whole (absolute Spirit as a ‘harmonious,’ non-contradictory set of interrelationships among individuals and their conditions of intelligibility).

    So, if Hegel needs to accept R4 in order to jump-start his critical method, doesn’t his invocation of some form of absolute coherence imply some form of R3, which explicates in part what He takes ‘identity’ to mean?

    Maybe I can offer a few litmus tests. What part of Sichlichkeit is ‘true,’ or continues through to absolute knowing unchallenged, or untransformed (i.e. what part of this conceptual scheme remains as part of the multiplicity of schemes that conjointly spell an end to R3)? What does the beautiful soul get ‘right’?

  4. Daniel: “Davidson is actually very sensitive to hermeneutic concerns; he wrote essays on Joyce and Gadamer.” Yes, I know these works and have a paper on Davidson’s reading of Gadamer coming out next year. But the fact that he wrote an essay on Gadamer doesn’t prove much more than good will, especially since he badly misread Gadamer. I try to show this in detail in the paper, but here I’ll just rely on Davidson’s own assessment; he told Jeff Malpas that he wrote on Gadamer out of good will (Gadamer had nominated him for the Stuttgart Hegel prize) and that he gave Truth and Method a quick reading but couldn’t really understand it. I concur with his evaluation. Gadamer’s response was that he considered their views considerably divergent. I agree with Forster that Davidson’s hermeneutic sensitivity was rather tone-deaf.

    “The intertranslatibility of all languages is, for Davidson, exactly parallel to the openness of all horizons to one another, for Gadamer. All languages are intertranslatable because no one is “locked in” to any language.” As I understand him, Davidson argues that all languages are intertranslatable because an untranslatable language would not actually count as a language. But there can’t be a fusion of horizons unless you allow for the existence of horizons, which Davidson’s principle of charity does not. For Gadamer, we should enter into dialogue with the presumption that our interlocutor may be right on matters we disagree very deeply about; for Davidson, we enter dialogue with the necessary assumption that both we and our interlocutor not only agree, but are right about the vast majority of matters. This is how he alters Quine’s charity, arguing that the possibility of alternate conceptual schemes would prevent dialogue from getting started. Indeed, significant differences might very well force us to refuse our interlocutor the status of rationality and the capacity of conversation at all. For Gadamer, discovering such deep disagreements is the very goal of reading and talking. I go into this in more detail than is possible here & with citations in Chapters 3 & 5.

    Alexei: “Although ‘The True is the Whole,’ you still can’t get a dialectic up and running if you don’t hold that either P or not-P is true, but not both.”
    In addition to the tripartite thesis + antithesis=synthesis formula (whose importance has been exaggerated, but is there), the Phenomenology is also organized by a fundamental dichotomy: there is the perspective of consciousness, the protagonist of the Bildungsroman, the believer of all of these beliefs on the one hand, and there is the perspective of the phenomenological narrator on the other, the one who has already been through the entire process and now understands the true significance of each phase and of the whole. Our ability to understand PS (to the degree that’s true) shows that we’ve been through the process or, better, we are its heirs. But we & Geist have been through it naively, uncritically, without really understanding what was going only; it has happened in-itself, but we need to comprehend it and make it for-us, to become who we are. So consciousness starts off believing each phase to be the one truth, or at least desiring this as our goal. And it’s at this level, the level of understanding, that contradiction arises. Natural consciousness completely buys into R4, which is why it drops each notion as soon as it shows flaws. Here, contradiction is the motor, but the true nature of the process takes place “behind the back” of consciousness. It thinks, at every step, that finally it has discovered the truth, jettisoning all previous views as simply false. So you’re right that the dialectic only gets running is people buy into R4; this is what spurs them on to seek the truth (pp. 67-8). But it only ends by our grasping this process as intrinsic to knowledge rather than the unfortunate side-effect of imperfect understanding.
    At this point, from the superior viewpoint given us by phenomenology, we can see how each step contained some truth and some falsity. Their portion of truth allowed them to contribute to Geist’s progress. At this point, moving from natural or naïve consciousness to phenomenological observer, from in-itself (not noumenal, just not self-aware) to for-us, from understanding (fixated on R4) to reason (which appreciates the Aufhebung). This is the perspective than has overcome R4, to see each phase as contributing to truth to some degree while also keeping us from full comprehension.

