Nothingness Pregnant with Everything: Hegel and the Dialectics of History

Hegel famously writes that “what is rational is actual; and what is actual is rational” (1991, 20). This should not be misconstrued as a statement that justifies a conservatism which seeks to maintain the status-qou or that would suggest that all ‘actually’ existing forms or patterns present are the the utmost pinnacle of reason and rationality and should therefore be preserved. Rather, as Ian Fraser explains, it is “that the rational is present even within an imperfect world and the Speculative philosopher’s task is to comprehend this rationality” (1997, 90). To understand this one must equally understand Hegel’s view of history, his dialectic, the importance of Geist (translated as Spirit or Mind) and the immense interconnectivity of all three.

Peter Singer writes that “one of Hegel’s central beliefs” was simply “the belief that history has some meaning and significance” (2001, 14). While Hegel can be said to be a teleological thinker his belief in the “meaning and significance” of history is far more a statement explaining that “reflection on our past enables us to discern the direction history is taking, and the destination it will ultimately reach” (Singer 2001, 15). Indeed, Hegel’s teleology should not be considered classical, strong, or wholly deterministic. It seems to be not so much a teleology of the future but, a teleology of the present. Perhaps one could say that Hegel’s is a ‘realized’ or a ‘sapiential’ teleology, especially as it is wholly dependent upon the efforts and actions of humanity for its realization. Here, as Peter Thompson explains, in relation to history, the dialectic, and Geist, “becoming was the password to understanding how the ‘absolute spirit’ [Geist] not only expressed itself but, more importantly, generated itself through the process of history” (2011, para. 7). Thompson continues saying that Becoming is “the process by which Hegel’s absolute spirit was not only working in the world but creating itself at the same time” (2011, para. 7). This becoming is the very essence, purpose, and function of the dialectic (thesis, antithesis, synthesis) in which Being is negated by its contradiction Nothingness which is then sublated by Becoming. Hegel makes such a determination through analyzing the sociological patterns and formations constructed throughout ‘actual’ events within human history and reveals the ‘unfolding’ of the dialectic motion of Geist through the speculative approach of a kind of philosophical/historical hindsight. Here, Hegel’s relation to history and teleology is not linear but, is more of a spiral, as the ‘synthesis’ that comes about through the interaction of the thesis and its antithesis is often open ended. As Peter Singer explains “Every dialectical movement terminates with a synthesis, but not every synthesis brings the dialectical process to a stop” (2001, 102) In many cases as Hegel illustrates with his historical overview of societal progression the synthesis is “the thesis for a new dialectical movement, and so the process will continue” (Singer 2001, 102).
This process is representative of a kind of dialectical transcendence and a radical immanence, that is, it is a transcendence (transcending that which exists) that occurs without the Transcendent (a ‘beyond’ or wholly other). For Hegel, history, humanity, the World, and Geist are a holistic totality. Hegel proposes that “spirit[/Geist] is not something individual, but the unity of the individual and the universal” (1991, 197). The Becoming of the world and history is at once the Becoming of Geist, for Geist and the world are one and the same. Thus, the evolution and progression of the world is nothing other than the self-consciousness of Geist realizing itself through itself. It is the world coming to know itself as itself. Any supposed separation is an illusion and brings about what Hegel terms ‘alienation’. Sean Sayers explains that “it is part of the essence of self-conscious spirit to strive to overcome its alienation, its separation, from nature” and as such Geist “strives to heal its breach with nature and be at home in the world” (2003, 120). As Hegel himself writes this “is not intended [as] a self-recognition that regards the specialties of one’s own weakness and defects: it is not the individual that is admonished to become acquainted with his idiosyncrasy, but humanity in general is summoned to self-knowledge” (2004, 220).
Fraser, Ian. “Two of a kind: Hegel, Marx, dialectic and form.” Capital & Class 18, no. 61 (Spring97 1997): 81-12. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed August 5, 2013).
Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Hegel, G.W.F. The Philosophy of History. Translated by J. Sibree. New York: Dover Publications, 2004.
Sayers, Sean. “Creative Activity and Alienation in Hegel and Marx.” Historical Materialism 11, no. 1 (March 2003): 107-128. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed August 5, 2013).
Thompson, Peter. “Karl Marx, Part 3: Men Make their Own History.” The Guardian, Feb. 27, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/apr/18/karl-marx-men-mak
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Hegel and Integral Philosophy?

