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Pragmatism as naturalized Hegelianism: overcoming transcendental philosophy?

FROM ITS INCEPTION PRAGMATISM HAS DISPLAYED an ambivalent relation to Hegelianism. John Dewey conceived his experimentalism as a more modest alternative to Hegel's system of absolute idealism, which he deemed "too grand for present tastes."(1) At the same time, pragmatists from James and Dewey to Quine and Rorty have all assimilated important Hegelian motifs. These include most importantly a deep suspicion of modern representationalist epistemology, in both its rationalist and empiricist versions; a conception of intelligence as a form of practice, best conceived in terms of making, doing, and acting; and a commitment to a nonreductionist, holistic appreciation of our beliefs about the world (one which induces a general distrust of dualistic thinking). To this list Rorty adds an appreciation of Hegel's conception of the philosophical enterprise as Nachdenken, as a kind of edifying recollective summary.

Rorty has also provided what is perhaps the most concise formula for expressing at once pragmatism's debt to and criticism of Hegel: pragmatism is a form of "naturalized Hegelianism."(2) In this paper I wish to examine what it means to naturalize Hegel and whether this really is such a good thing to do. Naturalism can mean many different things, but I am interested primarily in naturalism as a theoretical critique of transcendental philosophy. For Rorty naturalizing is synonymous with a process he calls "detranscendentalization." My question can thus be rephrased: If pragmatism is naturalized Hegelianism and if naturalism is a critique of transcendental philosophy, then in what specifically does the detranscendentalization of Hegel consist? I will argue that Rorty does not provide a satisfactory answer to this question. Since few if any of the charges Rorty levels against Hegel withstand careful scrutiny, and indeed seem to have been articulated in one form or another by Hegel himself, we are left to wonder not only what nonnaturalized Hegelianism really is but how it stacks up against contemporary pragmatism. Pursuing these issues can show us, I think, that Rorty is mistaken in his claim that "holism takes the curse off of naturalism."(3) I will argue to the contrary that Hegel's holistic idealism exemplifies a form of philosophical theory superior to naturalism insofar as it saves the phenomena more comprehensively than the reductive explanatory strategies of naturalism.

To this end I want to examine how Rorty sets up Kant as the paradigmatic transcendental philosopher and then uses his critique of Kant to advocate a wholesale rejection of the transcendental project. My claim is that because Rorty's understanding of transcendental philosophy is filtered almost entirely through a reading of Kant, his understanding of Hegel (as well as others within the transcendental tradition, including Husserl, Heidegger, and Derrida) is for the most part reductive and off target. The point is not merely that in Hegel himself we find many of the same objections to representationalist epistemology that Rorty supposes originate with linguistic philosophy, though this is true and deserves careful scrutiny. Equally important is that fact that through his construction of a straw man called "transcendental philosophy" Rorty suppresses a philosophical voice distinct not just from contemporary Anglo-American philosophy but from the empiricist and rationalist traditions of modern philosophy in general. That Rorty is unable to distinguish this voice from the chorus of modern philosophy is in part due to the fact that this voice's lexicon derives largely from Descartes and Hume rather than from Plato and Aristotle, with whom it perhaps shares more in common. Ultimately, however, this inability has to do with the very proximity of Rorty's own thought to the epistemological tradition whose founding arguments and guiding metaphors he has so trenchantly criticized.


Rorty has claimed that Hegelianism consists principally in having a historical sense. To have a historical sense is to believe "that nothing, including an a priori concept, is immune from cultural development."(4) This healthy historical sense is exemplified presumably in Hegel's view that different peoples constitute loci for different forms of spirit. The idea of fluid discursive webs suggested by this notion of spirit might alone have served as the basis for a critique of Kant's theory of a priori categories. It might have opened the door to the central argument of Rorty's pragmatism, which is that the rationality of assertions is a function not of correspondence with some extralinguistic ground but rather of "what society lets you say."(5) Instead, however, of developing a historically informed sociology of knowledge, Hegel made the mistake of engaging Kant on epistemological matters, criticizing for example the intelligibility of the thing-in-itself. The upshot of this critique of Kantian epistemology was not the rejection of a priori conceptual schemes in general but rather the development of the grandiose alternative categorial framework found in the Science of Logic. As Rorty puts it: "Hegel . . . kept [Kant's] epistemology, but tried to drop the thing-in-itself, thus making himself, and idealism generally, a patsy for realistic reaction."(6)

Later I will contest Rorty's claim that Hegel's critique of the thing-in-itself commits him to some form of phenomenalism. For the moment I wish to emphasize that for Rorty the underlying problem with Hegel is that despite his pointed anti-Kantian rhetoric he never really breaks with Kantian epistemology. This argument is unsound and derives, I would like to suggest, from Rorty's chronic conflation of the transcendental with the epistemological. Because Rorty conceives of transcendental philosophy in general as a species of epistemology, he is left no option, after registering the fact that Hegel worked within the tradition of transcendental philosophy, but to claim that Hegel also drank deeply from the chalice of modern epistemology. What Rorty chooses not to investigate closely is the extent to which post-Kantian transcendental philosophy from Hegel to Husserl and Heidegger has itself constituted a prolonged attack on the representational theory of mind developed jointly by modern empiricism and rationalism. The only way Rorty can make his general critique of transcendental philosophy stick is by reductively identifying transcendental philosophy with Kant's critical philosophy, with the one version of transcendental philosophy least free from the trappings of modern representationalist epistemology.

