Hegel’s Logical Consciousness

E. John Winner

The knowledge, which is at the start or immediately our object, can be nothing else than just that which is immediate knowledge, knowledge of the immediate, of what is. We have, in dealing with it, to proceed, too, in an immediate way, to accept what is given, not altering anything in it as it is presented before us, and keeping mere apprehension free from conceptual comprehension. (…) This bare fact of certainty, however, is really and admittedly the abstractest and the poorest kind of truth. It merely says regarding what it knows: it is; and its truth contains solely the being of the fact it knows. (…) In the same way the certainty qua relation, the certainty “of” something, is an immediate pure relation; consciousness is I – nothing more, a pure this; the individual consciousness knows a pure this, or knows what is individual. [1]

After Kant and Hume, G. W. F. Hegel is probably the most important philosopher of the modern era.  Certainly, at one point in time, it could be said he was the most influential.  His impact can be discovered in the writings of the so-called Continental tradition of philosophy, but also in American Pragmatism.  It can be identified in policy decisions made in the West in the 19th century, in the development of psychology, anthropology, sociology, and in arts from around the world, long after WWII.  But there’s no denying that his writing is extraordinarily obscure, and his thinking intense, demanding, and difficult to get around, once one has decided to follow it.

We’re going to try to get a handle on how Hegel thinks logic.  That way of putting it already remarks the sense that Hegel’s relation to logic is an odd one.  He doesn’t think about logic; he doesn’t think logically; he thinks logic.  That is, Hegel thinks logic the way I am now writing English.  It is a language for him, and not surprisingly, he understands language as an expression of logic.  But not in the way that later Analytic philosophers do.  For Hegel, there is nothing in a given language to clarify or purify in order to speak more logically; all language is already completely logical.  It is just a matter of reading a given language in such a way as to grasp its underlying logic.

However, Hegel certainly has an odd understanding of logic per se, which one immediately sees in his re-invention of the term ‘dialectic’.   Prior to Hegel, dialectic was assumed an art of logical discussion, whereby one argument would be put forth, another argument put forth against that, an argumentative reply to that, a countering reply to that, and so forth.  Eventually, terms would be so clarified in the discussion that the interlocutors could reach a reasonable resolution of their differences.  If such dialectic has any literary form, it is drama.

Hegel, on the contrary, reads dialectic as fundamentally narrational.  None of the interlocutors is the protagonist — the idea they are discussing is.  Thus, the dialectic is a story of how the idea struggles through affirmation and negation, until it achieves self-realization.

Since this is what people usually mean when they speak about Hegel’s logic, we will here primarily deal with the clearest instance of Hegel’s idea of dialectic struggling toward self-realization, in his first major text, The Phenomenology of Mind.

We’ll start by clarifying a term Hegel frequently uses to name the leading actor in his narrative of how we acquire certainty in philosophic thought, which is Hegel’s principle interest in his formulation of the dialectical method in relation to logic per se: Spirit.  Hegel’s use of the term is easily misunderstood, but it hasn’t anything directly to do with the self-subsisting soul of Christian ontology (although indirectly, Hegel presumes that the soul was an incomplete attempt to realize what he means by ‘spirit’).  For Hegel, spirit is equivalent to mind, although it has a surplus, in that individual minds naturally die off with their possessors, whereas spirit continues in the lasting impact that minds have on our histories.  But now we have to understand what mind is for Hegel, for it is not simply consciousness, but consciousness plus the ideas and knowledge it has acquired, through which it thinks, and by thinking, apprehends the world.  This is why for Hegel experience must always be immediate, here and now, if it is to be valid; but it is always also mediated, through thought, which thus removes it from its here and now, into the realm of ideas.

Mind wants to know its world, which is filled with objects.  But to really know is to be able to articulate that world.   For instance, take the statement “I am looking at a tree and a bench.”  This tells me nothing about trees or benches.  Their mere presence is a singularity that tells me that things exist, but not how they exist, not what they are, nor even what they mean to me.  Coming to understand all of that will take thought.

In Hegel’s epistemology, all objects of thought come to us in a two-fold manner:  an inner “for-itself,” and an outer “for another.”  So, when Hegel writes of an object “turning inward” —  which sounds very strange — what he’s saying is that mind’s attempt to understand the object has gone “into” the object as affirmation of the object’s self-subsistence:  “That thing exists and does so wholly in and for itself.”  But this affirmation is actually a negation, because the idea of the thing in its self-subsistence is empty: “Okay, the thing exists, but as what?”  Mind only begins to comprehend the thing when it begins accounting for the thing’s relationship to other things.  “That object is a tree; it is not the bench standing next to it.”  “That tree is living wood, not metal,” and so forth.  But in this, the object has been negated again, but in a positive way: the individual tree has lost its unique importance, but its substance has been preserved and brought into the idea of “trees” — a universal manifesting itself in this particular.

But the living substance of trees, while now recognized as manifest in the object, is actually an as yet empty universal; because even should we analyze the tree before us in the most detailed manner, we will be missing something essential to it — what it is that makes it a living substance.  In order to completely realize the idea of “tree,” we need to account for where this particular instance originates as relating to what we already know of trees, and what its destiny might be, given that.

Consider an example of the usefulness of dialectic as an understanding of the movement of history  —  within a life, within a community, and within a culture.  First, there is a fertilized seed.  It may be the seed of a tree, but it is certainly not a tree.  Up from it shoots a sapling, but though the sapling of a tree, it is still not itself a tree.  At last it reaches adulthood, and we safely call it a “tree,” but as noted before this is not yet complete realization of the idea of a tree, because that must include the seed and the sapling, without which there would be no tree. So the idea of “tree” must subsume our knowledge of the seed, the sapling, the adult plant (and will include the requisite environmental factors, e.g., sunlight, soil, moisture, etc.), bringing all that forward into what we can know of “tree” per se, while leaving behind those aspects of our previous knowledge of these objects that were negated in the process.  And in fact the tree itself manifests this process  — the seed as-not-yet sapling passes away as idea, becoming the sapling, the sapling as not-yet-adult passes away as idea, and becomes adult; the adult itself eventually passes away, as both entity (it dies) and idea, but the essential of the idea is preserved and made complete in the subsuming idea of “tree.”

Let’s note two very important terms we’ve used here. ‘Subsumption’ has actually stood in for the more technical term ‘sublation’.  This is the movement of the dialectic in its resolution of difference, through realizing relationships between those differences over time.  The second term is ‘becoming’; this is the inward movement of the dialectic as an idea realizes itself, in the plenitude of its differences over time.  These are for Hegel logical terms, not metaphors.  (The dialectic is a logic, because its movements are necessary and inevitable).  Consequently, the structure of the Phenomenology of Mind is really a narrative of discovery, rather than a series of inter-supporting arguments.  What persuades the reader to Hegel’s cause is his ability to provide explanations that make sense, given our experience of change.

