Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Bit More Clarity on Hegel (Courtesy of Stephen Houlgate)...

(quotes taken from Houlgate's Book, 'An Introduction to Hegel')

Hegel thinks that thought and reality are going to grow together in ever increasing clarity. Houlgate notes that some might think this to be presumptuous: "How can thought be certain that it is able to bridge the gap between itself and being and disclose the true nature of what there is?" (p. 45)  But, he continues, for Hegel this is a bad question, because it assumes that there is a gap between thought and being in the first place, and not, instead, that the gap is between thought and itself — in other words, the problem is not that thought and being are separate, but rather that thought has not, in its incomplete stages, understood the unity between itself and being.

But does this not amount to the same thing said in a different way? Not necessarily. In the first instance, what is and what we think about that reality are disconnected from each other by a structural deficiency that is ultimately unbridgeable by either reality or thought. In the second (Hegelian) instance, reality and thought are primordially and ontologically connected — indeed, united — but there is a disconnect within thought itself which does not allow thought to recognize this unity, since it has been too quick to assume that the categories by which thought functions (i.e., our logical principles) must be the absolutely correct way of understanding the world, which leads to the resulting blindness that is incorrectly perceived as a disconnect between thought and that world.

But, likewise, this means that if Hegel is going to be consistent, he will not — and indeed Houlgate thinks he does not — make any absolute claim about the fundamental unity of thought and reality at the start of his logic either. For to do so would be to start with an unnecessary presupposition that cannot be justified. Thus, because "we can presuppose no conceivable distinction between thought and being at the beginning of the Logic, the categories set out in the Logic must be ontological. At the same time they cannot provide a description of any Absolute, reality or being that is presupposed as the distinct, given object of philosophical enquiry." (p. 45)

What, then, do we make of Hegel's statements that the end of the system is the beginning, and vice versa? Are we simply to take Hegel at his word that the discovery of 'Absolute Being' is something that he did not conceive of prior to reaching the end of his system, and that it is merely coincidental that the fact of Absolute Being as the end of the system means that such unity and conceptual truth is also the beginning of the system? It seems too convenient... at least that's my impression.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Struggle With God...

“Surely God as the Wholly Other cannot be grasped, and especially not in the scandalous tangibility of such a struggle, unless God has become incarnated in the divine giving of Godself to be struggled with. While the threat of annihilation is not reciprocal, one sees a God who, by taking in some enigmatic way the form of a man, actually partakes to a degree in this human mutuality. The possibility of the struggle relies, not upon the sublimation of flesh into spirit, but upon God allowing Godself to be struggled with—indeed, God's giving of Godself in the struggle.”

Simon Podmore (in "Kierkegaard and the Self Before God")

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The mystery of selfhood...

"The closer you come to the other one's mystery, and the more the other one reveals of that mystery, the more clearly you come to see that there are even vaster regions and depths of the other's interior being which remain unknown and in large measure unknowable. You come to realize that just as there are great stretches of your own interior being which you have never shared with anyone, much of which you could not find the medium for sharing even if you wanted to, just so it is true of every other human being."

- Arnold B. Come

Friday, May 31, 2013

Wells on re-thinking 'service'...

Haven't had much motivation to post lately, mainly because I don't feel like I have much of interest to say.  So, I'll post a link to a very interesting essay by Samuel Wells:

Although I think Wells may be creating a false dichotomy between mortality and isolation in some sense, I do think that this is a challenging essay and worth reading, as it describes what is probably one of the most important issues of our time that Christians must consider; that is, what it really means to love others (and God).  Is love primarily about solving problems, or is it primarily about being present with others?  And if the answer is the latter, then what might that mean for the way we ought to conceive of God?

I do think eternity matters; indeed, it is necessary if our faith is to avoid being reduced to Feuerbachian or Freudian caricatures.  Extreme immanentist versions of Christianity are ultimately hopeless.  But eternity only really matters if love is present.  Otherwise, as the author points out, eternity would be hell.  And love involves a kind of presence-with-others that, at least speaking for myself, is something still very difficult to put into practice.  My hope is that I will, with God's grace, continue to become a person who loves others the way God loves us all.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Happy 200th Birthday, S.K.!

Sunday, May 5, is Kierkegaard's 200th birthday celebration.  Here's a brief bio for anyone who may want to read and know a bit more about my favorite thinker.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Wendell Berry on Learning about Limits, Economic and Otherwise...

(This is from a very wise and thought-provoking essay I read a while back by Wendell Berry... I thought I'd re-post some of it here.)

[I]n the phrase 'free market', the word 'free' has come to mean unlimited economic power for some, with the necessary consequence of economic powerlessness for others. Several years ago, after I had spoken at a meeting, two earnest and obviously troubled young veterinarians approached me with a question: How could they practice veterinary medicine without serious economic damage to the farmers who were their clients?

