Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Time and History Don't Finish: They Stop

I should stop apologizing for going longer than a week between updates. I don’t do so normally, but I warned that when the blog began, there would be longer gaps between entries, and I would do my best always to have something to say. The first few weeks of this semester are considerably busy, although I don’t feel hectic or swept away by events as I did sometimes around this time last year. Because while I have a lot to do, I know exactly what I’m doing. And busy-ness is never stressful when you know precisely what you have to do.

One of the rather fascinating things I’m working on this Fall is the last lecture course for my breadth-of-knowledge requirement in my degree: Nick Griffin’s History of Analytic Philosophy. We’re concentrating in the lectures and planned course reading material on the birth of analytic philosophy in the rebellion of Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore against the British neoHegelians.

As I’ve learned more about the philosophy of the king of 19th century UK neoHegelians, Fred Bradley, I’ve realized that this movement barely deserved the name neoHegelian. That implies that they were strong followers of the philosophy of Hegel. While they thought they were followers of Hegel, I find the way Bradley approaches certain concepts like reality, appearance, and the Absolute to be completely different than Hegel’s own. Bradley seemed to have taken the catchphrase from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, “The real is the rational, and the rational is the real,” far too literally. Bradley takes this to mean that the only true reality is the immediately logically consistent, and that all else (eg. matter, space, time, self) is illusory or unreal. And he takes the Absolute to be the only reality, that about which we can say nothing because to say is to introduce distinctions, and reality is without difference.

I was slack-jawed listening to this, which to my thinking, is a total anathema to Hegel’s thinking. He never should have written that catchphrase, which has been so stupidly misinterpreted. All this means is that thinking, thought well, can work out the nature of reality without confusion. And Hegel thought we could know plenty about the Absolute, which covered all the contradictory and inconsistent in the universe. The unity of all this craziness was achieved in thought that became flexible (like a gymnast is flexible) enough to encompass it all in systematic thinking. Reality is discovered and systematized through thought.

Much of this last is quite similar to my own philosophical thinking, which also owes debts to Wittgenstein, Deleuze, Merleau-Ponty, Nietzsche, and Humberto Maturana as much as my quirky readings of Kant and Hegel. I was first taught the Hegel of Alexandre Kojève, even though he was never credited as a source. My own issues with Hegel have to do with the pervasiveness of necessity in his understanding of the universe, which gives rise to the kinds of moronic raving visions of the End of History that we saw coming out of Francis Fukuyama in the 1990s. And we all know how that little utopian vision turned out. That reliance on the necessary rather than the contingent is what prevents me from even leaning towards self-identifying as a Hegelian. But even if I did, my philosophical ideas would be closer to him than I think Bradley’s were.

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