Rorty's guiding assumption about transcendental philosophy is that it carries to a higher level of abstraction the "battle"--as Dewey characterizes it in his 1948 introduction to Reconstruction in Philosophy--between science and religion, between the real and the ideal. This battle was initiated by Plato's discovery of mathematics and his subsequent attempt to define philosophy as that which parses the intelligible, actual, transcendent, and sacred from the sensory, apparent, immanent, and profane. It was Descartes and Kant, however, who gave form to the distinctly modern variant of this project. More rigorously conceived, transcendental philosophy consists in a cluster of theses about the distinctive character of philosophical, in contrast to everyday, knowledge. The most important of these theses, according to Rorty, are (1) the view that philosophy is an apodictic science modeled on logic and mathematics and made up of nonempirical, a priori knowledge-claims; (2) the view that a nonempirical practice of introspection or inference discloses this region of philosophical knowledge; (3) the view that this philosophical knowledge serves as a canon for judging the legitimacy of empirical claims forwarded by extraphilosophical disciplines.(7) This model of philosophy was carried into the late nineteenth century by the neo-Kantians and by British and American idealists, and received new impetus from the critiques of psychologism developed by Frege and Husserl. These gave birth in turn to the major variants of transcendental philosophy in this century: in the analytic tradition, the logico-mathematical and linguistic theories of Russell, Carnap, and the early Wittgenstein (as well as neo-Fregean formalist semantics); and in the continental tradition, the phenomenology of Husserl, the philosophical hermeneutics of the early Heidegger and Gadamer, and the transcendental pragmatics of Apel and Habermas.

The particular brand of naturalism that Rorty employs to challenge transcendental philosophy (so defined) is linguistic behaviorism. For all his dissatisfaction with various practitioners of analytic philosophy and for all his gestural appropriations of continental philosophy, Rorty's philosophic outlook was shaped primarily by certain foundational arguments of the analytic tradition. These include Frege's claim that the sentence is the minimal unit of meaning, Wittgenstein's notion that meanings are rules for the use of words, Ryle's assertion that introspection is a learned behavior rather than a privileged mode of access, Quine's argument that the analytic-synthetic distinction is untenable, Sellar's critique of the notion of givenness, and Davidson's demonstration that the idea of a conceptual scheme is but one more dogma of empiricism. Taken together these arguments constitute the interpretative grid through which Rorty receives the philosophical tradition and in terms of which he narrates its fateful twists and turns. They also define the self-interrogative process through which, in Rorty's opinion, recent (post-) analytic philosophy has detranscendentalized itself and the wider tradition from which it stems.

Rorty's essay, "Strawson's Objectivity Argument," clearly exemplifies the critique of transcendental philosophy enabled by linguistic behaviorism.(8) This critique centers on the fact that Kant's transcendental arguments attempt to isolate two sorts of privileged representations: meanings or concepts, and sensory data or intuitions. Arguments that Kant phrases using the representationalist language of concepts and intuitions, Rorty contends, can be restated in terms of the way we use certain kinds of words. Thus, for example, Kant's argument that the sensory manifolds presented through the forms of intuition do not of themselves constitute experience, but must be synthesized conceptually by the a priori category of substance, can be understood as the semantic claim that the use of adjectival terms such as "red" or "hard" (sensory quality words) makes no sense in isolation from the substantives or indexicals that form the nominal cores of complete sentences. We are dealing, in other words, not with the inner workings of the mind but with the logic of particular language games. To understand this logic we have no need for the mysterious first-person practice of introspection or for equally obscure transcendental deductions. We need only to see whether speakers of the given language do, as a matter of publicly verifiable fact, deviate from this pattern and still make sense.

Rorty does, however, credit Kant with beginning the move away from the Cartesian-style philosophy of consciousness that would culminate eventually in the behaviorist's complete repudiation of transcendental philosophy. Kant's argument that neither unsynthesized intuitions nor the a priori categories are able to be experienced directly challenges the Cartesian view of subjective mental states as incorrigible, immediate, and self-evident. But here, unfortunately, Kant stopped. Rather than abandon the representational model of mind altogether, Kant instead outlined what he believed to be a radically new way of doing philosophy. For Kant, Rorty writes, "The study of the relations between these two sorts of unapperceivable entities becomes the pseudo-subject of a pseudo-discipline, transcendental philosophy."(9)

Rorty promises a nonmentalistic account of the functions Kant attaches to his two species of mental entities. A concept is not a representation, "it is a skill, a skill at linguistic behavior--the ability to use a word."(10) Intuition is not a nonconceptual representation or an unsynthesized mental content or a nondiscursive presentation of an object. It is rather the disposition toward certain definite speech acts of a linguistic animal standing in a causal relation to an object. Accordingly, the epistemological problem of reconstructing necessary relations between different species of mental contents gives way to an investigation of the causal ordering of linguistic behaviors:

With both concepts and intuitions thus analyzed into dispositions to linguistic behavior, the notion of 'representation' itself seems to be left without work to do. The notion of Vorstellung--something in the mind which stands in place of the object to be known--thus vanishes, and with it the notion of epistemology as the discipline which investigates the internal relations between Vorstellungen.(11)

Rorty's arguments in "The World Well Lost" and other more recent essays complement and extend the arguments from this earlier piece. Here we see again that Rorty's critique of transcendental philosophy consists in revealing the various dogmas of empiricism still latent in Kantian epistemology. As Rorty sees it, doubts raised by Sellars and others about the intelligibility of an uninterpreted given, and by Quine about the tenability of a hard and fast distinction between the necessary and the contigent, give rise to Davidson's more global questioning of the meaningfulness of conceptual schemes in general. If all acts of perception are theory-laden, then there are no intuitions (if by intuition we mean that which is purely received). In the absence of an idea of raw data yet to be categorized, however, the postulate of a spontaneously imposed interpretative scheme ceases to be necessary. Rorty thus argues that when the receptivity-spontaneity distinction falls by the wayside so too does the distinction between the merely given and the now categorized, the unschematized and the schematized. Furthermore, if with Quine we understand a priori concepts simply as concepts that, pragmatically speaking, we find it exceedingly difficult to do without in most of our scientific and nonscientific pursuits, then talk of the conditions of possible experience in general is better understood in fallibilistic terms as the absence of plausible alternatives. To say this is not to return to the constrastive notion of "the world as we happen to conceive it with our conceptual scheme" versus "the world as it is in itself." The very contrast between the "in itself" and the "for us" depends on a scheme-relative concept of world. The world is not something "out there," not an independent evidential ground that verifies our conjectures, not a noumenal realm forever beyond our phenomenal knowledge. These concepts of world are all generated by the confrontational picture of knowledge: concepts and a picture well lost.

