Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Martin Heidegger's Being and Time - A Paradoxical Phenomenontology


In the introductions to Being and Time (1927), Heidegger asks the unasked question of the meaning of the word ‘Being’ to “reawaken” the concrete “meaning of this question” within the “horizon of time” from its trivialization by traditional ontology from Plato to Hegel. (§1, 1) Where ‘ontology’ designates the structure of individual beings in a universal system of Being itself, ‘ontic’ designates the discrete analyses of individual beings. Heidegger indicts the tradition of ontology for concealing the pre-ontological meaning of Being as an objectified ontic being of systematic ontology. (e.g. Hegel’s Logic) The prevailing objection of ontology to the question of the meaning of Being had been that if ‘Being’ is nothing more than the “most universal and emptiest of concepts” that is immediately apprehended as the simple ‘is’ of grammar, then no essential distinctions may be wrested from any analysis of ‘Being’. (§1, 2)  Heidegger responds that since “we do not know what ‘Being’ means”, nor even what the ‘is’ of the question signifies, any such grammatical formulation remains circumscribed within a merely ontological understanding of the meaning of Being. (§2, 5)

Heidegger attempts to circumvent the objections of ontology by compressing the structure of Husserl’s onto-phenomenology, which surreptitiously imports the eidetic criteria of bracketing and analysis from other ontologies (e.g. psychology), into a phenomen-ontology, in which Dasein immanently constructs its own “ontico-ontology” at the paradoxical interstices in and beyond ontology. For this purpose, Heidegger collapses Husserl’s extrinsic intentional relation of noesis-to-noema into the intrinsic inter-relationship of Being-to-Being in Dasein. Like Husserl, he brackets all self-evident and apodictic “dogmatic constructions” of ontology (e.g. Aristotle’s laws of logic) from his interpretation of Dasein, so that it may “show itself in itself and from itself” from within its intrinsic self-reflection without the aid of any extrinsic categories.

Heidegger introduces the term ‘Dasein’ to envelop all possible meanings of Being towards which we talk, view, intend, as well as what and how we are in “the fact that something is, and in its Being as it is; in Reality; in presence-at-hand; in subsistence; in validity” of what ‘there is’.” (§2, 5) He defines Dasein in at least eight difference ways in the introductions to Being and Time: as the (i) self-reflexive questioning of Being upon Being (ii) that is “each of us himself”;  as (iii) “the ways in which man behaves” that (iv) “has its Being to be”; in (v) the soul (anima) that constitutes (vi) “each of us”; which  (vii) “understands something like being”; and which (viii) defines “man’s being” as “the potentiality for discourse.” Dasein thus uniquely constitutes itself by reflecting upon the question of the meaning of Being; by the reflection of Being on Being in Being; as self-reflective Being.

Heidegger explains the pre-ontological ‘understanding of Being’ of Dasein as a ‘comportment’ towards Existenz: where Existentiell reflects on the pre-ontological intentional reflection upon the contingency of ontic Existenz, Existentiality reflects on the ‘context’ of all ontic structures. Since Dasein includes both the pre-ontological Existentiell and the post-ontological Existentiality, Heidegger contends that ontontology “has its own foundation and motivation in Dasein’s own ontical structure” and the analytic of Dasein, rather than phenomenology or any other positive science, is the “fundamental ontology, from which alone all other ontologies take their rise.” (§4, 13)

Heidegger chastises the ‘rough’ and ‘naïve’ positive sciences for neglecting to analyse the absolutely unquestioned presuppositions, or ‘basic concepts’, that they have each inherited from the pre-ontological primordial past. The analytic of Dasein is meant to interrogate both the pre-ontological and the post-ontological concepts of Being “with equal primordiality.” (§4, 13) Heidegger admonishes the positivist presumption that “real progress” in science comes from “collecting results and storing them away in ‘manuals’” and contends, to the contrary, that the “real ‘movement’ of the sciences” only occurs “when their basic concepts undergo a more or less radical revision.” (§3, 9) 

The analytic of Dasein may resolve these crises of the sciences by “run[ing] ahead of the positive sciences” to produce new concepts. In contrast to the Neo-Kantian “kind of ‘logic’ which limps along after” the positive sciences to “discover its ‘method’”, the analytic of Dasein “leaps ahead” of each by producing is own methods, logics, and ontologies through the self-reflection Dasein “with time as its standpoint.” (§3, 10)  

However, Heidegger complains that the meaning of ‘Time’, no less than the meaning of ‘Being’, has been reduced to a function for dividing the ontological categories (e.g. temporal and supra-temporal) in which Time is “made visible in its ‘temporal’ character.” (§5, 40) He counters that “Dasein ‘is’ its past in the way of its own Being” because it productively “’historicizes’ out of its future on each occasion.” Heidegger defines this productive ‘historicality’ as “the state of Being that is constitutive for Dasein’s ‘historicizing’” through a reflection on the conditions of ‘temporality’ “which makes historicality possible as a temporal kind of Being which Dasein itself possesses”, and which “is prior to what is called “history” or “world-historical historizing.” (§6, 41)

Heidegger claims that the question of the meaning of Being can only “achieve its true concreteness” and “positive results” by “the process of destroying the ontological tradition” (§6, 49); by analysing the genealogical conditions for the functional subordination of Being and Time to ontology; and by illuminating how these originary conditions have been re-conditioned as functional components within ontology. The blocking and concealment of the inmost meaning of concepts is thus the result of re-conditioning the genealogically, historically, and temporally conditioned concepts for the purposes of an unhistorical and atemporal ontology. Its paramount negation is determined by the conflict between an originary genealogical conditionality rooted in the primordial depths of Being and an artificial ontological re-conditionality that is uprooted for ontology.