Underlying their question was the fact that for a long time veterinary help for a sheep or a pig has been likely to cost more than the animal is worth. I had to answer that, in my opinion, so long as their practice relied heavily on selling patented drugs, they had no choice, since the market for medicinal drugs was entirely controlled by the drug companies, whereas most farmers had no control at all over the market for agricultural products. My questioners were asking in effect if a predatory economy can have a beneficent result. The answer too often is 'No'. And that is because there is an absolute discontinuity between the economy of the seller of medicines and the economy of the buyer, as there is in the health industry as a whole. The drug industry is interested in the survival of patients, we have to suppose, because surviving patients will continue to consume drugs.

Now let us consider a contrary example. Recently, at another meeting, I talked for some time with an elderly, and some would say an old-fashioned, farmer from Nebraska. Unable to farm any longer himself, he had rented his land to a younger farmer on the basis of what he called 'crop share' instead of a price paid or owed in advance. Thus, as the old farmer said of his renter, "If he has a good year, I have a good year. If he has a bad year, I have a bad one." This is what I would call community economics. It is a sharing of fate. It assures an economic continuity and a common interest between the two partners to the trade. This is as far as possible from the economy in which the young veterinarians were caught, in which the powerful are limitlessly 'free' to trade, to the disadvantage, and ultimately the ruin, of the powerless.

It is this economy of community destruction that, wittingly or unwittingly, most scientists and technicians have served for the past two hundred years. These scientists and technicians have justified themselves by the proposition that they are the vanguard of progress, enlarging human knowledge and power, and thus they have romanticized both themselves and the predatory enterprises that they have served. As a consequence, our great need now is for sciences and technologies of limits, of domesticity, of what Wes Jackson of the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, has called 'homecoming'. These would be specifically human sciences and technologies, working, as the best humans always have worked, within self-imposed limits. The limits would be the accepted contexts of places, communities, and neighborhoods, both natural and human.

I know that the idea of such limitations will horrify some people, maybe most people, for we have long encouraged ourselves to feel at home on 'the cutting edges' of knowledge and power or on some 'frontier' of human experience. But I know too that we are talking now in the presence of much evidence that improvement by outward expansion may no longer be a good idea, if it ever was. It was not a good idea for the farmers who 'leveraged' secure acreage to buy more during the 1970s. It has proved tragically to be a bad idea in a number of recent wars. If it is a good idea in the form of corporate gigantism, then we must ask, For whom? Faustus, who wants all knowledge and all the world for himself, is a man supremely lonely and finally doomed. I don't think Marlowe was kidding. I don't think Satan is kidding when he says in Paradise Lost, "Myself am Hell."

If the idea of appropriate limitation seems unacceptable to us, that may be because, like Marlowe's Faustus and Milton's Satan, we confuse limits with confinement. But that, as I think Marlowe and Milton and others were trying to tell us, is a great and potentially a fatal mistake. Satan's fault, as Milton understood it and perhaps with some sympathy, was precisely that he could not tolerate his proper limitation; he could not subordinate himself to anything whatever. Faustus's error was his unwillingness to remain "Faustus, and a man."

In our age of the world it is not rare to find writers, critics, and teachers of literature, as well as scientists and technicians, who regard Satan's and Faustus's defiance as salutary and heroic. On the contrary, our human and earthly limits, properly understood, are not confinements but rather inducements to formal elaboration and elegance, to fullness of relationship and meaning. Perhaps our most serious cultural loss in recent centuries is the knowledge that some things, though limited, are inexhaustible.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Houlgate on Kantian and Hegelian approaches to logical thought...

Unlike Kant, says Houlgate, who attempted to show that through the use of analytic judgments we "do not proceed to a new and different determination, we simply gain greater clarity about what we began with" (whereas with synthetic judgments we really do discover new determinations), Hegel seems to think that new determinations CAN be found analytically -- that is, "the concepts of becoming and determinate being are derived by Hegel simply by considering what is involved in thinking pure being... by 'analysing' that initial determinate concept." (p. 37)

So, in contrast to Kantian thinking, which concerns itself with developing the relations of identity or equivalence between things and/or ideas, Houlgate explains that "Hegelian logic is 'analytic' to the extent that it merely renders explicit what is implicit or unthought in an initial category. However, by explicating the indeterminate category of being, we do not merely restate in different words what is obviously 'contained' in it; we watch a new category emerge." (p. 38, emphasis in original) Thus, "we are required by Hegel's method of 'analysis' to undertake constant and subtle revisions of the way we think." (p. 38) It is this approach, I think, which is a great strength of Hegelian logic. But it also contains an inherent weakness since, to the extent that it is wedded to an historical or material ontology, it results in an inevitable incompleteness that can never be resolved. (I think this is something of what Derrida tries to say vis-a-vis Hegelian thought.)

Houlgate explains that "The dialectical principle, for Hegel, is the principle whereby apparently stable thoughts reveal their inherent instability by turning into their opposites and then into new, more complex thoughts." (p. 38) Hegel believes that a system built upon this principle creates freedom for thought, as thought is no longer forced into the mold cast for it by certain logical necessities that have been dictated by various philosophers. Rather, the only 'necessity' is the logic of thought itself, which is such that there is vast dialectical space for freedom. The question, however, is whether such 'freedom' will truly make one free. It is perhaps instead the case that such openness will leave one actually trapped by the very dialectic that promised to make one free; after all, to have endless possibility for development and the inability to achieve it can very easily become a kind of existential bondage.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Hegel... Arrghh...

