Wednesday, November 05, 2008

After 201 years Hegel's Phenomenology is still ground-breaking

(title unknown) from Continental Philosophy by Farhang Erfani
review of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit: A Critical Guide (Cambridge Critical Guides) by Dean Moyar (Editor), Michael Quante (Editor) Reviewed by Jeffrey Church, Duke University

Few texts in the history of thought are as difficult and yet as exciting as Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. In the 201 years since its publication, the Phenomenology has had a broad influence on diverse fields of thought, including philosophy, sociology, theology, political science, and literary theory...

The three authors -- Heidemann, Fulda, and Horstmann -- agree on the basic outline of Hegel's project. Hegel's project establishes what Horstmann calls a "new paradigm in epistemology" (49) by responding to the problem of skepticism besetting previous theories. For Hegel, skepticism has revealed the inadequacy of foundationalism, the attempt to find a self-evident or self-grounding principle that bridges the apparently impassable gulf between subject and object. Hegel's response to this problem is to reject the foundationalist project and adopt what Heidemann calls Hegel's "methodological anti-individualism" -- his "holism." What brings together subject and object, for Hegel, is a self-reflecting system of normative thought that transcends each individual or particular consciousness (8). Though these three authors broadly agree as to what Hegel's phenomenological project is, they offer different perspectives on how Hegel justifies this project.

Heidemann emphasizes the historical development of these "shapes of consciousness", and how each shape creates foundational norms that govern the relationship between subject and object. Hegel justifies the final position in the history of self-consciousness, "Absolute Knowledge," by showing how history necessarily leads to Absolute Knowledge, and Absolute Knowledge supplies an epistemic system that is not internally contradictory. However, Heidemann argues, Hegel's method of justification is circular -- for "the standpoint of philosophical truth is a constitutive element needed to make sense of" the history of self-consciousness, yet this history is supposed to itself justify the final standpoint (18). While Heidemann argues that Hegel cannot escape from this problem of circularity, Fulda and Horstmann argue that Hegel's position can be salvaged.

For Fulda, the Phenomenology is best seen as a "work in progress" (28), rather than as a completed edifice of knowledge. As such, though later moments in the history of self-consciousness may solve or answer problems plaguing previous moments, no moment provides an absolutely self-justified endpoint at which point Spirit can finally come to rest. Horstmann takes a different tack in offering a highly interesting and original account of what he calls Hegel's "transcendentalistic" form of argument. Hegel's form of argument is an advance over Kant's "transcendental" argument, which dogmatically takes a particular configuration of subject and object for granted (in what Kant calls "experience"). For Hegel, the very notions of subject and object and their relationship are open to question. His "negative transcendental argument" discerns what the conditions for the possibility of cognition as such are -- and after running through a series of failed attempts to render cognition possible, Hegel shows that only his own position makes sense of cognition (52). ***

Reading Hegel: The Introductions by
G.W.F. Hegel (edited and introduced by Aakash Singh and Rimina Mohapatra)
► 2008

1 comment:

  1. The entire world is groaning under the weight of all the towers of babble/babel created by all the philosophers and theologians.

    None of which has (or can) make the slightest bit of difference to the patterns patterning that are creating the current, potentially catastrophic, world dis-order.