Kant and Hegel, yet again

I think that the differend between Kant and Hegel is still crucial, even from the point of view of speculative realism.Basically, Kant posits a limit beyond which thought cannot go — we cannot know things in themselves. Hegel’s critique of Kant is that, since thought is positing the limit, thought must always already be able to see beyond the iimit; for Hegel, the idea of inaccessible things-in-themselves is bogus, because it is our thought that has first posited them *as* inaccessible. This is what Hegel says, and it is repeated time and time again by later Hegelians, e.g. by Zizek.

Now, it has long seemed to me that any modern philosophy needs to begin with a counter-defense of Kant against Hegel. In the terms of SR, evidently, Kant is a weak correlationist while Hegel is a strong correlationist. Hegel’s argument against Kant is very much a form of correlationist argument — it is basically Stove’s Gem — to affirm something is to posit it and thence to know it. Hegel is simply saying that, by thinking that there are things outside of our thought, we are thereby bringing them into our thought. This is precisely the argument that SR most strongly rejects. 

In this sense, even though Kant’s transcendental argument, his Copernican turn, is the locus classicus and foundational statement of correlationism, I think that returning to Kant can give us a way out of correlationism. This is partly what I was trying to do in my Whitehead book (even though I wrote most of that book before I became aware of speculative realism). Once we have made this return, several moves are possible. We may argue that the correlation, as Kant establishes it, is itself contingent rather than necessary (this is what Meillassoux does). Or, we may make a new version of the transcendental argument, asking not what our minds must be like in order for the world to appear the way it does, but what the world itself must be like in order for it to be able to appear to us the way it does (this is what Roy Bhaskar does). Or, we may extend the Kantian argument to all entities: it isn’t just human beings or rational beings that encounter appearances which are different from things in themselves, but every entity encounters all other entities phenomenally only, without being able to reach those entities in themselves (this is basically Harman’s argument that all objects withdraw, and that there is an unbridgeable distinction between sensual objects and real objects). Or, we may rework the transcendental argument as a principle of productivity rather than of essences (this, as far as I can understand it, is what Schelling does, at least in Iain Hamilton Grant’s reading of Schelling). Or else, as I prefer — following Whitehead as I understand him — we can invert the order of the Critiques so that the 3rd critique comes first — becoming, as Whitehead put it, a critique of feeling, which makes the other critiques unnecessary — that is to say, aesthetics precedes cognition — we affect and are affected by other things aesthetically before we cognize those other things, and even (or especially) when we cannot cognize them adequately. We cannot *know* things in themselves, or things apart from their correlation with us; but we can, as Harman rightly suggests, allude to them, i.e. refer to them metaphorically or indirectly. And we can, as well, be aesthetically *moved* by them — indeed, this is the primordial mode ofactual  contact among entities (and in saying this, I am espousing a Whiteheadian version of SR which differs from Harman’s object-oriented ontology). 

13 Responses to “Kant and Hegel, yet again”

  1. dmf says:

    very good, would you be amenable to including the various non/pre-conceptual habits, including conceptual biases, under this affective label, and do intuitions have some affective role to play here?
    On a slight tangent I never got around to it but I always thought that if one started with Carl Jung’s work on feeling-toned-complexes, instead of his kantian inspired Archetypes, there might be a better basis for an analytic psychology that can absorb recent developments in neurophenomenology/4ea cog-sci/enactivisms.
    Also there might be some role for Wittgensteinian perspicuous presentations as metaphors here as part of our “normal” exchanges and Deleuzian inventions/metaphors that as jeffbell says might bring about “incredulous stares’, as potential paradigm shifters as Rorty’s kuhnian reading of Davidson gestures towards.

  2. dmf says:

    oops should be cognitive, not conceptual, biases
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases

  3. skholiast says:

    Your way of sorting the SR responses by way of Kant is a helpful taxonomy. I have felt for a long while that the animus against Kant in SR is a little overblown. In particular, I have never understood the insistence that Harman’s approach is anti-Kantian. OOO has always seemed to me a kind of ‘Kantianism without reserve.’

    If I am reading you and Harman aright, you start from (and maybe radicalize) the third Critique; whereas Harman does the same with the first. This makes me wonder if it’s plausible to consistently do the same thing with the second (which has always been my favorite anyway). Think I’ll try thinking that one through.

    Interesting point, dmf, about Jung, by the way.

  4. Gordon Potter says:

    I think you have to start with the limit because to not do so is highly distasteful and extreme. For me the logic goes like this…

    Posit Infiniti in any form whatsoever and then one must accept that if it can be thought or imagined it much actually be so within the horizon of infiniti.

    Hegelians may be fine with this but the idea is terrifying to me. The most pain or anguish I can muster in my thought is actualized by my very thinking of it. It is important to chill thinking entirely to avoid causing damage in the world. I am actually serious about this as a metaphysical principal.

