Ep. 24 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Hegel
(Sectioning and transcripts made by MeaningCrisis.co)
A Kind Donation
Welcome back. This is the 24th episode of awakening from the meaning crisis. Last time we were talking about the historical developments that happened around Kant. We took a look at Kant and Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, and I presented Nietzsche as one of the great prophets — I'm using that in the old Testament sense of prophet — of the Meaning Crisis. And we talked about a way of understanding what Nietzsche was saying - how It's not just simply atheism. And we also took a look at a way in which Nietzsche doesn't really, adequately, give us a response to the Meaning Crisis although he indicates that an important project within the response to the Meaning Crisis is how to reappropriate, from the Axial legacy, the idea of radical self-transcendence within a secular, scientific worldview.
Now I want to go back to Kant and trace out another important line of development that's going to be crucial for understanding the Meaning Crisis. And that's the line that comes from Kant and to Hagel (writes both names on the board; Kant at the top with a small line down to Hagel). I can't go through all the various important German thinkers like Fichte and Schelling, but I want to talk a lot about Hagel because of the tremendous impact Hagel has had on the political landscape and the cultural landscape surrounding the Meaning Crisis. And as we know, Kant also had a deep influence on the Romantics who also have a significant impact on Hagel.
So if you remember Kant has this model of the way the mind Is framing reality (draws a square box) in order to produce what is rational within it (draws an arrow pointing into the box, at ‘Rational’). And this was then taken by the Romantics and reversed in an interesting way (adds additional lines to the right side of the box - ‘filter’ lines) that the closer you got to [the actual contact with] reestablishing the contact with reality (writes Reality to the right of the box diagram), the more you're reversing this process of rationalisation, and you're coming into contact with reality via more irrational States of mind. And what Kant had of course is the idea that reality out here was The Thing In Itself (writes The Thing In Itself outside the box, beside Reality), which we cannot directly interact with. We can only interact with our experience. Do you see how the disconnection from the world becomes radicalised in Kant and all the meaning is totally within a self-enclosed activity, a self constructing, self-enclosed activity of the mind. And the thing in itself is nothing that we can come into rational contact with. And that's why, of course, as I said, the Romantics propose this radical idea — sort of the exact opposite of the Axial Revolution — that by moving into more irrational states, we can reestablish contact with reality.
Now, Hegel is aware of both the Romantic response and the Kantian framework. And talking about Hegel is - Oh my gosh! Hegel is a Titanic and complex and difficult tinker! And so, once again, I want to remind everybody that I'm trying to cut through a lot of material. I'm trying to zero in on those aspects of Hegel's thought that are, I think, directly relevant to understanding the genealogy of the Meaning Crisis.
So what Hegel says, first of all, is that this idea (The Thing In Itself) makes no sense! Hegel points out that The Thing In Itself is completely unknowable, and for something to be completely unknowable, he argues, is indistinguishable from it being nonexistent. If there is nothing that can possibly be known about it, then we should stop thinking about it as something that exists, something that should be taken into account when we're talking about a relationship to reality. And if you remove The Thing In Itself, then you get this idea: that reality is totally found within this structure (indicates just the box diagram alone). This is of course a form of idealism (writes Idealism off to the left of the box diagram), which has nothing to do with pursuing ideals. Idealism is the idea that reality is ultimately constructed, made by, the mind in some fashion. Hegel makes the famous claim that “the real is the rational," that this rational stuff and reality are actually identical. If you get rid of this side of the equation — The thing in itself — all you're left with is this (box); that reality is the rational. The real is the rational, and the rational is the real. And this of course Is an important derivation, I think is the correct way of putting it, from the original insight from Parmenides — that we saw exemplified in Plato — that there's a deep connection between being and being known. That there's a deep connection between our sensing something as real — and I don't mean just physically sensing, I mean making sense — our sensing something as real and how intelligible it is to us, how knowable it is to us. And Perl, in his book “Thinking Being”, the Classical introduction to metaphysics, just does a fantastic job at explaining how profoundly fecund this idea has been for us.So Hegel takes that Platonic inspiration and he weds it to a critique of The Thing In Itself and then we get this idea that what's going on actually is not that the mind, like in Kant, is making the structures of rational experience of reality. No, no, you get that the mind is actually making the structures of reality itself.
