Sunday, January 31, 2010
I find it interesting, and refreshing that Hegel seeks to just dive right what we experience and leave out pre-existing conditions for the ability to do such. The idea of consciousness’s constant renewal and despair is intriguing, especially how the language has influenced existential philosophers that borrowed Hegel’s language of subjects and objects (as well as despair in general). I would particular like to see if Hegel will delve into ethical considerations in the PS, as it can be thorny creating an ethical system that suggests the world itself as the ultimate rationality, like utilitarians (which I do not side with).
After reading the Introduction to Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit”, I must admit that Hegel’s bold accusation of Kant’s transcendental philosophy was a little off-setting (perhaps because I find myself, in many ways, partial to Kant’s philosophy). Essentially, Hegel’s accusation against Kant stems from what Hegel finds to be a fallacy of infinite regression inherent in Kant’s transcendental philosophy. Although Hegel employs Kant’s early notion of consciousness, his ultimate goal is to develop his own system of consciousness from Kant’s alleged shortcomings. Seeing as Hegel makes such an accusation about Kant, I find it important to review the differences thus far between both philosophers’ conception of consciousness; despite our early entry into Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit”.
Let’s begin with Kant’s epistemology. Kant argues that knowledge is only possible from experience by means of the mind’s faculties. Such faculties include the mind’s consciousness and its capacity of apprehension. Kant’s condition for experience is the conjunction of two salient features: the “unity of consciousness” with “the unity of apprehension”. For Kant, experience is both possible and complete only upon the conjunction of consciousness and apprehension. In order to gain knowledge by means of experience, one’s consciousness must apply concepts with their intuitions as they appear to the mind. In short, because the mind is capable of grasping space and time, it is also passively conscious of the particulars which come from space and time. Such particulars Kant denotes as intuitions. This is where Kant begins to employ his notion of apprehension.
One of the example’s Kant uses to re-enforce his notion of apprehension come the cause-and-effect relationship between a rock and a window. When a rock is thrown at a window causing the window to break, the mind is conscious of the rock breaking the window, but the mind can only apprehend what appears to it by applying the intuition of a rock breaking a window, with its concept as a cause-and-effect relationship (causation). Thus “the unity of consciousness” with “the unity of apprehension”, completes experience and ultimately makes knowledge possible.
Hegel’s dispute with Kant’s epistemology comes from Kant’s understanding of consciousness as faculty of the mind. If consciousness is assumed to be a faculty of the mind, then it would require examining it’s own faculty an so forth, which then leads to an infinite regression. Instead, Hegel argues that consciousness is a naturally progressive and in itself a phenomenon. Thus Hegel notes that since consciousness moves itself, “all that is left for us is to simply look on” (54). Despite Hegel’s scientific interpretation of consciousness, I have trouble seeing how Kant’s epistemology fails. For me, Kant’s epistemology is slightly more assuring because he applies what is inherent to the mind (i.e. the minds faculties of apprehension and consciousness) to reality, instead of applying an abstract system that appears incomplete and never-ending.
This isn't the first time this has happened to me. I have had classes that require blogs and have done this multiple times on blogger and also with papers, emails, facebook comments, etc. Each time it becomes apparent that I have made a damning and frustrating mistake, and I feel pretty dumb and downright annoyed with myself. I wasted time and here I am doing it all again. But it will necessarily be a new endeavor somehow. I may sit down in the same spot and listen to the same music while I type but even if I am doing it all over again and I am doing it differently. According to Hegel, through experience we learn that "we meant something other than what we meant to mean." The task of philosophy, and the scientific way of doing philosophy, concerns itself with the reexamination and reanalysis of ideas as we continually test the proposition against itself in a newly separate context. Hegel identifies the dialectical process as one that is ever-evolving towards absolute truth and thinking about the way I ordinarily orient myself in the world this seems true. I am concerned with examining my past behaviors and situations and the possibilities that may follow accordingly. It seems that the retrospective nature of human consciousness still exists presently and even later we can continually reflect on the experience reflecting (whoa). And so I write this blog again, in a new moment and that is very much like the last. The basic concerns I have are still the same and the same questions still seems to puzzle me, but the doing this a second time definitely seems clearer (kind of).