    But as you describe Kant here it leaves us an out from this terrifying circumstance of thought as actualization. We are finite and there are limits and so it is “safe” to leave our thought unbounded. The things in themselves are independent of our narcissistic machinations. I can be comfortable with that.

    Anyway thank you for explaining why I have never really liked or trusted hegelianim.

  5. Tim Morton says:

    Thanks so much for this.

  6. Jason Hills says:

    Excellent.

    However, what is the relation of the moral vs. aesthetic in the last context per Whitehead as a reversal of Kant? It’s been an issue in pragmatism since at least Sidney Hook’s mention that ethics must be first philosophy, and that an aesthetic implies an ethic, but not necessarily one that we would recognize as normative..

  7. dmf says:

    skh, as much as I am taken by Nietzsche’s recognition of the auto-bio-graphical nature of philosophical work (a daemonic insight not to be confused with reducing that interpretations of that work to the imagined limits of biographies) I always thought it was a real loss to history when Jung shrunk William James’ work into a character type instead of taking his pragmatism to heart.

    http://www.radiolab.org/2006/may/05/phantom-limbs/

  8. Yusef says:

    “I always thought it was a real loss to history when Jung shrunk William James’ work into a character type instead of taking his pragmatism to heart.”

    Ain’t nothing. The loss is when they discuss “Kant and Hegel”, (and mean Kant versus Hegel) with no understanding the task at hand was to challenge, as Nietzsche had challenged, BOTH Kant AND Hegel, (which challenge did mean Kant AND Hegel, a philosophical problem.)

    The desire to continue to discuss everything in terms of the relationship of versus (of opposition), taking sides. “I think that returning to Kant can give us a way out of correlationism.” Yeah, and someone else thinks Hegel can give us a way out of coboxeliumatus. There’s tremendous enjoyment to be developed here, for the ingroup.

  9. Leon says:

    “I prefer — following Whitehead as I understand him — we can invert the order of the Critiques so that the 3rd critique comes first — becoming, as Whitehead put it, a critique of feeling, which makes the other critiques unnecessary — that is to say, aesthetics precedes cognition — we affect and are affected by other things aesthetically before we cognize those other things, and even (or especially) when we cannot cognize them adequately. We cannot *know* things in themselves, or things apart from their correlation with us; but we can, as Harman rightly suggests, allude to them, i.e. refer to them metaphorically or indirectly. And we can, as well, be aesthetically *moved* by them — indeed, this is the primordial mode ofactual contact among entities (and in saying this, I am espousing a Whiteheadian version of SR which differs from Harman’s object-oriented ontology).”

    I like this quote, and used it in a post of my own here http://afterxnature.blogspot.com/2011/08/blind-objects-and-their-valence-bond-of.html.

    - Leon / AFTER NATURE

  10. dmf says:

    not sure who wrote this but thought it might be of interest:
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/53441377/Deleuze-Whitehead-Stengers

  11. Erik says:

    Well, this question is the same question that parts spirit from science. Elementary propositions are the work of any hard science. What is behind neuroscience for example are weak mathematical calculations of modulations, agonisms and antagonisms. Dictation, intuition, literature, and the intuition of elementary propositions themselves are higher manifolds. Dictation many times holds higher manifolds than pure logic even if they are sporadic, non-progressional and precarious in value. So “spirit” or the absolute idea(s) would be closer to highly complex manifolds than elementary propositions. When someone is speaking to someone there is an entire chain of multifaceted connections that are made, even if they are only discreet. So when science rules out spirit, it is the inability of the paradigm of logic to encapsulate the logic of history.

  12. Kirby Olson says:

    Hegel’s problem is hard to pinpoint, but I think that Lyotard via Kant comes closest and is more or less implied when he says that to save the glory of the name “postmodern” that we have to save it from the totalitarian. Lyotard blames the totalitarian impulse of Marxism on Hegel, but I don’t think he fully explains why Marxism became so utterly totalitarian. Kant does a better job than Hegel in leaving all knowledge as limited.

    There’s a better description in an almost unread book by a talented amateur political philosopher named Rudolf Rocker. He was a Jewish radical who lived in London in the 1920s, and wrote a book called Nationalism and Culture. In it, he says that Hegel’s problem was to link reality at any given moment with God, and to assume that they were identical. That’s about as totalitarian as you can get because it assumes that reality is something we can know, and that that reality is God at any given moment.

    The Jewish tradition on the other hand doesn’t allow for people to know much about God. If you look directly at him, you combust. Only a few ever managed it — Moses, for one. Some others managed a chat at best. Job managed a chat, for instance (God did most of the talking).

    I like Kant because he assumes a gigantic gulf between humans and God, and between humans and reality.

    Hegel seems to assume on the other hand that he can know everything.

    I haven’t understood what you are finding in Whitehead. Could you put it into a sentence? To me, he’s just another blackhead, but one that’s difficult to pop.

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