Rorty's argument that Hegel shares something of Kant's epistemology is premised on the true assertion that Hegel develops a theory of categories and the false assertion that he utilizes some kind of scheme-content distinction. The "Hegelian picture," as Rorty characterizes it, is one which leads "to the notion of conceptual thought as 'shaping' and thus to the notion of the World-Spirit moving from one set of a priori concepts to the next."(12) Hegel, on this view, rejects the rigidity and arbitrariness (the "finitude") of Kant's table of categories and develops in its stead a truly comprehensive system of categories, one sufficient to embrace the whole of being. Though he questions the adequacy of Kant's distinction between sensibility and understanding, Hegel does not break decisively with the notion of a conceptual scheme which organizes a pregiven experiential field.

Those familar with Hegel cannot help but be stuck by a sense of deja vu. Was it not Hegel who claimed to "overcome" Kantian epistemology precisely through a critique of the residual empiricism of critical idealism? In my view, Rorty does not sufficiently appreciate Hegel's critique of empiricism and representational thinking and as a consequence is unable to recognize the nonepistemological and, for that matter, nonmetaphysical character of Hegel's kind of transcendental philosophy.(13) Hegel calls into question traditional philosophical ways of conceiving the "relationship" between world and the categories of thought. At the same time, he argues that an overcoming of the impasses to philosophical thinking can result only from a radicalization of the transcendental project begun by Kant. The problem with Kant is not that he is a transcendental philosopher, but that his transcendental philosophy remains too deeply rooted in modern representational epistemology. For Hegel, the problem of how thought or language (subjectivity) hooks up with the world (objectivity) is a philosophical canard introduced by presuppositions about mind shared in large measure by bothe Cartesian rationalists and Lockean empiricists. These presuppositions together constitute what Hegel calls picture-thinking.

The issue we must pursue then is whether Hegel's critique of picture-thinking addresses the same complex of problems which Rorty articulates in his critique of empiricism and representationalist epistemology. If so, then obviously Rorty's suggestion that we extend these criticisms to Hegel and to post-Kantian idealism and transcendental philosophy in general will prove seriously misleading. This raises further questions, first about what really distinguishes the naturalist critique of representationalist epistemology from the transcendental critique, and second about whether Rorty himself succeeds in extricating his pragmatism from picture-thinking.

A clarification is in order here. I do not deny that Rorty has argued persuasively that "the mental," as described by post-Cartesian epistemological theories, is a construction generated by certain misleading metaphors and unsatisfactory pictures of cognitive achievements. I am claiming that transcendental philosophy, having itself dispensed with the epistemological project through its critique of naturalism (through the critique of the notion of mind as a substance or a bit of the world), does not think about thought, meanings, and categories in terms of subjective mental processes. At least in this respect it shares with Frege's philosophy a deeply antipsychologistic conception of meaning. Clearly, however, the very intelligibility of transcendental explanations becomes problematic if one calls into question the intelligibility of meanings; and Rorty suggests that we have good reasons to do so. He arrives at these reasons, however, through the erroneous equation of transcendental theories of categories and meanings with epistemological ones. In Rorty's view, what transcendental philosophers refer to as categories and meanings are simply surrogate names for the mental entities that epistemologists call concepts, representations, and ideas. The entire epistemological project is an attempt to isolate some set of privileged representations and to claim for them a governing position with respect to other representations. For Rorty, all such mental entities are fictitious: the imaginary progency of a pseudo-discipline. In spite of all its innovations, transcendental philosophy--whether Kantian, Hegelian, or Husserlian--remains bewitched by the notion of a mental realm independent of or prior to the physical realm. Accordingly, as soon as a transcendental philosopher refers to his or her project as an explanation of the possibility of thinking and experience, Rorty sees the Mirror of Nature rearing its ugly head.

This perception is the result, I would submit, of Rorty's failure to comprehend the extent to which the transcendental turn initiated (but not completed) by Kant itself constitutes a radical attack on the modern epistemological conception of mind as a secondary or derivative subjective sphere set over against a primary objective realm. With Hegel, the transcendental turn does not result in insouciant pragmatism with its conception of truth as what society lets us say. It results rather in the elaboration of a phenomenological ontology. This becomes possible when, according to Hegel, philosophy is once again able to take "thinking" (das Denken) seriously. To recover this ability is the aim of Hegel's critique of picture-thinking.

So what is Hegel's conception of "thinking," and how does it diverge from Kantian philosophy while remaining within the transcendental tradition? A satisfactory response to these two questions requires that we become more conscious of the embedded presuppositions that guide many contemporary interpretations of Hegel. Among Anglo-American readers of Hegel there has until quite recently been almost universal agreement about "what is living and what is dead of the philosophy of Hegel." Concurring for the most part with Croce's judgment in the famous 1907 monograph of that title, commentators on Hegel have deemed it a matter of intellectual respectability and common sense to pronounce Hegel's speculative logic and philosophy of nature dead, while treating his philosophical anthropology and diverse reflections on cultural and historical forms (minus his distracting thesis about an "end to history") as the living core of his thought. This view is nicely summarized by Allen Wood in his recent study of Hegel's practical philosophy:

The living traditions that derive from Hegel's thought--the traditions of Marxist social theory and existential philosophy--are distinctly antimetaphysical in their orientation. The Hegel who still lives and speaks to us is not a speculative logician and idealist metaphysician but a philosophical historian, a political and social theorist, a philosopher of our ethical concerns and cultural identity crises.(14)