Where Husserl’s ontophenomenology had un-posited and re-posited irreal atemporal essences, Heidegger’s phenomenontology reflects upon the ‘historicality’ of the temporal horizon of Being to compress Husserl’s un-positing and re-positing into the singular self-reflection of Dasein. He explains that this ‘historiological inquiry’ is meant to excavate the primordial self-reflexive understanding of Time to “discover tradition, preserve it, and study it explicitly” by recovering the genealogical conditions of all historically conditioned beings that have been hidden in the “elemental historicality of Dasein.” (§6, 41)

Heidegger purports to seize possession of the “ownmost meaning of Being” in the historicality of the temporality of Being through a historiological inquiry in which Dasein reflects on its own constitutive Being and “understands itself as historiological.” (§6, 42) Since this self-reflection also constitutes Dasein, “Dasein is as it already was” and inescapably “is its past”. (§6, 41)  But Dasein may “fall prey to the tradition” whenever it objectifies Being and Time in an ontology that conceals, blocks, and forgets the “primordial ‘sources’” from which “categories and concepts” have been genealogically derived. (§6, 42-43)  To ‘loosen up’ and ‘dissolve’ this “hardened tradition” of ontology, Heidegger proposes a hermeneutic of Dasein for the phenomenological excavation of the genealogical conditions of all conditioned beings that have been ontologically schematized in history. (§6 44)

Heidegger’s analytic of Dasein seems to be “self-conscious allusion to the Transcendental Analytic” of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. (Carman 2003 10) Kant describes his “analytic of concepts” as a genealogical investigation into “the possibility of a priori concepts by seeking them only in the understandings their birthplace and analysing its pure use in general.” (A66/B90) Immediately after describing the dissolution of traditional ontology, Heidegger rejects the “vicious relativization of ontological standpoints” by alluding to Kant’s genealogical analysis. He writes: “In thus demonstrating the origin of our basic ontological concepts by an investigation in which their ‘birth certificate’ is displayed.” (§6, 44) But Heidegger’s analytic of Dasein is distinguished from Kant’s transcendental analytic by its novel conception of Being: where Kant conceives of Being, like Hegel, as a category of “unconditional unity” in pure and “empty intuition” (cf. KrV A404, SL §132), Heidegger, like Schelling, as that “presence-at-hand” in an “unthinkable dynamic darkness” (cf. §2, 5, WA 8:212). And where Kant’s transcendental analytic is meant to trace the genealogical conditions for transcendental possibility of faculty of understanding, Heidegger’s analytic of Dasein is meant to trace the genealogical conditions for the unconditioned presence of beings.

Heidegger pursues these genealogical conditions through the hermeneutic of Dasein, which is meant to excavate the “primordial signification” of the “phenomnenon” from its accumulated layers of auxiliary semblances. This hermeneutic is imminently paradoxical because the ‘showing’ of every phenomenon “goes together with the Being-present-at-hand of disturbances which do not show themselves” as an “announcing-itself by something which does not show itself, but which announces itself through something which does show itself.” Whatever phenomenon is shown is also not shown so that “what appears does not show itself.” (§7.A, 51-52) The hermeneutic of Dasein consequently revolves in an open circle of “relatedness backward or forward” (§2, 8) that repeatedly reflects upon Being without every completely subsuming beings into Being. Since hermeneutics is combinatory and circular while analytics is linear and divisive, and Heidegger – no less than Husserl – cannot honestly admit any ontological concepts, such as the arithmetic concepts of division and combination, Heidegger must gradually abandon the analytic of Dasein in a movement away from ontology that foreshadows his later Turn (Kehre) from philosophy towards the poetic hermeneutics.