So, back to the story:  With the idea “tree” safely secured as knowledge, mind is happy that it knows something about the world. But this happiness does not last.  For, as it happens, consciousness itself comes to the world in a two-fold manner, it also has its inner “for itself” and its outer “for another.”   So its outer “for another” now has an idea that can be communicated with others concerning the tree, but its inner “for itself” has every right to demand, “but what is this tree for me?”  (For Hegel, completely disinterested knowledge is simply not possible, for this is pure negation of the inner aspect of the knower, without elevation of the knower’s mind to a level where disinterestedness itself can be realized as itself in the mind’s interest.)

So we have to start again, to find the mind’s own place in its relation to the tree.  We begin by reconsidering the bench that stood by the tree, which we first understood as simply “not tree.”  But now we recognize that the bench is made of wood.  And we know that trees are also wood.  In the tree, wood is of its living substance.  In the bench it is that substance now dead and drawn out of the tree.  As there is a process by which the seed became the adult, now there must be a process by which the tree becomes mere source for the wood of the bench.  And here’s where things get interesting.

(This announces a change in the scope of this discussion, which is discoverable is in the Phenomenology itself.  Epistemology is incomplete if merely abstract: no one knows anything except as conditioned by the social.)

Asking after the process by which the tree is chopped down, its wood cut to be of service to the carpenters in their construction of the bench, is not without interest.  But just like the empirical description of events, this won’t reveal to mind what it seeks to find for itself, in its inner dimension as mind, in its effort to comprehend either trees or benches.

The process we really need to discover is the manner in which mind, in it’s outer, “for another” aspect, interacts with its environment to discover the utility of wood; to develop the craft needed for carpentry; to share its desire for an object on which to rest with others.  In short, the processes we now have to account for include the history of carpentry, the history of practical geometry, and the history of culture.  Because unlike the tree, the bench doesn’t simply grow out of a seed.  (Although we must admit that the seed played its part in the bench’s story, since otherwise there would be no tree to cut down for its wood.)

These histories will reveal quite a bit about the people who invent chairs, who make them; the cultures in which chairs appear; the social and economic pressures that influence their design.  But mostly, they will reveal the relationships between people and between humans and their environment, both natural and social.  Yet more importantly, they will reveal why they are histories, and not simply a compilation of static facts scattered across time — stories, with real plot development.  Benches are the products of human hands and human minds.  There is nothing you can know about a bench that isn’t always also a knowledge of the humans that made it.  Consequently, when the inner aspect of consciousness seeks to learn its own relation to the world through its outer aspect, it finds itself — in the history of human mind per se, in all of its expressions in different cultures at different times, all engaged in the dialectical development of mind towards self-realization, through the practices of living humanity. [2]

But the clearest expression of these differences, which yet realize themselves in the unity of a spirit that preserves itself over time in order to accomplish that self-realization, is the recorded thinking of philosophy.  It is philosophy’s burden to encompass all the human practices of a given culture and give them their most precise, rational exposition.    It is philosophy’s burden to explain the relationship between humans and trees in a given culture; where geometry comes from; why there is a certain engineering useful in carpentry; the nature of the decorative designs carved into the bench as materialization of human desire for beauty and self-expression; why the bench is to be found in a park, cemetery, or church.  It is not surprising that for Hegel the most important history is the history of philosophy, as the ongoing dialectic between the clearest, most complete ideas of a given culture, “for themselves” and yet, “for others,” with all their many differences that must be accounted for and sublated into a greater whole; a knowledge clearer, more complete, and with greater logical ground and greater certainty, than any previously in history.

The goal, which is Absolute Knowledge or Spirit knowing itself as Spirit, finds its pathway in the recollection of spiritual forms as they are in themselves and as they accomplish the organization of their spiritual kingdom. Their conservation, looked at from the side of their free existence appearing in the form of contingency, is History; looked at from the side of their intellectually comprehended organization, it is the Science of the ways in which knowledge appears. Both together, or History (intellectually) comprehended, form at once the recollection and the Golgotha of Absolute Spirit, the reality, the truth, the certainty of its throne, without which it were lifeless, solitary, and alone. [3]

Now, it sounds as if we find ourselves transported out of the realm of any logical considerations and into some odd realm of myth, but not quite.  This knowledge that mind acquires by the end of the Phenomenology of Mind is absolute.  It knows all it needs to know.  Indeed, it even knows itself, in all its plenitude and universality.  What it hasn’t yet accomplished is the ability to express this universality in a manner that accounts as well for individuals as for classes; that accounts for its own personal experiences as for the course of human history.

That is the story Hegel will tell in the first or “Greater” Science of Logic (as distinguished from the “Lesser Logic” that appears in the Encyclopedia of the Philosophic Sciences).  In the Phenomenology, Hegel begins his story by discussing our experience with individuals, moving through to universality.  In the Logic he begins with the largest “absolutes” imaginable — the emptiest “categories of thought” (as he understands them), Nothing and Being — and gradually works his way towards claims that can be reasonably made about concrete individuals, giving us a logical explanation for the syllogism.

Well, that comes as a surprise, doesn’t it?  The syllogism, which Hegel considers the formal structure of logic par excellence and which was primarily constructed to relate universals and particulars, has problems, which have been understood but rarely adequately discussed historically.  How do we know the universal claim is true, especially if it hinges on prior induction?  How do we recognize the particular as somehow an expression of the universal, so that we can rest assured of the truth of the conclusion?  How does the context of an argument shade the conclusion, if at all?  Historically, questions like these have been treated in relation to misfired syllogisms; i.e. fallacies.  But as we move from formal logic to informal argumentation, fallacies become problematic, revealing an underbelly of prior assumptions concerning the relationship between universals and particulars. [4] In the Science of Logic, Hegel sets himself the task of demonstrating that critical treatment of such problems must begin with examining how the mind thinks through the universal to find the particular.

But I won’t get into that text further here. It’s been many years since I read it, and I’ve just recently dusted off my copy in order to prepare for this essay. [5] It’s language even more technical than the Phenomenology, and it is more strictly argumentative than narrational.  It will take some reading again, before I can adequately give account of that story.  Perhaps the dialectic of my history demands it of me, and only by adhering to the dialectic can one achieve the true freedom of the spirit.

