Monday, February 9, 2009

The Faithful Hegel

As I've decided that my project for this class is to learn to read faithfully (as opposed to suspiciously), this post may end up well off the mark in regards to our dutiful question: what is continental philosophy (for?)? If this displeases - let me know and I'll come back in line. :)

At first I simply had to make a decision to read the text faithfully, to read it as though there were no ulterior motives developed by the author to ensnare me in a particular view (intentional or otherwise). This was actually a lot easier than I supposed it would be. I feared that I might fall into my old habit of picking out concepts (e.g. teleological predisposition, God as reason, etc.) that I found to be particularly damning and just label the text as useless because it contains these undesirable attributes. However, that didn't really happen. Once I decided to read faithfully, I simply accepted the work as is and tried to attach as little of myself as I could to the process. In doing so I shifted a lot of authority over to Hegel to tell me the state of the universe. In doing that, I feel like I got a better understanding of him.

Specifically, it appeared to me that union is of the utmost importance to Hegel. Especially in regards to freedom and necessity. I decided with the little evidence that I have that this is related to the "vicious dualisms" arrived at by Kant. For Hegel there is this problem of how freedom and necessity can exist concurrently in the world. To resolve this problem he defines freedom as the subjective and intentional individual actions that humans use in order to attain their desires. For necessity, there is the Spirit or universal reason. The unfolding of Spirit is the manifestation of that Reason within the organic world. In very very brief summary, the unfolding of the Spirit is manifest through the state. The state changes from time to time through the freedom of the individuals that are seeking their own ends. These people that change the state have no idea that they are doing anything other than appeasing their own desires. However, hidden from themselves, Spirit is manifesting (or maybe unfolding in this case) to bring about another step in the progression towards the end, which is freedom. The individual and the desires of individuals are the means by which Spirit gets what it needs to unfold.

This Spirit is manifest in the state as I already said. But what does this mean? Hegel says that the Spirit of the state is composed of its culture: art, religion, philosophy and determines rightly how the state behaves in regards to its citizens. As the goal of Spirit is to become conscious of freedom, so too, freedom is the goal of the state. I don't remember seeing a passage stating as much, but I don't think Hegel would disagree that the state doesn't fully realize this goal. It merely goes about acting out its intentions in order to obtain a state that it desires. Freedom is the hidden goal that the state doesn't necessarily perceive.

The union of necessity and freedom then is a state that has maximized the freedom of its citizens and minimized the necessity of their actions. This means that citizens are free to act out their desires in all possible ways as long as those desires do not conflict with the goals of the state (although on occassion necessarily in conflict because Spirit must continue to unfold). I hope that's an accurate description of the work (within the scope of what I'm saying here), anyway.

Worthy of note here is that I found several passages that I could see other philosophers reading and taking them as their own ideas (not plagarism, but something they could build upon). Nietzsche and Heidegger, specifically, but I'm sure there's more that I missed. It was very interesting to see the influence that Hegel has on the dialectic.

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