Hegel on Kant's Analytic-Synthetic Distinction
*Published in European Journal of Philosophy (peer-reviewed), Vol. 26 #1 (May 2017): 502-524.
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
For two hundred years, people have been trying to make sense of Hegel’s so-called “dialectical method”. Helpfully, Hegel frequently compares this method with the idea of life, or the organic (cf., e.g., PhG 2, 34, 56). This comparison has become very popular in the literature (in, e.g., Pippin, Beiser, and Ng). Typically, scholars who invoke the idea of life also note that the comparison has limits and that no organic analogy can completely explain the nature of the dialectical method. To my knowledge, however, no scholar has attempted to explain exactly where or why the organic analogy falls short. In this paper, I propose to remedy this lack by exploring in depth two different organic models. In brief, I argue that both versions of the organic model require an appeal to something external to the organism, and no such appeal can be made sense of within the dialectical method.
Articles in Progress
Much recent scholarship on Kant’s first Critique has focused on whether and, if so, how the understanding shapes determinate intuitions. There has been considerably less work on exactly how the understanding might shape the forms of intuition themselves, and most of that work has argued that it simply cannot. In this essay, I clarify how the understanding can shape the forms of intuition. Specifically, I develop an interpretation of Kant’s notions of analytic and synthetic unity according to which the forms of intuition have both analytic unity, contributed by sensibility, and synthetic unity, contributed by the understanding.
I offer an interpretation of Gilles Deleuze’s claim that the cognitive subject is fundamentally fractured, drawing on his response to Kant’s Transcendental Deduction and Paralogisms. Deleuze accepts Kant’s claims that (1) our judgments result from the understanding’s activity, and (2) cognition is dependent on sensibility, the form of which cannot be deduced from the understanding. Consequently, Deleuze accepts Kant’s conclusion that the I as knowable through experience cannot be identified with (or is fractured from) the thinking I. Finally, I show that, against Kant, Deleuze claims that this fracture is conceptually prior to the unity provided by the thinking I.
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.
It is by now well established that Hegel sought to incorporate what he took to be the insights of skepticism into his philosophical system. In particular, he sought to use skepticism to motivate his appeal to ‘reason’ as an activity that yields knowledge of the absolute. What is still not understood is exactly how he deployed skepticism to achieve this. This is particularly difficult because, on the one hand, Hegel does not explicitly reject skepticism as false or confused, and in many places seems simply to endorse it. This has led many commentators (e.g., McTaggart, Heidemann, Bowman) to contend that Hegel is a skeptic about everything except reason. But there are many places in which Hegel insists that the understanding (which he contrasts with reason) is also able to know the world. I build on Pippin’s account of the skeptical threat that Hegel confronts, showing that Hegel connects that post-Kantian skeptical threat to a guise of ancient skepticism. I argue that, for Hegel, this skepticism reveals a genuine antinomy within the understanding, but one which is ultimately consistent with its status as knowledge. In the course of making this argument, I draw in a new way on an early debate he had with Schulze: Hegel argues that Schulze’s response to skepticism – which, I show, is quite similar to the anti-skeptical strategy of transcendental arguments – fails to address the skeptic because it stays within the understanding. In contrast, Hegel uses skepticism to propel us to a different form of knowledge, reason. Reason reveals that the antinomy that skepticism correctly identifies within the understanding does not ruin its status as knowledge.
Objective Thought: a Reading of the Opening of Hegel’s Encyclopedia Logic (§§19-25)
A draft is available here.
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.