Notes

  1. The Phenomenology of Mind (1807); A – Consciousness; I: Certainty at the Level of Sense Experience – the “This”, and “Meaning;” 1. The Object of Sense Certainty; translated by J B Baillie (1910); Harper and Row edition, 1967. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/ph/phconten.htm
  2. Because Hegel sees the dialectic everywhere, he reasons various histories analogically. Thus we can think of philosophy itself as ‘seeded’ in the pre-Socratics, sprouting as a sapling in the era of Plato and Aristotle, achieving adulthood through the Middle Ages, and at last reaching full flowering and fruition in the modern era. The story will have many variations, given the plenitude of differences, but the narrative structure remains the same.
  3. Phenomenology of Mind, Section DD/ VIII, Absolute Knowledge; Baillie translation.
  4. Those familiar with the history of philosophy will hear the echo of the Medieval debate between Realists and Nominalists in this. Hegel, who was conversant with Medieval philosophy, well understood this.
  5. One of the fascinations that the Logic has for me is that, when Charles Sanders Peirce writes of Hegel, it is the Logic that most concerns him; and his own various triadic systems originate there.

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38 Comments »

  1. As is usual in your comments and posts, there is much to ponder here. If only Hegel had had, like Johnson, a Boswell to convey the idea of a Hegel. Nice work.

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  2. I can’t contribute here on the logic question because I haven’t read enough Hegel.

    The interest in Hegel puzzles me actually. I see pre-scientific psychology, theology, and much silliness in terms of interpreting history, the latter feeding into Marx, etc..

    On the other hand, I recognize his place in the history of Western thought and I don’t discount entirely the possibility that the tradition of idealism still has something to say to us. There are figures in that general tradition which interest me, but not Hegel.

    This may be a matter of temperament. Politics comes into it, I suspect. Schopenhauer hated Hegel, didn’t he?

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  3. EJ: This struck me:

    “Hegel thinks logic the way I am now writing English. It is a language for him, and not surprisingly, he understands language as an expression of logic. But not in the way that later Analytic philosophers do. For Hegel, there is nothing in a given language to clarify or purify in order to speak more logically; all language is already completely logical. It is just a matter of reading a given language in such a way as to grasp its underlying logic.”

    ——————–

    Is it just my own affinities talking or does this sound a hell of a lot like the later Wittgenstein and Ordinary Language Philosophy?

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  4. Dan

    Well I was going to say something against that kind of generational thinking but I thought to myself that you would come back very hard and I wasn’t feeling like a fight. 🙂

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  5. Dan, I’m not saying I couldn’t deal with it intellectually: I’m talking about the emotional wear and tear. Oh well, I’ll sketch out something. But, again, as in the case of Hegel, I haven’t read enough of Didion’s work to contribute much there.

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  6. Dan,

    An interesting question, but not one easy to answer. There is evidence that Wittgenstein read Kant, but none that he read Hegel. But on the other hand, one sees Hegel clearly in Pragmatism’s trust in our ability to report our own experiences and to draw from such reports how we understand such experiences, and clearly Wittgenstein and Austin are moving in a similar direction, perhaps independently.

    The problem is complicated by Hegel’s continual ‘sublation’ of common speech into the dialectic. This reaches its apotheosis in his last major text, the Philosophy of Right, which many critics take to be a defense of the Prussian bureaucratic (‘Junker’) state, but which I read as a description of the underlying assumptions of that particular political formation. So yes there are objectionable passages in the Philosophy of Right, for instance about women – but that’s what people believed at the time, and codified in the laws of Prussia; so Hegel was drawing out the assumptions that grounded the law. (And by the time he wrote the PoR, he no longer believed that a philosopher’s duty was to change the course of history, but to understand it.) So basically Hegel is saying, ‘here are the laws, this is what we believe if they are to hang together.’ That’s Hegel’s basic assumption about language, early and late. If we accept this, then certain lines of thought in Pragmatism, Semiotics, Phenomenology and Existentialism become inevitable, along with certain studies in rhetoric, anthropology, psychology, history and sociology. (The dark side is that we may – dialectically – invert this as a critical suspicion of language, whereby everything we say has a ‘hidden agenda’ – Marx, Freud, Lacan, Derrida, etc. But this ‘dark side’ is not Hegel.)

    Perhaps the best way to think of the relation between Hegel and later ‘deflationary’ accounts of language, is that such accounts come as a response to the inevitable blow-out of systemizations of language – whether post-Kantian logicist or Hegelian dialectic – when it is discovered that systems simply can’t account for the entirety of human experience, nor of the language we use to relate these.

    Nonetheless, Hegel’s understanding of language is considerably richer than Kant’s; most logicians, including Kant, hear grammar as a kind of degraded logic; Hegel understood logic as an attenuated grammar. (Not surprising that Hegel plays fast and loose with grammar in order to address this.)

    Mark,

    Don’t know how to answer this. I wrote the essay as a pretty clear introduction to Hegelian logic – primarily the dialectic. Perhaps I didn’t succeed.

    Tying Hegel to Marx is simply a mistake. Calling Hegel ‘pre-scientific,’ is a-historical, especially considering how much of an impact Hegel has had on history, and especially of the history of the ‘soft sciences,’ not to mention philosophy. Without Hegel, no Pierce; without Pierce, no Dewey; without Dewey, no Quine. It’s really as simple as that. As a Pragmatist, I’m not advocating Hegel; but I have studied him, and I think he needs to be understood, at the very least for historical purposes.

    Schopenhauer hated Hegel – and still managed to write a dialectical metaphysics, ‘World as Will and Idea.’ Schopenhauer (an acknowledged master of German prose) produce some fun bon mots against Hegel, but really his angst is irrelevant to Hegel’s own philosophy, and only became interesting when British philosophy turned against Hegel with Russell (who was an Hegelian as a graduate student, but later recanted; although he continued to respect Hegel’s historic importance, if not his philosophy). (As contemporary criticisms go, I’m actually more interested in Hegel’s ongoing feud with the brilliant founder of Hermeneutics, Schleiermacher, who was a devout Lutheran believer, and who recognized Hegel as essentially a ‘secular Christian’ in Lutheran disguise. The two never met in the commons of the Berlin University without shouting at each other, frequently having to be pulled apart by onlookers.) (For that Matter, I would strongly suggest reading Marx’s insighhtful Critique of Germany Ideology before making links between Hegel and Marx.)

    Finally I have to point out that most of the periodizations that historians depend on pretty much originate with Hegel – so calling his sense of history ‘silly’ is basically to call much of professional history ‘silly’ and I admit I have a problem with that.

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  7. Reblogged this on no sign of it and commented:
    I’d like to make clear what I hoped I’d strongly implied in the essay (but perhaps not):

    If Hegel is right (or at least has something to tell us on the matter), then a) dialectic is a kind of inductive reasoning, drawing general conclusions from particular instances; b) dialectic is the logical structure underlying narrative, ie., stories; c) narrative is a necessary and inevitable means for the mind to make sense of certain experiences; d) comparison of variant narratives of similar experiences will reveal common themes leading to the same general conclusion.

    Now, we’ve learned since that differing stories do not necessarily hold together, and that some narratives do not even ‘make sense’ within themselves. Nonetheless, we can certainly learn from Hegel something about the use of narrative in making sense of the world, and of ourselves, and of history per se.

