Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Verstand for Hegel involves division and distinction

2007.10.06 Philosophy of Mind
G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Mind, W. Wallace and A. V. Miller (trans.), Michael Inwood (introduction and commentary), Oxford University Press, 2007, 680pp., $160.00 (hbk), ISBN 019929951X. Reviewed by Sebastian Rand, Georgia State University
Michael Inwood's major revision of the Wallace and Miller translation of Hegel's Philosophy of Mind is a welcome addition to the English-language Hegel library. It comes at a crucial moment, when Hegel is being reconsidered by many philosophers in the English-speaking world, and this particular Hegelian text ought to be -- and now can be -- central to that reconsideration. While there are some questionable choices made in the translation itself, it is a definite and significant step forward. Inwood has also added an extensive commentary (longer by a third than Hegel's own text) which is informative and often helpful.
The Philosophy of Mind is the final part of Hegel's Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline. In the last century or so of Hegel scholarship, the Encyclopedia has played a relatively minor role, despite the fact that it lays out the mature form of Hegel's system as that system was taught by Hegel himself (he wrote the Encyclopedia as the basis for his lectures). It has been largely overshadowed by other texts: the Phenomenology of Spirit and the Science of Logic dominated 20th-century discussion of Hegel, while the Philosophy of Right has recently attracted a good deal of attention.
The roots of this canonical situation can be found in the content of the Encyclopedia itself. It is divided into three parts: the Logic, the Philosophy of Nature, and the Philosophy of Mind. The first is essentially a short version of the material presented in great detail in the Science of Logic; the Encyclopedia Logic has thus played second fiddle to the Science of Logic. The Philosophy of Nature is normally taken to present a misguided attempt to deduce the laws and structure of nature from a priori principles; this part of Hegel's system has been widely (and wrongly) scorned since his death...
The most important effect of such changes is that we now have an edition of the Philosophy of Mind in English that allows us to follow closely the twists and turns of Hegel's thought in relation to some of the central questions animating current Hegel scholarship, as well as many of the central questions making Hegel interesting to contemporary philosophers in both the analytic and continental traditions.
  • What are we saying when we ascribe to someone a free will?
  • What is the connection between our embodiedness and our mindedness?
  • Must we, indeed can we, understand our embodiedness -- and perhaps also our mindedness -- only in natural-scientific terms?
  • Is a purely descriptive philosophy of mind possible, or even desirable?
  • To what extent is Hegel a Kantian, to what extent a "post-Kantian," and
  • to what extent is he attempting to reanimate rationalist metaphysics?

The Encyclopedia in general gets much of its importance from being the unified presentation of material that is indeed also presented in an isolated fashion elsewhere, and the Philosophy of Mind is the part of the Encyclopedia that includes the systematic answers to such questions. Without a clear view of, e.g., Hegel's understanding of "subjective spirit," its relation to what Kant called "practical philosophy" (subsumed by Hegel under "objective spirit"), and its relation to our status as natural beings, his answers to these questions simply cannot be understood; but such a clear view cannot be gained by means of the previously available translations of the Philosophy of Mind. Thus Inwood's edition is welcome and timely.
That said, there are some curious choices made by Inwood in the translation as a whole -- choices which he does not clearly and forcefully justify. For instance, Inwood warns us in a footnote to his "Introduction" (p. xi note 8) that he will be translating the German "Verstand" as "intellect," though it is normally translated in the Idealist context as "understanding." He gives three reasons for this choice:

  • first, the use of "intellect" for "Verstand" allows the use of "intellectual" for "verstandig," whereas, presumably, no such closely related adjective exists for "understanding;"
  • second, Verstand for Hegel involves division and distinction, whereas "understanding" in English connotes agreement and sympathy;
  • third, the Kantian (and hence Hegelian) distinction between Verstand and Vernunft is meant to mirror the medieval distinction between intellectus and ratio.

Such are the advantages of "intellect" as a translation for "Verstand." Here are some of the disadvantages, none of which are mentioned by Inwood: we lose the connection with other good translations of Hegel, and with the standard translations of Kant, which consistently use "understanding" for "Verstand;" we lose the engagement between the German use of "Verstand" and the English use of "understanding" in Locke, Hume, and others, as well as related terms in other languages (e.g., Leibniz's "entendement"), all of which can plausibly be said to be in play in the Idealist context; we lose the specific impact of Hegel's use of "Intelligenz," since it no longer stands out for its rootedness in the Latin "intellectus;" and we lose the connection between "understanding" and the verb "to understand" (which Inwood does use for "verstehen," but also occasionally for "erkennen"). The disadvantages in this case appear to outweigh the advantages; it is unfortunate that Inwood does not address these issues directly.

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