It seems to me that Hegel's approach to philosophy as a science necessitates a kind of personal and emotional removal from experience. Additionally, it appears that we must acknowledge an inherent incorrectness to personal experiences, as they can only become more truthful once a contradictory account is proposed. An antithesis, colloquially, is something that is directly opposed to something else. While this is not exactly the Hegelian terminology, it seems to point to a kind of conflict of diametrically opposed positions in which each side must compromise rather than a nuanced building of consciousness that logically proceeds from one step to the next.
How much information is compromised in the dialectical process? As I write this blog post for the second time, it appears to be more sophisticated to me, but damn I wish I had that other one back so I could know for sure. The information is lost. So next time, I'll make sure write in a word processor rather than directly into blogger, or I'll at least remember to save frequently. But the experience of having to do this twice was actually not so bad once I removed got over my feelings of loss and embraced what I had retained in the process.
My intrigue in the connectivity of Spirit and history reminded me of a film that ties them explicitly together: Amy Heckerling's Clueless (1995) features a history teacher named Miss Geist. I'm going to assume a general knowledge of the idea of the film - a campy early 90s remake of Jane Austen's Emma - but underline an aspect of it that's not often discussed. Its own conception of history is explored in Dierdre Lynch's "Clueless: About History," which complicates its appearance as a simple postmodern adaptation and credits Heckerling with a Hegelian sense of historical interdependence.
Lynch responds extensively to charges that postmodern thought disregards history by pointing out Heckerling's immersion in and distancing from that assumption. Cher, the film's main character, is, on many levels, clueless, decontextualizing everything from her home's neoclassical architecture ("Isn't my house classic? The columns date all the way back to 1972.") to her own obsession with fashion, dismissing outfit after outfit as "so last season." While Cher's level of consciousness plays into the idea that postmodernism has forgotten history, Heckerling underscores those ignorances with layered reference. The soundtrack is full of 90s covers of 70s songs, the characters are often archetypes (Christian = James Dean). Lynch suggests that Heckerling's 1990s LA both points out that historical interdependence and embodies a critique that can be made of Hegel's system - the loss of the role of the individual. In Miss Geist's history classroom is a poster that reads "HISTORY AND YOU," which is representative of the struggle the film exacerbates. Miss Geist constantly appeals to her students to pay attention to current and past events and leave their isolated social realms, but remains an isolated figure herself until Cher gives her a much-needed makeover and sets her up with another teacher. Both teachers are more fulfilled on an individual level, and their students are more willing to grasp their lessons. At the end of the movie, Cher enlists members of her clique in a charity fundraiser run by Miss Geist. Lynch cites this back-and-forth as representative of "the difficulty of coordinating “History” with “You”—of getting from everyday, personal ways of marking time to the objective time of event-full history and back again," (81) - the difficulty of interacting on an individual level with a Hegelian "big picture" sense of history.
[Lynch's essay can be found in the book Jane Austen and Co. (SUNY Press, 2003).]
I’m honestly undecided on this. In a way I agree with them both, that our energy could be better spent in, once having a theory, moving from there instead of becoming mesmerized by the question of “how do we know, and how better to know what we know?” But at the same time, it seems as though understanding those foundations are important. Maybe Rorty would argue that practically it’s not really important. With Kant’s work, scientist finally were able to get around the issues that Hume proposed…but then, we don’t see scientists knocking on the door of epistemologists thanking them for their work. But just because people don’t consider it necessary for interacting with the world, does that mean we can’t pursue this is as ultimately important? It doesn’t necessarily have to be the number one priority of everything we do, but for me it does seem important.
Having studied some of Hegel in Aesthetics, his idea of Spirit and its presence and coming awareness in history does seem very interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he develops it, as well as the dialectic. But I think simply dismissing a question that seems a bit foundational to me isn’t necessarily the best course of action, even if it needs to have a slightly lower priority to what “really” matters in our day to day lives.
Hegel is aware of how the fear of error can become a hindrance, and addresses it in his introduction to the Phenomenology of Spirit; “Meanwhile, if the fear of falling into error sets up a mistrust of Science, which in the absence of such scruples gets on with the work itself, and actually cognizes something, it is hard to see why we should not turn round and mistrust this very mistrust. Should we not be concerned as to whether this fear of error is not just the error itself?” This seems to be sound reasoning. If the fear of error becomes a greater obstacle than actually erring, than perhaps the fear of error is the greater error.