While Hegel's thought surely spawned the still living traditions of Marxism and existentialism, it is likewise true that those traditions in their turn have shaped our contemporary approach to the study of Hegel. Indeed, Karl Lowith has suggested that the interpretative horizon that governs most contemporary approaches to Hegel has an even earlier and more specific origin: it was Schelling's widely attended Berlin lectures, he argues, that set in motion both the Marxist and the existentialist reactions. The assumption that these lectures installed in the minds of Kierkegaard, Engels, Bakunin, Burckhardt, and others in attendance, and which had been resurrected by successive generations of existentialist, hermeneutic, Marxist, pragmatist, naturalist, historicist, deconstructive, and postmodernist interpreters is that Hegel's philosophy of the Absolute, insofar as it is based on his speculative logic, neglects "real being" and "positive existence."(15) In an important sense the appeals to existence, facticity, and materiality in all these influential forms of post-Hegelian philosophy represent an attempt to revitalize the theory of intuition on which Kant bases his critique of rationalist metaphysics. Most all of Hegel's critics share the conclusion that his rejection of Kant's theory of intuition causes him to backslide into some form of pre-Critical metaphysics. An increasing number of Hegel scholars are now arguing that this is a seriously mistaken interpretation.(16) It is mistaken because the transcendental critique of metaphysics does not rest necessarily on a Kantian-style theory of sensuous intuition. Hence, although Hegel clears the way for his own conception of speculative thinking through a critique of the Kantian theory of intuition, this critique does not, of itself, necessiate a renewal of substance metaphysics. For internally connected reasons, the second key part of Hegel's critique of Kant, his rejection of the thing-in-itself, does not lead to phenomenalism.

Contra Rorty, the Hegelian conception of thinking is itself based on a critique of representational epistemology and scheme-content theories of cognition. Hegel rejects the notion that categories are a priori rules of synthesis that bind together pregiven manifolds into objective appearances. He likewise rejects the argument internal to Kant's transcendental psychology that space and time are a priori forms of intuition that prediscursively order the contents of sensibility. He rejects these views because both are premised on a picture of the subject's relation to things-in-themselves and, following from this picture, on a theory of the faculties the subject must possess if we are to make sense of (what for Kant constituted) indisputable universal and necessary knowledge claims.

This picture, according to Hegel, distorts our capacity as philosophers to examine the contents of thought. Hegel conceives philosophy in general as the inquiry into mind (Geist), where by mind is meant the system of the contents of thought. As understood by speculative philosophy, thought is not a possesion or predicate of a subject, psyche, or mental faculty; and the contents of thought are not contained somehow in intramental representations of the external world. Indeed, the project of the Phenomenology of Spirit is in large measure to disabuse us of these mistaken assumptions of modern epistemology, assumptions which in Hegel's view give rise both to modern sketicism and to realist reactions against skepticism. At least on the surface, then, Hegel's attempt to overcome the impasse between skepticism and realism through a critique of epistemology shares much in common with Rorty's attempt.

The trouble with representational epistemology is that it forwards a theory of mind that reduces the determinations of thought--public, linguistically mediated meaning-contents--to subjective states. In this deficient theory "the self is a represented subject (ein vorgestelltes Subjekt) to which the content is related as an accident and predicate."(17) Still caught up in an externally pictured and hence substantialized conception of mind, such theories proceed surreptitiously to assign things-in-themselves as being-status apart from what is, so to speak, "brought to mind" in and through thought-determinations. Representational epistemology does so, and believes it does so legitimately, because it interprets thought as a function of the subject and hence as a complex of psychological events. If our knowledge consists merely in representations caused by external things impinging on sense organs, then we have no reason to suppose that our particular view of things is the best, most accurate, or really real, one. Our view is thoroughly conditioned by the particular array of sense organs we, as human beings, just happen to possess. It could have been otherwise for us and it might well be otherwise for other intelligent beings.

Once these assumptions are made, however, it becomes necessary to posit the thing-in-itself in order to prevent the slide into subjective idealism. According to Hegel, however, Kant's retention of the thing-in-itself is precisely what blocks the development of a thoroughgoing idealism and the comprehensive thinking through of the dogmas of representational epistemology. Both it and the causal theory of perception Kant inherits from Hume are residues of a naive form of realism which persists when the critique of epistemology begun by the transcendental turn is not completed. Phenomenalism, moreover, is the dialectical partner which comes to haunt the naive realist during his or her skeptical moments.

For Hegel, the realist postulate of a thing-in-itself is "contradictory" and dogmatic because it constitutes a theoretical posit for which Kantian and empiricist philosophers cannot themselves account. Identification of the thing-in-itself, in other words, presupposes a relation of subject to object that is itself inaccessible to the thinking self (that is, to the thinking self as described by representational epistemology). Representational epistemologists seem to claim that the subject has direct access only to its own intramental contents. Presumably representational epistemologists, when they themselves are engaged in the reflective philosophical activity of developing theories of mind, are not exempt from this universal rule of cognition. If that is so, however, we are well on the way to proving that it really makes no sense at all to call that which is experienced by the subject its own "representations" or "mental contents." For if the subject knows only via its own representations, we must conclude that the same subject (in its role as an epistemologist) could not attain a position external to its own representations in such a way as to identify them as representations. This same argument extends to the thing-in-itself. The subject has no experiential access through representations to that which it sets up as the causal basis of its represented experiences. The representational epistemologist's model of mind is thus a fiction founded on the picture of consciousness somehow standing outside itself just long enough to identify the field of "real things" that might, the skeptical argument goes, be represented differently by other consciousnesses. To make this assumption, however, is to postulate for consciousness a relation to itself and its other that it does not and cannot possess.

Hegel concludes that the Kantian thing-in-itself cannot be meaningfully understood as a limit to thought because it itself is a posit of thought. But this means of course that the thing-in-itself is not other to thought at all. Indeed, by this chain of argument we are led to the absolute idealist's assertion that only thought itself (nonrepresentationally conceived) deserves the title of the thing-in-itself. When the ego comes home to itself in this way we are left with what Hegel calls thinking (das Denken): we have moved from the Ding an sich as a limit to thought to thought as the Ding an sich, or better, to thought as die Sache selbst. More prosaically put, Hegel's absolute idealism redicalizes the turn of the subject initiated by Descartes and Hume by recognizing the fallacious character of epistemological questions concerning the relation of subject to object and by attending exclusively to the determinations of thought. Thought, as Hegel puts it, must be conceived as infinite rather than as something limited by something other to itself (intuition or the thing-in-itself).(18) Only when we have gotten away from oppositional or confrontational models of subjectivity and objectivity can we articulate the nature of pure thought (reines Denken) and its categorial determinations.