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  8. There is something wrong with the numbering of the footnotes (and once you have corrected that, there will be something wrong with this comment, so it is all historical).

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  9. ejwinner

    I explicitly conceded that Hegel has *historical* importance.

    “Tying Hegel to Marx is simply a mistake.”

    Marx reacted against Hegel, sure. But there is this general way of thinking about history which I think to some extent they share.

    “Calling Hegel ‘pre-scientific,’ is a-historical, especially considering how much of an impact Hegel has had on history, and especially of the history of the ‘soft sciences,’ not to mention philosophy.”

    He came before scientific psychology. His psychology is prescientific. Again, I am not denying his historical importance.

    “As a Pragmatist, I’m not advocating Hegel; but I have studied him, and I think he needs to be understood, at the very least for historical purposes.”

    I thought you were advocating him to some extent.

    “Schopenhauer hated Hegel – and still managed to write a dialectical metaphysics, ‘World as Will and Idea.’”

    Which I find more interesting than Hegel’s work. I think Schopenhauer stripped away more religio-cultural assumptions than Hegel did.

    “Schopenhauer (an acknowledged master of German prose) produced some fun bon mots against Hegel, but really his angst is irrelevant to Hegel’s own philosophy, and only became interesting when British philosophy turned against Hegel with Russell (who was an Hegelian as a graduate student, but later recanted; although he continued to respect Hegel’s historic importance, if not his philosophy).”

    I don’t know what you mean by saying that Schopenhauer “only became interesting when …”

    “As contemporary criticisms go, I’m actually more interested in Hegel’s ongoing feud with the brilliant founder of Hermeneutics, Schleiermacher, who was a devout Lutheran believer, and who recognized Hegel as essentially a ‘secular Christian’ in Lutheran disguise. The two never met in the commons of the Berlin University without shouting at each other, frequently having to be pulled apart by onlookers.”

    They were both trained theologians, were they not?

    “For that Matter, I would strongly suggest reading Marx’s insightful Critique of German Ideology before making links between Hegel and Marx.”

    I have read some Marx. I did a course on his early writings (taught by an Oxford-trained Hungarian émigré who was very unsympathetic to both Hegel’s and Marx’s view of history). I understand that Marx is a fierce critic of idealism but his own view of history was influenced by Hegel’s (and not for the better, in my opinion).

    “Finally I have to point out that most of the periodizations that historians depend on pretty much originate with Hegel – so calling his sense of history ‘silly’ is basically to call much of professional history ‘silly’ and I admit I have a problem with that.”

    I said that I see “much silliness in terms of interpreting history” in his work. I think I would want to stand by this, but in order to defend the claim I realize I would have to provide specific citations.

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  10. Mark,
    I noted immediately in your first comment that your understanding of the meaning, value, and narrative flow of history are rather different than mine. I’m not a Marxist or Hegelian, but I am fascinated by the trajectories of change over time, especially in philosophy.

    “But there is this general way of thinking about history which I think to some extent (Marx and Hegel) share.” Yes, but that’s true about Toynbee and a number of other theorists of history. You seemed to be giving this a political spin, and I don’t see that as useful.

    “I thought you were advocating him to some extent.” No; most assuredly not. But I certainly advocate engaging in his thought and learning from it. I do that for a lot of thinkers I disagree with.

    ““Schopenhauer hated Hegel – and still managed to write a dialectical metaphysics, ‘World as Will and Idea.’”” I remarked this in passing, because Schopenhauer and Hegel are probably getting their dialectical structure from the same source, Fichte (“Science of Knowledge”).

    “I think Schopenhauer stripped away more religio-cultural assumptions than Hegel did.” And Hegel might reply – and I think to an extent rightly – that this is not what philosophers ought to do, especially if they are tasked with understanding culture.

    “I don’t know what you mean by saying that Schopenhauer “only became interesting when …”” I was referring to Schopenhauer’s remarks on Hegel. Russell was the first major figure in a backlash against British Idealism (which was Hegel-dependent), which also saw a ridiculing of Hegel. Schopenhauer, who had gone out of vogue by then, experienced something of a revival roughly at the same time, based largely on his essays. Consequently his remarks on Hegel began to go the circuit, so to speak.

    “They were both trained theologians, were they not?” This seems to have an implication, but I’m not sure what. Theologians can’t contribute to philosophy? That’s certainly untrue.

    Schleiermacher’s writings on hermeneutics remains a brilliant theory of interpretation; Hegel’s thought is still challenging; whatever their religious beliefs (and Hegel’s are by no means clear).

    “(…) but (Marx’s) own view of history was influenced by Hegel’s (and not for the better, in my opinion).”
    I’m not sure that’s a wise claim to make, given your admission that your course on Marx was taught explicitly antagonistically, and you admit not having read much of Hegel.

    One of the reasons I advocate reading thinkers we might disagree with is to clarify why it is we might disagree with them. I started reading Hegel to better understand certain problems I was having with Derrida (who was required reading in one my graduate Literary Theory courses), which ultimately led to my dissertation. Hegel made me aware of certain trends in the history of Modernity to which I was blind – why, for instance we have such a thing as ‘Literary Theory,’ let alone ‘Deconstruction.’ This also led me to discover the Pragmatists, which helped resolve a number of difficulties I had when first studying philosophy as an undergraduate (since I could never buy Logical Positivism, and the only continuing alternative seemed to be Phenomenology; but even this way of thinking was still somehow too detached from actual experience.

    “I said that I see “much silliness in terms of interpreting history” in his work.”

    Before Hegel I can think of no historian, let alone philosopher of history (were there any then?) who understood history as periods of change driven by inner conflicts of understanding; which remains a fundamental idea in professional history studies today, even among those who think that the (decidedly idealistic) bases of change Hegel offers are entirely wrong.

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  11. Mark, one more thing:
    “His psychology is prescientific”
    I made it clear that Hegel, in the Phenomenology, is engaging in epistemology, not psychology. (He is trying to provide an account of how mind achieves knowledge, not motivations of individual minds. If you want to dismiss Hegel’s epistemology as a psychology. say that; if you want to dismiss epistemology entirely as psychology, say that (both have been said before). But don’t throw off-hand that you think his ‘psychology’ is unscientific. when he’s not doing psychology.)

    That has nothing to do with Hegel’s influence on Modern psychology. Beyond Freud or Jung, B F Skinner could not have appeared without Hegel’s demand on the necessity to give adequate weight to personal reports (always external) of internal motivations, and objective observation of behavior.

    If we accept that knowledge forms a totalistic whole, we really are locked into Hegel’s dialectic, no matter how we argue otherwise.

