Sunday, January 18, 2009

A crucial twist that Hegel brought to Kant's philosophy

One that I'm having an increasing appreciation of. First I'd start off by saying that going from Kant and Kantian philosophy to Hegel and what Hegel may be refracting back as a whole isn't what this post is about. Just a tiny smidgen of Kant's philosophy that Hegel changed. That change was his declaration that the Thing in Itself is really empty and that when you get to the Thing in Itself seemingly behind reality a lot of what you find is what you already had, but in a somewhat different form and context. The Kantian Thing in Itself is the thing that exists in reality beyond our perceptual filters, reality unmediated by senses or by mental constructs on what the nature of reality should be. But I think that Hegel is using it in a different sense here, actually.

Talking about what the Thing in Itself is and labeling it empty flows right into Hegel's philosophy of history, something that Kant didn't talk a lot about. If history is thought to be approaching a certain goal or point, to be getting closer to an absolute value that appears to be outside of everything, first of all that value is part of a greater whole in this way of thinking. Something bigger generates the value that it appears that we're tending towards, and the attainment of that value will not consist of a transcendental absolute but of a recapitulation of reality as we understood it in an advanced context that we did not suspect.

The Thing in Itself, in this case the transcendental absolute value outside of reality that it seems like human history is approaching, turns out to be partially vacant in that it gives a (maybe very important) formal alteration to history but does not consist of a static, concrete, point. In Hegel's philosophy there is no ultimate absolute in the way I'm using the phrase but instead there are contexts following contexts, doors following doors following doors down a straight hallway where the opening of each door represents a change in the context of the person or historical subject but does not really constitute anything more than a stop along the way. Along the way to what? Hegel argued that there indeed was an overall tendency of these wheels within wheels to be structured in a precise way, the hallway taken as a whole leading up to something, but I personally think that this is not required and that the doors open and open infinitely, with ultimately you and where you want to take whatever---yourself, something that you're part of, society as part of it----being the arbiters of where the doors lead to, where they go.

But I'm digressing.

The important thing is that people shouldn't be afraid of what's in the unknown, on the other side of reality. People always think that out there, somewhere, in some unknown area of life, things are completely and totally different. The connection here is that the Unknown is also often associated with Absolute Value and with the Thing in Itself. What is unknown is potentially greater than you, potentially is something on line with the Platonic archetypes. But Hegel's declaration of his concepts cheats all of it by declaring that indeed we've seen the unknown, we've experienced awe and wonder at our relationship between ourselves and it, but that when we've actually stepped over the line some crucial things may have altered but our basic experience wasn't any different. It may now be invested with the trace of the value of the absolute or of the archetype, as a personal meaning, but not all of our previous knowledge or ways of being are destroyed by it.

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