Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Social & Political Philosophy: Hegel's Logic and its Impact

After writing the Phenomenology, Hegel came to realize that he had not described the inner workings of the dialectical process of history to his liking. Hegel believed the world consisted of ideas, so he leaves history behind and turns to the workings of ideas in the mind. To show the inner psychology at work in every stage of historical development, he wrote his Logic which like the Phenomenology unfolds in three stages as positive, negative and synthesis, but instead of Orientals, Greeks and Germans, the three stages of the Logic are Being, Essence, and Concept.

Remember the dialectical process of the opposite yet complimentary forces/faculties of understanding and reason. Why is thought opposed to itself? Where did this come from? Hegel writes that we need to start with the “legend” of the fall of man, of Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden of Eden. Hegel says the inner meaning is what is important. This is entirely in the vein of Enlightenment Deists reading the Bible as a work of philosophy and psychology rather than literal history or religious authority. When Adam/consciousness, falls into the divided world and out of the unity of paradise, he/it falls into oppositions and tensions, polarities that present one side and hide the other. Today, we can see a similar in physics as the Big Bang and in psychology as the infant mind learning to discern itself and others in the world (Piaget & Vygotsky). Just as Adam and Eve have to toil for food and survival once out of Eden, knowledge and wisdom must be gained by effort and the process of history. Hegel argued that work and labor are a contradiction of subject and object, of ideal and actuality, of the mental and the physical. Marx entirely follows Hegel on this point, and both see the work (modes of production) of each age as a revealing of another level of truth through history.

Hegel calls judgment ‘the one-sided acid’. Categories are thus gathered, assumed, by the Understanding. However, these are inadequate. First, they are one sided, and so dogmatic, stuck. They are divided from each other and the All, so reason is not satisfied and tries to figure out how all of these separate categories are one in reality, or the big One/All. Second, they are almost entirely empty of content. A cow is a cow, and not a horse, but without contradicting the separation of the categories and comparing a cow to a horse such that we can gather the similarities and divide the differences we can’t develop a greater understanding. In the Logic Hegel writes:

That true and positive meaning of the antinomies is this: that every actual thing involves a coexistence of opposed elements. Consequently to know, or, in other words, to comprehend an object is equivalent to being conscious of it as a concrete unity of opposed determinations. The old metaphysic, as we have already seen, when it studied the objects of which it sought a metaphysical knowledge, went to work by applying categories abstractly and to the exclusion of their opposites… However reluctant Understanding may be to admit the action of Dialectic, we must not suppose that the recognition of its existence is peculiarly confined to the philosopher. It would be truer to say that Dialectic gives expression to a law which is felt in all other grades of consciousness, and in general experience. Everything that surrounds us may be viewed as an instance of Dialectic.

Hegel writes that the feeling of being alive is to feel contradiction within oneself, at rest in itself but at the same time moving itself beyond itself. It both wants to stay and go at once, and does. Similarly, the Soviet literary critic and thinker Bakhtin said that when we think we are in dialogue with ourselves, are opposed to ourselves on opposite sides.

In the Phenomenology, Hegel argues that Heraclitus realized the unity of Being and Non-Being as ceaseless Becoming, as the flux of the cosmic fire. Hegel says that some say no one is capable of understanding contradiction, but Hegel points to Heraclitus and argues that to come to the next level in your understanding your reason has to see both sides and unite them in the cement of the understanding, which is what Heraclitus did for the Greeks such that they could rise beyond the Orientals to the next level. Hegel says that if we imagine any transformation or change or motion, we are seeing being and nonbeing as one like Heraclitus. It is recognizing this with the categories of our understanding (one-sided logic and grammar) that is the hard part. Hegel says that this is the hurdle that prevents the common person from being a philosopher, and the reason that the great thinkers and revolutions in thought are rare.

Once thought realizes becoming as the unity of the being of things and their non-being (their temporary being in time and their not being other things), thought still does not have enough to understand each and every thing or how they fit into the All as one. Thought tries to understand the individual beings of the world and the world itself as constant becoming, like Heraclitus, but this does not show us how things are particularly interrelated. ‘All is one and in flux’ is an excellent truth (one of my favorites), but it tells us nothing of particular beings or stages of history. For this, reason must push towards more contradictions.