    Which brings me to my final point: You seem to object that this essay was ever written. Please go over the essay and tell me where I am wrong, or where Hegel’s dialectic (as an epistemology) fails. Otherwise, I can’t give further credence to your objections here.

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  12. EJ: Chill, my friend. Not loving Hegel does not mean that your essay shouldn’t have been written, and I don’t believe Mark was saying that at all. And I’m not surprised that someone of Mark’s intellectual orientation would have little use for Hegel. Indeed, I was surprised to find something that seemed as close to Wittgenstein and Ordinary Language philosophy as the quotation I cited.

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  13. “You seem to object that this essay was ever written. Please go over the essay and tell me where I am wrong, or where Hegel’s dialectic (as an epistemology) fails. Otherwise, I can’t give further credence to your objections here.”

    I too think you are going too far in that first sentence. I made it clear I was giving a personal reaction.

    Why did I comment at all? Because you have been good enough to comment on virtually all my pieces. I appreciate this, and so wanted to say something – even if it was only a fairly negative reaction to the subject of the essay, an expression of an attitude or point of view. You do not have to “give credence” to my objections, such as they are.

    “… one more thing:
    “His psychology is prescientific”
    I made it clear that Hegel, in the Phenomenology, is engaging in epistemology, not psychology. (He is trying to provide an account of how mind achieves knowledge, not motivations of individual minds. If you want to dismiss Hegel’s epistemology as a psychology. say that; if you want to dismiss epistemology entirely as psychology, say that (both have been said before). But don’t throw off-hand that you think his ‘psychology’ is unscientific. when he’s not doing psychology.)”

    I was just telling you that I saw it as – in part – (prescientific) psychology. I don’t have a worked-out view on whether epistemology reduces to psychology. As you know, I don’t draw a clear line between science and philosophical thinking. (The latter is often part of the former.) “… how mind achieves knowledge…” But I don’t see ‘mind’ as achieving knowledge. ‘Mind’ for me is just a way of talking about certain aspects of human behaviour etc., a façon de parler. It doesn’t *do* anything.

    “… just would have preferred a discussion on the essay rather than on the question ‘why bother reading Hegel.’ ”

    In the essay you are talking about Hegel’s understanding of mind or spirit. This sort of talk about mind just doesn’t make sense to me: or, if it makes sense, it doesn’t connect in *any* way with the world as I know and understand it.

    “… B F Skinner could not have appeared without Hegel’s demand on the necessity to give adequate weight to personal reports (always external) of internal motivations, and objective observation of behavior.”

    Well, Hegel was a massive presence in the history of ideas and so has to be taken account of in an historical sense, but you don’t need to understand Hegel to understand Skinner’s ideas (or most of the ideas and theories which constitute modern psychology and cognitive science).

    “If we accept that knowledge forms a totalistic whole, we really are locked into Hegel’s dialectic, no matter how we argue otherwise.”

    I thought you said you rejected his system.

    “[quoting me] “But there is this general way of thinking about history which I think to some extent (Marx and Hegel) share.” Yes, but that’s true about Toynbee and a number of other theorists of history. You seemed to be giving this a political spin, and I don’t see that as useful.”

    I have the same problems with all these grand schemes, be they of the left or the right.

    “[quoting me] “I thought you were advocating him to some extent.” No; most assuredly not. But I certainly advocate engaging in his thought and learning from it. I do that for a lot of thinkers I disagree with.”

    But you almost seem to be suggesting that it’s obligatory to engage with him. Only from a history of ideas angle, I would say – because he was very *influential*.

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  14. EJ is performing a service here, but presumably not without some personal interest and motivation. No problem here. At the same time, it appears that Mark is being sandwiched, encouraged to comment despite his caveats about his familiarity with Hegel. So, I don’t think most readers are having difficulty here with discerning an exchange between EJ and Mark, as opposed to Mark and Hegel. Nor are many readers without recourse should they chose to pursuit Hegel further. Both Mark and EJ are valued members of the Agora community as Dan K has already expressed. I personally believe it’s a stretch to invoke Hegel into the later Wittgenstein and ordinary language philosophy, considering it’s not clear whether Wittgenstein read Hegel or, for that matter, Aristotle. But others here can better address this matter. It does appear that Witt was influenced by Schopenhauer. How far one takes the influence of one philosopher’s thinking on another is largely conjecture without clear evidence to the contrary, unless like Kant you openly admit that Hume awoke you from your slumber.

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  15. ejwinner

    “[quoting me] “They were both trained theologians, were they not?” This seems to have an implication, but I’m not sure what. Theologians can’t contribute to philosophy? That’s certainly untrue.”

    I was making an observation, and implying that these thinkers are only really understandable if you understand the (broadly theological) context in which they operated.

    “Schleiermacher’s writings on hermeneutics remains a brilliant theory of interpretation.”

    Of course religious thinkers can have good ideas that have more general, secular applications.

    “[quoting me] “(…) but (Marx’s) own view of history was influenced by Hegel’s (and not for the better, in my opinion).”
    I’m not sure that’s a wise claim to make, given your admission that your course on Marx was taught explicitly antagonistically, and you admit not having read much of Hegel.”

    I didn’t say that the course was taught “antagonistically”. The teacher in question was a subtle and careful thinker for whom I (and my fellow students) had a high regard – and a personal fondness. And I think it’s perfectly appropriate (and certainly not “unwise”) that I should give my opinion. For goodness sake, this is just a comment thread on a site targeted at a general educated audience. I thought it was all about encouraging people to come in and air their views – even if they only have a limited background in the area.

    Also I think it’s good that contributors and editors express dissenting views if only to make it clear that alternative views are always welcome here. There is no creed we’re pushing. There is no sacrosanct canon.

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  16. Mark,
    “Of course religious thinkers can have good ideas that have more general, secular applications.”

    Yes, that should go without saying. Unfortunately there is a tendency to discount people’s thinking because of their background. One wonders what has happened to curiosity. We are so concerned about correctness of thinking that we never stop to ask why they think as they do, or if perhaps they can contribute something important to our understanding. Curiosity is always the first victim of ideology and partisanship.

    Also I think it’s good that contributors and editors express dissenting views

    You are right. And yet I have sympathy for the author, in this case EJ, who wrote a fine piece. I wish I could contribute more but I am all at sea where Hegel is concerned. But EJ’s lucid writing has done something valuable, it has stimulated me to find out more.

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  17. Mark,
    I’m sincerely sorry for writing antagonistically in reply to you. I have great respect for you, despite occasional differences; I was feeling some frustration, and this certainly began to come out as my reply progressed. I apologize.

    ““If we accept that knowledge forms a totalistic whole, we really are locked into Hegel’s dialectic, no matter how we argue otherwise.”
    I thought you said you rejected his system.”