 

 

Several months ago I finished reading Ken Wilber’s book A Theory of Everything. I have often been skeptical of Integral Philosophy and Spiral Dynamics. I can’t say I was very impressed by the text and while I still remain unconvinced and very suspicious of Integral philosophy there were a few glimmers of interest within Wilber’s book.

In the preface to A Theory of Everything, Wilber writes the following:

“‘An integral vision’ – or a genuine Theory of Everything – attempts to include matter, body, mind, soul, and spirit as they appear in self, culture, and nature. A vision that attempts to be comprehensive, balanced, inclusive. A vision that therefore embraces science, art, and morals; that equally includes disciplines from physics to spirituality, biology to aesthetics, sociology to contemplative prayer…”

Wilber is aiming at articulating a holistic and polyvalent experience of all the nuances, complexities, intricacies, and eccentricities of lived reality.

This book is a brief overview of a Theory of Everything. All such attempts, of course, are marked by the many ways in which they fail. The many ways in which they fall short, make unwarranted generalizations, drive specialists insane, and generally fail to achieve their stated aim of holistic embrace. It’s not just that the task is beyond any one human mind; it’s that the task itself is inherently undoable: knowledge expands faster than ways to categorize it. The holistic quest is an ever-receding dream, a horizon that constantly retreats as we approach it, a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow that we will never reach.

Wilber seems to begin the project of his text with the assertion of its failure. He not only states that the work falls short but, seems to allude that its inadequacy is actually an integral feature of the project. Failure is, in effect, part of the system. The short-comings are an implicit part of the structure. Wilber, then, goes to say:

So why even attempt the impossible? Because, I believe, a little bit of wholeness is better than none at all, and an integral vision offers considerably more wholeness than the slice-and-dice alternatives. We can be more whole, or less whole; more fragmented, or less fragmented; more alienated, or less alienated – and an integral vision invites us to be little more whole, a little less fragmented, in our work, our lives, our destiny.

Wilber is calling for the utter embrace of the impossible, a fractured holism, an alienated inclusion, and a fragmented integration. Wilber suggests that a good theory is defined as “one that lasts long enough to get you to a better one.” A Theory of Everything, then, as Wilber proposes, “is not a fixed or final theory.” It is, in fact, “simply one that has served its purpose if it helps you get to a better one.”
Is this not, in many way the Hegelian vision of speculative philosophy and history?
Is not this alienated inclusion and fragmented integration, in many ways, a depiction of Hegel’s dialectic?
Is not this fractured attempt at an impossible wholeness a description of the process by which Hegel’s Absolute Spirit or Geist ‘unfolds’ into self-realization, an open-ended dialectic that knows no ultimate or conclusive synthesis?
What if Integral Philosophy, as Wilber explains it, an incredibly useful reading of Hegel?

Is Saturday Forgotten on Sunday?

 

Holy Saturday is too often passed over far too quickly on the way to resurrection Sunday. It is a day that fully inhabits the death of God, a day that is utterly saturated with complete and total absence of the divine. If the cry from the cross marks the kenotic self-emptying moment in which God himself becomes an atheist and then dies, then Holy Saturday marks the fullness and completeness of radical theology as it wholly embraces the loss of God and the negation of totality. It is the radical theological tradition that is most devotedly and adamantly true to originality and unaltered ending of the Markan gospel. Mark’s gospel in its original form does not contain an account of resurrection but, rather ends abruptly at verse 8 of chapter 16 with the discovery of an empty tomb and Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome fleeing in fright.  Sightings and appearances of the resurrected Christ, the Comissioning of the disciples, and the ascension are all later editions and have no true home in the gospel of Mark. This is a gosepl most wholly adhered to by radical theology; a gospel that does not find its culmination in Resurrection, nor is it fulfilled amidst the rapturous ecstatic light of Ascension. Radicality of Mark’s text is instead its fulfillment in a fracturus and fragmented ending that witnesses only terror, fear, emptiness and absence.
Thomas J. J. Altizer writes that:

“Only Christianity among the world religions enacts the fullness and the finality of a truly actual death, a death that is an ultimate death, and a death that is inseparable from what Christianity knows as an absolute fall.”