Hegel’s views on the fear of error stems from his foundational philosophy of the dialectic. In a system where truth is like scaffolding, one truth built on the next to find yet another, an overlooked error at the base of the structure would taint everything built upon it. Hegel’s dialectic differs from this scaffold like system of philosophy in that errant ideas are integral. In the dialectic two ideas come into conflict, they are broken down and a synthesis of the two is created. It is this process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis which is the whole truth.
Philosophers are often accused of being esoteric and that they work only in the abstract with ideas that cannot affect the practical world. As to the accusation of being esoteric I can only respond that everyone posses reason, and so philosophy is inaccessible only insofar as reason has not been cultivated and practiced in an individual. To the second accusation I completely disagree, as Hegel comments it is the science which allows all other sciences. Something such as the dialectic when understood, can make changes in the practical. Hegel offers that the dialectic is a way in which to view history, and in looking back through the lens of the dialectic we should glean truth which we can apply to the present.
The understanding of the error of the fear of error through the dialectic has a myriad of practical applications. One such practical application is policy making in the government. Currently we have two main parties in American politics, one party will try to enact some policy and the opposing party will counter it resulting in gridlock. Both parties are convinced that should the other get its way the world will come to an abrupt end. Both parties are so fearful of error that anything that is enacted is so mitigated a compromise that it hardly resembles what it started out to be and accomplishes very little. If American politics freed itself from this paralyzing fear of error true progress would be much more rapid.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Here in this picture, Hegel’s triangular representation of truth shows how the truth of all things is made up of smaller truths which are made up of smaller truths. So in essence, the truth of all consists of smaller components of truths, which, like the triangle, is made up of components that, alone and in no relation to its surrounding components, cannot be known.
Similarly, as Mark has already pointed out, Hegel’s speculative consciousness is composed of a thesis, antithesis, and a synthesis. In the above picture, we see a visual representation of how this might work in order to find truth in a system. In step 1, you have a particular view or stance on a topic. In between steps 1 and 2 (antithesis, here “imagination”) you have a negation of the view. After the negation occurs, imagination occurs and an antithesis is formed. Perhaps imagination is used here to denote some sort of bringing in of outside information in order to negate you thesis (in other words, an opposing view). Next, a negation of the negation occurs (or sublation) in which both arguments are destroyed yet preserved at the same time in order to create a synthesis of information, thus step 3, synthesis (here “thinking”). Once all three of these steps have occurred, as the image suggests, you have the truth of intelligence on the particular subject at hand. But, like the triangle itself, without a step in the process (or one of the three lines) you have no truth and no triangle.
There’s really no smooth transition here, but as I was 48 minutes into watching President Obama’s State of the Union Address, Obama began to talk about “deeply entrenched” divisions between the Democratic and Republican parties. He said that “on some issues, there are simply philosophical differences that will always cause us to part ways…they’re the very essence of our democracy.” He soon after said about Republicans that “just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership.” These political differences in a way remind me of the Hegelian idea that two conflicting ideas without a negation of the negation will not lead to any synthesis of new, equally agreed-upon solutions. But again to refer to Mark’s post, can these two political parties every be absolutely certain of themselves in such a way that there can be no synthesis? If so, is there even a truth to democracy according to Hegel?
Now, this is a fairly reductive way to illustrate the dialectic, but it gives a good idea of what Hegel is getting at when he talks about dialectical reason. Moreover, we can see where this line of reasoning can go: the claim “the sky is blue during the day and black at night” can be argued against (what about cloud cover? Light pollution? Geographic location?) and continually revised, moving from general sorts of statements like “the sky is blue” to very specific statements like “in Memphis, TN on days with little cloud cover, the sky is blue between sunrise and sunset.” For Hegel, this sort of progression is indicative of a movement toward “truth,” which refers to knowledge of absolute facts that are necessary to being. It seems that “truth” or “the absolute” is reached when no antithesis can be offered; at this point we will have achieved absolute certainty.
