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Hölse, System and Subject

  • Robert B Pippin (a1)


Hegel, the philosopher most responsible for linking philosophy to history, appropriately argued that in his own day there simply could not be Platonists, Aristotelians, Stoics, or Epicureans, that one could not bring back an earlier stage of thought. In this massive two volume study Vittorio Hösle argues that, in the spirit of Hegel himself, there also cannot be contemporary Hegelians. But there can be “philosophers who attempt to mediate the tradition of objective idealism from Plato to Hegel with post-Hegelian philosophy and with contemporary science”, (p 57n) In the past many of the philosophers who have attempted such a “mediation” have concentrated on one or another aspect of Hegel's project, usually his philosophical anthropology, his social theory or political theory, his critique of modernity, theory of alienation, etc. Hösle ambitiously takes up what looks to be the most unlikely candidate for any “contemporary mediation,” Hegel's entire systematic attempt to link together “Logic”, “Philosophy of Nature” and “Philosophy of Spirit”.

Often Hösle's study is simply a survey of Hegel's systematic enterprise, providing paraphrase and plausibility where possible, summarising claims, excusing or pointing out excesses, pausing to debate other commentators, or complain about prominent mis-readings. He introduces his account with a long historical and theoretical discussion of Hegel's Encyclopedia system, and then offers a running commentary on its three major parts, devoting the largest blocks of attention to the Logic and the philosophy of objective spirit in the Rechtsphilosophie. But there is throughout one great thematic problem at issue that sets the tone of the book at the beginning and is returned to again and again.



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1 Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften, in Werke in zwanzig Bänden, ed. Moldenhauer, E, Frankfurt, K Michel, Suhrkamp, 19691971, #13; cited by Hösle, p. 57n.

2 All reference to Hösle in the text are to Hegels System. Der Idealismus der Subjectivität und das Problem der Intersubjektivität, Hamburg, Felix Meiner, 1987 . Page numbers in both volumes are continuous.

3 In the words of Hösle's “Schlußbetrachtung”, Hegel's “basic idea” of a system is judged thoroughly “persuasive”, but the “execution” of that system is found “unsatisfying”, p. 665

4 See especially 7.1.4, pp. 448ff., and his discussion of Cieszkowski and Michelet.

5 Habermas, Jürgen, “Labor and Interaction: Remarks on Hegel's Jena Philosophy of Mind”, in Theory and Practice, transl. viertel, J Boston; Beacon Press, 1973, pp. 142–69; and The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity Twelve Lectures. Transl. Cambridge, Frederick Lawrence, MIT Press, 1987, pp. 2344 . For criticisms and discussion, see Wildt, Andreas, Autonomie und Anerkennung. Hegels Moralitätskritik im Lichte seiner Fichte-Rezeption Stuttgart, Klett-Cotta, 1982, pp. 326–9, and Ludwig Siep, “Zur Dialektik der Anerkennung bei Hegel,” Hegel-Jahrbuch.

6 Theunissen, Michael, Hegels Lehre vom absoluten Geist als theologisch-politisch Traktat Berlin, de Gruyter, 1970 ; Sein und Schein Frankfurt, Suhrkamp, 1978 ; and Die verdrängte Intersubjektivität in Hegels Philosophie des Rechts,” Stuttgart, 1982, pp. 317–81.

7 Eg, the recent work of Richard Bernstein, Seyla Benhabib, and others.

8 To be sure, this is a vast issue and Hösle might be excused for avoiding it. But it will appear again and again as a problem. I have provided my own extensive reconstruction of Hegelian identity theory in Hegel's Idealism: The Satisfactions of Self-Consciousness New York, Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 1989. I also argue there that this deduction problem can only be resolved by taking far more seriously than Hösle does the Phenomenology's deductive role in Hegel's system. See especially Chapter Five.

9 For an exemplary account of this problem, and its relation to Hegel, see Buchdahl, Gerd, “Hegel's Philosophy of Nature and the Structure of Science” in Hegel, ed. by Oxford, Michael Inwood, Oxford University Press, 1985 pp. 110–36.

10 The Critique of Pure Reason, transl. Smith, N K New York, St Martin's, 1965 .

11 This claim compresses a full interpretation of the Appendix, and especially those passages that stress the ineliminability and non-heuristic status of regulative principles, into a single sentence, but there is obviously no space here to defend such an interpretation fully.

12 Connecting the problem of system with the problem of “law” in such a Kantian fashion clearly raises the issue of law in the social sciences, especially history, a confusing and somewhat dead-end issue in Hegel as well as Kant, as Hösle shows on pp. 97-99.