Hegel's category theory does not, in Kantian fashion, generate a scheme-relative conception of the world (the phenomenal world of nature). In general terms, Hegel--much like Donald Davidson--argues that the question, Relative to what are these categories valid? proves meaningless once we abandon an epistemological orientation to philosophy of mind. More specifically, however, Hegel attempts to dissolve the problem of scheme-relativity through a critique of Kant's theory of sensuous intuition. As with all other proposed limits to thought, Hegel's strategy is to show that intuition is not an orginally given, self-evident, or incorrigible element in immediate consciousness, but is itself a mediated content or determination of thought. Thought itself, in Hegel's view, ultimately provides no warrant for its being divided up into the component parts of concept and intuition. The latter is an abstraction. Space and time are not, as Kant argues, irreducible media that provide the subject with the nondiscursive matter to be taken up and shaped by categories into objective experience. Here again the problem is that Kant annexes space and time to the subject rather than treating them as determinations of thought. Conceived absolutely, space and time are categorial determinations specific to particular fields of inquiry. We should not treat space and time as subjectively given epistemological coordinates of empirical thought but as moments internal to the categorially determined system of thought as such.

In summary then, Hegel speaks of his categorial system as absolute because he claims to have overcome an epistemological problematic, with its misleading assumptions about the genesis, reference, and adequacy of representations. Because his philosophy of mind is founded on the premise that categories as modes of presentation are not functions of the empirical subject, Hegel can claim at once that objectivity is wholly a matter of thought and that his theory, though idealist, is not phenomenalist.(19) Indeed, to make this charge is to remain committed, in however sublimated a form, to a misleading realist conception of thought and its realtion to the "world."


I have tried to indicate how a number of the positions Rorty imputes to Hegel, and which in his view need to be naturalized in order to yield an acceptable form of historicized holistic pragmatism, in fact are not held by Hegel. As it turns out, they are positions more appropriately referred to Kant or to the pre-Critical tradition of representationalist epistemology. Moreover, they represent positions which Hegel himself cogently criticizes. It would appear then that in the end Hegel's critique of Kant results in something very similar to what issues from Rorty's linguistic-behaviorist deconstruction of Kant. Rorty has argued in Wittgensteinian fashion that "all that transcendental arguments--a priori arguments about what sort of experience is possible--can show is that if you have certain concepts you must have certain other concepts"(20) (or more precisely, that to use certain words you need to know how to use certain other words). For Hegel too, webs of concepts replace intuitions and the doctrine of synthetic a priori knowledge. So what is it in the final analysis that separates Hegel from Rorty? Both Rorty and Hegel seem to be left with an internalist account of how our beliefs hang together and of why we take them to be for the most part true. Perhaps we have just shown that Rorty is much more Hegelian that he supposes, because in point of fact Hegel himself was more of a pragmatist than is ordinarily granted. Or perhaps we have shown that Hegel was always already detranscendentalized, that Hegel was a naturalized Hegelian avant la lettre.

In this last section I would like to try to clarify just how much distance in point of fact continues to separate Rorty and Hegel. The best way to do this is to raise two internally related questions. First, in what sense does Hegel, despite his profound differences with Kant, remain a transcendental philosopher; and second, how does the holism that issues from this species of transcendental philosophy differ from that of Rorty's naturalist pragmatism?

Hegel's speculative idealism remains a form of transcendental philosophy because it does continue Kant's project of articulating a transcendental logic. Kant distinguishes transcendental logic from formal logic in that it is a theory of objective possibilities rather than pure logical possibilities. Thus the Kantian categories, as applied to the pure forms of intuition, carve out the a priori nexus for possible objects of experience. The doubts we have seen Hegel express about Kant's theory of pure intuition also impel him to question the narrow conception of objectivity found in Kant's transcendental logic. These doubts do not, however, prompt him to abandon the effort to expound a logic of "actual possibility." Whereas Kant, in other words, restricts actual possibility to the categorially determined spatio-temporal field of nature, Hegel seeks a richer and more comprehensive account of actual possibility, one that extends from his specualtive logic through the entire real philosophy (the philosophies of nature and spirit).

With his speculative logic, however, Hegel is not constructing a transcendental doctrine of method.(21) He offers neither a canon nor an organon, neither an accounting of the principles for the correct employment of understanding or reason nor an instrument for acquiring empirical knowledge. Both these notions are forward looking while Hegel's speculative logic is resolutely backward looking. Hegel's statements on this issue are strong and unequivocal. The image of the owl of Minerva in the preface of the Philosophy of Right testifies to Hegel's general disdain for the conception of philosophy as an applied or applicable science; his reminder in that same passage that philosophy comes on the scene too laet to be of any practical use indicates his belief that philosophy's orientation is essentially retrospective. Once these claims are taken into account it no longer makes sense to charge Hegel with attempting to constrain empirical inquiry. To assert that it is possible to reconstruct the most basic norms or categories operative in different domains of experience is not to claim that no further judgments can be made, or actions taken, within those domains, that everything has been thought and done, or that we stand at the end of history. Nor does Hegel's insistence that speculative reconstruction be systematic commit him to a closed and unrevisable theory of categories. It does, however, commit him to the holistic endeavor of establishing a reflective equilibrium between past and present acocunts and between contradictory present accounts by demonstrating that incommensurabilities posited in or between rival philosophical accounts are not aspects of actuality but are products of category mistakes, reductive ontologies, or faulty models of mind. This process of philosophical adjudication is pursued through a method of progressive recontextualization through which categorial schemes that offer seemingly contradictory accounts of the nature of being, mind, or society are shown to be compatible within a larger explanatory frame. Hegel refers to this activity of thought itself attempting to come to terms with the limitations of its own accounts as dialectic. As Hegel writes,

