Review: Reason and Revolution

by Herbert Marcuse

Marcuse outlines Hegel’s thought and suggests how it informed the later rise of social theory and critical theory. The book is a fine exposition of Hegel and Marx. It suffers, however, by rarely attaching the two. Therefore, the subtitle should actually read “Hegel + The Rise of Social Theory.”

For Hegel Reason functions as an acid-drip, dissolving all historical forms, leading to the liberation of nature. As Marcuse says, it is a “task,” not a fact (Marcuse 26). While many repeat Hegel’s famous dictum that the Real is the Rational, Marcuse points out that reason will dissolve social orders via its inherent negativity, which will then usher in new forms of the rational.

The progress of thought begins when we try to grasp the structure of Being. But when we do this, Being dissolves into many quantities and qualities, which are actually a totality of antagonistic relations. This is the essence of Being. Therefore, Being is antagonistic. Indeed, Being is *violent.*

Hegel’s thought allows a visible dynamic between reason, externality, and alienation (as famously seen in Marx). Through labor man overcomes the estrangement between the objective world and the subjective world. Man is alienated when he is subordinated to abstract labor. Mechanization facilitates this alienation.

Since Hegel could see man as a self-creation/creator (creation of reasonable social order through free action), Marx could take this idea and see man as a result of his labor (115). Thus, Hegel’s Master-Slave dialectic is rooted in a specific social relation.

Bondsman:  bound to objects that aren’t his, yet he cannot sever himself from them.  These objects begin to shape his own consciousness.

The object is now the “objectification of a self-conscious subject” (117).

Alienation of the person: the person externalizes himself and becomes an object. I can sell my time and labor. Marcuse, like Marx earlier, sees that many of Hegel’s conclusions, lead to antagonisms and clashes in society (196). However, in Hegel’s society, as Marx would later note, people participate and share only on the basis of Capital, which itself will create more inequalities (205).

Key argument:  Since the individual, on either Hegelian or Marxian lines, is a “Universal,” then the proletariat can only exist “world-historically;” therefore, the communist revolution is necessarily a world-revolution (292).

The second half of the book is a skillful analysis of Marx and later sociologists. This has been covered in depth by other writers, so there is no need to review it here. The book succeeds as an excellent analysis of Hegel, yet it seems about 100 pages too long.

Hegel: Phenomenology of Spirit

Where to begin a review on a book of this magnitude? While this might seem like a difficult question, the easiest answer is also the most Hegelian: start anywhere, for you will end up in the final moment of the dialectic. (Any parenthetical citations in this review refer to the paragraph numbers in the Miller translation) With that said, let’s begin:

Preliminary notes from Charles Taylor (Cambridge, 1975)

The problem in Hegel’s time:  man as the knowing subject faced a number of divisions.

  • separated from nature, which he now sees as brute fact
  • what can bridge the gap between mind and world?
  • self-consciousness leads the individual to distinguish himself from his community.
  • opposition between finite (free will) spirit and infinite (fate) spirit.

The goal: philosophy is to understand how these divisions overcome themselves. Oppositions arise out of an earlier identity.  An entity cannot be utterly distinguished from its “Other” because it cannot exist on its own.  Taylor:  “It is not related to an other but to its other, and this hidden identity will necessarily reassert itself in a recovery of unity” (Taylor 80).

Hegel rejects Greek dualism and almost stumbles upon a biblical Hebraism.  He sees the Cartesian project as inherently mechanistic and incoherent (what connects mind and matter?  Cartesians have never really answered this).

Unfortunately, Hegel still sees the idea of a mind/soul in a body as a “dualist temptation.”  He does admit, though, that it is foreign to Greek thought (81).

Hegel is drawing upon Herder’s expressivism.  Thought, language, etc does not exist without a medium.  Thus for Hegel, the subject, no matter how spiritual, is necessarily embodied.  This is true up to a point, but runs into problems in two areas:  God/Geist is not embodied (at least not God the Father and the Holy Spirit, though Hegel gets around that) and the soul exists in a disembodied state after death.
[1] What does phenomenology suggest? Something like the external world appears to me in a certain way and/or my mind constructs these categories. If so, how would a phenomenology of spirit be possible, since spirit is usually not associated with the external world? This is why Kant’s noumenal distinction is wrong. Just what is it that appears in appearance? Appearance is the showing forth of what something is.

[2] The short answer: Reason recapitulates itself. It doubles back. Take the category of abstract being or reason or spirit. In the abstract it is an empty category. To say that something is says nothing specific about it. Yet, it is not Nothing. Therefore, oscillating between this “Being” and “Nothing” is Becoming, which can account for particularity.