Thought must explore two opposite directions to try to find the meaning of individual things. First, it tries to understand things by their qualities (such as green, square, closed), but this moves away from the things themselves towards abstract ideas. Second, thought tries to understand things by their quantities, with each thing being a one itself and being a quantity of many parts and being in a group of many members. Unfortunately, this leaves each being as merely a thing, and tells us nothing about the specific differences between types of things. Notice that quality and quantity are the two opposite sides to our abstractions of things, the two ways we isolate and abstract, through thought, the parts and ways of things. Consider that your hand is not explainable simply by its shape, or color, or texture, any more than its being one hand with five fingers, though all of this together tells me much about my hand. To understand your hand, you have to see it in context, in the world used with other things, as well as understand the qualities and quantities of the hand.

Because thought could not understand things in their qualities and quantities, it tries to understand things by putting them in groups and then understanding the qualities and quantities of these groups. It either puts these essences outside the world (as Plato put them up in the stars), or inside of things as “nature”. It seeks the meaning of the thing in its group because it could not find it completely in ‘All as One’ or in singular things. The problem with this stage is that things are still isolated in groups by type and this prevents the understanding from grasping their interdependence and codependent evolution (much like the Buddhist concept of codependent arising). Hegel is very aware that modern science is often in this mode, isolating things and finding new truths about their exclusive natures. For Hegel, Plato’s forms, Kant’s categories and scientific theories are good but they are not complete because they are not like the world in which everything fits together as one. Hegel says that essences, if they remain many and are not gathered into a trunk of the All, still have contradictions in themselves and against each-other and so they are opposed to unity.

Through further dialectic, the idea and the thing are realized as one in the Concept, which includes the thought and thing. When we see that the world is in our minds and in itself together as one, that things are our ideas about them and themselves for us as one that is also many, this is Actuality, the final stage. Interesting for Chaos Theory, Quantum Theory and modern developments of mathematics and science, Hegel writes that seeing the unity of necessity and freedom is the final hurdle, the final contradiction that reason must push the understanding beyond itself to grasp. To see that no part of reality is absolutely necessary, but no part is absolutely free, and the two hang together as opposites always like light and darkness, this is the final stage that lets us see things as they are. Now, Hegel believes, reason goes forth as true science and speculation, with a ground to continue to investigate and understand things with all the branching of the Idea by which we could ever understand them to be. All becomes a single Idea, which is in extension with the world.

Marx was deeply influenced by Hegel’s Logic, which gave him a social process of opposites resolving in unity. Marx wrote that Hegel’s Logic is by nature revolutionary and thus a scandal to the well positioned (the middle and upper classes). Marx argued that the bourgeoisie were trapped in their middle-class roles just as understandings are trapped in isolation, and that Hegel’s Logic separated his own thinking from that of other academics who were complicit with the status quo. Just as Hegel said the average person cannot comprehend contradiction and thus remain stuck in their undeveloped understandings, Marx saw the middle and lower classes as stuck because they cannot see the problems and contradictions of their position and labor. However, through a process identical with the master/slave dialectic, Marx believed this would eventually result in a greater understanding by way of reason and the political arrangement of the communist international state. Not only would the contradictions between classes be transcended, but also the contradictions between warring nation-states.

Both Hegel and Marx saw the business class as embodying a new synthesis of laborer and capitalist that creates new contradictions. Hegel was aware of the misery of the working class in Germany and England under rising industrialism and manufacturing, and spoke of these contradictions in his lectures even though he was not arguing for a communist revolution but rather a resolution in the form of the German state.

In 1914, just as WWI was being declared, Lenin (who was in neutral Switzerland along with other influential figures such as the Dada artists who kicked off much of modern art) studied Hegel’s Logic intensely to comprehend Marx. Lenin, like Marx, saw Hegel’s Logic as bringing the abstract and ideal down into unity with the material. For Marx and Lenin, this was a call to materialism and a recognition that ideas exist by way of the historical and material.

Most importantly for this class, Marx and Lenin followed Hegel in his criticism of Rousseau: it is not simply the arbitrary individual will that binds everyone together in the general will and the social contract, but rather the understanding/reasoning of individuals that determines the community and draws individuals together in groups and classes. Thus, Marx and Lenin saw communism as political science, as a result of ages of understandings/classes developed through reason/revolution. Note that this is complimenting Rousseau’s romantic will with rationalistic reason. Nietzsche, who like Hegel was influenced by Rousseau and a fan while critical, pushed back against reason to center on freedom and the will like Rousseau did originally. In the mid 1800s, the German people rose up in revolution to gain rights like the British, French and Americans and were crushed by the princes banding together. Marx wrote his major works in this period for a German revolutionary audience. The failure of the German revolution was the major cause of German pessimism, a turn from reason as the force of history to will as the force of history. We will consider this more we cover Nietzsche, the Nazis and Fascism.

We will cover the Young Hegelians as the first topic of Socialism next week.