    I have a sense that his may have been the irritant that led to wonder what I was going on about here. I wrote a long reply to this remark, but decided that it’s too long for this thread; so I will try to polish it up as a follow-up essay. Please note the opening clause”*If* we accept that knowledge forms a totalistic whole” – what follows here should be the question, is that what we are still doing, not only in philosophy but other fields of research? and I would suggest that while some of us have learned to do without, all too many are still trying to find the magic key that opens all doors; and when they attempt that, or argue for it, Hegel’s net closes over them – whether they’ve read Hegel or not. And that’s what makes him still worth engaging. Because while he’s largely forgotten – the mode of thought he recognizes and describes is still very much among us.

    I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clearer, I’ll try to do that elsewhere. I’m also sorry if this is still not persuasive enough; and I again apologize if I’ve mis-understood you or if I over-reacted to your replies.

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  18. EJ,
    *If* we accept that knowledge forms a totalistic whole” – what follows here should be the question, is that what we are still doing, not only in philosophy but other fields of research? and I would suggest that while some of us have learned to do without, all too many are still trying to find the magic key that opens all doors

    I find this a really interesting statement. That knowledge forms a totalistic whole is actually quite a foundational assumption in our Western world. This is why we look for some grand unification of physics. This is why we regard physics as the ultimate foundation of everything else in the world. And this is why many argue against free will. Massimo, in one of his earlier essays, has argued against this, pointing to the disjunctions between the various sciences. I thought at the time that his objection rested on a fallacy. His fallacy is believing that lack of understanding means that there is a genuinely unbridgeable gap.

    Why is there a widespread belief in the unity of knowledge? I suggest there are three reasons, theological, fundamental physics and cosmological. I suggest there is one counterargument, free will.

    1. Theology. Jewish thought, adopted by Thomas of Aquinas, insists on one absolute, indivisible, utterly simple and completely logical God. If all of creation emanates from such a God then all knowledge has its unity in God. Therefore we expect to find ultimate unity in knowlede. In fact, finding evidence for such unity, would be evidence of God’s existence. Little wonder then that Massimo strenuously opposes this belief.

    2. Fundamental physics. It is accepted that all of science derives from fundamental physics. Fundamental physics has at its heart a simple unity expressed in the Standard Model. This unity strengthens the theological underpinnings of a belief in the unity of knowledge.

    3. Cosmology and, in particular, the Big Bang. All of our existence comes from a single moment of utter simplicity, of complete uniformity in one infinitely dense point. From that point the universe has expanded into growing complexity along paths strictly controlled by laws of nature. From this we conclude there must necessarily be unity in knowledge, even if after 14 billion years we cannot see it in the immense resulting complexity.

    For these reasons we have a strong, intuitive belief in Occam’s razor. The simpler explanation is better because we intuitively believe in the unity of knowledge.

    4. Free will. This is the confounding factor. If there is no genuine free will then all our thinking is determined by the evolving movement of particles and fields, which have their unity in the Big Bang. Therefore our thinking is bound by the laws of nature and will reflect the unity of the laws of nature. And there must be unity in the laws of nature since they originate in that utterly simple moment of the Big Bang. But, if genuine free will does exist, then our thinking is decoupled from the Big Bang and resulting laws of nature. In that case there is no necessity for unity of knowledge. Though scientific knowledge should still ultimately possess an underlying unity because the world it describes has an underlying unity. But if there is genuine free will non-scientific knowledge has no necessary unity. Even a cursory look at the creative output of our species supports this conclusion.

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  19. From Emily Dickinson

    The Brain – is wider than the Sky –
    For – put them side by side –
    The one the other will contain
    With ease – and You – beside –

    The Brain is deeper than the sea –
    For – hold them – Blue to Blue –
    The one the other will absorb –
    As Sponges – Buckets – do –

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  20. Hi EJ, in another thread Labnut suggested I join the conversation here, so I’ve decided to post something… at least to let you know I read your essay and was already following the debate! Unfortunately Hegel is someone I know basically nothing about and about whose theories I can’t really say anything useful. As you noted his writing is obscure, and so like Wittgenstein I have to rely on others for a translation. Along those lines I found your essay informative and the exchange interesting, yet there’s not much I can respond to. In these kinds of situation I never know if I should say something (as Mark said he did) to show I am present (and so show “support” for your writing), or remain quiet and just enjoy the view as a spectator. I sometimes feel that saying something, when I have nothing real to say, makes it look like I can’t keep my mouth shut and have an opinion about everything while adding nothing (indeed subtracting) from the others’ thread.

    The only contribution I can probably make is to raise a question about Hegel’s contributions. Of particular interest is when you connected Hegel to Quine. I did not know that and took it on board as something to watch out for. But perhaps you can elaborate on that point. Given Hegel’s obscure writing style, how did he grow to be so influential in general? And how specifically did his theories connect with Quine in some definitive sense? That is to say, how can we know it came from Hegel and not from Quine’s own thoughts or from others not in the know about Hegel?

    I kind of dislike (but fall for) “great man” theories of knowledge, whether philosophy or scientific. Basically if there is something to know, I take it that others can discover or access it as much as the person credited with having written it up first. It can be discovered independently, sometimes years, decades, or centuries later by someone who had no knowledge of/contact with the “first”. There are also ideas that certain concepts (usually paradigm shifting) about the world are only available/arise under the right conditions, and so knowledge is sometimes the product of culture rather than the genius/special insight of a single person. Is that not possible with respect to the ideas Hegel wrote about?

    I’m not challenging your claims, just asking for more info.

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  21. Hi Labnut, on the idea of unified knowledge I agree with your first point, but am not so sure about the second and third (physics and cosmology, respectively). In each case you used the word “simple” to describe these accounts. Unifying they might be as generalized accounts, but not very simple.

    The standard model is complex and could become more complex as time goes on. Certainly quantum mechanics is anything but simple. And though the singularity at the (proposed) center of the Big Bang is small and unified in times/space it is also not simple. Before we reach that spot all current theories begin to break down. We don’t know what rules govern the interactions between whatever it was that existed in that “spot”. What’s more we do not know if that spot had relationships with anything else, perhaps in other dimensions. And given multi-world hypotheses (which I don’t agree with) if anything our world(s) are not very unified and quite complex.

    I think at heart our desire for a unified, causal theory is just that, a desire. There is some logic behind our thinking that there must be a singular explanation for everything that has occurred. After all even if there are multiple causal factors, they can be described within one theory. The problem is it will not be simple. It would just be nicer if it was, and we will continue working to create a model that meets that end.

    I think the issue of free will is something else (connects with unified theories in a way different then you describe)… though as Mark and Dan have convince me, not worth much as a subject.

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  22. @EJ:

    Many thanks for this piece on Hegel! Well done!