What is interesting to me here is that, for synthesis to be reached, neither the thesis nor the antithesis can be true in an absolute sense: both debaters must be open to revising their statements, providing qualifications that recognize contingencies, hence opening themselves to the possibility of not being completely right. So what happens when we have two claims like “God exists” and “God does not exist” (to make this a bit simpler, consider “God” to be referring to the commonly-accepted Judeo-Christian deity)? Strictly speaking, both cannot be correct. Nor does it seem likely that either debater would give much ground on the issue. So can we arrive at a synthesis? Even if we revised them into statements of belief (i.e. “I believe that God exists”), it doesn’t seem that we could really come out with an answer. This seems indicative of a need to move away from the search for absolutes in favor of a recognition and embrace of contingency. Most of my work centers around this idea, and I’ll be returning to it here over the course of the semester. What do y’all think? Can we really maintain a view that absolute certainty is even possible?
The next stage of the learning process occurs after our initial sensory discovery of the object. When presented with a new object or concept the mind is struggling to gain understanding of this unfamiliar thing. In an effort to fix this problem, the mind begins the next part of process. The mind will try to think about the new thing and try and figure it out, so to speak. The mind will continue to attempt to successfully categorize or gain a more solid knowledge of the thing. This is as close as we can get to understanding according to Hegel. Understanding, says Hegel, or at least the settling of information about something is the highest form of consciousness.
I thought this was a fairly interesting way of thinking about the knowledge process. If you really give it some thought it seems like it should make pretty good sense. We may not find ourselves thinking about which stage of the consciousness process we currently happen to be experiencing, but it is fascinating to think that our mind goes through so much just to gain understanding of each and every little thing that we experience. It is kind of cool to think that our minds are so complex rather than just machines which immediately process all empirical data. Maybe next time I find myself getting frustrated with something I do not immediately understand I can remind myself that my mind is just getting used to the idea and will eventually come to a better understanding of it. I am interested to hear what everyone else thinks. Do you think this is an interesting way of analyzing the gaining of knowledge and understanding? Or do you think that how we come to gain knowledge and understanding is not as important as the final result? Overall I kind of like the idea, although we shall see if I still do once my mind has had some more time to think it over.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Thursday, January 28, 2010
In paragraph 86 of the introduction, Hegel draws a distinction between different types of objects. There is the in-itself and the being-for-consciousness of the in-itself. For me, it is not entirely clear what Hegel has in mind here. He refers to the former as the object’s essence and explains the way in which this version of the object is transformed into the latter version by our gaining knowledge of the object. This leads me to believe that the term in-itself is describing the object’s existence that is independent of our consciousness (perhaps, something like Kant’s noumena.) However, in the same paragraph he explains that this type of object stems from the consciousness “knowing something,” a characterization that clearly contradicts the idea of the in-itself as something that exists independent of consciousness.
For the sake of this post, I’ll go with my original, understanding of paragraph 86 while remaining aware that the point I am about to try to make extends upward, rather uneasily, from the shaky foundation of a possibly erroneous interpretation. Once again, the difference between the in-itself and the being-for-consciousness of the in-itself, by my understanding, is that the former refers to an object’s existence apart from our conscious awareness of that existence. The latter describes the knowledge of the object that has been constructed by our consciousness upon our encounter with the object. I think that experience, for Hegel, is simply the process by which the consciousness encounters the object and constructs this knowledge. In other words, experience is the transformation of an object in-itself to a being-for-consciousness.
Earlier in the introduction, Hegel mentions cognition and attempts to dismiss philosophy’s suspicion of it—the idea that it can’t be trusted or that it may be misleading us—as absurdity. He argues that “troubling ourselves with such useless ideas and locutions about cognition” (48), is a waste of effort that should be abandoned. He seems to be implying that we should simply take what is given to us through cognition, our experience, for granted, and focus our attention instead on deriving knowledge from this experience.
While I strongly support a shift away from seemingly meaningless metaphysical concerns and towards a more practical subject, I wonder if Hegel runs the risk of accidentally advocating an end to philosophy. He deems debates over the conditions for the possibility of experience—an undoubtedly philosophical debate—a waste of time. Instead he wants to focus on accumulating experiential knowledge or knowledge of the objects around us. Is this not an entrance into the realm of the sciences? If Hegel is right, once he is done explaining the way in which the consciousness achieves this experiential knowledge, what further role could philosophy play?