At the conclusion of the first introduction, Heidegger writes that “fundamental ontology, from which alone all other ontologies can take their rise, must be sought in the existential analytic of Dasein.” The analytic of Dasein was intended to divide the various significations of basic concepts (e.g. Being) in the hope of finding an “inner relationship between the things meant by these terms.” (e.g. Heidegger divides Phenomenology into an analysis of A. Phenomenon and B. Logos). Where Husserl had (a) bracketed empirical facts and (b) analysed eidetic essences for the purpose of synthesizing the pure essences in eidetic connections in ‘Absolute Knowledge’, Heidegger has (a) circumvented ontology and (b) analysed the significations of Being for the purpose of (c) excavating “most primordial way of interpreting Being.” (§5, 38) But Heidegger could never complete his analysis because his analytic of Dasein had merely re-spun Husserl’s paradoxical ontophenomenology into an even more tightly knotted paradoxical phenomenontology: Heidegger had compressed Husserl’s noesis-to-noema intentional relations into a singularity of self-reflective relationality that promised to infinitely re-enact its paradoxical ontico-ontological constructions. Where Husserl had distinguished, opposed, and subsumed empirical psychology into an imminently collapsing eidetic phenomenology, Heidegger further radicalized Husserl’s ontophenomenology into an infinitely re-ennacting and re-collapsing phenomenontology. (§4, 35) 

For a fuller critique of Heidegger and phenomenology, see my essay Plato Against Phenomenology

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Edmund Husserl's Ideas - A Paradoxical Ontophenomenology


In Ideas (1913, hereafter cited as 'ID' Gibson trans. 1931), Husserl defines phenomenology as the “science of essential being” that is meant to establish “knowledge of essences” (Wesenserkenntnisse). He contrasts phenomenology with psychology, which he alternatively defines as the “science of facts” (Tatsachen) and the “science of realities” (Realitaten) that “belong in the one spatio-temporal world.” Phenomenology is thus distinguished from psychology by its purportedly pure and non-empirical ‘essences’ or ‘eide’. These essences are the universal categories with which the phenomena are constructed into phenomenology. Husserl writes: “As over against this psychological "phenomenology", pure or transcendental phenomenology will be established not as a science of facts, but as a science of essential Being (as "eidetic" Science).” (ID 44) Since only phenomenology describes essential Being, Husserl’s distinction between eidetic phenomenology and empirical phenomenology further implies that where the entities of the physical world (including psychology) are real, the entities that comprise the pure essences of phenomenology are not-real, or ‘irreal’. The irreal is not opposed to, but simply the non-affirmation of the necessity of the real. (ID 45) Husserl promises that phenomenology may disclose the “transcendentally purified ‘experiences’” of irreal essences that are “excluded from every connection with in the ‘real world’” for the purpose of discovering the essence of “Absolute Knowledge”, which he describes as the “perpetual precondition of all metaphysics and other philosophy.” (ID 46)

For this positive purpose, Husserl proposes, first, to (a) bracket, suspend, and annul the necessity of all propositional-judgments of mental phenomena in a general ‘phenomenological reduction’; then, from the ‘phenomenological residuum’ of ‘pure consciousness’, (b) abstract the pure essences from empirical facts; and, finally, (c) to synthesize together all pure essences in ‘eidetic connections’ to re-construct ‘Absolute Knowledge’. Husserl defines ‘the world’ as that natural cognition which “begins with experience and remains within experience.” The ‘objects of possible experience’ are known by natural cognition to be totally contingent “matters of fact” as a consequence of their total separation from the essential forms. (ID §1 52) Bracketing (a) does not annihilate but purports to merely withhold affirmation of necessity from any contingent phenomenon. Husserl first brackets the ‘natural attitude’ along with every being of the natural world. (ID §7 61) Then he brackets all of the positive sciences constructed from the empirical facts of the natural world. (ID §7 62) Finally, Husserl prohibits himself from accepting any of the un-bracketed standards of science relating to the natural world. (ID §32 111)

Once the world and all scientific standards have been bracketed “out of action” there remains nothing except the bare “phenomenological residuum” of the pure consciousness. (ID §33 114)  Husserl describes this ‘pure consciousness’ as a ‘ray’ of intentional relations “shooting forth anew with each new cogito and vanishing with it.” (ID §57 172) It is meant to intentionally posit “the whole spatiotemporal world” through the medium of “a merely intentional being.” (ID §49 153)  This intentional relationship is described as the relation of the intentional noesis (thinking) that gives meaning to its intentional noematic (thought) object. (§88 257) Every perceived noematic object exists as an intentional object for consciousness, but where the Fichtean Ego had posited objects (i.e. the non-Ego), Husserl brackets, suspends, and effectively un-posits every object so as to disclose the “fundamental field of phenomenology.” (ID §50 155) Husserl describes, like later Schelling, how the “ray of the pure Ego… goes through one noetic stratum” after another to excavate, from the surrounding noetic layers, the “central “core” and “nucleatic noema” from “the primitive germ of visible nature” (WA 8:243) 

