Academic journal article CLIO

Value Conflicts and Belief Revision in Hegel's 'Phenomenology.'

Academic journal article CLIO

Value Conflicts and Belief Revision in Hegel's 'Phenomenology.'

Article excerpt

The pivotal transition from Consciousness to Self-consciousness in Hegel's Phenomenology is of such perplexing complexity that some of his detractors dismiss it as the confused product of a changed mind. The apparent shifts of interest at this important juncture of the dialectic, from intellectual issues to practical concerns about agency and action, lead one commentator to conclude that "even those with a minimalist reading of the real or original core of the Phenomenology have no satisfactory account of it."'(1) Even one of Hegel's sympathizers, who argues for the coherence of the overall design of the book, dismisses Hegel's account of the transition in the Phenomenology as "thin," "vague," and "unconvincing," and bypasses it in favor of his account in the later History of Philosophy and Philosophy of History.(2)

However, I shall argue that, far from raising problems at the transition, Hegel's introduction of certain practical considerations of agents acting and their social experiences responds to some special nature of the transition. I will sidestep Hegel's first and more famous account of the transition from Consciousness to Self-consciousness in "Lordship and Bondage," and, instead, focus exclusively on his second, less well-known version of it in "Ethical Action" ([sub section] 464-487/304-323).(3) I am referring to his historical account in the Spirit chapter, in which he applies the general model of action and conflict from the Self-consciousness chapter to a moral context, explaining the transition from unreflective moral intentions to critical moral reflection.(4) He understands this transition as a particular historical development, coming about in early Greek culture, and arising out of specific historical circumstances, namely, out of a context of irresolvable value conflicts.(5) My motivation for focusing on Hegel's historical account in "Ethical Action," rather than on his arguably ahistorical account in "Lordship and Bondage," is to provide a concrete, historical framework within which the transition to Self-consciousness may be analyzed in sharper empirical detail than is usual in the secondary literature. The basic structure of irreconcilable value conflicts is anticipated in the model of mutually unsatisfiable desires in "Lordship and Bondage." But "Ethical Action" has more of an explicit social content than "Lordship and Bondage," which provides a more filled-out account than the original core chapters, showing how Hegel intended the mechanism of action and irreconcilable conflict to explain the transition. Moreover, I believe that what is puzzling about the transition comes out most vividly in an ethical context, in particular, a context of unresolvable conflicts.

My first task will be to motivate Hegel's practical account of the transition, which uses a model of action and conflict at its basis. My strategy will be to deny that an "Intellectualist" account, as I will call it, which explains this development apart from a context of action, can explain it with rigor and necessity. My first result will be the negative conclusion that we need an alternative account to explain and understand this special node of the dialectic. My second, positive task is to argue that Hegel's practical, action-based account was designed to avoid precisely the difficulties that I alluded to in a purely intellectualist account and to meet his own requirements of philosophical rigor. The morals I will derive are local and are not intended to generalize to every node in the dialectical process. But my elaboration of this single link will point to an important philosophical argument in its own right, independent of the plausibility of the ongoing dialectical process taken as a whole.

We may begin by dispatching the dominant explanation of the transition, the Intellectualist view. My criticisms are restricted to narrower versions that prevail in the literature, in which a diagnosis of some intellectual defect in the early Greeks' form of thought is all that figures in elaborating the conditions that caused them to adopt a more reflective stance toward their norms and values. …

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