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
On page 49 in the Introduction, section 78, Hegel says “Natural consciousness will show itself to be only the Notion of knowledge, or in other words, not to be real knowledge at all.” While this seems confusing when first read, how something could have the Notion of knowledge but not real knowledge, we should exam the ideas within the language in order to understand it better. Dr. J explained in class that a Notion, or Begriff, is a complex idea. It has three parts: the universal, the particular, and the individual. The universal is something I think we all understand because we use it in our everyday lives. Because, for instance, we have a universal idea of a book as something made of paper with words inside that have a coherent theme, we are able to identify a book when we see one, no matter what color, size, or subject matter is contained within it. The particular pertains to the particular book that we are currently apprehending or having thoughts about (which right now is the Phenomenology). The individual is a little bit trickier for me. I have come to understand this idea (and correct me if I’m wrong) as being the particular exactly as it is in this moment. Maybe who I am as the individual at this point in my life is different from the individual that I was as my ten-year-old self, but I am still the same particular human being. Thus the individual is developing over time whereas the particular does not? However it is exactly defined, we have come to understand that the Notion is the complete combination of these three ideas, where the particular is the intermediary between the universal and the individual.
The Notion of knowledge then would include the universal idea of knowledge, the particular knowledge, and the individual knowledge. I can only conclude the explanation of this idea to be that knowledge itself is a vague and general idea. To have knowledge at all, it must be of another idea. Simply having knowledge of knowledge cannot go beyond the general idea of knowledge, and this perhaps is why Hegel says the Notion of Knowledge is not real knowledge, because real knowledge is concerned with actually knowing something, it requires a subject to know.
Natural consciousness then, as Hegel says, has not developed true knowledge. I have understood this as the idea of that first, most primitive form of consciousness. Like the analogy we made in class of the child, perhaps natural consciousness is the infant form of consciousness. Hegel continues in the next few lines of paragraph to say that natural consciousness thinks it has real knowledge, but when it comes to the realization of what Notion is, natural consciousness realizes that it is, in fact, wrong. At the point that natural consciousness realizes it does not have real knowledge, Hegel explains that it sinks into despair and has to reconcile its idea of knowledge in order to proceed. From this explanation I have now come to understand that natural consciousness (as the infant) is consciousness unchecked. When natural consciousness faces its first conflict (which is with the Notion), it realizes that is only the infant form. From this, natural consciousness reconciles this conflict and develops into a more sophisticated form of consciousness and proceeds with its inquiries.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Why "Revolution and Evolution"? As we will soon see, the turn of the 19th C. was marked by dramatic social, political, and economic changes. The philosophies of the late Enlightenment (especially those of Immanuel Kant and Jean-Jacques Rousseau) set the stage for a radical rethinking of the nature and role of the state, the individual, Nature, freedom, autonomy, religion, ethics and Reason. There were (at least) two ways to explain all of these changes: either in revolutionary terms or in evolutionary terms. Which explanatory model one chose depended, of course, on a host of other philosophical assumptions. In our studies of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, we will see both models, sometimes overlapping one another in the same thinker's work. It is impossible to cover all of the significant philosophical movements of the 19th C. in one semester (which include German Idealism, Marxism, Pragmatism, Positivism, Utilitarianism, British Idealism, Transcendentalism, and the beginnings of what will later come to be known as Existentialism), so we will be forced to focus our attention somewhat. However, it is crucial to remember that revolutionary and evolutionary changes in thought and life were occurring throughout the world, and in a variety of modes.
Students in this course will be required to participate on this blog regularly. The requirements are as follows:
1. Each student must contribute one independent post every other week. Blog-posts should be no less than 400 words and must be well-edited and substantive. (Think of it as a short paper.) The "deadline" for submitting posts will be midnight on Sundays. Late posts will not be credited toward students' grades.
2. Each student must also contribute at least 2 comments every other week. The real "life" of a blog happens in its comments, so everyone should take the time to read and respond to classmates' contributions. The deadlines for submission of comments is the same as the deadline for posts.
Your blog contributions will be graded like any other writing assignment. Consequently, you should take care not to write too "informally," to edit your work before you submit it, and to respond to your commenters who challenge or question your claims. Unlike traditional "paper" assignments, blogs allow you to integrate links, videos, images and other hyper-media into your writing, so I encourage each of you to avail yourself of those opportunities. Also, please do not limit yourself to merely meeting the "required" number of posts and comments. Contribute whenever you have contributions to make!
Marx famously stated: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it." Whether by evolution or revolution, we will endeavor in this course to direct our interpretations toward bringing about change!