Well, what about the irrational stuff that the Romantics were talking about? Well, Hegel sort of re-understands and reinterprets these developmentally! He understands the irrational aspects of the mind not as us moving towards the contact with the unknowable Thing In Itself (left to right on the diagram through the filter edge of the box). Instead the irrational aspects of the mind are actually a potential within the mind, a developmental potential for rationality. So the idea is [that] our rational, intelligible experience, has not fully developed, has not been fully self-actualised, and you can hear the Aristotelian aspects in Hegel's thought.
Living Systems Of Patterns Of Intelligibility - Geist
Now, when I start talking about mind in this way, and rationality, we have to be very careful: we're not talking about mind in a sense that it’s your mind, the individual mind. We’re talking about mind in an extended sense. We're talking about the entire system of patterns of intelligibility that are at work in humanity. All of the patterns of intelligibility that we're using to make sense in this (indicates box diagram of mind/reality) profound way. If you think about this room, for example (gestures the room with wide arms), and my mind is structuring my experience (further gesturing). And then if you give Hegel his critique of Kant — that there's nothing beyond the structuring of experience (removal of The Thing In Itself) — then you have the idea that this is all, in a sense — in a deeply metaphysical sense — this is all (still gesturing the room) the activity of these patterns of intelligibility. The patterns of intelligibility and reality is this mind in this extended sense. So try to think of these patterns of intelligibility as structuring reality, not just the experience of reality, and that they form a living system: they're developing. Like in Aristotle, it's like a living thing. They're going through a process of self-actualisation. The irrational elements are constantly being transformed into more rational intelligible elements.
So the Germans have a great word for all of this, the word Geist, and like all German words. It doesn't train, translate that readily into English. It covers these two words that we separate in English and it overlaps between them mind and spirit (all three words written on the board), because what it's trying to pick up on are, again, this living system of patterns of intelligibility (gestures around the room again with wide arms) by which we ultimately makes sense. And given this argument against an unknowable reality, being a reality (the negation of The Thing In Itself), then the patterns by [which we are] making sense are identical to the patterns by which reality is intelligibly structured. So this isn’t individual idealism. This is what's going to become known as Absolute Idealism (writes Absolute above Idealism on the left of the box diagram) because the absolute is another term that's used for this system of self-realisation of the patterns of intelligibility, rather than talking about an individual mind. I'm trying not to get too abstract here, but it's hard not to be abstract when you're talking about Hegel's idealism! And so my task with you is to try and explain this in a way that constantly makes it plausible to you and also at least viable so you can see why it became an attraction the way of thinking. If you deeply buy Kant and the Romantics, and yet you accept Hegel's argument against this (The Thing In Itself), you reinterpret the Romantics the way he did you get this position (Geist).
Finding Geist Through History
How do you study it? How do you understand it? How do you study [these] living systems of patterns of intelligibility that structure experience and reality? Well, you study history. And here you can see, of course, the deep influence of Christianity and, going back to the Axial Revolution within ancient Israel about understanding history as the process by which reality, and our understanding of reality, are co-unfolding together. So you study history and you look for patterns in the history. What are you looking? What kind of patterns [are you looking for]? These are patterns of how we have systematically made sense, how cultures have created World-views, ways of making sense, ways in which we have — as I've often used the metaphor — we've created grammars by which we make sense of ourselves and the world. So you can see some of the influence of Hegel on some of the terms and ideas that I've been using as we've been engaging in our historical analysis.
So these are patterns we realise, and I want to really pick up on the double meaning of this word (writes Realise on the board) like I've indicated before when realising means, here, both that it is something we experience, but it is also a way in which things are being made real, coming into realness, coming into reality in a developmental sense. So we're talking about looking at history to discover the development of this grammar of intelligibility, this grammar of human thinking, human being, human living, how humans are ‘worlding,' how they're creating worlds of intelligible patterns in which we can act in a meaningful manner and understand ourselves, the world and each other. And what you discover, Hegel said, is if you look at this history you see [that] it's not static. You can see that it is going through a developmental process and that development is driven by [sort of] two opposing movements or forces.
