Hegel’s Anthropological Conception of Logic
My dissertation fights against traditional readings of Hegel’s logic as a theory of the metaphysical structure of the universe and pragmatist readings of it as a theory of the logical syntax of linguistic discourse. I demonstrate that Hegel develops a unique “anthropological” conception of logic that has been overlooked in the history of philosophy. According to this conception, logic is not merely a formal study of rational thought, but more primordially a theory of the rationality instinctively operative in human experience and produced by nature. I present my case in four chapters, the first two arguing for my approach on textual and historical grounds and the second two by reconstructing Hegel’s logic.
In chapter 1, I give an interpretation of Hegel’s Phenomenology, his introduction to logic. But how can a book that deals with our consciousness of objects, the self-consciousness that motivates our actions, and the history of Western communities, be an introduction to the formal discipline of logic? I submit that it is an attempt at showing, through an exploration of the fundamental dimensions of human experience, that rationality is at its source because it is the instinctive or biological form of human life.
In chapter 2, I show how the Phenomenology leads to a transformation of logic. First, since we have an instinctive need, as rational creatures, to make experience intelligible, we never merely react to sensory data or desires. Our experience is determined by the claims we make, already at the level of our bodies, about whether such data reveals something true or whether we should act on a given desire. Second, since claims can only be adjudicated in the practice of giving and asking for reasons, we also have an instinctive need, as rational creatures, to find consensus concerning how to view the world and act in it, a communal worldview, leading to the emergence of societies that change overtime as their worldviews evolve. Consequently, the rationality formally outlined by logic is what instinctively structures the content of perceptual, practical, and sociohistorical experience.
In chapter 3, I reconstruct Hegel’s “Objective Logic.” Following Kant, Hegel provides a transcendental theory of a priori categories that we instinctively apply in experience to make it intelligible. These categories, which range in the complexity from those of “quality” to “actuality,” set the norm of meaning that must be satisfied by something encountered in experience for us to takeit as an instantiation of a quality (say, red) or a self-contained process of actualization (say, a living organism). But the unique feature of Hegel’s Objective Logic is that categories cannot be applied ad hoc. Instead, they “dialectically” qualify, build on, and expand one another in an instinctive attempt to make experience intelligible as possible and in so doing generate the universe of meaning that structures our experience.
In chapter 4, I reconstruct Hegel’s “Subjective Logic.” Were it not for our subjective, distinctively human interest in reality having a reason for being whatever it objectively is or ought to be, we would never be instinctively driven to make experience intelligible. As such, Hegel’s Subjective Logic is a transcendental theory of the logical space of reasons in which experience is realized. In his theory of conceiving, Hegel describes the normative structure of what the instinct of rationality seeks: a rationally satisfying explanation. In his theory of judgment and syllogism, he describes how the types of claims we can make and the ways we can give and ask for reasons, as innate patterns of human behavior, contribute to this seeking. Here, too, judgments and inferences are not applied ad hoc, but “dialectically” qualify, build on, and expand one another in the instinctive attempt to generate a universe of meaning that will adequately explain the world around us and who we are. This, for Hegel, is just what we do as the kind of biological creatures that we are—we create a universe of meaning to navigate our environment just as a dog creates a universe of smell to navigate its own—such that, in describing the logical space of reasons, Hegel’s logic is in fact describing the instinctive or biological form of human life.
I conclude by drawing two lessons from Hegel’s anthropological conception of logic. First, it furnishes an innovative proof of freedom. Since to be human is to demand and respond to reasons, rationality is the determining factor of our experience: instead of merely reacting to sensory data caused by the external world or mental states caused by biological or psychological processes, we can always deliberate about whether we should view things that way or act on them. Second, while the deliberative activity of rationality is irreducible to natural causes, nevertheless rationality, as an instinctive or biological form of life, can be naturalistically explained. Hegel thus strikes a balance between naturalism and the irreducible normativity of the logical space of reasons, allowing for the scientific explanation of its natural preconditions while maintaining its sui generis character.
Publications on Hegel
1. “Describing the Rationality of Human Experience: The Anthropological Task of Hegel’s Logic.” Idealistic Studies 1 (2017): 79-96. DOI: 10.5840/idstudies201751958.
- I argue that Hegel’s logic is an anthropology. Appealing to the fact that we, as the kind of beings we are, search for meaning in our sensory encounter with things and in our actions, it articulates the rationality that guides this search and explains the fundamental shape of human experience. This has three implications for his logic. First, since this rationality is first and foremost an instinctive activity, it is an elaboration of our unconscious knowledge of the rules of thinking. Second, it is an account of the universe of meaning that we create in order to make sense of what is around us and our lives, a theory of the discourses through which we engage in the project of world-interpretation. Third, I contend that it is a work of human self-knowledge and cannot be understood in isolation from the rational form of life whose basic normative structure it distills.