13 The issue is already relevant to Hösle's criticism of Hegel's tendency to overstep the line between conceptual necessity and brute contingency. See his account of Hegel's criticism of any Newtonian attempt to derive Kepler's laws of planetary motion from the laws of gravitation, p 93ff. Hösle explains this tendency by reference to Hegel's refusal to accept that much of the “necessity” of scientific explanation is itself conditioned by certain empirical “initial conditions”, conditions that make impossible Hegel's demand that the elliptical movement of the planets of our solar system have a “necessary ground”. There is a difference, though, opened up by the above discussion of Kant between “necessity” as a function of a role in a simplified, coherent, unified system, and, let us say, Leibnizean, “metaphysical” necessity (“could not have been otherwise”, “true in all possible worlds”, etc.). There is thus a corresponding difference between what “demands” for such necessity mean.

14 That is, a Being Logic, a two-part Subjective Logic (Essence and Notion) and an Absolute, Inter-Subjective Logic.

15 See p. 122-23 for Hösle's official statement of his thesis.

16 Later, Hösle presents a good deal of evidence that in the 1804/5 Logic and indeed up until the 1808 Nürnberg Propadeutic, Hegel continued to regard his “Subjective Logic” as the second part of the logical system, not its resolution. There is, however, little evidence that I can see that the Inter-Subjectivity-Absolute Spirit issue is much in Hegel's mind in these different formulations. I discuss below whether it is even possible for “inter-subjectivity” itself to play the grand resolutive, Absolute role assigned to it by Hösle.

17 For Hösle's differences with Theunissen, see p. 270. Hösle's later problems with Hegel's Rechtsphilosophie are also much influenced by Theunissen. See pp. 471-81.

18 For lack of space, I must pass over such issues as the difference between dialectical and speculative contradiction, the different kinds of contradiction involved in the Being, Essence, and Notion Logic, and a number of special problems about the content of the Notion Logic raised by Hösle.

19 See Wieland, Wolfgang, “Bemerkungen zum Anfang von Hegels Logik”, in Seminar: Dialektik in der Philosophic Hegels, ed. Horstmann, R-P Frankfurt, Suhrkamp, 1978 , and Bubner, Rudiger, “Dialektische Elemente einer Forschungslogik”, in Bubner, , Dialehik und Wissenschafi Frankfurt, Suhrkamp, 1974, pp. 129–74, and his Strukturprobleme dialektischer Logik”, in Guzzoni, U et al, eds., Idealismus und seine Gegenwart Hamburg, Felix Meiner, 1976, pp. 3652 .

20 I have tried to connect the Logic's project with the general kantian problem of a fully self-conscious subjectivity in the Hegel's Idealism book mentioned in note 7

21 There are of course indications of what Hösle has in mind. See, for example, his discussion of Binder, the model of development in Hegel's Philosophy of Religion, p. 459ff., and Hösle's, own discussion of “Religion and Inter-subjectivity”, p. 646ff.

22 It is also the case that more of the analysis is derivative here than elsewhere, as Hösle often admits by frequent references to the work of Dieter Wandschneider. See especially Raum, Zeit, Relativät. Grundbestimmungen der Physik in der Perspektive der Hegelschen Naturphilosophie Frankfurt, Klostermann, 1982 .

23 This is not to say that there is not much of value in these sections. As is the case throughout the book, Hösle has an impressive ability to point out persuasively and economically internal inconsistencies or irregularities in Hegel's system. Indeed, I know of few commentaries on the Encyclopedia or its parts that point out as many such puzzles in as philosophically motivated a way. See especially such things as Hösle's explanation of the role a philosophy of Nature must play in a Philosophy of Spirit (p 277ff.), his discussion of the relation of “later” categories to “earlier” ones (p 298), his account of the Quantity/Quality issue, p. 300ff., or his discussions throughout both volumes of the problematic status of Hegel's philosophy of mathematics.

24 I do not mean to suggest that I have myself a ready solution to this issue. Sometimes Hegel seems to think that some topic or other could only be understood properly within the assumptions constituting some theoretical domain. Private property seems to be a notion relevant only to Abstract Right, for example.but it is a topic surely relevant to and transformed within the context of Civil Society. As usual Hösle is very adept throughout at pointing the problems of “repeated topics” in Hegel.

25 Hegel, G, Phänomenologie des Geistes, in Gesammelte Werke, ed. Rheinisch-Westfälischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1980), Bd. 9, p. 118 .

26 Hösle also discusses the point, raised by Weil and Avineri, that Hegel's account of the Owl of Minerva suggests that the philosophical comprehension of ethical life does not only signify the end of that life, but the beginning of new stage. See his interesting discussion of Michelet's anecdote about this point, pp 455ff.

27 “Morality” seems “higher” in the philosophy of history (old forms of ethical life are replaced only by means of a moral critique, à la Socrates), but “ethicality” is decidedly higher in the political philosophy.

28 Even though, of course, within Hegel's idealistic account, such problems are given a major, and no doubt often exaggerated role in the origin of practical difficulties.

29 Hösle is much more willing in his account of Hegel's Philosophy of Nature, to allow an “undeduced”, factical domain, than he is in this context Although in some respects he follows Hegel's lead in doing so.

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Hegel Bulletin
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