Saturday, February 18, 2017

Robert Wallace — Hegel’s God

Sunday sermon, or weekend reading as the case may be.

Robert Wallace sums up Hegel's approach to God clearly in a few short paragraphs, which is no mean feat since Hegel writing is notorious difficult to penetrate and his style doesn't make it easy.

Philosophy Now
Hegel’s God
Robert Wallace

See also

Podcast and transcript.

The Philosopher's Zone
Hegel and Hegel's God
Alan Saunders interviews Robert M. Wallace


Andrew Anderson said...

God is commonly described as a being who is omniscient,

God is NOT all knowing since He regretted, for example, making Saul king. Plus God searches hearts and tests minds but what need to search and test if He already knows?

Ryan Harris said...

Conceptions of god reflect the cognitive abilities and needs people imagining them.

If we arranged the concepts by age of person imagining and their professions over the centuries, I'll bet we'd find remarkable consistency through the centuries.

Tom Hickey said...

To paraphrase Kant, "concepts without experience are empty and experience without concepts is blind." Knowledge is the confluence of experience and understanding.

Concepts of God without experience are empty. Numinous experience without concepts cannot be communicated other than imaginatively, e.g. poetically.

Kant was Hegel's starting point in that this is where German thinking after Kant necessarily began because Kant had pushed out the envelope. Hegel was also deeply familiar with classical Greek thought as were all the educated people of his days. He also knew reports of mystics like Meister Eckhart.

Hegel criticized the mysticism of the East and West as "imaginative" rather than conceptual. This was a methodological criticism. He found it lacking because it did not meet Kant's challenge of informing concepts with experience to produce knowledge. What was needed was a deeper explanation.

Hegel was keenly aware of Kant's challenge in purportedly showing that humans don't have intellectual intuition of any "thing-in-itself." An unknowable thing-in-itself must be posited outside knowledge owing to the fact that humans do not have control over their representations, which they construct conceptually based on the "categories of our reason" based on the "transcendental conditions of apperception." Sounds like gobbeldy gook if one hasn't studied Kant. But cognitive science is showing that Kant anticipated modern scientific findings about brain function and cognition without knowing the mechanism.

Hegel set out to show that Kant's "thing-in-itself" as God, self, and the world beyond representation, is unfolding itself in experience in a way that can be understood through the dialect he was proposing, which was modeled on the Platonic dialectic but more developed logically. His purpose was to understand and articulate this process that had only been approached imaginatively. Kant sought to bridge the gap that the failure of metaphysics had left through an examination of morality ("the moral law within") and aesthetics (the sublime and the beautiful). But for Kant this was not metaphysical explanation of the operation of being.

Hegel began with the Kantian assumptions that humans live in a world that they regard as finite and in time. But humans also draw the infinite and eternal into their lives, e.g, as shown by mysticism, art and other imaginative (non-rational but not irrational) activities. But this drawing of the infinite and eternal into the finite in history is also a pulling of thought and not only feeling and imagination into the infinite and eternal. Hegel sought to develop a method of expressing this conceptually, overcoming the challenge that Kant had thrown down to "any future metaphysics."

Robert Wallace presents this rather nicely in my view. But there is a lot of nuance there that one probably won't pick up unless one has studied this.

Tom Hickey said...

Martin Heidegger held that Hegel's work was the culmination of the Western metaphysical tradition. Kant had thought that metaphysics could go no further but Hegel managed to extend the scope through his methodological innovation. But Hegel had not been able thereby to put an end to thinking.

Heidegger sought to go beyond metaphysics but neither by declaring it dead, as did Nietzsche, nor by a "leap of faith" as did Kierkegaard, nor through phenomenology as did Husserl, but by an existential analysis that goes beyond both essential analysis and non-rational approaches. Heidegger developed his own idiosyncratic method of analysis.

