Pippin, Hegel’s Practical Philosophy: Ch. 4

This will be our reading for July 22.  You can find the details at our Meetup page.

1. The previous chapter argued that freedom is fundamentally the capacity to “give oneself the law,” to legislate norms and bind ourselves to them.  This self-legislation is not the ratification of passing desires or opinions, some sort of pure subjectivism, but a strange combination of self-creation and self-limitation.  These self-created norms create and sustain social roles and reasons which we can use to justify or criticize behaviour.  We looked at two different models of self-legislation: Kant’s deductive model, which begins with the generic, ahistorical individual, and Hegel’s historical/developmental model, which begins with actually-existing groups.

2. For both Kant and Hegel, a key motivating factor in ethical behaviour is respect for the life-leading capacity of humans, which eventually cashes out in the claim that all value depends on recognizing the value of humanity as an ultimate moral identity.  As Korsgaard says, “A good soldier obeys orders, but a good human being does not massacre the innocent.”  Pippin thinks the Kantian framework cannot establish this value of humanity, but the Hegelian one can.

3. This self-legislation is not only about practical norms, but cognitive norms as well; all of this is attached to a much larger account of rationality in general.  Chapter 4 is about Hegel’s account of concept-formation, and is relevant here because it helps respond to a common criticism of Hegel: that he is an anti-individualist authoritarian.

4. One of Hegel’s broad claims about philosophy is that it must deal with the “actuality” of its concepts.  In the context of freedom, this means making a distinction between an idealized or utopian idea of a free life and a realistic account of what leading a life of one’s own looks like for “the organic, striving, socially organized, mortal historical beings we are” (92).

5. His “realistic” account of freedom has been criticized as illiberal, even reactionary, in two ways.  First, there is the change of anti-individualism.  This criticism says that Hegel reduces individuals to cogs in a metaphysical machine; an individual person has no more importance or value than a lung or a kidney.

6. The second criticism is that he seems to say that whatever happens, happens because of something like divine providence, a criticism which points at his famous phrase “What is is actual is rational, and what is rational is actual.”  World history is seen as the story of “World spirit,” a supra-individual “ethical substance,” coming to know itself as itself, a set of claims which appears to justify every historical crime.

7. Pippin acknowledges there is a lot of textual evidence for these claims, but he thinks this is all just part of the difficulty in interpreting Hegel.  There are counter-passages, in which Hegel does not deny claims of individuality, but only a stubborn “self-will” which relies entirely on private conscience.  And while Hegel does seem to talk about a quasi-divine “World-spirit,” any interpretation of this has to involve passages in which he is more clearly describing a divinization of humanity itself, without any reference to an external deity.  Any serious reading has to be interpretive, not apologetic.  

8. The issue that has to guide this sort of reconstruction appears in his The Philosophy of Right, where he says “The subject matter of the philosophical science of right is the Idea of Right—the concept of right and its actualization.”  This chapter is about what “the actualization of a concept” means.

9. Actuality is not about whether or not a concept has something corresponding to it in the real world, so Hegel’s practical philosophy is not an analysis or rational reconstruction of already existing institutions.  Neither is he restricting any consideration of what ought-to-be to what is “realistic” in a given historical circumstance.

10. “Actuality,” as a technical term, does not quite mean the existence of instances.  Rather, a concept becomes actual when it is functionally norm-setting, when it plays an intelligible role in explanations of behaviour.  

11. In order to respond to the two criticisms, we need to see how freedom is only possible in shared social situations and that philosophy is not about ideal pictures which we should try to emulate.

12. Hegel’s theory of concepts is a theory of “ought’s,” the rules which tell us how to make categorical distinctions and inferences.  His broadest goal is to describe the possible contents and authority of any such “determinations.”  The Science of Logic begins with the claim that discursive thinking requires the use of concepts and the capacity to attribute or predicate.  In order to distinguish between correct and incorrect uses of concepts, we need an account of what it would mean to get any particular ascription right.  Further, we need an account of what conceptual capacities we need to have in order to make discriminations within experience at all, or in other words, the conditions of thoughts having content.  

13. Concerning the link between freedom and actuality, Hegel says, “Freedom belongs to the Concept because that identity which, as absolutely determined, constitutes the necessity of substance, is now also sublated or is posited, and this positedness as self-related simply is that identity” and, “The Concept, when it has developed into a concrete existence that is itself free, is none other than the I of pure self-consciousness . . . the I is the pure Concept itself which, as Concept, has come into existence.”

14. This last quote comes in the context of Hegel’s claim that the unity of the concept is the Kantian unity of apperception, the manner in which all conceptual thinking is tied together by the “I think.”  This equation, Pippin says, “suggests the sort of non-empirical origin or self-positing that seems to be the bridge to the claim about freedom” (99).