[3] Therefore, Reason must Reflect upon itself and become self-consciousness. As Glenn Magee notes, “Speculative Philosophy holds up a mirror (speculum) to the Idea itself: it allows the Idea to comprehend itself (Magee 88). In fact, following the Kabbalist tradition, the “mirror” allows one to behold the deeper essence of Spirit (120).

[4] This leads to the infamous Master-Slave dialectic: simple awareness of objects cannot produce consciousness of self. We can’t just know objects. We must act and overcome on them. Self-consciousness is only achieved when our desire is directed on other desires: when we see ourselves in the other. The master is actually serving the slave because he depends on the recognition from inferiors. His identity is based on what inferiors think of him.

[5] We come finally to Absolute Spirit. It manifests itself in three modes: Art, Religion, and Philosophy. The first two are inadequate because they use sensuous images and can only approach from finite vantage points. But philosophy is able to give self-knowledge that doesn’t depend on picture-thinking.

[6] Substance becomes Subject. It retains self-consciousness’s own self and can now be a predicate. Spirit is the unity between Subject and predicate. When Spirit remains just substance, it remains an object to itself. Spirit must become subject by uniting and sublating the object.

[7] Being is no longer an abstraction, as in [2]. It is now Being-as-Spirit. Its previous determinations [read: those moments when x is contrasted with y] have since been sublated. Hegel gives us a reversed chain of being (cf Magee, The Hegel Dictionary).

[8] If Spirit is now universal self-consciousness, then it is community (Hegel 781). Logos has now been refracted outward.

[9] If [6] holds then we have something like Gnosticism: Spirit empties itself of itself and falls into substance. As Subject, though, it goes out of that Substance and cancels out the difference between objectivity and content (Hegel 804). Like some strains of Gnosticism, this is a “fall into otherness and multiplicity and a return by means of “finding myself.”

The Good in Hegel:

*He has a good epistemological insight that the knower is always involved in the known object.
*Hegel anticipated all of the good insights made by communitarians. We do not possess our identity intrinsically, but only in relation to something else. Identity will always involve difference because identity consists of relations.
*His stuff on community is very good.

The Bad

~From a theistic standpoint Hegel appears irreconcilable with traditional theism. Much of what he says, if on the level of created reality, is quite good, but when you move this to the nature of God we have all sorts of problems: process theism, open theism, patripassianism.

Works Cited

Magee, Glenn. Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001.
—————–. The Hegel Dictionary. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011.

Taylor, Charles. Hegel. Cambridge, 1975

Truth and Method (Review)

This is one of those great moments where a great student follows his master (Heidegger) yet gives us a new product and not simply a repetition of his master. In short, for Gadamer language is the horizon of being. As Kant was wrong to seek a thing-in-itself, so we also should beware of a “meaning-in-itself.”

Gadamer begins and ends his work on a strange note: the aesthetics and interpretation of art. It’s not that art determines how we interpret text, but art allows Gadamer to illustrate (no pun intended) the tension given that great works of art are considered “timeless,” yet they were produced in historical, finite circumstances. This tension points to the horizon, a key Gadamerian term.

Every experience has implicit horizons of before and after and finally fuses with the continuum of experiences present in the before and after to form a unified flow of experience (246). Df. horizon = not a rigid boundary but something that moves with and invites one to advance further. Everything that is given as existent is given in terms of a world and hence brings the world horizon with it. As a horizon phenomenon “world” is essentially related to subjectivity, and this relation means also that it exists in transciency.”

Hermeneutical circle: possesses an ontological positive significance. We have already fore-projected before we even approach the text. This creates an openness which situates our meaning with other meanings. Understanding is a participation in the event of tradition and not so much a subjective act (302).

Horizons are temporally-conditioned. Time is not a gulf to be crossed by a supportive ground in which the present is rooted. We cannot stand outside of our situation. “All self-knowledge arises from what is historically pre-given, what Hegel calls “substance’” (313). Horizon: every finite present has its limitations. Every situation represents a standpoint that limits the possibility of vision. Horizons move with us. When we understand something, we fuse the horizons between text and interpreter. Fusion of horizons: We regain concepts of a historical past in such a way that it also includes our own comprehension of them (382).

This will go down as one of those truly great books. Ground-breaking works. It’s not super-hard to read simply because it is well-written. However, he does presuppose a good bit of Hegel and Heidegger, so keep that in mind.

Hegel’s subjectum

I found this discussion of what Hegel means by substance and subject very helpful in Karl Marx: The Early Writings, ed Lucio Colletti.