    @ Dan K.:

    Your intuitions about Hegel and Wittgenstein have been noted by a number of philosophers, including Charles Taylor in his “The Opening Argument of the Phenomenology,” an article that walks the reader through the first three chapters of the Phenomenology. It is in a collection of essays edited by Alasdair MacIntyre entitled Hegel: A Collection of Critical Essays, originally published in 1972.

    Taylor throughout the article highlights explicit parallels with Wittgenstein, particularly regarding Hegel’s criticism of the cart-before-the-horse approach of empiricism, which Taylor compares at length to the implications of Wittgenstein’s Private Language Argument:

    “Hegel’s answer is similar to Wittgenstein’s, as we have seen. I cannot even know what I mean in this context if all I can say is ‘this’ or ‘here.’ For what do these terms embrace? Take ‘now’: does it mean this punctual instant, this hour, this day, this decade, this epoch? It can mean all of these and others in different contexts. But, for it to mean something to me, and not just an empty word, there must be something else I could say to give a shape, a scope, to this ‘now’; let it be a term for a time period, such as ‘day’ or ‘hour,’ or some description of the event or process or action that is holding my attention and hence defining the dimensions of my present.

    And so, Hegel concludes, there is no unmediated knowledge of the particular.”

    Taylor says toward the end:

    “For Hegel is the originator of some themes that are central to much contemporary philosophy. In this section [of the article], our references have been to phenomenological writers [e.g., Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger] who acknowledge the debt to Hegel. But similar themes can be discerned in the Anglo-Saxon world. The declining credence accorded to any version of mind-body dualism requires no comment. But the related theme that our consciousness of things is not primordially the reception of data, but is built on a more original engagement with them, is also in evidence.

    We can see this by returning to Wittgenstein…. The notion that experience was to be understood by what we could say of it, and the meaning of what we say ultimately understood by reference to ‘forms of life,’ reflects the same basic preoccupation. Rather than understand experience as being built up out of basic data received into the mind- a ‘mind’ that could be that of any type of body, or of none- which data then just remain to be pointed to and named, Wittgenstein asks us to look at experience as shaped by language that in turn can be understood only as the language of a certain group of men, since it gets its meaning from the way that they deal with each other and with the world. This is the way to get the fly out of the fly bottle, the skein of insoluble puzzles that arise when we try to take seriously the picture of experience as made up of data.”

    Liked by 1 person

  23. dbholmes,

    Thanks for reading.

    Hegel is a recognizably ‘totalistic’ thinker: everything will be brought together eventually – our philosophy, our science, our religion, our politics, etc., will ultimately be found to be variant expressions of the same inner logic of human reasoning and human aspiration.

    Even after Pragmatists abandoned Hegel – exactly because of this totalistic reading of history and experience – most of them recognized that Hegel had raised an important issue in this insistence – namely that there is a tendency for us to understand our cultures in a fashion that seemingly connects the various differences in experiences and ways of knowing so that we feel, to speak metaphorically, that we are swimming in the same stream as other members of our communities, largely in the same direction. Even the later John Dewey, who was perhaps the most directly critical of Hegel’s totalism, still strong believes that philosophy can tell the story of how culture comes together, why, eg., there can be a place for both science and the arts as variant explorations of the world around us. We see this culminate, somewhat, in Quine’s Web of Belief: different nodes in the web can change rapidly, others only gradually; but the web as a whole remains intact, so that what we believe not only has logical and evidentiary support, but also ‘hangs together’ – any one belief ‘makes sense’ in relation to our other beliefs.

    (Notably, when British Idealism fell apart, its rebellious inheritors, eg., Russell and Ayers, went in the other direction, declaring that philosophy really had no need to explain anything in our culture other than itself and scientific theory.)

    Now, how did Hegel become so popular, given his difficulty? First of all, he answered certain problems raised in the wake of first Fichte’s near-solipsistic (but highly convincing) epistemology,and then in Schelling’s “philosophy of nature” (which had achieved considerable popularity among intellectuals by the time Hegel started getting noticed). But there was also the fact that he appears to have been an excellent and fascinating teacher at the University of Berlin. And we can see in his later lectures, which come to us largely through student notes, or student editing of Hegel’s notes, that, while the language remains difficult, there is an undeniable charm in his presentation. This raises questions, about how important teachers are in philosophy – do we forget that Plato was Socrates’ student, and what that must have meant to him?

    Finally: “Basically if there is something to know, I take it that others can discover or access it as much as the person credited with having written it up first” – How very Hegelian! No, seriously, Hegel is the first major philosopher who believed that knowledge, being partly the result of history and partly the result of social conditioning *, was in fact not dependent on individual will or insight, so much as being in the right place at the right time – the Idea, remember, is the protagonist of the Dialectic’s narrative. The importance of the individual, is that there is no narrative without the individual’s experience, no realization of the Idea without the individual’s achievement of knowledge.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Oh, the asterix in my reply: Much of what Hegel writes of social conditioning is actually implicit in Hume’s Conventionalism; Hegel systematizes it and makes it a cornerstone of his philosophy. (Kant, to the contrary, always assumes a purely rational individual ego; which is exactly the problem that Fichte had latched onto and reduced to ashes by trying to get to the root of human knowledge in desire.)

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  25. DB,
    And given multi-world hypotheses (which I don’t agree with)

    Is this just a visceral dislike?

    Not many seem to realise that multiverses are a logical necessity if a creative God exists. And if God is not creative then there is no God. You can work out why(it’s obvious). I had much fun pointing this out to Coel, given his ardent support for multiverses and equally ardent atheism. He is not comfortable holding two opposing ideas at the same time.

    Of course, from a strictly scientific point of view we can’t claim that multiverses exist because there is no empirical evidence and there is no conceivable way of garnering the evidence. It is an interesting and very satisfactory, but unprovable, hypothesis based on elegant mathematical reasoning. If someone could demonstrate that multiverses could not, should not or do not exist I would take that as evidence that God does not exist. I am not holding my breath.

    “I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
    “Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
    Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
    “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

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  26. Editors, I hit post while adjusting sentences… please replace my last post with this:

    Hi Labnut, no it’s not a visceral dislike, I just don’t find it a satisfactory solution. But maybe I should clarify what I was talking about.

    There is a generic cosmological theory that entails many independent universes popping up all the time. I have nothing against that theory and actually like it, even if there is no way it could be proven (as far as I can tell).

    The other is a specific theory (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-worlds_interpretation) used as “solution” to a supposed “problem” in quantum mechanics. In that case near identical universes are springing up all the time to actualize the different possible outcomes of any decision (even as simple as a wave collapse). I consider it an inelegant and unprovable solution to something I don’t view as a problem in the first place.

    “It is an interesting and very satisfactory, but unprovable, hypothesis based on elegant mathematical reasoning.”

    Well I grant that it is intriguing and solves the “problem” satisfactorily, but it is not necessary unless you feel there is a problem (or at least the problem they are claiming) to be solved.