Differentiation And Integration Lead To An
Understanding Of Systematisation
One is a process of differentiation. (Wipes the board clean and writes Differentiation.) So think about when you're trying to make sense, what do you have to do often? You have to grasp the differences between things. You have to distinguish, you have to clarify, you have the contrast. So a good way of thinking about this is this term we use, “Articulation” (written after differentiation). Articulation means to speak and to make sense, but it also means to find all the joints, find the division points between things. So part of what we're doing when we're trying to make sense [is] we're engaging in a process of “differentiation articulation”. But of course, we also are doing the other, we are doing integration (writes Integration below Differentiation). We are gathering things together so that we have systematic connection[s that] are being realised. [Again, it's, we're not] We're becoming aware of them, but we're also constituting them and making them. And, again, not as individuals, but as participants in this project of how the patterns of intelligibility are working themselves out through our thought, through our behavior, through our ways of living and being in the world. So Hegel understands the process of ‘understanding’ as the creation of a system; systematisation (connects both Differentiation and Integration together on the left, writing Systematisation), because when I'm doing this, when I'm differentiating things and also integrating them together, I'm putting them into a systematic relationship.
So let me give you an analogy for understanding Hegel. Please remember, it's an analogy. So when you study child development, you can see children have ways of making sense of the world and that discloses the world to them in a certain way. And that way in which they make sense works for them, it gives them a certain understanding. But what happens, as you go through stages of development, is that that system gets incredibly improved. Things that were often confused together, get differentiated apart and then get reintegrated so that you get a more sophisticated, systematic understanding of the world. And again, when I say this ‘understanding,' you have to understand that it means not just in your head, but how the world is structured for you. So you've got this living system of patterns of intelligibility and you see across history that it's always being articulated by differentiation and then being integrated into a systematic way of understanding being, and not just being, but how the world is being to us.
Dialectic: A Powerful, Cohesive Model Of The
Systematisation Of Ideas.
So Hegel thought he saw this internal development in Geist. This (writes Geist on the board again) is his name, as I said, for this notion of an extended mind (indicates Differentiation/Integration/Systematisation). It had an internal development (writes Internal Development off Geist), much like a living thing, much like a child. So what do you see happening? What you'll see in the history of ideas, as we try to make sense of things, you'll see an idea is proposed (writes Idea on the board) - a particular idea, a way of understanding. And it gets contrasted, it gets clarified, it gets distinguished. It gets differentiated from a counter idea (writes Counter Idea to the right of Idea). But then what typically happens is that these two ideas then are drawn together into a Higher Integration (writes Higher Integration above idea and counter idea, completing a triangle). Now, this is often popularly explained, and Hegel doesn't actually use these terms this way, but this is often explained by this idea of Thesis, Anti-thesis and Synthesis (written below Idea, Counter Idea and Higher Integration respectively). So the idea is, you get an idea, you'll get a counter idea, it's integrated together, and then this (Higher Integration/Synthesis) serves as a new idea to start the whole process again - here's the counter idea (writes counter idea beside Higher Integration to create the base of another triangle), and then that gets integrated and so on and so forth. And what you have is the increasing articulation and integration of the patterns of intelligibility — which for Hegel, given the argument (removal of The Thing In Itself), are also the patterns of realness, the patterns of reality — you get this incredible complexification. You get emerging capacities for understanding and being in the world. He calls this process Dialectic.
So, Just to give a quick example from the history of ideas: You have people who are trying to get at ‘What is reality? What kind of thing is reality?’ and you'll have certain people like Parmenides and Plato saying [-] Reality is changeless (writes Changeless under ‘idea/thesis’) because when I know something, I know it to be true, and for things to be true, that has to be…/ that's the way they really are! And if they're changing and I try to know them, I can't ever get a true grasp of them. And you get this idea that reality is changeless. And then you get people like Heraclitus and others saying, “No, no…!” If you do that, then the whole capacity for understanding your experience of reality - that things are changing - if you write off all that experience as an illusion, then there's no content to your experience! There's nothing actually that you're having an experience about! In fact, they argue the opposite, that reality is pure change (writes Change below Counter Idea/Antithesis). So you've got Parmenides and an aspect of Plato (on the left - thesis), and then you got Hereclitis (on the right - antithesis): “To be real is to be unchanging," “No! To be real is to be changing!”. And you can see this where people in our culture [will] talk about reality as if it's eternity, but they'll also talk about “there's nothing as real as change itself," that reality is always in process.
