What have I gotten myself into?
As mentioned here from time to time, I have been reluctantly driven to reexamine Hegel because it’s only fair that I know what he’s saying if I’m going to hate and denounce him all the time. Ya know? The first thing I latched on to during this laborious plowing (did you know Hegel wrote a fair pile of really dense books? Painful stuff.) was his explicit rejection of logic as everyone prior to Hegel understood the term. Law of non-contradiction? Syllogisms? Carefully constructed step by step arguments? Pshaw! That’s weak stuff for little people, which does not apply to real philosophers! Thus speaks Hegel.
What Hegel proposes in place of logic, it seems, is a sort of ontology – the direct grasping of being. This leads to the ‘you either get it or you don’t’ nature of his philosophy – the enlightened get it, the benighted ignorant do not.
But, thinking about Aristotle, with whom Hegel seems to be pretty familiar, it occurred to me that I wasn’t giving Hegel quiet enough credit here – Hegel’s approach does , in some respects, reflect Aristotle’s. Somewhere – Categories? Posterior Analytics? Dragged out my Loeb edition to track it down, haven’t had time yet – Aristotle discuses ‘a This’ – a thing that presents itself to the mind whole. As is usual with Aristotle, he’s got really simple cases in mind as he lays out the explanation, so one should keep really simple cases in mind while attempting to follow him – in this case, a man or a horse would be good examples.
So, Aristotle recognizes that certain things by nature present themselves to the mind for apprehension, conception and understanding. He says this because a) that’s our normal experience – we don’t seem to apply our minds much to noticing a wolf or a beautiful woman, but rather such things leap out of the background into our awareness; and b) he recognizes that there has to be a connection between things in themselves and our apprehension and understanding of them for knowledge to be possible. The world consists of a huge class of things that a healthy person notices automatically, and that a healthy person recognizes as a ‘This’ – this horse, this man.
OK, enough until after I’ve tracked down the actual passages I’m half remembering. But it seems I’m barking up the wrong tree if I’m tracing the origins of Hegel’s unique approach solely to his destruction of logic. Rather, isn’t what Hegel is claiming is that the World is a This? That it presents itself whole to the understanding, and that our minds are, at least potentially, capable of grasping the whole as a whole – as a This – prior to any active thinking? That, as is the case with all items that fall into Aristotle’s category of ‘a This’, that the ‘this-ness’ of the item must be prior to any logic? Further, keeping in mind that Aristotle chooses simple, common examples, would it not do violence to the This-ness of an object of contemplation and utterly defeat efforts at understanding the thing as a This if we were to focus on some component of the thing out of context? You can never understand a horse in its natural horsey-ness by studying a chunk of horse meat.
But can you understand that horsey-ness without seeing This Horse in a herd of horses? Out on the plans over time? From birth to death? In an evolutionary context? Is Man any different? Thus, we are lead to contemplate the universe as a This, prior to all logic, an actualizing thing in itself.
So, of course, this lead me to sign up to take an extension course in Attic Greek. Because, cracking open that Loeb edition brought me face to face with failure. Almost 40 years ago, took two years of Greek, and was possibly the worst student in history who was not actually thrown out of the class. Plus, promptly repurposed those neurons before the echos of Liddell and Scott slamming shut for the last time had died. I could pick out a few words in the left-hand page Greek, but wasn’t even sure about some of the letters. Sheesh!
Indefensible. The only slack I’ll claim is that Greek is a pretty hard subject for a 18-year old SoCal boy who coasted through K-12 in a near-coma, and then came to 1,000 miles from home at a college with, you know, actual academic expectation. And temptations I had not previously even imagined. It was not a smooth transition.
In conclusion: to understand Hegel, I needed to go back to Aristotle. But to really understand Aristotle, you need at least *some* Greek. Therefore, to understand Hegel, I need at least some Greek.
I suspect there’s no end to this.