(Comments by Colletti)

Hegel inverts the relationship between subject and predicate.  The universal or concept, which ought to express the predicate of some real object and so be a category or function of that object, is turned instead into an entity existing in its own right.

In other words, whenever we make a claim about something, say the ball is red, we ascribe the predicate or universal redness to the subject, the ball.  Hegel takes this one step further:  for him the universal (or predicate) is also a subject.

By contrast, the real subject, the subjectum of the judgment (the empirical, existing world) becomes for him a manifestation or embodiment of the idea–in other words, a predicate of the predicate, a mere means by which the Idea vests itself of reality (Colletti 19-20).

So what he is saying is that the Idea manifests itself through the subject.

We have Subject (A), in which the universal is predicate.  This generates a new moment:

Subject (B).  The original predicate is now a Subject.  So the structure is now a Subject of a Subject.  And so forth.  What’s the pay off?  Well, Hegel is able to show how Plato’s forms manifest themselves in history.  That’s something Plato couldn’t always do.

The downside is that the Idea/Subject/Universal seems to function a lot like what we would call “God.”  This would seem to mean that God needs the world (the Predicate needs predicates) to “be” God.

 

The Legacy of Idealism

Pinkard, Terry.  German Philosophy 1760-1860: The Legacy of Idealism.  Cambridge.

The more I think about Terry Pinkard’s work, the more I am inclined to say that Idealism facilitated modernity’s exhaustion. Kant introduced his paradox: exactly how coherent is it to say that we are subject to the laws we legislate for ourselves? This was the problem that all of the philosophers after Kant dealt with.

Perhaps one of Kant’s more interesting suggestions is found in his third critique:the experience of natural beauty gave us the indeterminate concept of the supersensible substrate of both nature and freedom. What is this substrate? Possibly the Absolute or something. And this is where Pinkard gives a summary of thinkers from Fichte to Schelling to Hegel.

More attention is paid to Hegel, obviously, and while Pinkard does offer some interesting insights, it is not much of a thorough analysis. He does anticipate, even if he doesn’t say so, later moves by Heidegger and Gadamer: We are “thrown” into a social space and when we ask and give reasons for reasons, we are usually asking (and answering) questions that have already been supplied to us.

All in all, it is a fine survey of German Idealism if at times it is a bit short. Interestingly, Pinkard’s account gives more attention to analytic philosophers than one would normally find in treatises on Idealism.

Phenomenology of Spirit (Review)

Where to begin a review on a book of this magnitude? While this might seem like a difficult question, the easiest answer is also the most Hegelian: start anywhere, for you will end up in the final moment of the dialectic. (Any parenthetical citations in this review refer to the paragraph numbers in the Miller translation) With that said, let’s begin:

Preliminary notes from Charles Taylor (Cambridge, 1975)

The problem in Hegel’s time:  man as the knowing subject faced a number of divisions.

  • separated from nature, which he now sees as brute fact
  • what can bridge the gap between mind and world?
  • self-consciousness leads the individual to distinguish himself from his community.
  • opposition between finite (free will) spirit and infinite (fate) spirit.

The goal: philosophy is to understand how these divisions overcome themselves. Oppositions arise out of an earlier identity.  An entity cannot be utterly distinguished from its “Other” because it cannot exist on its own.  Taylor:  “It is not related to an other but to its other, and this hidden identity will necessarily reassert itself in a recovery of unity” (Taylor 80).  

Hegel rejects Greek dualism and almost stumbles upon a biblical Hebraism.  He sees the Cartesian project as inherently mechanistic and incoherent (what connects mind and matter?  Cartesians have never really answered this).

Unfortunately, Hegel still sees the idea of a mind/soul in a body as a “dualist temptation.”  He does admit, though, that it is foreign to Greek thought (81).  

Hegel is drawing upon Herder’s expressivism.  Thought, language, etc does not exist without a medium.  Thus for Hegel, the subject, no matter how spiritual, is necessarily embodied.  This is true up to a point, but runs into problems in two areas:  God/Geist is not embodied (at least not God the Father and the Holy Spirit, though Hegel gets around that) and the soul exists in a disembodied state after death.
[1] What does phenomenology suggest? Something like the external world appears to me in a certain way and/or my mind constructs these categories. If so, how would a phenomenology of spirit be possible, since spirit is usually not associated with the external world? This is why Kant’s noumenal distinction is wrong. Just what is it that appears in appearance? Appearance is the showing forth of what something is.

[2] The short answer: Reason recapitulates itself. It doubles back. Take the category of abstract being or reason or spirit. In the abstract it is an empty category. To say that something is says nothing specific about it. Yet, it is not Nothing. Therefore, oscillating between this “Being” and “Nothing” is Becoming, which can account for particularity.