The Modern Scientific Method Starts To Fit In
And then Plato comes along, as we've seen, and proposes a way of integrating them together. And what he says is “no…”, that there are Eternal Patterns (writes Eternal Patterns on the board) and they structurally organise Changing Processes (writes Changing Process below Eternal Patterns, with a down arrow joining them) — and if you remember that maps onto this (Eternal Processes) is more having to do with the ‘upper world’, the more real world, and this (Changing Processes) is the more illusory world — and you can see this played out in our science. And you say, “what do you mean John?”. Well, science is built around the idea that there are these Eternal Patterns - “laws” - and yet they constrain and interact with “forces," which are defined completely in how they change things (Changing Processes). And so science is a synthesis out of these two ways of trying to understand reality. And it ultimately goes back to Plato and we use math to talk about this (Eternal Patterns/laws) and we use experiments to talk about this (Changing Processes/Forces) and so forth.
A Model For Self-Awareness Developing Within The History Of Ideas - A Philosophical Endpoint?
So this is not a ridiculous idea that Hegel has; it's a profound idea! You can see at it at work! And if you talk about something — to use, I think, a strong analogy — about how science is progressing and something about the patterns that science discovers are also the patterns of reality, then you have something strongly analogous of how Hegel is thinking of Geist. So this Dialectic — even the term that Hegel uses, by the way, this is inspired by Plato, although I think Hegel's interpretation of dielectric is very different from Plato's — but this whole process of the way in which Geist is historically developing is a process of self-transcendence on Geist's part, emergence, It's the way in which Geist is developing, self-actualising, the way in which it is moving from a more and more irrational making sense to a more and more rational, systematic making sense. So Hegel proposes that in the history of dialectic, we can get to a stage where the system of understanding and realisation becomes aware of itself. That one of the ideas, one of the systems of making sense, that emerges is this idea itself (gestures the whole framework on the board!).
And do you see what that means? And there's hubris in Hegel here, because what Hegel is basically saying is his philosophy is the philosophy in which this process of Geist and realisation has become reflectively aware of it[self], in which this process has created a systematic understanding that grasps the dialectical principles of Geist. When you get that, then you have what he calls Absolute Spirit, Absolute Geist. There's this telos, there's this goal in this whole process: all of history is moving — and of course he now sees himself as the discoverer of this — but all of history is moving to this moment of Absolute Idealism. So rationality is seen as a systematic process in the self-development of Geist, of its self-understanding. Now, many of you are probably finding that this is a very impersonal way of talking about mind and meaning, and we will come back to that. So hold on to that. We will come back to that.
So when the process of making sense of understanding passes into this stage of self-understanding (makes upwardly churning gestures through the framework on the board), when the process creates systems of ideas (indicates Systematisation) that grasp this pattern of dialectic, then Hegel says that what's happened is we have moved from Understanding — with a capital U because it's not individual understanding, but the Understanding in Geist — to Reason — with a capital R. What does he mean by that? The principles of rationally making sense, this living system of principles for rationally making sense, moves from understanding things to understanding everything systematically. All the things are getting integrated into a systematic understanding and that systematic understanding is now self-reflective: it includes and refers and grasps itself. In a very deep sense Rationality has realised itself. It was a very powerful way of thinking.
Reality Realising Itself - God Is Secularised Back Into The Detail
Now, put this all together with the original and crucial premise of Idealism. If this is a process by which Rationality Realises itself, and the Real is the Rational, this is also a process by which Reality Realises Itself. This process at work in and through us, and in and through history, by which reality and rationality have realised themselves is “God”! Do you see what Hegel has done? He's taken, again, as I've mentioned, this Hebrew Christian idea that God is that process by which we make sense and we develop and create the world with God, and he has created a philosophical understanding of that, and it translated that religious way of talking about history into a completely secular, philosophical way of talking about history. He has secularised and rationalise the Hebraic heritage!
Now this is important, because this god is, in many senses, a secularised, non-religious god! This is not a god that is intervening in history through prophets. This is a god who has been realised through the reflective actions, the contemplation of a philosopher: Hegel. Hegel understood his project in very religious terms. But, and this is a very important but, he was always translating those religious terms into philosophical, conceptual terms of rational development. He would consistently take the religious terms and go through this kind of translation (indicates the framework on the board), this kind of exposition and explication and explanation that would transform them into philosophical, conceptual theories of how rationality, intelligibility and reality have co-developed together.
