Let’s do the exercise of restating my (no doubt flawed and incomplete) understanding of Hegel’s discussion of the science of reason and truth from the last part of the Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit in as strong a form as I can make it. I do this both to enhance my understanding and to ensure that, where I disagree, I am not disagreeing with a straw man of my own design.
Note that while I’m focusing on a small part of the Preface here, a lot of what follows is informed by what Hegel says in Logic and elsewhere. Also, as a translator once quipped: if you think you’ve paraphrased Hegel succinctly and clearly, you’re wrong. Therefore, everything I say below is Wrong.
In laying out what he calls the Science of Philosophy, Hegel distinguishes two types of philosophical reasoning: Speculative, which is what he is engaged in, and mathematical or propositional reasoning, which is what pretty much everyone up to Hegel was engaged in, with the possible exception of Fichte. (1)
To truly understand anything, one must understand it in the context of the world of Becoming in which we live. Traditional propositional logic, which defines things as being or not being this or that, precludes the necessary movement, the needed apprehension that all things in a world of becoming have moved from what they were to what they are and are moving from what they are to what they are not. The Notion (I think I’m using this term as Hegel does, but I’m as yet not sure) of a thing understood speculatively encompasses both what that thing is at any moment and everything it may become, AND whatever it has been – that’s the ‘sublation’ of prior moments in the dialectic within a synthesis. In this sense, it is truly said that a thing both is and is not in the same way at one time.
Thus, the basic tool of traditional reasoning, the Law of Non-contradiction, becomes the very reason that it cannot be used by real philosophers: within a world of Becoming, things as properly understood – in their Notion – are both A – what they are at any one moment – and Not-A – what they will become or are in the movement of becoming, or have been at some point that still exists suspended within the synthesis.
Trying to reason our way to Truth using propositions and formal logic was and remains helpful up to a point, but if we want to do real philosophy, to understand things as they really are, we must leave it behind and engage in speculative reasoning.
One difficulty remains: while no philosopher this side of Parmenides believes there is no movement or change in the world, many, chiefly Aristotle and Thomas, have concluded that the world of change we experience is in some way a reflection or result of an unchanging divine world. Hegel’s chief innovation, it seems so far, is to be the ultimate anti-Parmenides: to argue that even the Divine changes. To do so, God must be in some sense incomplete, so that phrases such as ‘the Spirit coming to know Itself’ can have any meaning. To this end, the example Hegel presents of the error in propositional reasoning is “God is Being” – and example that is difficult, as explored a bit in my last post.
If God, too, is Becoming, then *any* ideas of comforting permanence are in error: The usual comfort a mathematician or physicist takes in having discovered an objective truth is reduced to a triviality within this larger context. Math, and by extension, Natural Laws, are without content – they apply only as all but meaningless abstractions. The Real World is too messy and fluid to be properly apprehended as anything other than Becoming.
Another is that this suggests – and I’m not saying, yet, that Hegel is going there – a sort of abstract pantheism. Traditionally, it is said that God is He ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’. Yet, somehow, our world of generation and corruption is not God, but is a creature of God, and His interactions with it and us are the matter of mystery and miracle: the conversations with Adam and Moses and so on, and most explicitly in the Incarnation. This relationship between God and the created world is described as a certain tension, a place where the Transcendent, Eternal and Unchanging God has chosen to become a Man in time – this is considered the ultimate divine mystery by Christians. But this understanding in no sense is intended to diminish or qualify the Divine Transcendence.
One way to view what Hegel is doing is moving ALL of God into the world of generation and corruption, or at the very least, like Kant, moving the Transcendent to a place utterly beyond human ken.
I’ll be keeping an eye on this as I read further.
1. And any of the other minor continental philosophers of that era, with whom I am largely unacquainted.
Note on the title of this post: While Tonio K quotations are apropos of nearly any situation, Funky Western Civilization would have been a better philosophical fit for the current discussion than H.A.T.R.E.D. At least, I think so… (WARNING: a bit of potty talk in that 2nd tune!)