2. “Reclaiming Rationality Experientially: The New Metaphysics of Human Spirit in Hegel’s Phenomenology.” Online Journal of Hegelian Studies (REH) 13.21 (2016): 55-93.
- Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit is typically read as a work that either rehabilitates the metaphysical tradition or argues for a new form of idealism centred on social normativity. In the following, I show that neither approach suffices. Not only does the metaphysical reading ignore how the Phenomenology demonstrates that human rationality can never adequately capture ultimate reality because ultimate reality itself has a moment of brute facticity that resists explanation, which prevents us from taking it as a logically self-contained, self-justifying metaphysical zone traditionally known as ‘substance,’ but it also ignores how the Phenomenology equally demonstrates that human rationality creates a historically self-unfolding universe of meaning that is, because it displays a rational systematicity and consistency unlike anything else in the world, the closest thing we have to substance, but which, given its freedom, is more correctly called ‘subject.’ Consequently, while the non-metaphysical reading rightly recognizes that the Phenomenology develops a radically innovative account of intersubjectivity, it neglects how the social theory that it develops comes fully equipped with various metaphysical commitments concerning nature, spirit, and the relationship between them without which this theory would be unintelligible.
3. “Hegel on the Universe of Meaning: Logic, Language, and Spirit’s Break from Nature.” In Rethinking German Idealism, edited by S.J. McGrath and Joseph Carew, 163-189. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. DOI: 10.1057/978-1-137-53514-6_8.
- I argue that Hegel’s Science of Logic is not, as the tradition believes, a metaphysical treatise. Quite to the contrary, it is a highly original theory of semantics. It describes how logic, the categories of which are deposited in language, displays a deep bond with the latter. This entails that logic, rather than being simply concerned with the principles of proof, must also explain the conditions of the possibility of the universe of meaning that we, as linguistic beings, create. More than this, however, it also explains how we, in the very act of giving meaning to the world, place demands for intelligibility that the latter cannot meet. As such, it explains how spirit is driven to break from nature and produce a world of its own, thereby offering us as yet unexcavated resources for comprehending the relationship between first and second nature.
4. “The Trembling of the Concept: The Material Genesis of Living Being in Hegel’s Realphilosophie.” In “Life.” Special Issue. Pli: The Warwick Journal of Philosophy 23 (2012). 72-106.
- Although Hegel’s absolute idealism is often presented as a solipsistically self-grounding, the Realphilosophie offers us an another image of Hegel which not only challenges standard interpretations, but more importantly gives us valuable resources to rethink living being. The zero-level determinacy of nature as “the idea in its otherness” has two consequences. Firstly, the starting point of any philosophy of nature must be a realism, insofar as nature’s material constitution shows itself as unthought-like. Secondly, if idealism is to be viable, it must prove itself to be a result of nature’s immanent auto-development. Taking as my guide the category of “trembling” (Erzittern) and exploring its intimate connection with the emergent ideality of bodies producing sound, the chemical process and the voice of animals, I aim to show how the Realphilosophie is a reconstruction of the painful odyssey of the material genesis of the autopoetic self-referentiality of the concept as it is paradoxically begotten, by immaculate conception, in the pure extimacy of nature. The dialectics of nature is not a naturephilosophical theory of material being as implicit, self-unfolding productivity which necessarily leads to life via an intrinsic teleology, but rather an account of the contingent material emergence of unpredictable kinds of ontological determinacies from within the immanent field of mechanical nature. Only a naturalized idealism/idealized naturalism is capable of arguing for the ontological irreducibility of living being while simultaneously articulating its dependence upon different scientific domains which form its ontogenetic ground. It avoids both eliminative materialism and naïve vitalism.
Work in Progress on Hegel
“Is There Any Room Left for Religion in Hegel’s Account of Modern Life?”
- For Hegel, the greatest achievement of modern life was that it taught us we could rationally determine how we should live our lives. While this entails that the divine as a transcendent ground for belief and action is replaced by humanity’s deliberative processes and its own rational interests, throughout his career Hegel rejects the idea that with modern life religion should fade away. Reconstructing his philosophical development up until and including the Phenomenology of Spirit, I argue that Hegel proposes three separate conceptions of a distinctively modern religion and how a modern religion is necessary to guarantee the success of modern life.