Husserl hoped to re-construct this “fundamental structure of all possible cognition” on the phenomenological ground of ‘regional ontologies’ (ID §17 78) He thus arranges all sciences into ontological regions to construct a grand ontology of phenomenology, which we may call Husserl’s ‘ontophenomenology’. It first purports to extract the eidetic essences from individual and empirical ‘matters of fact’ by a process of ‘ideation’ of ‘abstraction’, in an opaque process by which the essence is distinguished, separated, and ‘objectified’ as an independent intentional object. (LI §67) Self-sufficient essences are then described as ‘concretum’; the essences which are not self-sufficient are ‘abstractum’; and a material essence that is a self-sufficient concretum is an ‘individuum.’ Empirical facts correspond to a material genus, while essences correspond to a formal genus. The regions of material genera, likewise, have their essential theoretic foundations in the regions of the formal genera designated by essences. Each essence is placed within a genus-species hierarchy descending from the broadest generality to the narrowest specificity. The narrowest species are the infirmae species of eidetic singularities that have no more particular species ‘under them’. Every eidetic connection implies an eidetic participation since each part is contained or subsumed in the whole. All noetic (thinking) intentionality and noematic (thought) intentional objects are thus linked together by eidetic connections that are “hierarchically built up on one another” and “encased in one another”, so that noetic consciousness actively produces noematic theses; then combines these correlations of noesis-noema into composite syntheses; and combines all composite syntheses into a “total synthetical object is constituted in synthetical consciousness.” (ID §§120-121 338)

Husserl never fulfilled his promise of re-constructing the first philosophy and ‘Absolute Knowledge’ of all science because his phenomenological method of (a) bracketing and (b) analysing all phenomena into essences could never - according the lights of its own method - succeed in (c) synthesizing the essences of bracketed phenomena into a “systematically rigorous grounding and development of this first of all philosophies.” (ID 46) Although he denies that he intends to bracket the phenomena all at once, he never furnishes any methodological criteria to determine the bracketing of the phenomena. Once he has prohibited himself from accepting any un-bracketed criterion, he could not honestly admit any prior methodological criteria to select which particular phenomena to bracket and analyse. (§32 111) Since, moreover, Husserl’s ‘phenomenological reduction’ also suspends any possible recollection (cf. Plato’s Meno Paradox) of an eidetic standard (or paradigm) for a completed synthesis, he can neither know that he knows (nor even that he does not know) any particular synthesis, but must successively re-posit partial syntheses and un-posit every eidetic connection in a serial devolution of (a) bracketing and (b) analysis. This devolution of all syntheses annuls every analytic distinction between the irreal essences of phenomenology and the real ‘matters of fact’ of empirical psychology in the collapsing centre of Husserl’s phenomenology.

Martin Heidegger recognized that Husserl’s ontophenomenology was no less ontological than Plato’s ontology of eternal Ideas: while Husserl denied that he was guilty of a “perverse ‘Platonic hypostatization’” (ID §22 83), and purported to distinguish between real and non-real, irreal, or ideal intentional objects, the collapse of every one of Husserl’s analytic distinction implies that he merely succeeded in constructing an inverted and ‘irreal’ reflection of Plato’s real ontology. Husserl’s ontophenomenology is thus schizophrenically defined by the imminently collapsing opposition between the ontologies of irreal phenomenology and real psychology: each ontology is continually distinguished by bracketing and analysis, even as each is continually blurred together in the collapsing centre of Husserl’s ontophenomenology. Husserl can only maintain the supposed scienticity that has been secured for phenomenology through this distinction by an infinite repetition of un-positing and re-positing of essences. But this infinite repetition produces a further paradox in which every re-constructed ontology is immediately de-constructed, and ontophenomenological re-construction infinitely devolves into de-construction. This paradox collapses Husserl’s distinction between a pure eidetic science of phenomenology and an impure empirical science of psychology, renders all phenomenological descriptions psychologistic, and “draws us into infinities of experience” in a bad infinite regress that Husserl himself calls idealiter in infinitum. (§100 293)

For more a fuller critique of Husserl and phenomenology, see my essay Plato Against Phenomenology

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Duel of Giles Deleuze and Jean Hyppolite over the Pure Difference of Hegel’s Logic


Hegel never seems to have decided upon a precise systematic relationship between the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) and the Science of Logic (1812) (hereafter referred to as PhG and SL). In the Preface to PhG, Hegel describes it as merely the "first part of science" because it presents only the "immediate aspect of mind" (PhG §36) that prepares our minds for the "element of true knowledge" of "the truth in the form of truth" in the "organically connected whole" that "is the Logic or Speculative Philosophy." (PhG §36) And again in the Preface to the Science of Logic, Hegel writes that "consciousness in the Phenomenology of Spirit" remained specifically "bound to externality" and anticipated the more general completion of the "System of Science that contains the Phenomenology", the progression of which, he says in the Introduction, "emerges within logic itself." (SL §51) 

When, in the 1st edition Preface to SL, Hegel proceeds to describe the place of PhG in his ‘System of Science’, he equivocally describes how it could either function as the first of three parts (i.e. PhG, SL, and a Science of Nature and Spirit jointly comprising the third part, like Kant’s Critique of Judgement), or as the prelude to the three-parts of Logic, Nature, and Spirit, as in the division of the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences (1817). In the Introduction to SL (§§78-79), Hegel helpfully describes how the various specific determinations of PhG (e.g. of subject and object, consciousness and self-consciousness etc.) are each contained in SL as the concrete unity of the distinct moments that have been superceded, but he never bothered to spell out any further details. To make matters worse, both the third subdivision of the Encyclopedia, titled the Philosophy of Spirit, as well as his later lectures, re-trace many of the steps previously trodden by PhG, and – as if to haunt Hegel scholars from the afterlife – Hegel died just before he planned to substantially revise the Phenomenology of Spirit for a 2nd edition re-publication.