The clue to Heidegger's approach lies in his saying, "The thinker says Being. The poet names, or hails the Holy." Heidegger would seek to plumb thought through language. In Wittgenstein's terminology, Heidegger sought to say what cannot be said by indicating it rather than describing it. Wittgenstein's method is based on elucidation of logic and Heidegger's is based on "showing" meaning. Both are therefore more contingent on insight than understanding. The objective is to provoke insight that leads apprehension that is both rational and non-rational.

For both Wittgenstein and Heidegger language and meaning show something that cannot be described conceptually since it exceeds the scope of the logic of description. However, it is not empty of experience, since insight is an experience. the approach to method of both Wittgenstein and Heidegger is working with words to illuminate what is beyond words rather than using words to describe. Wittgenstein, Tractatus, 6.522: "There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical." (Ogden translation)

In his analysis of Hegel's Phenomenology, Heidegger criticized Hegel's perfunctory assumption of "nothing" as a concept, ignoring its existential import, nothing being the source from which "everything" emerges in time.

This assumption on the part of Hegel led him to mischaracterize Buddhism as merely nihilism, for example, whereas for Buddhism "emptiness (shunya) is not empty," that is, has existential import for awareness.

Western philosophy can be viewed as beginning to converge with Eastern in Heidegger, but Heidegger is notorious difficult to read. David Storey attempts to articulate it in Zen In Heidegger’s Way

Detroit Dan said...

Thanks Tom. Amazingly enough, I find this interesting. I took one philosophy course at University of Michigan in 1970, and we covered Kant but not much stuck other than that he was from Konigsberg. I ran into Kant again in reading Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought (if I recall correctly). Recently, I enjoyed Corey Robin's discussion of Nietzsche’s Marginal Children: On Friedrich Hayek. My favorite writer on philosophy is Robert Wright, who wrote Non-Zero and The Evolution of God, and has a new book coming out in August, Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. I'm an active Unitarian Universalist.

Tom Hickey said...

Robert Wright's progressive realism in foreign policy based on enlightened self-interest (reminiscent of De Tocqueville).

Morgenthau seems to have sensed something that later political scientists dwelt on: technology has been making the world's nations more interdependent—or, as game theorists put it, more non-zero-sum. That is, America's fortunes are growing more closely correlated with the fortunes of people far away; fewer games have simple win-lose outcomes, and more have either win-win or lose-lose outcomes.

This principle lies at the heart of progressive realism. A correlation of fortunes—being in the same boat with other nations in matters of economics, environment, security—is what makes international governance serve national interest. It is also what makes enlightened self-interest de facto humanitarian. Progressive realists see that America can best flourish if others flourish—if African states cohere, if the world's Muslims feel they benefit from the world order, if personal and environmental health are nurtured, if economic inequities abroad are muted so that young democracies can be stable and strong. More and more, doing well means doing good.

Wright's first book, Three Scientists and their Gods, featured economist Kenneth Boulding.

Ryan Harris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Detroit Dan said...

More on religion and philosophy today from Michael Hudson:

Seems to be a speech by Hudson with some commentary by other religious scholars.

Speech to Kairos group, Union, Columbia
[Edited version for clarification, January 23, 2017]

Excerpt: Basically what you had in the Bronze Age and every ancient society was a different concept of time than you have today. You had the concept of time as circular. That meant economic renewal. The idea was that every new ruler, every new reign, began time all over again. It wasn’t really time, it was really the economy had to start from a new position of equilibrium. This equilibrium – basically freedom from debt, the ability to support yourself – had to start afresh...

The fight of Jesus against the Pharisees was about this. At first Jesus said: “Good to be back in Nazareth, let me read to you about Isaiah.” In Luke 4 says it that this was all very good, and they liked him. But then he began talking about debt cancellation, and they tried to push him off a cliff.

 So basically you have the whole origin of Christianity was a last gasp, a last fight, to try to reimpose this idea of the economic renewal – of a Clean Slate – that goes back at least to the 3rd millennium BC and probably all the way to the Neolithic.