Hegel on Kant's Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

*Forthcoming in the European Journal of Philosophy; available in early view at

In this paper I argue, first, that Hegel defended a version of the analytic/synthetic distinction – that, indeed, his version of the distinction deserves to be called Kantian. For both Kant and Hegel, the analytic/synthetic distinction can be explained in terms of the discursive character of cognition: insofar as our cognition is discursive, its most basic form can be articulated in terms of a genus/species tree. The structure of that tree elucidates the distinction between analytic and synthetic judgments. Second, I argue that Hegel has an interesting and so far unexplored argument for the analytic/synthetic distinction: Hegel argues that the systematic relationship between concepts expressed in a genus/species tree can only be expressed through synthetic judgments. Third and finally, I explore some of the implications that the arguments in the first two parts of the essay have for understanding the way in which Hegel differs from Kant. I argue that Hegel accepts Kant’s point that discursive cognition cannot be used to cognize the absolute. However, Hegel thinks that we can, nevertheless, cognize the absolute. I explore the character of this non-discursive cognition and argue that we can understand Hegel’s glosses on this form of cognition – as simultaneously analytic and synthetic and as having a circular structure – through contrasting it with his account of discursive cognition. As a consequence, I argue that we must give up on the attempts to understand ‘the dialectical method’ and ‘speculative cognition’ on the model of discursive cognition

The Forms of Intuition in the Transcendental Deduction

Does Kant think the understanding plays a role in the constitution of our forms of intuition? On the one hand, Kant seems to suggest in the B-Deduction that it does, noting that every representation, even intuitions, must “stand under” the highest principle of the understanding, the synthetic unity of apperception (§17). On the other hand, that seems to undermine the distinction between intuition and the understanding, thereby threatening the central Kantian thesis that there are two stems of our cognitive capacity. To make the two-stem doctrine consistent with the B-Deduction, recent commentators (e.g., Allais, Allison) have claimed that the Deduction only tries to show that the understanding partially constitutes something more derivative than the forms of intuition themselves. In this paper, I argue that any such interpretation still leads to the conclusion that the understanding partially constitutes our forms of intuition. I further offer an account of the qualifier “partially” that is consistent with the two-stem doctrine: the understanding supplies the synthetic unity of the form of intuition, while sensibility supplies its analytic unity. Finally, I show that the understanding partially constitutes our forms of intuition in a non-conceptual act. I thus show that part of the recent conceptualist/non-conceptualist debate on Kant has been confused: to get at the way in which our forms of intuition do or do not depend on the understanding, we need to see whether we can make sense of a non-conceptual act of the understanding that partially constitutes our forms of intuition.

Our Shared Animality: Why McDowell Needs Hegel's Logical Progression

John McDowell aims to respect the plain fact that we share something with mere animals (our animality). But he says frustratingly little about what might ground our recognition of what we share. In this paper, I try to argue that what little he does say is insufficient. To respect the sharp distinction between the kind of intelligibility provided by the natural sciences and the kind of intelligibility provided by the constitutive ideal of rationality (to use Davidson's phrase), we must ground our recognition of what is shared in the (Hegelian) idea of a logical progression from mere animality to rational animality. Only thus, I claim, can we dissolve the confusions that prevent us from recovering the concept rational nature.

Hegel attempts to draw conclusions about the nature of the world on the basis of claims that seem to concern only the nature of thought. According to Barry Stroud's famous objection against transcendental arguments, the best such arguments can do is show how the world must seem to us, where that leaves it open whether the world is indeed as we must think it to be. I contend that Stroud's objection does not work against Hegel. Stroud presupposes that we can form the thought of a world which does not conform to the conditions of the possibility of thought. I argue on behalf of Hegel that that that would be an unthinkable world, and so the attempt to think it falls apart. This Hegelian response to Stroud sheds light on three important aspects of the shape of Hegel's idea of a logical progression, aspects which I proceed to develop in this paper. First, we can rule out interpretations of the Logic on which it appeals to the necessary conditions on thinking where these are understood as intelligible independently of the nature of what is (as examples of this kind of interpretation, I consider the work of Vittorio Hösle and Dieter Wandschneider). The kind of thought on offer in the Logic does not consist in inferences from how we must think to how the world must be – that interpretation does indeed fall afoul of Stroud’s criticism of transcendental arguments. Second, objective thought avoids Stroud’s objection because it tolerates no separation between the thinking and what it is of: that is, it describes a form of thinking/being in which being is being known, in which there is no separation between the being-side and the thinking-side (as a model for this kind of thinking, I consider Sebastian Rödl's theory of first personal thought). Third, the claims of the Logic are supposed to be without alternatives, such that what seem to be denials of them fall apart in just the same way that the idea of an unthinkable world falls apart. Thus, the Logic is supposed to be absolute, for Hegel, in the sense that it is not an account with which one can intelligibly disagree.

Hegel, Stroud, and Transcendental Arguments

My aim in this paper is to motivate the project of Hegel’s Logic. In that work, he offers an account according to which, as he puts it, “logic coincides with metaphysics” (EL §24). As he understands it, and as it was traditionally understood, logic is an account of the nature of thinking, while metaphysics is an account of the nature of being. It is not too difficult to see why a philosopher might think that these two topics are intimately related; but how could someone think they coincide with one another? My strategy for answering this question will be to offer an interpretation of Hegel’s own attempt to motivate his project in the opening sections of the Encyclopedia Logic. My central interpretive claim is that Hegel thinks we are driven to the idea of objective thought (the kind of thinking in which logic coincides with metaphysics) to make sense of the fact that thought is not parochial: that when we think about the world on the basis of perception, we are not restricted to conclusions about how it must seem to us, but we can arrive at how it is in truth. In making this argument, I take aim at Robert Stern's claim that Hegel is a conceptual realist, arguing that Stern misses the way in which, for Hegel, empirical thought involves the activity of changing what is given to us in perception. Because of this change, we are faced with the problem of showing that the result of the change (our thought of the world) is not merely something parochial, a problem that can only be solved (Hegel thinks) if we also possess another form of thought that is not grounded on perception or by reference to what we can perceive. That is, we are driven to the idea of objective thought to make sense of the validity of ordinary, empirical thinking.

Objective Thought: a Reading of the Opening of Hegel’s Encyclopedia Logic (§§19-25)

Conference Papers

Stephen Engstrom’s account of the form of practical knowledge rests in part on his development of the concept of the self-conscious capacity to judge. In this paper, I will focus on that concept. I will argue that as Engstrom develops it, our original conception of it contains the recognition of the logical possibility that the capacity is liable to error. On the other hand, it is essential that our original conception of that capacity not involve the recognition of the real possibility that the capacity is liable to error. The latter recognition, Engstrom maintains, is a posteriori: it requires the experience of an actual failure of the capacity. Our original conception of the self-conscious capacity to judge must, then, be such that we can distinguish between what is logically and what is really possible for it. That distinction rests solely on the fact that the capacity to judge is a capacity, and does not yet involve any appreciation of its self-conscious character. In the second part of my paper, I examine that characteristic of the capacity to judge and try to argue that bringing in self-consciousness raises questions about how to understand the account Kant and Engstrom have provided of the capacity to judge. In particular, I argue that the account cannot itself consist in acts of that capacity, but also that it must consist in acts of that capacity. Resolution of this contradiction, I suggest, requires developing an understanding of the activity of philosophy which goes beyond any found in Kant.

On the Very Idea of an Account of a Self-Conscious Capacity: A Response to Engstrom