    “So, if Hegel needs to accept R4 in order to jump-start his critical method, doesn’t his invocation of some form of absolute coherence imply some form of R3, which explicates in part what He takes ‘identity’ to mean?” Yes, I agree with this. My conclusion is that Hegel ends up with a more sophisticated version of R3 & R6—all the pieces snap together into a single whole which possesses the qualities we futilely sought at the beginning of the journey in a simplistic form. This is one meaning of the circular shape he bends inquiry into—“The self-knowing Spirit, just because it grasps its Notion, is the immediate identity with itself which, in its difference, is the certainty of immediacy, or sense-consciousness—the beginning from which we started.” (PS 491, §806, quoted at p. 104). He ridicules other idealists’ notions of identity as too simplistic—the night in which all cows are black—insisting that we have to earn a more complex identity by overcoming and incorporating all differences. Does that work?

  5. Thanks for the response, Lee.

    I agree that the formula of thesis-antithesis-synthesis is something of a pop-understanding of the Phenomenology (present, to be sure, but not as important as folks make it out to be), that Hegel has a complex account of R3 (I very much liked your discussion of Hegel’s Subject by the way), that error et al is a necessary part of Scientific progress, and that there is something like an enframing narrative (natural consciousness being observed by we phenomenological observers) that allows Hegel to build certain lines of thought.

    But I’m less convinced by the ideas that contradictions only appear to natural consciousness, and that contradictions arise only at the level of understanding. Because Hegel leaves understanding more or less entirely as early as the ‘Force and Understanding’ Chapter, it’s hard to think that Understanding is the only faculty that perceives P and not-P to be problematic (not to mention the fact that observing consciousness and natural consciousness ‘meet’ in the middle of the book, becoming one and the same). Second, Hegel’s discussion of Idealism’s concept of Reason (or simply Kant’s, depending on how you read that chapter) also experiences contradiction (though doesn’t really appreciate its ability to sublate it yet, I think — Hence the way it drops observing reason for the practical actualization of itself), as do we observers when we get to the Terror, but that — crucially — those participating in it do not really see (We’ll remember that the terror is — to shortchange Hegel’s analysis terribly — basically the terror of conceptual subsumption: general will must subsume all particular wills, and this logic leads to a purging of disagreement, etc). Moreover, it’s not clear to me that every shape of consciousness does actually recognize the ‘contradictions’ its Notion contains. More critically put, Hegel’s transitions from one shape of consciousness/world to another are remarkably opaque, and it’s not clear to me at all that they follow from natural consciousness’ own realization of contradiction (Creon and Antigone, for instance, don’t ‘push forward’ out of their deadlock; they don’t recognize a contradiction, and they don’t resolve it — hence the tragedy). So I’m not sure that relativizing contradiction to the Understanding or to Natural consciousness more generally really solves the problem. In Fact, it creates extra exegetical work, by having to introduce a story about how natural consciousness thinks about contradictions themselves, and how it operates with them, which I don’t think is actually in the text (or if it is, it’s so damn murky as to be incoherent to me), and that doesn’t really seem to jive with what Hegel has to say about appearance and the unreality of the Notion prior to absolute knowing (Science) in the Intro (PhG § 77f).

    I guess I’m having a hard time seeing the ‘some truth and some falsity,’ line in light of Hegel’s claims that the notion is not reality until it is absolute, which sounds a whole like like saying that there’s no partial truths. If, Moreover, there are no partial truths, then there aren’t multiple conceptual schemes. So, for the life of me I can’t see what Subjective (or objective) Spirit retains from Sense-Certainty and perception. What partial truth is retained? And Force and understanding seems to me to present the form of the problem for the rest of the book, but it’s contents never really re-appear. So I don’t really see I mean, why can’t R3, for instance, only be correct if it includes the process by which it was finally, truthfully articulated? I mean, I’m tempted to say that there’s really only one contradiction in the whole of PhG (figured variously, with different degrees of subtlty and depth), and that it’s Aufhebung is simply to forgive ourselves for the implications of having to act freely. But that’s something that can only occur at the level of Spirit, and hence that contradiction can’t be one of mere understanding, or of natural consciousness in general.

    But maybe that’s just me being nit-picky or flat out wrong. Hopefully, I’m making some sense. I think that, ultimately, some of our disagreement may have to do with the fact that there’s something a little disorienting about reading Hegel’s Phenomenology form the perspective of metaphysics proper (whether realist or anti-realist doesn’t matter), since metaphysics should be the Science that the PhG prepares us for. And I may simply be struggling to figure out the parallax between the Hegel I know, and the one I’m meeting for the first time.

  6. You’re asking really good, really hard questions. It’s been a while since I dug into Hegel and my books are all packed up for the summer, so I can’t address these in the detail they deserve. But it is starting to look like my adherence to the understanding-reason dichotomy can’t hold up.