In his 1952 book Logique et Existence, Jean Hyppolite set out to solve what he called this “most obscure dialectical synthesis.”  (188) Together with Jean Wahl and Alexandre Kojève, his translation and voluminous commentary on PhG, the Genesis and Structure of the Phenomenology of Spirit, were instrumental in re-introducing Hegel to the French intelligentsia. Hyppolite argues that PhG and SL mutually presuppose and correspond one another. He writes:

“The two works [PhG and SL] correspond to one another. The one, the Phenomenology of Spirit, is a theory of experience which presents the content of experience, as if its source was alien to knowledge, but which shows that this experience presupposes absolute knowledge. The Phenomenology establishes the soil of absolute knowledge, the universal consciousness of being on the basis of human experience and on the basis of the finitude of this experience. The other [i.e. SL] starts from universal self-consciousness which is at the same time as it is things, whose language is the identity of this being and this reflection… This is why it appears, at the end of the Logic, not only as the being which is sense though the mediation of reflection, but also as the sense which is. But this mediating reflection is no longer an external or subjective reflection; it is the very reflection of being… it is the discourse which says universal being in itself and for itself. It is the Absolute itself which says itself as the universal self-consciousness.” (35)

Hyppolite seems to have hoped that, by preserving the ‘sense’ of PhG (cf. Sense-Certainty) in the self-reflection of the Absolute Idea by a correspondence between PhG and SL he could preserve Hegel’s Phenomenology from dissolution into the Logic: for if the ‘sense’ content of PhG were anulled and superceded by SL (as Hegel seems to suggest at SL §§78-79) then the only viable ‘logic’ of the phenomena would involve the transcendental bracketing, or epoché, of Husserl and Heidegger.

Hegel purports, in the Phenomenology of Spirit, to dialectically annul, preserve, and sublate the epistemic opposition of subjective being-for-us and objective being-in-itself (§88) into the “thought the single individual consciousness is in itself absolute essence” that is a being-in-and-for-itself (§231); but Husserl purports, in On Ideas, to bracket (epoché), suspend, and reduce the ‘natural attitude’ of perceiving real objectively existing things to a critical analysis of the subjective, or transcendental, conditions of such knowledge. (§§27-30) Where Hegel had attempted to mix the subjective and the objective into a higher and richer synthetic being, Husserl had attempted to reduce the objective to subjective knowledge.

Hyppolite seems to have projected to use Hegel as a foil against Husserl’s most famous pupil, Martin Heidegger, whose popularity would later percolate into Jean-Paul Sartre’s Existentialism. But Giles Deleuze objected that Hyppolite’s correspondence thesis inadvertently transformed Hegel’s Science of Logic into an “ontology of sense” that reduced its rich Gothic complexity to a flattened Rayonnant facade of “the same being and the same thought” in both “the empirical and the absolute.” He writes:

“Following Hyppolite, we recognize that philosophy, if it has a meaning, can only be an ontology and an ontology of sense. The same being and the same thought [i.e. univocally] are in the empirical and in the absolute. But the difference between thought and being is sublated [i.e. annulled] in the absolute by the positing of the Being identical to difference which, as such, thinks itself and reflects itself in man. This absolute identity of being and difference is called sense. But there is a point in all this where Hyppolite shows himself to be altogether Hegelian: Being can be identical to difference only insofar as difference is carried up to the absolute, that is, up to contradiction. Speculative difference is the Being which contradicts itself. The thing contradicts itself because, in being distinguished from all it is not, it finds its being in this difference itself; it reflects itself only by reflecting itself into the other, since the other is its other. This is the theme that Hyppolite develops by analyzing the three moments of the Logic, being, essence, and concept.” (194-195)

Deleuze argues that if philosophy is, for Hypollite and Hegel, is an ‘ontology of sense’, then each and every being in the whole towering structure of being, or ontology, must be equally sensible. Hence, every judgment of every being, from the basest mud to the noblest Idea, must be judged in one and the same way, or univocally. Since Hyppolite affirms the correspondence of PhG and SL, and the first moment of PhG is ‘sense’ while the first moment of SL is ‘being’, Deleuze suggests that he must not hesitate to equally affirm a correspondence between univocal ‘sense’ and ‘being’.

Henry of Ghent and John Duns Scotus had, amidst the darkening hues of Gothic France, founded transcendental ontology by rejecting Thomas Aquinas’ mixed grammar of an analogy of being in favor of a transcendental univocity of being (Ord. 1, d. 1, pars 1, q. 1–2, n. 142); and founded transcendental epistemology by rejecting coincidence of intelligible forms and existing substances in favor of a new distinction between the subjective order of possible mental representations and the objective order of represented necessary substances (Ord. I, d. 3, pars 3, q. 1). In subsequent centuries, Francisco Suarez would turn the univocity of being into the foundation for modern ontology, or the structure of being, while René Descartes would turn the subjective and objective orders into the foundation for modern epistemology, or the structure of knowledge.