The forms of thought must be studied in their essential nature and complete development: they are at once the object of research and the action of that object. Hence they examine themselves: in their own action they must determine their limits, and point out their defects. This is that action of thought, which will hereafter be specially considered under the name of Dialectic, and regarding which we need only at the outset observe that, instead of being brought to bear upon the categories from without, it is immanent in their own action.(22)

From the standpoint of his dialectically developed system (in which the forms of thought have, as it were, thought themselves through), Hegel claims to be able to offer a critique of the philosophical theories that operate with deficient, though not necessarily defective, categorial schemes. For example, various forms of naturalism propose to be able to describe all phenomena, including human man thought and action, as natural events. Natural events are those explicable in terms of the fundamental category of efficient causality. Hegel argues that this proposition inevitably (and literally) proves self-defeating. In understanding explanation as the tracing of effects back to causes, naturalism reduces what explains (thinking) to the level of what is explained. But if in the final analysis it is thought that does the explaining, then the supposition that this explaining itself is caused by something other than itself (that such explaining is not spontaneous) undercuts the possibility of explanation; for if thinking is itself caused by another, then (as Fichte argues) it could not know this about itself. The defect of naturalism is thus that it utilizes categories appropriate to natural objects to account for activities of subjects, activities which cannot be properly understood as mere causal events. The point here is not to reject causal analysis but to demand of thinking that it do justice to the phenomenon in question. Logic must, accordingly, be able to account for how thinking is able to think itself.

We are now in a better position to address the frequently voiced objection that Hegel's speculative philosophy is an ill-conceived exercise in foundationalist metaphysics with absurd pretensions to exhaustive ("absolute") knowledge. Both the charge of foundationalism and the interpretation of what Hegel means by absolute knowledge are largely mistaken. The system that Hegel's dialectic seeks to elucidate is not "founded" on anything external to itself. Unlike Descartes, Hegel offers no axiomatic first principle from which he attempts to deduce his system. For Hegel there are no absolute beginnings; there is no indubitable ground or rudimentary set of principles from which the science of philosophy can proceed; there is not even a minimal premise, such as Davidson's principle of charity to which everyone will consent. Indeed, Hegel maintains that the foundationalist enterprise is precisely what his speculative system successfully avoids, while at the same time fulfilling the traditional philosophical task of articulating a presuppositionless science of sciences. It is of course far beyond the scope of this paper to assess Hegel's notion of science, especially the strictness of its claim to necessity. What we are interested in is Hegel's account of philosophical beginning, which holds that we begin inevitably with premises that are taken for granted, with doxa. The mistake is to suppose that we can secure these starting points prior to the activity of philosophical investigation, that we might somehow learn to swim before getting into the water. The initial assumptions lodged in our opening gambit are discharged only through the development of an internally coherent system of thought; only the end product of speculation, the science of the whole, confirms the validity of one's starting points. This argumentative strategy forms the basis of what Tom Rockmore has aptly referred to as Hegel's "circular epistemology."(23)

Absolute knowing has two basic senses for Hegel, neither of which has anything to do with divine omniscience. It refers in the first place to a theoretical standpoint achieved once thinking frees itself from the forms of dogmatism and skepticism generated by representational epistemology. This standpoint marks the conclusion of the Phenomenology of Spirit and the beginning of the Science of Logic. It is from this standpoint that thought, trusting its contents, dialecticaly investigates the limits and internal inconsistencies of its own categorial determinations. Secondly, absolute knowing refers to the outcome of dialectical investigation insofar as this investigation is a developmental process that produces a system of categorial determinations. In this sense the absolute notion, as Hegel writes in the Encyclopedia Logic, "is what contains all the earlier categories of thought merged in it."(24)

A comparison with a widespread modern conviction about knowing and what it yields clarifies further the distinctiveness of the Hegelian conception of absolute knowing. Unlike a long line of philosophers beginning with Frege and including Davidson and Rorty (who remain, in this measure, tacitly influenced by the modern epistemological tradition), Hegel does not sever the notion of "taking to be true" (appearance) from that of "being-true" (reality). Frege supposed that logical analysis of the accomplishments of thinking collapses into mere psychology if we link our account of reference to the thinking subject's intuitive registration of what is the case. He saw the failure to separate subjective states from the specification of truth-conditions as leading inevitably to a psychologistic account of truth. As a consequence, he argued that what is the case must be accounted for exclusively with reference to a noncontingent, nonpsychological realm of "thoughts" (the ontological status of which, as has often been remarked, is never sufficiently clarified).(25)

Hegel too was acutely aware of the problem of psychologism and, as his trenchant criticisms of Jakob Fries indicate, was seriously concerned to combat it. His attempt to circumvent psychologism proceeds not by detaching appearance from truth but by detaching his account of thinking from the subjective activities of a determinate consciousness and by conceiving of thinking "absolutely" rather than as the synthetical or associative activity of an ego. Categories are not forms that we impose on the world. They are the ways the world presents itself to thought. When Hegel states that the categories of speculative logic are absolute he means that they make being present in and for itself. These forms of thought are not representations of an epistemological subject but are rather the ways being manifests itself or becomes seen and known under descriptions given in everyday talk, as well as in the theoretical accounts of the particular sciences. Hegel's category theory is not a contribution to epistemology or to anthropology, but is the basis of a phenomenological ontology.

Here again it cannot be emphasized too often that for Hegel the work of dialectic is retrospective and interpretative rather than introspective and postulative. To be reconstructed are the most basic categorial schemes that govern our thinking about being. These historically developed and inherited ways of thinking about experience, nature, politics, and history together comprise the appearances (Scheine) of truth. Dialectical reconstruction aims at saving these appearances: it moves from appearance to truth by revealing that deficiencies within these schemes lie in the scope and richness of the categories brought into play in particular descriptive or explanatory projects. The truth of appearances thus lies in the systematic reconstruction of the increasingly more concrete whole internal to which each of these varied accounts assumes a determinate place.