[3] Therefore, Reason must Reflect upon itself and become self-consciousness. As Glenn Magee notes, “Speculative Philosophy holds up a mirror (speculum) to the Idea itself: it allows the Idea to comprehend itself (Magee 88). In fact, following the Kabbalist tradition, the “mirror” allows one to behold the deeper essence of Spirit (120).

[4] This leads to the infamous Master-Slave dialectic: simple awareness of objects cannot produce consciousness of self. We can’t just know objects. We must act and overcome on them. Self-consciousness is only achieved when our desire is directed on other desires: when we see ourselves in the other. The master is actually serving the slave because he depends on the recognition from inferiors. His identity is based on what inferiors think of him.

[5] We come finally to Absolute Spirit. It manifests itself in three modes: Art, Religion, and Philosophy. The first two are inadequate because they use sensuous images and can only approach from finite vantage points. But philosophy is able to give self-knowledge that doesn’t depend on picture-thinking.

[6] Substance becomes Subject. It retains self-consciousness’s own self and can now be a predicate. Spirit is the unity between Subject and predicate. When Spirit remains just substance, it remains an object to itself. Spirit must become subject by uniting and sublating the object.

[7] Being is no longer an abstraction, as in [2]. It is now Being-as-Spirit. Its previous determinations [read: those moments when x is contrasted with y] have since been sublated. Hegel gives us a reversed chain of being (cf Magee, The Hegel Dictionary).

[8] If Spirit is now universal self-consciousness, then it is community (Hegel 781). Logos has now been refracted outward.

[9] If [6] holds then we have something like Gnosticism: Spirit empties itself of itself and falls into substance. As Subject, though, it goes out of that Substance and cancels out the difference between objectivity and content (Hegel 804). Like some strains of Gnosticism, this is a “fall into otherness and multiplicity and a return by means of “finding myself.”

The Good in Hegel:

*He has a good epistemological insight that the knower is always involved in the known object.
*Hegel anticipated all of the good insights made by communitarians. We do not possess our identity intrinsically, but only in relation to something else. Identity will always involve difference because identity consists of relations.
*His stuff on community is very good.

The Bad

~From a theistic standpoint Hegel appears irreconcilable with traditional theism. Much of what he says, if on the level of created reality, is quite good, but when you move this to the nature of God we have all sorts of problems: process theism, open theism, patripassianism.

Works Cited

Magee, Glenn. Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001.
—————–. The Hegel Dictionary. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011.

Taylor, Charles. Hegel. Cambridge, 1975.

The Hegel Dictionary

Rarely do you find a book that covers a dense topic in a remarkably lucid manner. This is such a book. The book is, as it says it is, a dictionary. It covers *some* terms in Hegelian studies. It does not cover all of them (being around 300 pages). Further, it is aimed at undergraduates, not specialists. With that said, I have found this the most useful introduction to Hegel. Below are some of the highlights.

10393439

Overview of Hegel’s Thought

“For Hegel human beings are the self-consciousness of existence itself” (Magee 2). Hegel inverts Aristotle’s chain of being. The lower gives way to the higher. The highest form of consciousness will include self-reflection. The goal of the Absolute is to posit enough in order for it to be an “idea of an idea,” all previous ideas having been sublated.

Earlier philosophers used absolutum to mean “God,” but god defined as a “coincidence of opposites” (Magee 19). Hegel: when the Absolute is conceived as the transcendent unity of all things (cancellation of differences), it is really an empty concept. The Absolute is the whole.
existence exists in order to achieve consciousness of itself (20). Perpetually gives rise to conditions for it to overcome. The final moment is when self-relatedness is achieved through self-consciousness.

For Hegel universals and particulars are not separate “things.” Nor are universals “in” particulars. Rather, “particulars are within universals” (61). The universal has no reality apart from its concrete realization.

Spirit as self-consciousness has a dual object: the thing out there (given in perception) and itself, which is in opposition to the thing. The subject is moved to transform the object out of the desire to confront itself. When a subject wishes to know itself, it must split into a subjective side (which knows) and an objective side (known). Since we desire total self-reflection, this means transforming the object into a mirror of myself (70). This leads to postmodern violence.

Analysis and Conclusion:

Magee focuses on Hegel’s key works (each book given at least a two page treatment), with *most* of the key terms in the book. Key philosophers (Kant, Schelling, Marx) receive substantial treatment.

There is some repetition, but I suppose that can’t be help. Magee concludes with a short but useful bibliography.