Brandom on Hegel: “Knowing and Representing: Reading (between the lines of) Hegel’s Introduction”

The lectures were given 30 May – 1 June, 2011, at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität. The text of the lectures is found on Brandom’s website (click on titles to get Word document versions):

Lecture One, “Conceptual Realism and the Semantic Possibility of Knowledge”:

Lecture Two, “Representation and the Experience of Error: A Functionalist Approach to the Distinction between Appearance and Reality”:

Lecture Three, “Following the Path of Despair to a Bacchanalian Revel: The Emergence of the Second, True, Object”:

“Thinking in the Severe Style” (October 18th, CRMEP)

Thinking in the Severe Style

Date: 18 October 2013, 2:00pm to
18 October 2013, 7:00pm
Location: Bolivar Hall, Grafton Way, London

Thinking in the Severe Style: A Symposium on Gillian Rose’s Hegel Contra Sociology

  • Andrew Benjamin (LGS, Kingston)
  • Howard Caygill (CRMEP)
  • Kimberly Hutchings (London School of Economics)
  • Peter Osborne (CRMEP)
  • Nigel Tubbs (University of Winchester)
  • Download Programme and Abstracts in PDF

Venue: Bolivar Hall, Grafton Way London W1T 5DL

Workshop: 2:00pm to 6:00pm

Reception: 6.00pm–7.00pm

“Of the same ontological status as a thermometer”

Robert Pippin’s review Žižek’s Less Than Nothing in Mediations (Fall/Spring 2012-13). I only know saw this – it’s a very interesting read:

“Robert Pippin reviews Slavoj Žižek’s Less than Nothing, a serious attempt to re-actualize Hegel in the light of Lacanian metapsychology. But does Žižek’s attempt to think Hegel with Lacan produce, as Žižek hopes, a political figuration adequate to the present? Or does it land us rather in the Hegelian zoo, along with such well-known specimens as the Beautiful Soul, the Unhappy Consciousness, and The Knight of Virtue?”

Hegel, The Most Influential Business Author!

Carly Fiorina, former business person and former Senate candidate (trying to unsit Barbara Boxer in 2010), said this in 2001:

The other evening, I attended an event in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the IBM PC. And as part of that event, as is usually the case with such gatherings, there was a squadron of journalists. One young journalist asked me, “Who is your most influential business author?

I looked down at his pad of paper at the responses that he had scribbled down from the other CEOs he had already talked with that night. As you might expect, I saw Tom Peters, Peter Drucker, Gary Hamel and Michael Porter’s names down there.

I paused and said, “Hegel.” To which the reporter shot me a quizzical look — evidently Hegel has fallen off the New York Times business-book list.

I expounded, “Hegel, you know, the process of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. I use it every day.”

[Entire speech is here]

Go figure!

“They reject the concept of fruit, but they want apples, plums and strawberries.”

Not everything that comes from Žižek’s pen is worth reading but this is an interesting piece considering the quote above which is, I hope, an allusion to Hegel’s famous dictum:

“That delusive mode of reasoning which regards diversity alone, and from doubt of or aversion to the particular form in which a Universal finds its actuality, will not grasp or even allow this universal nature, I have elsewhere likened to an invalid recommended by the doctor to eat fruit, and who has cherries, plums or grapes, before him, but who pedantically refuses to take anything because no part of what is offered him is fruit, some of it being cherries, and the rest plums or grapes.” (Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Volume 1)

[Jenes Ausreden und Räsonnement, das sich an die bloße Verschiedenheit festhält und aus Ekel oder Bangigkeit vor der Besonderheit, in der ein Allgemeines wirklich ist, nicht diese Allgemeinheit ergreifen oder anerkennen will, habe ich anderswo mit einem Kranken verglichen, dem der Arzt Obst zu essen anrät und dem man Kirschen oder Pflaumen oder Trauben vorsetzt, der aber in einer Pedanterie des Verstandes nicht zugreift, weil keine dieser Früchte Obst sei, sondern die eine Kirschen, die andere Pflaumen oder Trauben. Werke, 18:37]

Brain Excretes Thought (On Vulgar Materialism)

One interesting figure in the Soviet reading of Hegel (of which there are many interesting examples, of course, and hopefully more will be translated or discussed in the nearest future) is Evald Ilyenkov and his attempts to find vulgar materialism of “brain excretes thought” variety. This sort of dumb materialism is still alive and well. Think about all the people who say things like “there is nothing in the world but matter” or “everything is material, i.e. physical” and the like (take your pick).