    “Not many seem to realise that multiverses are a logical necessity if a creative God exists. And if God is not creative then there is no God.”

    I get why a creative God (or Gods) would create universes, though I guess I am creative enough to imagine God(s) who aren’t very creative themselves accidentally generating universes as they do whatever it is they do.

    “If someone could demonstrate that multiverses could not, should not or do not exist I would take that as evidence that God does not exist.”

    Interestingly, as an atheist I would not take that as evidence God(s) don’t exist.

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  27. DB,
    Hi Labnut, no it’s not a visceral dislike, I just don’t find it a satisfactory solution. But maybe I should clarify what I was talking about.

    There is a generic cosmological theory that entails many independent universes popping up all the time. I have nothing against that theory and actually like it, even if there is no way it could be proven (as far as I can tell).

    You contradict me in your first sentence and then promptly agree with me in the second sentence.
    ‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English);“. And so was I(surprised that is. My command of good English deserted me a long time ago).

    You then go off about EQM which is not at all the same thing as the cosmological multiverse theory and is a subject I did not introduce. “‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice”.

    Interestingly, as an atheist I would not take that as evidence God(s) don’t exist.

    In reply I can do no better than quote Sun Tzu:

    If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

    Let me help you know your enemy lest you suffer another defeat.

    A tri-potent God(infinitely good, infinitely knowledgeable and infinitely powerful) would also be creative, and if creative, God would be infinitely creative. An infinitely creative God would be continuously creating everywhere, all the time. And that is the multiverse theory.

    It is a huge irony that the multiverse theory is strongly advocated by some of the most vocal atheist physicists. I love it.

    …they[God] do whatever it is they do.

    Create, of course.

    You should read that marvelous book by esteemed physicist, Alex Vilenkin, ‘Many Worlds In One, The search for other universes‘.

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  28. Some time ago we debated the essay Disability, Wellbeing and Intuition,
    https://theelectricagora.com/2016/08/09/disability-well-being-and-intuition/

    At the time I remembered reading a most powerful article by Harriet McBride Johnson(Unspeakable Conversations) but could not find the article(it was written in 2003). Here it is, rather late I am afraid.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/16/magazine/unspeakable-conversations.htm

    She is severely disabled but defends her life and disability, against Peter Singer. Any person who questions the value of a disabled person’s life should read this article. An intelligent, articulate but severely disabled person defends the value of her life. I am still as touched now as I was then when I first read it.

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  29. Hi Labnut, the good news is that we aren’t in (that much) disagreement.

    “You contradict me in your first sentence and then promptly agree with me in the second sentence.”

    Sorry that I wasn’t as clear as I could have been. The quote you had originally cited from me included a reference to a version of the multiple-world theory which was the solution to the quantum mechanics problem. So when you asked if it was a visceral dislike, my answer to that was no just not satisfactory.

    Then while writing I realized there are two versions and maybe you meant the other (cosmological) version. I wasn’t sure which you thought I was talking about so I went on to explain both.

    I was not trying to force any position on you, just making clear which I liked and which I didn’t so you could figure out if we were talking past one another or not.

    Anyway, so this means we are both ok with the cosmological theory… it is just the QM version of MUH that I dislike and to which I was referring in the original quote you had given.

    As an atheist, I am untroubled if theists find comfort or evidence for their faith in multiverses. I don’t think the multiverse conflicts with or detracts from atheism at all, and if anything is a bit pleasing aesthetically.

    We can end in harmonious agreement. 🙂

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  30. DB,
    To expand on my cosmology argument for the unity of knowledge.

    At the moment of the Big Bang the Universe had an extraordinarily low entropy of one part in 10^10^123 (there are estimated to be 10^79 atoms in the Universe). This represents a moment of extreme uniformity and therefore extreme simplicity. See Roger Penrose’s explanation:

    From this moment of extreme simplicity all knowledge has developed. Since it has a single point of origin all knowledge is connected. Think of it this way. At the moment of the Big Bang there was effectively zero information. As the universe expanded, cooled and coalesced, first into atoms, then stars, then galaxies, then planets, then life and finally consciousness, the information content grew. But at each moment the information in the universe was derived from earlier information, developing organically from it in strict accordance with the laws of nature.

    The same thing is true of the laws of nature.
    Where the laws of nature are concerned, there are two scenarios:
    1. they preceded the Big Bang. You don’t want to believe this since you might as well admit God exists.
    2. they came into being at the moment of the Big Bang and evolved as the universe evolved. I will, for the purpose of this argument, accept this point of view.

    This is the view of Lee Smolin and Roberto Ungerer and was discussed on the other forum. If that is true, then Just as with information, the laws of nature would have been exceedingly simple at the moment of the Big Bang. So, for example, there would be no need for the laws of electro-dynamics and they could not be said to exist at that time.

    As the universe evolved from its extremely simple state, so too would the laws of nature have evolved to describe an increasingly complex universe, becoming themselves more complex. But here’s the thing, at any instant, the laws of nature would have evolved from the previous instant, just as with information. Thus all laws of nature are connected backwards through increasingly simple scenarios until you arrive at the ultimately simple scenario, the Big Bang. Thus there is an underlying unity in the laws of nature and their unity can be found in their single point of origin. All information too has a single point of origin.

    Knowledge is derived from the information content of the universe and the laws of nature. These have a single point of origin and therefore an underlying unity. Therefore knowledge has an underlying unity.

    To argue that there is no unity you would have to show one at least one of the following:
    1. There is no single point of origin. This is an unsustainable argument. You might as well argue that we are the result of multiple Big Bangs!
    2. The laws of nature or information did not develop continuously from previous states. In other words you would have to show discontinuities. That is also unsustainable since the only discontinuity we know of is the Big Bang where universes are spontaneously created. These universes have no possible connection with each other and are therefore discontinuous.
    3. The laws of nature contain basic contradictions or inconsistencies. This has never been shown to be true and is, in any case, incompatible with the existence of a stable universe. On the contrary, the laws of nature are stable, applying predictably, everywhere, to everything, all the time, with great precision. This is the most puzzling fact in the universe. We cannot think of any scientific reason why this must be. It is simply a brute fact without explanation.

    The underlying unity of knowledge is thus inescapable, even if that cannot be seen today in a complex world of partial knowledge.

    And then we have free will. This is the escape clause that frees my mind from the iron constraints of the laws of nature. It is the only discontinuity in the long chain of events that terminates in the Big Bang. Thus our minds are freed to create knowledge independently and thus there is no necessary unity in the knowledge created by human minds.

    To sum up. There is a necessary unity in the knowledge that describes the universe, but, because of free will, there is no necessary unity in the knowledge created by our minds.

    What do we mean by unity of knowledge? That there exists an underlying linkage and that it contains no contradictions.

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