So I'm going to read you a quote from the earliest system program of German idealism. He States the following, quote: “Here I shall discuss an idea, which as far as I know has not occurred to anyone else. We must have a new mythology…”, notice the word he's using! Notice he's using that word in a way that resonates [with] how we've been using the word mythology in this lecture series! “…we must have a new mythology, but this mythology must be in the service of the ideas” (taps the board). Notice that language, it must be in the service of the ideas. It must be a mythology of Reason, capital R reason (taps Reason on the board). It must be about this (waves hand to indicate the framework on the board).
He goes on to say, quote, “In the end, enlightened and unenlightened must clasp hands.” The philosophical and the mythological, the enlightened, and the unenlightened. Notice the language: enlightened. Must class pans. Mythology must become philosophy in order to make the people rational, and philosophy must become mythological in order to make philosophers sensible. Notice that this is simultaneously a philosophical proposal and a social, cultural, program for how to transform religion, people, and the role of philosophy within that transformation.
He then goes on to say that this will lead to a, quote, “Higher spirit sent from heaven must found the new religion among us. It will be the last and greatest work of mankind. This is the final utopia”. This is the culmination. This will be the last religion. This will be the last thing because all of this (framework on the board) results in this final stage in which Geist, this living system of patterns of intelligibility and how reality itself is structured, has generated a systematic self-understanding, and we grasp all of our previous cultural and intellectual history.
Drawing Out The Model Via Example
I want to show you how Hegel does this in a specific example - this translation between mythology and philosophy to create the new religion that is beyond all other religions. (Wipes the board clean.) So let's think of the process by which Understanding is moving to Reason (writes Understanding with a down arrow to Reason on the board). And you can see that that's directly parallel to the process by which mythology is moving to philosophy (writes mythology with a down arrow to Philosophy to the right of the above). So let's give an example of a very important mythological structure, and of course I'm going to take Christianity because I’ve tried to show you, Hegel is secularising Christianity in many ways. So Hegel argues… Let's put the myth on this (left) side and then the philosophy on this (right) side (writes both on the board). And we're going to see how we go from making sense of things to this self-realisation participating in the system that grasps the systematicity of this whole process.
So you have the Father and the TrinityI (writes Father under Myth). Well, what does the Father represent? Well, the father represents, Hegel would argue, Understanding as undifferentiated, unarticulated, unactualized (writes Understanding as unarticulated, unactualized and undifferentiated under Philosophy). And then, of course, the idea is you get the incarnation and the Son [sorry. That should be capitalised, I don't mean any disrespect] (writes Son under Father). Now, the incarnation is how our Understanding starts to get differentiated into particular things. Here's a table, here's a cup, right? I'm here, the world's over there. We get all this articulation. So you get the beginning of articulation into particular things (writes articulation into particular things under philosophy). And so you can see there's a sense in which the Son is the counter, the antithesis of the father.
But then you get the reconciliation of the Son to the Father, the Son is sacrificed and the Son reconciles with the father (writes Son reconciles with the Father on the left), and that of course is that moment of higher integration - a higher new kind of identity is created. So this corresponds to the realisation — again, trying to pick up on both meanings of this term — the realisation of the identity in difference of the father and son (writes realisation of the identity in difference of the father and son on the right). So the Father and Son are both different and one, and that's how Understanding is now moving to this process where the integration and the differentiation are being brought together - Understanding is realising that understanding is made out of differentiation and integration, and there's a kind of reconciliation, a higher order self-awareness that is taking place.
And then we finally moved down here to the Holy spirit (writes The Holy Spirit on the left) — and of course there's a bit of a pun intended because that's, you know, Geist is one way of translating spirit — and this is, what? What did we see in the new test[ament]? We ultimately get the idea that God is Agape (writes God is Agape beside The Holy Spirit) - God is identical to the very process by which we are making each other into persons. And we don't individually possess Agape in our minds; Agape is something we dwell within, a process of making sense and making persons and making [a] community of persons. And of course, what does The Holy Spirit correspond to? Well, this is Geist dwelling within its self-awareness (writes the self-awareness of Geist on the board). God has always been Agape, we just didn't realise it. God is dwelling within the development of the community.