Deleuze counters Hyppolites’ Hegel with Heidegger’s univocal sense-of-being (i.e. Dasein) where, he thinks, every “difference between thought and being” is annulled in the “absolute identity of being and difference” which is called sense. Since ‘sense and being’ correspond as one and the same univocal being, and Hyppolite affirms that this sense-of-being is ultimately absolutely self-identical, Deleuze can argue that the absolute identity of being and difference in sense-of-being ultimately gestures to an equivalence of being-as-difference. Later in Difference and Repition, Deleuze will describe this univocity as the “tortuous cycle in which sameness is said only of that which differs” in the “formless being of all difference.” (1972 51/57) But here Deleuze insists that the authentic Hegelian position is for this univocal equivalence of being-as-difference to be “carried up to the absolute, that is, up to contradiction” where it may eternally explode in a black nova of Absolute contradiction. Deleuze writes:

“Speculative difference is the Being which contradicts itself. The thing contradicts itself because, in being distinguished from all it is not, it finds its being in this difference itself; it reflects itself only by reflecting itself into the other, since the other is its other.” (195)

Since, for Hegel every difference between beings is potentially the site of contradiction, and being-as-difference is different from itself, every individual being-as-difference – even the Absolute being-as-difference – is self-contradictory. Moreover, since every individual being-as-difference is - as an individual - also differentiated from other individual being-as-differences, each is differentiated in itself only by its differentiation of other from itself, so that “it reflects itself only by reflecting itself into the other, since the other is its other.” Finally, since every individual being-as-difference is differentiated into infinitely many more individual being-as-differences, there is an inconceivable plentitude of contradictions, and  “[S]peculative difference is the Being which contradicts itself.”

Deleuze suggests, but declines to develop, Hyppollite’s presumptive response, which, he says, is “that an ontology of pure difference would return us to a purely external and formal reflection, and would prove in the final analysis to be an ontology of essence.” (195) Deleuze seems to have understood, but dismissed, the objection that his ‘ontology of pure difference’ would, for Hegel, amount to little more than an ‘external reflection’ (i.e. an abstract separation of a form of thought) of the platitudinous contradictoriness of being-as-difference throughout a univocal space (e.g. Spinoza’s substance). In Logic and Existence, Hyppolite describes the how such an external reflection of the principle of contradiction into an “empty identity” (i.e. A:A where A = Not-A) “always oscillates between an unformed content and a formal reflection.” (77-80, cf. PhG §116-118)

Hyppolite, however, proceeded even further in his critique than Deleuze was willing to acknowledge when he argues that Hegel, already in his critique of Kant in Faith and Knowledge (1802), “overcomes this merely formal reflection.” (80) Hyppolite writes:

“The transcendental is not an empirical, merely human, subjectivity, any more than it is an objective essence. As possibility or ground of experience, it expresses the logicity of being. It is beyond the notions of subject and object. It states their original identity which appears in the judgment of experience… This identity, that only the transcendental imagination truly develops, is, for Hegel interpreting Kant, the original synthetic unity, different indeed from the abstract Ego. ''Thus Kant himself distinguishes the abstract Ego or the abstract identity of the understanding from the true Ego, the absolute, original synthetic identity" (FK 71-72)”

The 'external reflection' of the principle of contradiction into an "empty identity" is, Hyppolite suggests, the consequence of a prior misapprehension of the judgement of difference as the "abstract identity" made by an "abstract ego" without a concrete basis in an absolutely "original synthetic identity". In Faith and Knowledge, Hegel had described Kant’s synthetic a priori concept as no more than a ‘relative identity’ that remained fixed and determined by the categories of finite understanding:

“Because the relative identity was fixated as the universal or the category and the relative duplication as that of the universal and the particular, their absolute identity-that is, the identity of the relative identity and the relative duplication-was also bound to be cognized in reflected form, that is, as Reason. Imagination, however, which is Reason immersed in difference, is at this level raised only to the form of infinitude and fixated as intellect. This merely relative identity necessarily opposes itself to, and is radically affected by, the particular as something alien to it and empirical.” (74)

Hegel argued that Kant, no less than Fichte, could never realize any synthetic a priori self-identical concept unless he followed Schelling’s Identitie-Philosophie and postulated some originary ‘absolute identity’ as the ultimate transcendental condition for the possibility of every synthetic a priori and self-identical concept. He writes:

“The Kantian philosophy remains entirely within the antithesis. It makes the identity of the opposites into the absolute terminus of philosophy, the pure boundary which is nothing but the negation of philosophy… On the contrary, the sole Idea that has reality and true objectivity for philosophy, is the absolute suspendedness of the antithesis. This absolute identity is not a universal subjective postulate never to be realized. It is the only authentic reality. Nor is the cognition of it a faith, that is, something beyond all knowledge; it is, rather, philosophy's sole knowledge.” (67)

