My current research examines metaphysics and epistemology in German Idealism, under which I also categorize German Romanticism. More specifically, it examines the human being’s relationship to nature via the tradition’s various attempts to balance system and freedom and the post-Kantian endeavors of overcoming the subjectivism of transcendental idealism in order to advance a robust realism about the external world.
I am finishing up a manuscript entitled Hegel’s Realism: Logic, Human Life, and the Discovery of Nature, which explores these themes while arguing against the standard interpretation of Hegel’s logic as a metaphysical deduction of the rationality of the universe similar to Spinoza’s Ethics. Instead, I contend that Hegel’s logic is an account of the uniquely human instinct of rationality. It describes how this instinct drives us to create a universe of meaning, the basic categorial structure of this universe, and how this universe makes human experience possible.
Central to my book is the claim that Hegel’s logic performs a two-fold synthesis: (1) the synthesis of metaphysical naturalism with human exceptionalism and (2) the synthesis of robust realism with transcendental idealism. In a first move, Hegel argues for a naturalization of logic. Because the subject matter of logic—the concepts, judgments, and inferences that govern all language and thought—derives from our rational instinct, logic itself is a product of nature. But it is also a place where nature creates something that transcends itself: the self-contained and self-justifying universe of meaning created by language and thought, the sui generis realm of human history that Hegel names “spirit” and which freely follows its own norms and rules. In a second move, Hegel argues that this universe of meaning, while a creation of language and thought, does not amount to subjectivism. The logical categories governing language and thought are more than the distinctively human standpoint on the world around it; they constitute a space in which what is can reveal itself, thus making room for a robust realism.
Hegel’s Realism is, in many respects, a response to my first book, Ontological Catastrophe: Žižek and the Paradoxical Metaphysics of German Idealism. Reconstructing and expanding upon Žižek’s psychoanalytic interpretations of Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, here I show that Žižek provides a unique, even if provocative, explanation of how human subjectivity and culture emerge from nature but remain irreducible to it by appropriating key insights from German Idealist metaphysics. For Žižek, they occur as a response to an unpredictable and game-breaking glitch in our instinctual programming: whereas other animals live a life of innate behaviors and needs set by their instincts, our biology is unable to fully dictate ours. This short-circuiting of our instinctual nature then opens up the ontological space necessary for us to freely regulate our actions and desires by the creation of a symbolic order (what I call in Hegel’s Realism a “universe of meaning”) that is autonomous and non-natural.
While finishing Ontological Catastrophe, I came to clearly see what would be the main point of disagreement between Hegel and Žižek if Hegel would be able to read him. According to Žižek, there is nothing natural about the creation of the symbolic order and its effects on us, it serving as an artificial prop that supports the human being qua maladapted animal. In Hegel’s eyes, however, we create a symbolic order to comprehend the world around us, our place in it, and how we should act just as instinctively and naturally as a spider spins a web. By the same token, just as a spider spins a web to help satisfy the basic need of hunger, we create a symbolic order to satisfy a basic need we have: the need for meaning—a need that is so strong in us that it can override other basic needs, including that of survival. In short, Hegel’s Realism makes clear that Žižek’s anti-naturalism is incompatible with Hegel’s nuanced naturalism.