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The Apperceptive I and the Empirical Self: Towards a Heterodox Reading of “Lordship and Bondage” in Hegel's Phenomenology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 June 2015

John McDowell*
Affiliation:
University of Pittsburgh
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Extract

Hegel's Phenomenology traces an education of consciousness, as a result of which it is to attain the standpoint of absolute knowing. For consciousness (as such) its object is other than itself. The goal is for this otherness to be aufgehoben — cancelled as the simple otherness it at first appears to be, though preserved at a higher level, as a “moment” in a more comprehensive conception. Inquiry will then in principle be able to avoid a certain sort of philosophical anxiety. We shall no longer need to be troubled by the spectre of a gulf between subject and object, which is the pretext for a transcendental scepticism.

At the standpoint of absolute knowing, the progress of knowledge is to become intelligible as the free self-development of “the Notion”. Hegel sees this conception as indebted to Kant, in a way he makes explicit when he writes, in the Science of Logic: “It is one of the profoundest and truest insights to be found in the Critique of Pure Reason that the unity which constitutes the nature of the Notion is recognized as the original synthetic unity of apperception, as the unity of the I think, or of self-consciousness.” This is obviously an allusion to the Transcendental Deduction. There — especially in the second-edition recasting — Kant comes close to Hegel's conception of absolute knowing.

I shall begin by spending some time on this Kantian background. That will place the apperceptive I, whose unity is the unity of the I think, in the picture.

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McDowell on Hegel
Copyright
Copyright © The Hegel Society of Great Britain 2003

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References

1 This section and the next two use material from my paper “Hegel's Idealism as Radicalization of Kant”, which appears (in Italian translation: L'idealismo di Hegel come radicalizazzione di Kant”) in Iride 34 (2001): 527–48Google Scholar, and in the proceedings of the 2001 Venice conference Hegel contemporaneo: La ricezione americana di Hegel a confronto con la tradizione europea, eds. Ruggiu, L. and Testa, I. (Milan: Guerini e Associati, 2003), pp. 451–77Google Scholar. The inspiration for arriving at Hegel from the Kantian material I shall exploit comes from Pippin, Robert B., Hegel's Idealism: The Satisfactions of Self-Consciousness (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The reading of Kant comes from working through him with James Conant and John Haugeland.

2 Hegel's Science of Logic, trans. Miller, A. V. (New York: Humanities Press, 1976), p. 584 Google Scholar. Pippin cites this passage as central to his reading of Hegel's idealism (p. 18).

3 Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Smith, Norman Kemp (London: Macmillan, 1929), A79/B104-5Google Scholar.

4 B139. I substitute “into” for Kemp Smith's “in” (Kant wrote “in einen Begriff”, not “in einem Begriff”). See Aquila, Richard E., Matter in Mind: A Study of Kant's Transcendental Deduction (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1989), p. 136 Google Scholar.

5 Kant describes the understanding — which is “the faculty of apperception” (B134n.) — in terms of spontaneity, e.g. at A50/B74. And spontaneity is the theme of the opening section of the B Deduction.

6 See A89-91/B122-3 (in the preamble to the Transcendental Deduction, common to both editions). Kant is here explaining why the task of a Transcendental Deduction (showing “how subjective conditions of thought can have objective validity”) is so difficult.

7 Kant puts the basic principle like this (in the opening section of the B Deduction, which is devoted to elaborating the thought): “But the combination (conjunctio) of a manifold in general can never come to us through the senses, and cannot, therefore, be already contained in the pure form of sensible intuition. For it is an act of spontaneity of the faculty of representation […]” (B129-30).

8 Faith and Knowledge, trans. Cerf, Walter and Harris, H. S. (Albany, SUNY Press, 1977), pp. 6970 Google Scholar.

9 See B138: “The synthetic unity of consciousness is […] an objective condition of all knowledge. It is not merely a condition that I myself require in knowing an object, but is a condition under which every intuition must stand in order to become an object for me.” (“For me” spoils this formulation, in a way that should begin to become intelligible when I discuss how Kant's conception is still, by Hegel's lights, a merely subjective idealism: §4 below.) For the general idea of conditions that are subjective and objective together (not primarily subjective and thereby allegedly objective), see A158/B197: “[…] the conditions of the possibility of experience in general are likewise conditions of the possibility of the objects of experience […]”.

10 For the localization to the Aesthetic, see Hyppolite, Jean, Genesis and Structure of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. Chemiak, Samuel and Heckman, John (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1977), p. 144 Google Scholar. The noumenon of the Analytic is different, and the related notion in the Dialectic is different again.

11 See Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. Miller, A. V. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), §238Google Scholar. In what follows, I shall modify Miller's translation, or substitute my own, in which I shall allow myself to count words like the untranslatable “aufheben” as English.

12 It does not help with the problem I am posing for Kant to inveigh against “two-world” readings of Kant. Let it be acknowledged, by all means, that he identifies “things as objects of experience” with “those same things as things in themselves” (Bxxvii). But this does not alter the fact that according to him the spatial and temporal organization of things as objects of our experience reflects a fact about us rather than characterizing the things themselves. And he himself stresses that his attempted vindication of the objective validity of the categories essentially turns on that feature of things as objects of experience.