    I wonder if our difference largely falls along the lines of how Hegel describes his method–which I do think generally conforms to my presentation of it–as opposed to how he actually philosophizes–which often differs from how philosophers think of what they’re doing. I’m paying attention to what he thinks he’s doing, perhaps with too much simple-minded trust, and you’re holding his feet to the fire, showing where he doesn’t live up to what he says.

    BTW, I’ve heard people go way too far in deposing the tripartite dialectic, to the point of denying that it’s there at all, chalking it up to early misunderstandings that then became scripture.

  7. I wonder if our difference largely falls along the lines of how Hegel describes his method–which I do think generally conforms to my presentation of it–as opposed to how he actually philosophizes–which often differs from how philosophers think of what they’re doing. I’m paying attention to what he thinks he’s doing, perhaps with too much simple-minded trust, and you’re holding his feet to the fire, showing where he doesn’t live up to what he says.

    Yeah I think that’s a fair characterization. Should we choose to read Hegel ‘feet to the fire,’ would that present problems for your overall account, though? I mean, it may change what we do with bivalence (and I would love to hear Jon’s take on that) etc, but maybe that makes Nietzsche and Heidegger all the more interesting. Don’t you think?

  8. Well, I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition. On the one hand, a thinker’s views on philosophy and their own practice aren’t identical, so that failings in the latter do not entail falsity in the former. One can have true or interesting beliefs about philosophy and simply not live up to them in one’s own work. On the other hand, nor are they completely independent of each other. One is obligated to try to put into practice whatever it is that one believes makes good philosophy and to the degree that one fails to do so, there is some internal problem.

    To some degree, I try to show that all the thinkers of the Kantian Paradigm–Kant through early Heidegger–fail to follow through on their views consistently and fully. And each of them certainly accuses their predecessors of this. But Hegel’s views on thinking and philosophy have intrinsic value, both for their interest and for their influence. I should have been a bit more critical in his self-presentation, tho. This was always my failing as a student of literature–I implicitly believed the narrator, and found it hard to get any critical distance on how she presented things. I don’t think it presents any significant problems for my overall narrative–do you see any?

  9. “As I understand him, Davidson argues that all languages are intertranslatable because an untranslatable language would not actually count as a language. But there can’t be a fusion of horizons unless you allow for the existence of horizons, which Davidson’s principle of charity does not. For Gadamer, we should enter into dialogue with the presumption that our interlocutor may be right on matters we disagree very deeply about; for Davidson, we enter dialogue with the necessary assumption that both we and our interlocutor not only agree, but are right about the vast majority of matters.”

    There is no contradiction here. I and my interlocutor may agree about a vast number of things (that Gadamer wrote “Truth and Method”, that Davidson’s first name was “Donald”) while disagreeing about some “deep” matters (how to think of Davidson’s radical interpretation vis-a-vis the fusion of horizons). It’s the background of shared beliefs (things we agree about) that make it possible for us to both be thinking of a common topic when we disagree “deeply”. Without the agreement, there would be no disagreement: we would simply be speaking of different topics, and so could not possibly be disagreeing with one another about “the” topic we are discussing (for there is none).

    “Indeed, significant differences might very well force us to refuse our interlocutor the status of rationality and the capacity of conversation at all.”

    Those two needn’t go together: irrationality can be attributed, which is not an absence of rationality (and so not an absence of the capacity for conversation). And if one feels moved to deny that one’s “interlocutor” is actually conversant, then this cannot be because you disagree with him: there is nothing to disagree with, in that case. It’s just that when efforts to understand someone go badly enough, it is an option to judge that the other fellow is simply gassing.

  10. Thanks for your response, Lee. Since it’s a holiday weekend, I will be largely away from my computer (and most of the next week, as I am observing some interesting middle-american customs and try their local foods in the plains of Indiana), but I hope to get back into it once I return home.

  11. $!@#$, hand slipped. Delete last paragraph; I misread you. Replace with “I have no idea what the hell this is supposed to mean.”

    “I don’t know, but I do think that some of Heidegger’s most beautifully expressed thoughts concern the nature of openness (coming from Nietzsche’s idea that the thought thinks me), and I do think that this kind of bloggy dismissiveness is philosophically dangerous because it destroys this.”

    Better than metabloggical commentary.

    (The point of keeping an open mind is to be able to close it at the right time, not to keep an open mind. If you’re accusing me of not being open to revising my views when offered with good reason to do so, I’m not sure what you’re basing that on.)

    “And actual conversation is much more on-the-fly collaborative.”

    No it’s not. It’s just that it’s easier to interrupt people before they say paragraph after paragraph of dreck.

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