Hegel then proceeds to dissect the absolutely non-identical relative identity of Kant’s synthetic a priori judgments into a cascading negative dialectic, from (a) Kant to (b) Jacobi to (c) Fichte, that first reduces Kant’s transcendental idealism to the difference of non-identical relative identity, and finally dissolves every non-identical difference into the plentitudinous non-being of an infinitely-accelerating Jabobian nihilism. The duel between Deleuze and Hyppolite may, upon closer examination, seem to merely repeat the duel between Kant and Hegel. Yet where Hegel’s negative dialectic is meant to return to the ‘speculative good Friday’ that announces the advent of speculative philosophy, Deleuze seeks to drown the star of its arrival in an opposing negative dialectic of (a) Spinoza-Leibniz-Hume, (b) Fichte-Schelling-Hegel, and (c) Maimon-Nietzche-Bergon. 

The fatal blow to Deleuze may come, not from the bare postulation of an originary absolute identity, but from the re-thinking of the inner negativity of pure difference itself as the sign of a deeper and fuller plenitude of differences preserved within an identity of difference. The difference between the Phenomenology and the Logic may then, forthwith, no longer be adequately conceived as simple difference of corresponding presuppositions, but, must instead be taken up and transfigured in the essential reflection of the Logic itself. This transfiguration of the logicity of the Phenomenology may then imply a new philosophical history, in which even Deleuze's negative dialectic of infinitesimal being-as-difference may be speculatively annulled and resolved into a positive dialectic of differences reflected into the simple identity of the self-differentiating Idea.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Labor Pains of Theaetetus


“All that is true of their art of midwifery is true also of mine, but mine differs from theirs in being practised upon men, not women, and in tending their souls in labor, not their bodies. But the greatest thing about my art is this, that it can test in every way whether the mind of the young man is bringing forth a mere image, an imposture, or a real and genuine offspring. For I have this in common with the midwives: I am sterile in point of wisdom, and the reproach which has often been brought against me, that I question others but make no reply myself about anything, because I have no wisdom in me, is a true reproach; and the reason of it is this: the god compels me to act as midwife, but has never allowed me to bring forth. I am, then, not at all a wise person myself, nor have I any wise invention, the offspring born of my own soul; but those who associate with me, although at first some of them seem very ignorant, yet, as our acquaintance advances, all of them to whom the god is gracious make wonderful progress, not only in their own opinion, but in that of others as well. And it is clear that they do this, not because they have ever learned anything from me, but because they have found in themselves many fair things and have brought them forth.” (150b-d)

The Socratic art of midwifery is meant to bring forth the genuine idea that explains the transcendental conditions for the possibility of knowledge. Plato first hints at this question in the Charmides, when he wonders aloud “whether a science of science can exist” and whether “he who has this science or knowledge which knows itself will become like the knowledge which he has” and “know himself.” (169e) In the Theaetetus, Socrates complains: “doesn’t it strike you as shameless to explain what knowing is like, when we don’t know what knowledge is?” (196d) To cover his shame, Plato attempts three abortive ascents up the dialectical ladder from phenomenal perceptions to formal concepts: perception (151e-187a); true belief (187b-201c); and justified true belief. (201d-210a) Plato first rejects knowledge by perception because if all perceptible things were always changing into something different, and nothing ever remains the same, then it would be plainly impossible to consistently name or judge anything at all. (182a-183a) Plato then rejects knowledge by true belief because, if all knowledge were true beliefs, then there could be no knowledge of false beliefs, and every belief would be trivially true. (187e)

For Plato’s final explanation, Socrates proposes that the truth of any belief may only be discerned through a concept of justification. He distinguishes the thought of the first simple elements that cannot be known from the thought of the final complex combinations that we presume to know in our concepts (logos). (202a) Since, every proposed justification must be constructed from some combination of terms, propositions, premises, and valid inferences, Socrates suggests that “no account can be given” of the simple elements. (201e) The unknowability of these simple elements also renders every complex compositions of simple elements equally unknowable. The result is a part-whole logos paradox: any complex concept is either (i) identical to the unknown combination of simple elements (203d), or (ii) different from this combination by some further addition above the parts (204a); yet if the concept is (i) identical to its elements then it is just as unknown as its simple elements, but if it is (ii) different than its elements then any further addition must likewise be either a simple element that is thinkable but unknowable or not a simple element and hence unthinkable. (205c-e) Regardless of whether we affirm that (i) the whole is identical to its parts or (ii) the whole is not identical to its parts, the unknowability of simple elements seems to render knowledge of complex wholes impossible. (cf. Seung 1996 145-169)

The part-whole paradox of the Theaetetus recalls Plato’s typical description of the construction of concepts by the metaphor of constructing the simple elements of letters into the complex composites of words: in the Cratylus, Socrates searches for the essential names that “express the true forms of things in letters and syllables” (390e) that have been genetically transmitted from the gods to the ancient poets (391d-394d); in the Theaetetus, he describes how, in a dream, he learnt that letters may be combined to make syllables, syllables to make names, names to make descriptions, and descriptions given for accounts of justified true belief (201e-205e); and – most emphatically of all - in the Phaedrus Socrates prescribes Theuth’s “recipe for wisdom and memory” to preserve “living speech” from being emptied into the dead writing of “external marks.” (274b-277c) The part-whole paradox thus threatens a skeptical circle (209e) in which all knowledge is apparently derived from non-knowledge, knowledge has no definite foundation, and all pretensions to knowledge results in ignorance.