Now in contrast to Hegel, Rorty proposes to overcome representational epistemology and psychologism through behaviorist semantics. Dissatisfied with Frege's mysterious appeal to "thoughts," and yet still suspicious of appeals to intuition (how things appear to the subject), behaviorist semantics hangs its account of truth conditions on contingent but still nonpsychologistic (because thoroughly overt and publicly observable) behaviors of linguistic organisms. Rorty's more sociologically minded version of linguistic behaviorism thus refers the truth-conditions of assertions to "what society lets us say." Though it too, then, is founded on the recognition that modern epistemology falsely reduces the criteria for knowledge-claims to subjective representations, Rorty's linguistic behaviorism neither recovers the kind of trust in thinking that Hegel's speculative philosophy does nor eleborates a theory of interpretation that frees it decisively from the foundationalist enterprise of modern epistemology.

The reason why Rorty is unable to embrace a fuller conception of Hegelianism is that his thinking remains fundamentally constrained by naturalism and nominalism, which together form what might be termed "the two dogmas of neopragmatism." There is a strange way in which Rorty's linguistic behaviorism, shaped by these dogmas effects only a partial paradigm shift, one that succeeds only in turning both representationalist epistemology and modern scientific theories of mind and society "inside out," but does not succeed in thinking them through. Ultimately, Rorty's attempt to think holistically works through explanatory reductionism rather than through the dialectical engendering of richer and more inclusive systems of explanation.

Of course, Rorty takes great pains to distance himself from objectivistic and scientistic theories of knowledge, so there is a prima facie implausibility to my claim that his pragmatist project itself uncritically extends presuppositions of the New Science, and that it itself is underwritten by the foundationalist and representationalist epistemological tradition he seeks to undermine. In the essay "Pragmatism Without Method," for example, Rorty identifies two fundamental strands of thought in the pragmatist tradition: one that uses modern science and experimental technique as a model for rationality in general, another that brings science down off its high horse by appealing to the "softer" disciplines of history, literature, and religion, as well as the local knowledge and know-how of common sense.(26) Sidney Hook and others are singled out for criticism because they exhibit a latent positivistic urge to measure all belief, knowledge, and intelligence in terms of their adequacy to an ideal postulated by scientific method. Rorty recommends instead that we develop the "holistic and syncretic"(27) side of pragmatism, which, having given up the residual objectivism that drives the search for a unified method, contents itself with the more modest task of reweaving webs of belief, learning and translating foreign discourses, and litigating, where possible, between differing parties.

Through it all, however, Rorty retains faith in a kind of pragmatism that is "naturalistic without being scientific," one that "wants to hold on to the materialistic world-view that typically forms the background of contemporary liberal self-consciousness, while refraining from the claim that this view has been 'established' by a method."(28) While Rorty's embrace of this materialist worldview does not necessarily commit him to the philosophical dream of a mathesis universalis, it does betray his uncritical acceptance of the interpretation of being that the experimental sciences introduced into modern European philosophy--an interpretation whose phenomenological genesis remains unexplored in his work. This failure of self-reflection is, as we have already seen, the upshot of thorough-going naturalism. Naturalism is a habit of thought that forgets that physical nature, as understood by the natural sciences, is not the primary datum of consciousness; it forgets that the world intended in the scientific attitude cannot be inhabited, but only focused on temporarily. Or, to use Hegel's categorial language rather than the language of phenomenology, naturalism is a kind of explanation that forgets that the categories it employs in the explanation of natural being are insufficient to account for the thinking that uncovers natural being.

Because Rorty's accounts of language and interpretation are tacitly structured by the ontological commitments of his naturalism, his pragmatic nominalism is not the theoretically neutral position he would have us believe it is. As a pragmatist, Rorty asks us to adopt a picture of "people in whose minds new vocabularies developed, thereby equipping them with tools for doing things which could not even have been envisaged before these tools were available."(29) As a nominalist, Rorty recommends that we see "language as just human beings using marks and noises to get what they want."(30) According to Rorty there are many different and at times overlapping uses to which we put language--in pursuit of food, sex, science, and beauty--but there is no reason at all "to lump these uses together into something big called 'Language', and then to look for its 'conditions of possibility'."(31)

Now while Rorty claims to resist identifying some common denominator of our multiple language uses, he nonetheless asserts something quite determinate about the nature of language in indentifying his position as nominalistic. This identification strikes me as very odd, since if there is any philosophical doctrine that is the direct result of the subjectivizing, representational turn taken by modern epistemology (the turn critized, of course, in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature), it is the nominalist thesis that the world consists only in particulars and that so-called natural kinds or species are in fact reifications of language use. In my view, it is precisely this nominalist outlook that blocks a sufficiently radical account of the constitutive character of language. Rorty's account of language as a contingent and shifting web of vocabularies issues from a curious subterfuge wherein this internally related system of vocabularies is identified as such "from outside," by someone detached from a first-order involvement in language. His nominalism rests unself-consciously on the assumption of a prelinguistic disclosure of the world as an infinite manifold of discrete particulars, and of language as an arbitrary system of signs. His pragmatism is thus structured by an antecedent (and illegitimate) viewing of us and our webs, one that places these webs within a reductive ontological frame. Ultimately language is for Rorty simply one part of nature that human beings, another part of nature, utilize to cope with the rest of nature.

It is the naturalistic and nominalistic presuppositions of Rorty's account of language that separate his frankly ethnocentric, conventionalist theory of belief from Hegel's conception of speculative thought, as well as from contemporary hermeneutic theories of language and meaning derived from Hegel's philosophy of spirit. Rorty argues that knowledge and belief cannot be explained epistemologically but only "sociologically": they are functions of what our society lets us say. In this idea of what our society lets us say Rorty would no doubt have us hear a less ghostly version of what Hegel calls spirit. Society is a complex natural entity comprised of persons engaged in multiple practices structured by shifting webs of discourse. By naturalizing the background conditions of meaningfulness or of what we are able to think and say, however, Rorty has simply begged the question. To identify society as the pregiven or already constituted empirical totality internal to which our thoughts and sayings hang together is to assume, for the sake of the theory that explains those thoughts and sayings, a standpoint external to them. Thus Rorty has called upon something which is revealed through thought and language--nature--to serve as the explanatory ground of thought and language themselves.