The Grand Synthesis Of Myth, Philosophy And Science
This is what Hegel is doing. This is why Hegel has been called the Thomas Aquinas of Protestantism. He's doing in Germany, post the Protestant Reformation, what Aquinas was doing when, if you remember, when European thought — the systems of European thought — encountered Aristotelian science. Hegel is now taking all of the machinery — the theological machinery — that he sees at work in Myth, and he is integrating it with the Philosophical and Scientific understanding that is impacting so powerfully on Europe in his time. He's trying to deal with how to restructure Christianity in light of the Scientific Revolution, the Protestant Reformation, and this (indicates the example on the board) is what he's doing. And he creates this powerful system. It's this just tremendously powerful system. This grand synthesis.
And that's important because Hegel felt — and like I said, there's an element of hubris in here — that his system exemplified what it was talking about: his philosophical system, in the way it provided a total — pay attention to that word — a total explanation of reality, mind, being, God, religion, philosophy, history… he thought it exemplified it, demonstrated it. So German Idealism was just massively influential because of this Grand Synthesis that it offered. But you can see what's going on here, right? You can see that this is a very powerful attempt to try and save the meaning making machinery and salvage the axial legacy (indicates the Trinity on the left), and somehow give us an account of how we can still develop an increasing contact with reality in a way that is ultimately spiritual and rational at the same time.
Hegel is in many ways a Titanic figure, trying to provide a powerful grammar, a philosophical set of concepts, conceptual vocabulary, and theoretical principles for structuring that vocabulary. He's trying to create a grammar by which we can deeply respond to the Meaning Crisis. So he's enormously popular and as I said, this form of German Idealism spreads across Europe [in] very powerful ways. [It’s] deeply influential. You'll even see figures within America like Josiah Royce, early on in the intellectual history of America, deeply influenced by Hegel. So why is this important? Well, Hegel is just going to have a profound impact on any future attempts to try and respond to the Meaning Crisis just because of the way he's trying to synthesise everything together.
Criticisms Of Hegel And His Grand Synthesis: Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard And Marx
But what's more important is, for many people, this form of idealism — German idealism — has completely collapsed! It's no longer considered a viable position! Now I'm not here to argue about this [-] on an abstract philosophical level, because there are, of course, many defenders of Hegel today! I want to take a look at what has happened in the critical response to Hegel and how that has infused the development and the intensification of the Meaning Crisis. Remember, Hegel sets up this pattern of secularising religion into systems of ideas that attempt to give us a total explanation and guide. He's the godfather, in this sense, of Totalitarian Ideologies. (Wipes the board clean.)
(Writes Hegel at the top of the board.) So the three main avenues of seeing a response… We already did one - the person who has a deep critique of Hegel is Schopenhauer (writes Schopenhauer below and to the left of Hegel) because, and as you remember, Schopenhauer understands the relationship not the way Hegel does, in terms of Reason, Schopenhauer understands it in terms of Will — the Will To Live — and then Nietzsche takes that up as the Will To Power, and he tries to use that as a way of recapturing Self-transcendence. So we've already talked about that, so I'm not going to go over that again, but please remember it. So the fact that the aspect of will and the will to live and the will to power wasn't adequately being addressed was what Schopenhauer points to.
And then we have, of course, the tremendous critique of Kierkegaard (writes Kierkegaard below Hegel). Kierkegaard famously said, “Hegel made a system and then sat down beside it”! What's he pointing out here? There's an ‘impersonalism,' there's a lack of perspectival and participatory knowing, in Hegel’s whole proposal. It has been rendered into a system of ideas. All of this connectedness to reality, to ourselves and to each other, all of the process by which we cultivate wisdom and self transcendence has been rendered into a system of beliefs; a system of ideas. Perspectival and participatory knowing have been lost. The only participation we have is in our understanding and appreciation of the Hegelian system. Now, what does that mean? Kierkegaard is pointing out, I believe, to the idea that our attempt to make contact with what's most real, our attempt to realise the divine, like in Platonic Anagoge - and Plato's [Hegel’s] dialectic was linked deeply to Anagoge - has been completely severed from personal transformation and self-transcendence. You do not have to undergo any radical change! You do not have to have a mystical experience. You don't have to have a higher state of consciousness. You do not have to have encountered a Socratic challenge. Theology has become completely conceptual, propositional, rational self reflection. It is not in any way engaged with projects of transformative experience.
