Articles and Drafts

Hegel on Kant's Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

*Published in European Journal of Philosophy (peer-reviewed), Vol. 26 #1: 502-24

Available here.

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 Unity of Kant's Forms of Intuition

Available here.

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.

The Fractured Subject

Available here.

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.

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

A draft is available here.

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 and the Truth of Skepticism

A draft is available here (updated 1.24.19).

I am also giving a version of this paper as a talk to a non-Hegel audience. A draft of that talk is available here.

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.

Conference Presentations

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

A draft is available here.

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.

Some Limits to Hegel’s Appeal to Life

A draft is available here.

In the secondary literature on Hegel’s dialectical method, the method is frequently compared to organic models as a way of clarifying the nature of the dialectical progression through different stages (such appeals are made by, e.g., McTaggart, Pippin, Beiser, Martin, Ng). This comparison is quite plausible; indeed, Hegel himself invokes organic models on several occasions. However, such scholars also typically (though not always) note that the comparison has limits and that no organic analogy can completely explain the nature of the logical progression. This, too, is obvious from Hegel’s descriptions of the method. Typically, however, scholars do not explain exactly where or why the organic model fails. I remedy this lack by exploring in depth two different organic models and showing exactly why each falls short of being an adequate model for Hegel's method. The two organic models I discuss are growth, according to which the immature state of the organism is parasitic for its intelligibility on the mature state of the organism, and the relationship between different organs within an organism, according to which we can only understand one organ by relating it to every other organ. About both, I argue that the organic side of the analogy always requires an appeal to something external to the organism, and no such appeal can be or is made in the context of the Hegel's method.