What Hegel calls spirit is precisely that which is beyond nature, not because it excludes nature, but because it comprehends--in the double sense of the term--the principles of nature within itself. Spirit takes up the principles of nature within itself and it knows itself as having taken them up. Nature, on the other hand, is not in possession of itself (knowingly or otherwise); it is not self-related but is constituted through external causal relations. As such its essence lies outside its being. Nature is comprehended and has significance only because there is an entity whose essence it is to understand nature and itself as at once belonging to and existing beyond nature. Spirit's activity, whether described in terms of thought or language, cannot therefore be "naturalized" without committing the most egregious of category mistakes. To naturalize spirit is in effect to eliminate precisely those explanatory principles that enable both spirit's account of itself and its account of nature. In the final analysis, then, Rorty's naturalized Hegelianism is inadequate to Hegel because it is inadequate to our consciousness of ourselves as spirit. Spirit cannot be naturalized because nature cannot account for who we are. The reason that nature cannot account for who we are. The reason that nature cannot account for who we are is simple: nature cannot account.

By naturalizing or detranscendentalizing Hegel, Rorty supposes he can eliminate the bogus metaphysical and epistemological presuppositions of Hegel's philosophy of spirit while bolstering its holistic, historicist, and antifoundationalist tendencies. What I have demonstrated in this paper is that Rorty's naturalizing zeal also leads him, quite consistently, to eliminate that most basic transcendental principle that Hegel takes over from Kant: the principle of self-consciousness. Rorty, to put things mildly, has yet to own up to the serious consequences that his attempt to naturalize self-consciousness and spirit present for his thinking; for in assuming the stance of the thoroughgoing naturalist, Rorty undercuts the possibility of accounting for himself and his own activity of giving account. The problem with being a consistent naturalist is that you ultimately argue away the condition of possibility of your own argument: yourself (your self's own consciousness of itself).

(1) John Dewey, The Quest for Certainty: A Study of the Relation of Knowledge and Action (New York: Minton, Balch and Co., 1929), 63.

(2) Richard Rorty, "Lumps and Texts," in Richard Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 90.

(3) Richard Rorty, "Inquiry as Recontextualization: An Anti-Dualist Account of Interpretation," in Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, 109.

(4) Richard Rorty, "The World Well Lost," in Richard Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982), 16.

(5) Richard Rorty, "Epistemological Behaviorism and the De-Transcendentalization of Analytic Philosophy," in Hermeneutics and Praxis, ed. Robert Hollinger (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985), 89.

(6) Rorty, "The World Well Lost," 16.

(7) Rorty, "Epistemological Behaviorism," 90.

(8) Richard Rorty, "Strawson's Objectivity Argument," Review of Metaphysics 24 (December 1970): 207-44.

(9) Rorty, "Strawson's Objectivity Argument," 240.

(10) Ibid., 237.

(11) Rorty, "Strawson's Objectivity Argument," 242-3.

(12) Rorty, "The World Well Lost," 4.

(13) Cf. Robert B. Pippin, Hegel's Idealism: The Satisfactions of Self-Consciousness (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 91, 277-8.

(14) Allen Wood, Hegel's Ethical Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 5-6.

(15) See Karl Lowith, From Hegel to Neitzsche: The Revolution in Nineteenth-Century Thought, trans. David E. Green (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964), 115; and Karl Lowith, Nature, History and Existentialism and Other Essays in the Philosophy of History (Evanston: North-western University Press, 1966), 46-50.

(16) This point has been forcefully argued by Robert Pippin in Hegel's Idealism. The most influential exponent of nonmetaphysical interpretations of Hegel has been Klaus Hartmann. See Klaus Hartmann, Studies in Foundational Philosophy (Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 1988). See also Terry Pinkard, Hegel's Dialectic (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988).

(17) G. W. F. Hegel, Preface to Phenomenology of Spirit, in Hegel: Texts and Commentary, trans. and ed. Walter Kaufmann (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame: 1977), 90.

(18) Thus in the Encyclopedia Logic Hegel argues that "Kant's examination of the categories suffers from the grave defect of viewing them, not absolutely and for their own sake, but in order to see whether they are subjective or objective"; G. W. F. Hegel, Hegel's Logic. Part of the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), trans. William Wallace (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 67.

(19) "Thoughts, according to Kant, although universal and necessary categories, are only our thoughts--separated by an impassable gulf from the thing, as it exists apart from our knowledge. But the true objectivity of thinking means that the thoughts, far from being merely ours, must at the same time be the real essence of the things, and of whatever is an object to us"; G. W. F. Hegel, Hegel's Logic, 67-8.

(20) Rorty, "Strawson's Objectivity Argument," 231.

(21) See Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, B823.

(22) Hegel, Hegel's Logic, 66.

(23) See Tom Rockmore, Hegel's Circular Epistemology (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986); and Tom Rockmore, "Hegel's Circular Epistemology as Antifoundationalism," History of Philosophy Quarterly 6 (January 1989): 101-13.

(24) Hegel, Hegel's Logic, 223.

(25) This discussion is based on Richard Cobb-Steven's phenomenological (Husserlian) critique of Frege in his Husserl and Analytic Philosophy (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1990), 26-7.

(26) See Richard Rorty, "Pragmatism Without Method," in Richard Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism and Truth, 63-4.

(27) Ibid., 64.

(28) Ibid., 65.

(29) Richard Rorty, "The Contingency of Language," in Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 17.

(30) Richard Rorty, "Is Derrida a Transcendental Philosopher?" in Richard Rorty, Essays on Heidegger and Others (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 127.

(31) Ibid.
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Author:Hance, Allen
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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