Socrates admits that the idea of a “perfectly true definition of knowledge was no better than a golden dream” but recommends three remaining interpretations: (i) the phenomenal “image of thought in spoken sound”; (ii) the composition of complex wholes from simple parts; and (iii) the meaning that marks an essential identity and difference. (208c) Plato suggests that “an ‘account’ means putting your differences into words, but illustrates its inherent danger to be like grasping at the Sun: “if you get hold of the difference, distinguishing any given thing from all others, then, so some people say, you will have ‘an account’ of it, whereas, so long as you fix upon something common to other things, your account will embrace all things that share it.” (209d) This example of the Sun recalls the allegory of the Cave in the Republic (514a) that was “the last thing to be seen and hardly seen is the idea of the Good.” (517b) There Socrates described the idea of the Good as that which “gives their truth to the objects of knowledge, and the power of knowing to the knower” but also warns that “it is right to deem light and vision sunlike, but never to think that they are the sun” for the Good itself is “not essence but still transcends essence in dignity.” (509b)

The transcendental condition of Knowledge is, like knowledge of the Good itself, a kind of knowledge that knows knowledge, but, whose brilliant activity of knowing itself, casts a blinding light to all knowers whose eyes have been dimmed by amusements in the shadows of non-knowledge. Since we cannot grasp this pure self-identity of Knowledge transparently by naked thought, we must instead seek to “grasp its difference from all other things.” (208e) This requires a dialectic that treats “its assumptions not as absolute beginnings but literally as hypotheses” to “enable [thinking] to rise to that which requires no assumption.” (511c) Plato most expressly attempts to traverse this “vast and hazardous sea” of grasping all differences in the enigmatic dialectical exercises of the Parmenides: “whenever you suppose that anything whatsoever exists or does not exist or has any other character, you ought to consider the consequences with reference to itself and to any one of the other things that you may select, or several or them, or all of them together.” (136b) (See my essay Plato’s Contest) J.N. Findlay has suggested that Plato may have meant the Theaetetus as a criticism of Aristotle’s axiomatic and linear-deductive model of knowledge. He writes “the ultimate and unutterable is none the less that without which the derivative and utterable would not be utterable at all, and that is therefore, in a manner, shares in the utterability of the latter, just as the latter after the fashion shades into the utterability of the former.” (1974 228) Whomever mistakes the unutterability for apodictic certainty, he says, accepts “the most vicious of circles” in which thought is directed as by a “blind man” leading thinking through the “most absolute darkness.” (209e)

Analytic interpretations of Plato have no less eagerly mined the Theaetetus for the ancient roots of knowledge and skepticism. Francis Cornford judges the aporetic ending to amount to a rejection of any attempt to construct a theory of induction by mixing the formal concepts of justification with the material content of perceptible things. (1935 154) T.K. Seung alternatively interprets Socrates’s dream story, like the Meno paradox, to suggest an inspired recollection of a ‘pre-definitional’ direct intuition of the Ideas themselves, and concludes that, if knowledge is circular and anti-foundational, then the circle of knowledge must revolve in a circuit of Identity and Difference, which anticipates the later dialectical dialogues, the Parmenides, the Sophist, and the Philebus. (1996 145-169) Gail Fine similarly reads Plato’s skeptical circle as suggesting a system of the elements of knowledge in which: “one does not understand a discipline’s elements until one understand the system to which they belong; conversely, understanding any system consists in understanding how its elements are interrelated.” (1979 386) Plotinus seems to have anticipated Seung and Fine in his description of how heavenly system itself resolves the part-whole paradox by “ceaselessly reintroducing the known forms into new substances, thus ensuring perpetuity not to the particular item but to the unity of the Idea.” (Enneads, II.1.i) In each case, the labor of knowing Knowledge itself requires nothing less than giving birth to a world of thought:

“Come then to me, who am a midwife, and the son of a midwife, and I will deliver you. And do not bite me, as the women do, if I abstract your first-born; for I am acting out of good-will towards you; the God who is within me is the friend of man, though he will not allow me to dissemble the truth. Once more then, Theaetetus, I repeat my old question—‘What is knowledge?’ Take courage, and by the help of God you will discover an answer." (151b-c)
For more on Plato and dialectical logic, see my lecture Plato, Logic, and Ontology