The Trajectories of German Idealism (2)
Following from my last post I want to argue that German Idealism is a project that takes the genesis of the abstract as engine and problem for philosophical practice and for practice taken more generally. Assuming Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel accept Kant’s critique of dogmatic metaphysics but want to evade his methodological dualism as a stopping point, then they must appeal to a kind of non-naive structuralism but one that is generative (or genetic as the literature often puts it) thus the importance of mathematics and logic for each of them albeit differently manifested. The nature of their go-to concepts are thus situated and powered by argumentation crafted in the fires of skepticism: for Fichte it is the ‘magic circle’ of consciousness, for Schelling it is the derivation of ideality from nature, and for Hegel it’s the labor of spirit or consciousness across the charred fields of history. To relate this to Quentin Meillassoux’s well-worn critique of correlationism it is perhaps unsurpising that German Idealism marks the historical tipping point from weak (that there may be things in themselves but we cannot directly access them) to strong (there are no things in themselves and we only have access to the relation between subject and object) correlationism.
I would argue that the generic orientation shared by German Idealist thinkers of a skepticism-hardened abstraction is not a historical triviality (one would think their influence alone would question this) especially given the penchant (particularly in a certain strain of French theory) for weak ontologies. In many sense weak ontology is simply the positivized inverse of Meillassoux’s weak correlationism. Rather than attempting to reestablish the ground for a scientifically updated epistemology, weak ontology seems to take for granted that being is charged with a certain kind of knowability – that epistemology is branded with a Kantian sterility not worth repeating.
The strange character of weak ontology is evident in Badiou, Meillassoux, and Tristan Garcia to name a few (and no doubt numerous others I’m forgetting or am not aware of). In a general sense weak ontologies are ontologizations of epistemological theories that acquire the ‘purchasing power’ of dogmatic metaphysics by jettisoning appeals to substance. [An aside – had I the background a discussion of Meinong would be particularly interesting here given both Garcia’s utilization of him and Quine’s comments on him in relation to Plato’s beard.] It appears then that, unlike German Idealism but not too far from its shores, that weak ontologies absorb the problems of skepticism but at the level of the entire discourse – the uncertainty of the thinker’s position is total but there is no reason to fear since there is contingency of various degrees. That is, where I would argue German Idealism broadly construed attempts to investigate how deep structures work through us, weak ontologies expand local facthoods into ontological footholds. John Van Houdt’s essay “The Necessity of Contingency” is particularly helpful in seeing how the latter problem falls between Hegel and Meillassoux. On this last point Markus Gabriel’s relation to Meillassoux is particuarly interesting. Gabriel takes Schelling’s unprethinkable being (das unvordenkliche) as the generator and spielraum (play space) of facthood non-all but writ large – ie that everything is a fact and facthood is what ontology boils down to connecting Schelling (though not always by name) to analytic thinkers such as Frege. There’s a brief interesting post on Gabriel and Schelling here.
An important and interest aspect of Gabriel’s work is levels of reality on the one hand but his emphasis on flatness (a flatness that, as I understand it, is determined by sense-horizons or fields of sense). In this regard realness is neighborhood-specific yet everything is ‘a fact’ and is ontologically real in that sense. Here Gabriel can be viewed as a kind of unintentional bridge between weak ontology and German Idealism. Whereas weak ontologies speak to neighborhoods determining their own realness, there would seem to be, again in very different ways, a historical progression which determines a history before its spatialization ontologically. It is this due to this historical dimension as appearing to hypostisize an all too human dimension, that Meillassoux throws German Idealism to the garbage pail of Strong Correlationism. Whether this fits the German Idealists is debatable (esp if you take into account the assumption that one must start from within the synthesis of idealism in order to work one’s way out of it) but the claim appears particularly interesting in light of the analytic uptake of Hegel which I glossed over last time.
As Pete suggested (several years ago now) Brandom, and McDowel could be classified in an expanded Meillassouxian spectra as deflationary realists. How would this relate to weak ontology? The problem of Meillassoux is that his alignment of German Idealism as the tipping point into strong correlationism disregards the both the genetic synthesis of the project coming from various incomplete grounds. As far as I can see there is no notion of construction or synthesis in Meillassoux’s account (or Badiou’s for that matter) and instead there is a reliance upon punctual eruptions of different regimes of being. I think this is evident both in Meillassoux’s virtualization of the emergence of life as well as Badiou’s open hostility to the biological sciences (as Adrian Johnston has repeatedly pointed out). Against this Schelling and Hegel in particular maintain a non-substantive monism which through certain sense of continuity allows for the operations of the sciences on philosophy without philosophy becoming its peon. Marx and others take this connectivity criticality as overstating the power of ideality and thereby replace the connective tissue of a non-substantive monism with an obvious choice, that of the social. Is the deflationary realism of analytic Hegelians the move to Marxism but shifting social substance to the pragmatism of the social training of norms?
Though as Ray Brassier’s recent talk on accelerationism, Jacques Camatte, and Endnotes pointed out, communialization as such becomes ontologized (in a fashion similar to Zizek’s ontologization of the blank subject in my last entry) thereby placing the cause (as real contradiction) within the social that must be somehow broken to reach an exteriorized horizon of capital. As Brassier notes it is thereby not surprising that other calls to communization often advocate a form of atavistic primitivism/separatism whereby society must be sacrificed to find some originary social bond prior to the advent of exchange value. Yet this move is temporally and anthropologically misguided,
In the next (and final?) part I want to argue that in fact the genetic account, taken with the importance of the genesis of abstraction in German Idealism, actually points less to the crude humanism that Marx and Althusser lamented, but more towards a crude cognitivist account of species being. The argument being that the highly formal theories of self-consciousness in German Idealism are attempts not only to speculatively explain the emergence of consciousness but how the understanding of the emergence of consciousness is recursively injected into philosophical and non-philosophical practices.
Filed under: Badiou, Hegel, transcendental materialism, Speculative Realism, Brassier, Meillassoux, Schelling, Iain Hamilton Grant | 3 Comments
Tags: Brassier, Schelling, Hegel, accelerationism, German Idealism, communialization, communism, jacques camatte, anarcho-primitivism