15. The most obvious point is a realist or purely empirical account of conceptual content is being argued against: “The determination or proper fixing of content involves some kind of empirically independent activity (independent in the normative sense, where that means: in a way that does not wholly rely on empirical content as ground or justification)” (99).  All judgement is a matter of inferring relations which constrain what we can intelligibly think.  

16. This points towards the broad issue of freedom, though not towards freedom of choice, because normative authority does not rest on any empirical or realist claim.  So what is the source of normativity, especially determinate norms?

17. This could look like a very standard idealism: self-positing conceptual content that does not respond to the world, but shapes it in some mysterious way. But Hegel is quite clear that our judgmental and inferential capacities are not just “our ways” of seeing the world.  He thinks we can dispense with the finite qualifications of transcendental philosophy while maintain the self-legislating elements.

18. Kant’s claim that pure concepts of the understanding can be shown to have objective validity is transformed by Hegel into idea of a concept’s actuality.  In parallel with this idea of a concept’s actuality is the claim that the concept can make itself an absolute foundation.  Pippin think this phrase, “made itself the foundation,” is parallel to “giving itself actuality,” and that this “actuality” is “something like actual or effective (objectively valid) normative status” (101).

19. Freedom and the actuality of the concept are connected by the Encyclopedia Logic:

“We must imagine the ancient philosophers as men who stand right in the middle of sensory intuition, and presuppose nothing except the heavens above and the earth beneath, since mythological representations have been thrown aside.  In this simply factual environment, thought is free and withdrawn into itself, free of all material, purely at home with itself.  When we think freely, voyaging on the open sea, with nothing under us and nothing over us, in solitude, alone by ourselves—then we are purely at home with ourselves.”

20. This paragraph suggests a sort of “frictionless spinning,” thinking completely disconnected from the world.  We need to look at how Hegel qualifies this idea, and this will return us to the problem of freedom.

21. The intelligibility of any not-I is linked to our asserting, inferring, and justifying practices.  The logical forms of these three things are not formed in the light of, or alterable in the face of, empirical reality.  This is basically a claim about reason’s self-sufficiency, or the autonomy of theoretical and practical normativity.

“It is because of this claim that Hegel is completely untroubled by the threat of scientific or any other form of determinism.  No discovery about the brain will ever be relevant to the question of whether I ought to believe any claim about the brain; no discovery about the social dimensions of evolution will ever be relevant to the question of whether I ought to sue my neighbour about his overhanging fruit tree (unless I decide for some reason that they ought to be relevant).”  (103)

22. It is not that Hegel is suggesting we deduce the existence of the world or spin conceptual determinations out of thin air.  Hegel says,

“Thus, philosophy does owe its development to the empirical sciences, but it gives to their content the fully essential shape o the freedom of thinking (or of what is a priori) as well as the validation of necessity (instead of the content being warranted because it is simply found to be present, and because it is a face of experience).  In its necessity the fact becomes the presentation and imitation of the activity of thinking that is original and completely independent.”  

23. The key thing here is that freedom is essentially the a priori possibility of concept use.  It is the capacity to posit concepts and then be bound by them.

24. This positing and binding is the result of a developmental process, and it is the actualization of the concept.  

25. At some stage of complexity, humans cease to be able to understand themselves by invoking natural categories, and have to explain themselves with reference to practical reasons, which are inappropriate in the context of nature.  Claims about natural law or teleology lose their “actuality,” their binding force.

26. It is not the emergence of a non-natural subject, but one that posits its own norms and so can only be explained with reference to that self-positing.

27. When natural categories cease to have explanatory value, then we have moved to self-legislated norms.  These norms give themselves their own actuality, or their own practical authority.

“There isn’t such a domain which we discover and try to do justice to, any more than there are ideal game rules which we discover and try to approximate.  The concept gives itself, over time, as a result of a kind of self-education, its own actuality.  How this is attempted and what counts as success (actualization) and what as failure is the subject of Hegel’s books and lectures.” (113-114).

28. For Kant, this self-legislation is the result of a logical, deductive process; for Hegel, it is a collective and historical process.

29. The next problem is that these claims about self-legislation and rationally directing one’s life do not tell us what to do, why why we would be bound to such ideals.  Pippin thinks Kant’s deductive approach cannot help us here.

30. If a norm is actual, then it is capable of providing an actually-existing subject with a reason to act.

31. Kant’s basic answer to this is respect for the law and the satisfaction that comes from following it.  Hegel’s answer is an account of the role the ethical community plays in the formation of individuals.  As already discussed, the self-legislation of laws is not a paradoxical moment of a noumenal self electing a supreme principle, but a matter of historical development.  Pippin explains,

“The claims of reason can only be ‘actual’ in a common ethical life, not only because Hegel thinks of the principles themselves as self-legislating and absolutely constituting the normative domain, but because it is only if the formative institutions of that society are themselves rational that I, as their product, can actually experience of claims of others as reason for me to act or forebear from acting.” (117)


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