Here, we must recognize, as Altizer states, that “the proclamation of the death of God is a Christian confession of faith, and a uniquely Christian faith in the ultimacy of the Crucifixion.”

But,  this loss,  this negation,  the ultimate death of God still does not go far enough for all this is found present within Good Friday. Holy Saturday is not only the dialectical destruction of the divine, it is at once a much stronger,  more foreboding, and a more menacingly traumatic event. It marks the actualized descent into hell. This is incarnational theology at its fullest. This is the incarnate followed through to its absolute end. For a fully realized incarnation cannot simply stop at the descent to earth, the descent to humanity, or even the descent into death but,  must ultimately and fully descend into hell. Here God is not only dead but damned.

Altizer writes that “if Jesus is the name of Incarnation, and of a once and for all and absolutely unique incarnation, that incarnation finally realizes itself as absolute death, and only that death makes possible or actualizes a uniquely Christian resurrection.” The centrality of this move within Holy Saturday is key to a proper understanding of resurrection Sunday. This must be the lenses through which resurrection is seen otherwise it not only improperly framed but mistaken, misconstrued, misinterpreted, misread, and incomplete. “[T]he deepest negation embodies the deepest affirmation, or the deepest death is ultimately the deepest life, or the deepest darkness finally the most ecstatic light (Altizer, 56).

Altizer concludes clearly:

“Christianity knows an absolute death as the one and only source of redemption, proclaiming that Christ’s death inaugurated the new creation, and all humanity is now called to participate in this death as the way of salvation. Death, it is true, is a universal way of ultimate transformation, but only in Christianity is redemptive death an actual and historical death, and only in those worlds that have come under the impact of Christianity can we discover records of a full and concrete experience of the factuality and finality of death”

The truest possible form of a total resurrection, that is, a resurrection of any deep actual meaning or abiding operative significance, can only come about as a consequence of this absolutely dialectical death.
“Only the most ultimate and absolute negation can realize that apocalyptic totality, but this negation is a self-negation or a  self-emptying, and only thereby can it make possible an absolutely new totality. Only this totality is a truly resurrected body, so here the resurrected body is a resurrected totality, and a resurrected body only possible as a consequence of an absolute self-emptying”(Altizer, 60).

This is resurrection. This is the importance of Easter Sunday. A wholly new totality emerging, resurrecting from the absolute death of the Godhead plunged into the very depths of Hell. Sunday morning is only seen clearly from vantage and scope of Saturday night.

Altizer, Thomas J.J., New Gospel of Christian Atheism. Aurora: The Davies Group Publishers, 2002. Print

Idealist Materialism?