Westphal, in his book Transcendence, and Self-Transcendence, echoes this critique and points out that while Hegel is proposing this tremendous epistemic self-transcendence — we come to know how we know — he has lost the deep connection you saw in Plato to what Westphal — I'm not quite happy with term — calls Ethical Self-transcendence. This is the process by which we become radically different. We overcome our egocentrism. We become more capable of Agapic love and Kierkegaard points out, I think quite correctly, that when we move through those transformative experiences, it requires what he would call a ‘leap of faith’. And this is a very dangerous concept, and I'm not going to try and defend it, but I think this makes sense, given what we've already seen in the work of LA Paul, and others, that going through these transformative experiences is not something you can reason your way through. We exist before we have discovered this essence about who and what we are. That's the whole point of existentialism, as I mentioned. So what Kierkegaard is pointing out is that this system, for all of it's grandeur, is in a very deep sense like what Socrates found with the original natural philosophers. It is profound truths that have no existential transformative relevance. You cannot find in Hegel how to cultivate wisdom; you can only find a theoretical structure for interpreting history.
What about Marx? (Writes Marx on the board to the right of Kierkegaard) Marx is the other great critic of Hegel. And I hope you're seeing a pattern here: (pointing at Schopenhauer) what's missing is the connection to will, our participatory, perspectival involvement; (pointing to Kierkegaard) what's missing here is the connection to transformative experience, to ethical self-transcendence. What's missing here according to Marx? Well, what Marx is basically arguing — again, Marx, I mean God!!! You know? Just titanic things we're talking about here! And there's all these aspects of Marx I can't touch on like his whole economic critique, and that's not what I'm trying to do here — Marx is basically saying that history is not driven by…/ think of Plato; think of the man and the lion and the monster (head, heart, gut). History is not driven by reason, by the man (head), history is driven by the monster (gut). It's driven by our socioeconomic activity as we try to provide for our material existence.
So Marx was of course deeply influenced also by Feuerbach (writes Feuerbach off Marx) - which means ‘fire stream,' it's a great name!! And Marx says, “You can't understand me unless you have passed through the fire stream of Feuerbach’s work!" Feuerbach made this proposal, contrary to Hegel, that religion is not the arena in which Geist has been unfolding itself and reality and intelligibility had been co-developing. Instead, he argues that religion is a projection — a term, of course, that Freud and Jung are going to pick up on — that when I'm thinking about God, what I'm actually doing is projecting an ideal model of my own humanity. And Feuerbach’s idea is that this projection distorts and distracts us, it deludes us, and it ultimately alienates human beings from their own role within historical processes. So Marx is going to take up this idea, this critique of religion, and he's going to see religion, not as Hegel does as the vessel and vehicle in which Geist is unfolding itself, he’s going to see religion as a noxious projection that is actually diluting people and distracting them from how they are the authors of history.
Marx And An Introduction To ‘The Clash’ Driven By
Socioeconomic Motives Over Ideologies
So, what Marx does is he says, “Okay, once we get rid of the religious distortion and we shift to the material monster, we see the dialectic at work there. The dialectic is a dialectical materialism, not a dialectical idealism”. So the clash is not between ideas that are contrasting and integrating. The clash is a process of political struggle between opposing ways of socioeconomic life. We have different classes — that's what the class is: a socioeconomic way of life — that oppose the idea of this distinction and articulation has been [being?] turned into one of conflict between these classes. But these classes are, nevertheless, systematically related. They are interdependent. They rely [on] and define each other. So history is a dialectic that is constantly, through these clash[s], these conflict[s] of political struggle between the classes, is working out the self contradictions in socioeconomic life — this is the core of Marx’s critique of capitalism, that it contains all these inherent self contradictions — and that this process…
This process of political struggle and violence will work out the self-contradictions in our socioeconomic activity until we achieve a political state of peace and freedom - the promised land! Always the attempt to find the promised land.