The problem is not to propose the existence of the “ideal” as a realm separated from the “material” but to think through the problem of the “ideal” in a way that avoid the vulgarity of the above-mentioned positions. Ilyenkov’s discussion is subtle and it does not go against the usual standards of materialism (although the notion of “matter” as stuff that constitutes reality is certainly an atavism from nineteenth century materialisms – no amount of dialectics can fix that).

“The ideal is the subjective image of the objective reality, i.e. the reflection of external world in the forms of human activity, in the forms of his consciousness and will. The ideal is not something individual-psychological, and, of course, not something physiological, but it is the social-historical fact, the product and the form of spiritual production. The ideal is realized in various forms of social consciousness and human will as the subject of social production of material and spiritual life.”

(Идеальное – субъективный образ объективной реальности, т.е. отражение внешнего мира в формах деятельности человека, в формах его сознания и воли. Идеальное есть не индивидуально-психологический, тем более не физиологический факт, а факт общественно-исторический, продукт и форма духовного производства. Идеальное осуществляется в многообразных формах общественного сознания и воли человека как субъекта общественного производства материальной и духовной жизни.)

This is from Ilyenkov’s encyclopedia entry on the subject.

Here is a piece in English in which Ilyenkov elaborates his understanding based on Marx’s discussion of the subject matter:

In Capital Marx defines the form of value in general as “purely ideal” not on the grounds that it exists only “in the consciousness”, only in the head of the commodity-owner, but on quite opposite grounds. The price or the money form of value, like any form of value in general, is IDEAL because it is totally distinct from the palpable, corporeal form of commodity in which it is presented, we read in the chapter on “Money”. [CapitalVol. I, pp. 98-99.]

In other words, the form of value is IDEAL, although it exists outside human consciousness and independently of it…

The ideal that exists outside people’s heads and consciousness, as something completely objective, a reality of a special kind that is independent of their consciousness and will, invisible, impalpable and sensuously imperceptible, may seem to them something that is only “imagined”, something “suprasensuous”…

So to claim that all that exists is material is rather stupid – it is to ignore the sort of thing that Marx (following Hegel and German idealism) did with the entire problem of materialism. In other words, to talk about materialism today as if we are still in the eighteenth century (“matter is all there is” or “there is only physical, period”) is to exhibit a lack of understanding of what truly constitutes materialism as a philosophical position.

Hegel and Nature

Alison Stone’s book on Hegel’s philosophy of nature (Petrified Intelligence, 2005) has an interesting set of conclusion, including one related to environmentalism:

As I have stressed, his work makes possible a sustained diagnosis of environmental problems as deriving, ultimately, from the defective metaphysical presuppositions that underlie modern empirical science as a whole. According to Hegel, science is unified—despite its variety and its ever-increasing sophistication—by the basic and enduring metaphysical assumption that nature is a realm of bare things. From Hegel’s perspective, this metaphysical conception of nature is inadequate, and so, by implication, is bound to issue in correspondingly inadequate accounts of natural forms and correspondingly damaging technological applications. In particular, for Hegel, empirical science’s metaphysics of nature is inadequate insofar as it is separated from our basic sense of nature as dynamic, elemental, and intrinsically valuable instead offering a misleading portrayal of natural forms as inert and inherently value-neutral. Given this inadequacy at the level of its metaphysical presuppositions, it is unsurprising that modern science should typically generate technologies that are poorly attuned to the real character of nature, on which they tend to exert destructive or damaging effects. [168]

In his lecture of the history of philosophy, when discussing early Greek philosophers with their odd physics, Hegel takes issue with science of the day claiming that it has no theoretical bias and a deals only with empirical facts. In this sense the recently departed “object-oriented ontology” is a form of vulgar scientism (despite all the open protestations against scientism and against science’s claim to do its own philosophy – “we, philosophers, can also do speculations about reality”). Nature here is the realm of bare objects.

Implicit within his mature work is a vision of a future recontextualization of scientific findings within a specifically philosophical theory of nature. Thus, Hegel in no way recommends the abandonment of science or its supersession by some spurious alternative. Rather, for Hegel, scientific research should continue, because its findings are informative; yet, paradoxically, these findings are always misleading as well, which makes it necessary that they succumb to ongoing reinterpretation in terms of a more adequate philosophical theory of nature. From Hegel’s point of view, it is this philosophical theory that should be authoritative in informing our interactions with nature; this should ensure that those interactions would assume a relatively benign and environmentally sensitive form. [168]

In order to regain its position vis-a-vis science, philosophy does not need to provide some competing theory of reality, some independent ontology. It only needs to do its work because science, despite explicit claims, does not have any ontological commitments of its own, it always sneaks in some ready-made ontological commitment under its guise of alleged objectivity and empiricism.