I’m currently taking a course in Modern & Postmodern Philosophy. Below you’ll find a short essay I wrote for the class outlining my cursory readings of Hegel. My main aim here is to problematize interpretations of Hegel that have projected an overly idealistic Idealism upon Hegel’s ‘Idealism,’ which has within it the actuality of material reality. If this is the case, then, the work of Hegel does not need to be ‘placed upon its feet’, as Hegel and Marx have more in common and are less opposed then Marx first supposed. Enjoy!
Hegel’s place within the greater movement of German Idealism has, more often then not, lead to a misconstrual of his work. Iain Hamilton Grant (2012), in a lecture introducing the philosophy of Hegel clarifies that “An Idealist is not someone who thinks that nature does not exist.” “Nor,” Grant continues, “is an Idealist someone who denies the actuality of the real world.” “An Idealist,” as Grant proposes, “is someone who adds to the world the existence of the Idea.” Grant explains further that “An Idealist is simply a realist about the Idea.” Grant suggests that ” In so far as there is nature, part of it is the Idea.” Thus, according to Ian Fraser (1997), “only by misreading Hegel’s arguments does the need to expunge or materialistically appropriate Hegel’s dialectic arise” (p. 81). Fraser (1997) suggests that “if Hegel remained at the level of ideas, in theory as distinct from practice, then he would actually be contradicting what is distinctive about his own method” (p. 88).
Perhaps, then, the impetus of Hegel’s dialectic is found in Hegel’s Logic. For Hegel (1991b), Logic is “the science of things grasped in thoughts” (p. 56). Here, “the logical has three sides: the side of abstraction or of the understandingthe dialectical or negatively rational side, and the speculative or positively rational one (p. 125). Thought within the Understanding, that is, the first of the three sides, is marked by abstraction, in which determinations are seen as “distinct from one another” (Fraser, 1997, p. 83). The move to the dialectical side, however, brings about negation, or negativity, in which, determinations are found “superseding themselves and turning into their opposites” (Fraser, 1997, p. 85). Finally, the Speculative stage moves beyond the negative, rises above the contradictions, forming a unity within opposition and a positivity within negativity (Fraser, 1997, p. 85). Here, Being overcome and superseded by its opposite Nothing is transformed into Becoming, which is beyond teh contradictions of the two. In this regard, as Hegel (1991b) points out, “These three sides do not constitute three parts of the Logic, but are moments of everything logically real; i.e., of everything true in general” (p. 125).
Since Logic is the science of things grasped in thoughts, Iain Hamilton Grant (2012) point out that “The thinking cannot be other than the thing it grasps.” As Peter Thompson (2011) explains “becoming, was the password to understanding how the ‘absolute spirit’ not only expressed itself but, more importantly, generated itself through the process of history.” It is “the process by which Hegel’s absolute spirit was not only working in the world but creating itself at the same time” (Thompson, 2011). This dialectical movement was derived by Hegel from observing the patterns within historical societies and their corresponding social interactions. This, then, is a concrete, sociable event in human history. Hegel’s starting point, one could say, is the concrete, tangible society of the present. The dialectic, Logic,Thought, the Idea, Reason, Rationality, and even Absolute Spirit or Mind, are not where Hegel begins but, rather are revealed through a philosophically historical hindsight, which he then traces back through previous societal developments and, in retrospect, presents them as a progressive ‘unfolding.’
Thus, for Hegel (1991a), “what is rational is actual; and what is actual is rational” (p. 20). This does not suggest that all societal structures as they now stand in their current forms are the epitome of rationality and there-by justified in their presence (Fraser, 1997, p. 90). “It is rather,” as Ian Fraser (1997) suggests, “that the rational is present even within an imperfect world and the Speculative philosopher’s task is to comprehend this rationality (p. 90).
Any notion that would then seek to present nature and human consciousness as distinct or differentiated is ultimately illusory. As Iain Hamilton Grant (2012) explains, “The thought must occur inside nature” and “Nature includes the Idea.” In short, nature and consciousness are one and the same, an organic whole, moving dialectically into the unity of a material becoming.
 
Fraser, I. (1997). Two of a kind: Hegel, Marx, dialectic, and form. Capital & Class18(61), 81-12.
Grant, I.H. (2012). Introduction to Hegel [Audio file]. Retrieved from http://afterxnature.blogspot.com/p/after-nature-podcasts-mp3-downloads.html
Hegel, G.W.F. (1991a). Elements of the philosophy of right (H.B. Nisbet, Trans.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Hegel, G.W.F. (1991b). The encyclopaedia logic: Part 1 of the encyclopaedia of philosophical sciences with the Zusatze (T.F. Geraets, H.S. Harris, & W.A. Suchting, Trans.). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co. Inc.
Thompson, P. (2011, Feb 27). Karl Marx, Part 3: Men make their own history. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/apr/18/karl-marx-men-make-history