13 For an understanding of “post-Kantian absolute idealism” on these lines, see Friedman, Michael, “Exorcising the Philosophical Tradition: Comments on John McDowell's Mind and World ”, Philosophical Review 105 (1996): 427-67, especially at pp. 439–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

14 Hence the unhappy addition of “for me” at B138, cited above; and hence also his willingness to accept the Copernican image (Bxvi-xviii), which certainly suggests a priority of subjective over objective.

15 These remarks bear on Henry Allison's characterization of transcendental idealism as insisting on a distinction between “conditions of the possibility of knowledge of things” and “conditions of the possibility of the things themselves” ( Kant's Transcendental Idealism: An Interpretation and Defense [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983], p. 13 Google Scholar). Transcendental realism rejects the distinction by seeing conditions of the possibility of knowledge as merely derivative from autonomous conditions of the possibility of things. Allison maintains that the only other way to reject the distinction is to embrace a subjectivistic phenomenalism — which one might describe, as in my text, as an abandonment of the independently real in favour of projections from subjectivity. That would be a symmetrical counterpart to transcendental realism, taking subjective conditions to be autonomous as such where transcendental realism takes objective conditions to be autonomous as such. What goes missing here is the Hegelian alternative, which is inspired by how Kant wants to think of the requirements of the understanding. Hegel rejects Allison's distinction on the ground that the relevant conditions are inseparably both conditions on thought and conditions on objects, not primarily either the one or the other.

16 For one thing, a proper treatment of Hegel's relation to Kant would need to take account of Fichte's intervening contribution. For another, something would need to be said about how what in Kant is the activity of the understanding becomes, in Hegel, the self-fulfilment of reason, in the face of Kant's sharp distinction between understanding and reason. For yet another, something would need to be said about how Hegel sees his idealism as related to Kant's practical philosophy, which I have not mentioned at all. (These are all no doubt connected.)

17 We need to arrive at the significance of apperception through the experience of mere consciousness, rather than just starting with it (like Kant and Fichte), because just starting with it leads only to the subjective idealism of §238. See Gadamer, Hans-Georg, “Hegel's Dialectic of Self-Consciousness”, in Hegel's Dialectic: Five Hermeneutical Studies, trans. Smith, P. Christopher (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1976), at pp. 54–5Google Scholar.

18 See, e.g., Pippin, , Hegel's Idealism p.143 Google Scholar: “Suddenly we are talking about desire, life, struggles to the death, masters and slaves.” Pippin tries to read the chapter's first two sections (the third is, as he remarks, easier to accommodate) so as to fit his overall conception of the Phenomenology's point, but his details (for instance, desire as emerging out of the idea of a lack that drives the pursuit of knowledge) strike me as far removed from what actually happens in the text.

19 Self-consciousness is the shape in which consciousness is now present, and for consciousness the essential thing about its object is that it is not — is other than — itself.

20 Cf, e.g., Pippin, Hegel's Idealism p. 149 Google Scholar. Pippin says that “this chapter […] does not begin a case for the primacy of practical reason” (p. 288, n. 11). I am not sure about this claim, when we come to the slave's emancipation through work. But Pippin is talking about the role of desire in the chapter, and I think he is right that that feature of it does not point us to practical reason. However, Pippin's denial is muted by his taking “desire überhaupt” too literally.

21 Fortunately, in this paper I do not have to try to explain how this happens.

22 “Achieves its satisfaction” rather than, more plainly, “finds its truth” because we are still working with the conception of self-consciousness as desire überhaupt, though in the experience of §175 it learned not to conceive itself as appropriating its object in anything like a literal sense. See §6 above.

23 No doubt the remark also works if taken straightforwardly, without that understood frame. I think this is quite common in the Phenomenology. What I am disputing is only that the straightforward reading captures what Hegel has argued for in his approach to the remark.

24 Self-consciousness starts this movement in its experience with “itself as pure I for object” (§173). Hegel announces there that in its subsequent experience “this abstract object will enrich itself and undergo the unfolding we have seen in life”. It is going to turn out to be what was there unfolded.

25 Compare what he says in the Preface about “grasping and expressing the true not [just] as substance, but no less as subject” (§17). Compare also §790, where he says (ironically), of Observing Reason's culminating identification of the soul with a thing, that “according to its concept it is the most richly spiritual”. The concept of spirit as it figures here is the concept of something that is equally object and subject.

26 It is part of the image that, for the consciousness whose experience we are considering, the other views it in the same way. But this symmetry need not carry over into what the image is an image for.

27 I have not seen this obvious point noted by commentators.

28 See Critique of Pure Reason, B157-9.

29 I have seen a few precedents for this proposal. Flay, Joseph C., Hegel's Quest for Certainty (Albany: SUNY Press), p. 86 Google Scholar, says that “master” and “slave” refer not to separate individuals but to different aspects of consciousness. Kelly, George Armstrong, in his “Notes on Hegel's ‘Lordship and Bondage’”, reprinted in Stewart, Jon, ed., The Phenomenology of Spirit Reader (Albany: SUNY Press, 1998), pp. 172–91Google Scholar, offers an intra-personal reading as a supplement to the more typical interpersonal readings. And Robert M. Wallace, in an unpublished book manuscript, says that “a self-consciousness […] can, in principle, be its own “other’”. But none of these authors has what seems to me to be the essential connection between the master/slave dialectic and the project of overcoming otherness.

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