So what has Marx done? Do you see he's actually, in a sense, completing — I'm not trying to justify, I'm just saying he's developing and bringing to a kind of logical conclusion — that secularisation implicit in Hegel. And he's supplying — I have criticisms of this being an adequate solution, but this is what he sees himself doing — he sees himself supplying the missing participation that we don't have in Hegel. How do you participate in Hegel? Well, Marx says, this is how you participate: a called to arms! The philosophers have only talked about the world, right? The communists want to change it! That's the communist manifesto: “workers of the world unite, we have nothing to lose, but our chains”! The idea is that the dialectic and participation come together in the idea of political, socioeconomic revolution. And you can also see elements of will here. Violent ideologies; violent totalising ideologies that promise a secular utopia. That is the culmination of the internal logic of history. So you have this deep politicalisation of the process by which people are supposed to try and have faith, sense the course of history, participate in the Kairos. Do you see? The Kairos of Christianity has become the revolution, the turning point in history that you have to participate in, you have to be on the right side [of]. You have to help bring about the utopia.
So these three critiques all push… this (Kierkegaard) is of course pushing towards existentialism, a religious kind of existentialism. This (Schopenhauer) through Nietzsche is pushing towards an anti-religious existentialism. This (Marx) of course is pushing towards Marxism. But what they all share is [-] a sense that Hegel’s totalising ideology has not captured the core of human meaning making. We'll take a look at how this ramifies through Germany in the next episode. Thank you very much for your time and attention.
Episode 24 Notes
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Johann Gottlieb Fichte was a German philosopher who became a founding figure of the philosophical movement known as German idealism, which developed from the theoretical and ethical writings of Immanuel Kant.
Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, later von Schelling, was a German philosopher. Standard histories of philosophy make him the midpoint in the development of German idealism, situating him between Johann Gottlieb Fichte, his mentor in his early years, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, his one-time university roommate, early friend, and later rival.
Parmenides of Elea was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher from Elea in Magna Graecia. He is thought to have been in his prime around 475 BC. Parmenides has been considered the founder of metaphysics or ontology and has influenced the whole history of Western philosophy.
Dr. Eric Perl is a Professor of Philosophy in the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts at Loyola Marymount University.
Thinking Being: Introduction to Metaphysics in the Classical Tradition - Buy Here
In Thinking Being, Perl articulates central arguments and ideas regarding the nature of reality in Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, and Thomas Aquinas, thematizing the indissoluble togetherness of thought and being, and focusing on continuity rather than opposition within this tradition.
Geist is a German noun with a degree of importance in German philosophy. Its semantic field corresponds to English ghost, spirit, mind, intellect. Some English translators resort to using "spirit/mind" or "spirit" to help convey the meaning of the term.
Absolute idealism is an ontologically monistic philosophy chiefly associated with G. W. F. Hegel and Friedrich Schelling, both of whom were German idealist philosophers in the 19th century.
Dialectic or dialectics, also known as the dialectical method, is at base a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned methods of argumentation.
Heraclitus of Ephesus was an Ancient Greek, pre-Socratic Ionian philosopher and a native of the city of Ephesus, then part of the Persian Empire. His appreciation for wordplay and oracular expressions, as well as paradoxical elements in his philosophy, earned him the epithet "The Obscure" from antiquity.
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity holds that God is one God, but three coeternal consubstantial persons or hypostases—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—as "one God in three Divine persons". The three persons are distinct, yet are one "substance, essence or nature"
Josiah Royce was an American objective idealist philosopher and the founder of American idealism. His philosophical ideas included his version of personalism, defense of absolutism, idealism and his conceptualization of God. Royce is known as the only noted American philosopher who also studied and wrote history.
Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic and religious author who is widely considered to be the first existentialist philosopher.
Merold Westphal is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Fordham University and Honorary Professor, Australian Catholic University. His most recent works include Transcendence and Self-Transcendence (IUP) and Levinas and Kierkegaard in Dialogue (IUP).
Book Mentioned: In Praise of Heteronomy: Making Room for Revelation (Philosophy of Religion) - Buy Here
Book Mentioned: Transcendence and Self Transcendence - Buy Here
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary. Born in Trier, Germany, Marx studied law and philosophy at university. He married Jenny von Westphalen in 1843
Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach was a German philosopher and anthropologist best known for his book The Essence of Christianity, which provided a critique of Christianity that strongly influenced generations of later thinkers.
Other helpful resources about this episode:
Notes on Bevry
Additional Notes on Bevry