In case any of you are wondering what I'm working on these days, well, I've been reading a lot of Hegel, and trying to figure out what he's saying... This is not easy. Here's a sample of what I'm looking at (from Hegel's Science of Logic). I am developing my own interpretation of what he means, but if anyone wants to chime in with their own take on it, go ahead! :-)  (There are, of course, already many commentaries on Hegel and a plethora of varying opinions...)

"Being, pure being – without further determination. In its indeterminate immediacy it is equal only to itself and also not unequal with respect to another; it has no difference within it, nor any outwardly. If any determination or content were posited in it as distinct, or if it were posited by this determination or content as distinct from an other, it would thereby fail to hold fast to its purity. It is pure indeterminateness and emptiness. – There is nothing to be intuited in it, if one can speak here of intuiting; or, it is only this pure empty intuiting itself. Just as little is anything to be thought in it, or, it is equally only this empty thinking. Being, the indeterminate immediate is in fact nothing, and neither more nor less than nothing.

Nothing, pure nothingness; it is simple equality with itself, complete emptiness, complete absence of determination and content; lack of all distinction within. – In so far as mention can be made here of intuiting and thinking, it makes a difference whether something or nothing is being intuited or thought. To intuit or to think nothing has therefore a meaning; the two are distinguished and so nothing is (concretely exists) in our intuiting or thinking; or rather it is the empty intuiting and thinking itself, like pure being. – Nothing is therefore the same determination or rather absence of determination, and thus altogether the same as what pure being is.

Pure being and pure nothing are therefore the same. The truth is neither being nor nothing, but rather that being has passed over into nothing and nothing into being – 'has passed over', not passes over. But the truth is just as much that they are not without distinction; it is rather that they are not the same, that they are absolutely distinct yet equally unseparated and inseparable, and that each immediately vanishes in its opposite. Their truth is therefore this movement of the immediate vanishing of the one into the other: becoming, a movement in which the two are distinguished, but by a distinction which has just as immediately dissolved itself."

Sunday, February 24, 2013

And now for an abstract philosophical question...

Is there such a thing as 'post-metaphysical' thought?  Here is William Desmond's view, and I have to say, I think he's probably right:

"It might be that certain forms of metaphysics are behind us but there is no post–metaphysical thinking, since all thinking is informed by fundamental senses of being which are at work whether we think about them or not. Being post-metaphysical without attention to these is being a poor metaphysician, not a post- metaphysician."

Monday, January 28, 2013

Jacques Ellul on our conceptions of reality...

"Truth is the absolute or eternal. We are not able even to approach its outskirts. We do not construct truth out of bits and pieces added to one another, so as to enable us to remove them and dismantle the construction. By means of language we transmit and understand this truth that is as tightly closed and solid as a dot, reliable as a map, translucent as a crystal, but hard as a diamond. We transmit it and even discern it only through language. Truth is connected to the word and communicated by it. That is, truth is communicated by the most uncertain means, the one most prone to variations and doubt, as we have seen -- by the word, that fragile thing that does not last, evaporating as soon as it has been said. Thus what we are surest of is connected with the most uncertain thing in existence; our most changeable means has to do with what is most certain.

Now here is the amazing thing: this is a godsend for us. How could we live if our senses advised us that the reality in which we live does not really exist in the final analysis, that it is only a tangle of whirlwinds and illusions? How could I walk if my senses showed me nothing but emptiness in front of me? How could I eat if my senses showed me the utter unreality of what I am eating? Not that everything can be reduced to the impressions of my senses. That is not what I mean. My point is that sight and touch, the senses of certainty, give me the guarantee indispensable for living, concerning a milieu that is strange and foreign to me. My certainty is false as far as exact reality is concerned, but this certainty allows me to live."

Friday, January 18, 2013

Well, it's a new year...

...and I've gotten off to a slow start blogging. I won't bore anyone with the details, but part of it involved a defective laptop. Anyway, the new term at Oxford is underway, and I don't have anything too exciting to mention (but everything's going well!). So, here's a little food for thought from the man himself, S.K. (from Concluding Unscientific Postscript)

"The object of faith is the actuality of another person; its relation is an infinite interestedness. The object of faith is not a doctrine, for then the relation is intellectual, and the point is not to bungle it but to reach the maximum of the intellectual relation. The object of faith is not a teacher who has a doctrine, for when a teacher has a doctrine, then the doctrine is eo ipso more important than the teacher, and the relation is intellectual... But the object of faith is the actuality of the teacher, that the teacher actually exists. Therefore faith’s answer is... not in relation to a doctrine, whether it is true or not, not in relation to a teacher, whether his doctrine is true or not, but is the answer to the question about a fact: Do you accept as fact that he actually has existed? Please note that the answer is with infinite passion."