Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Self-Determination in Logic and Reality

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Self-Determination in Logic and Reality

Article excerpt


FROM THE BEGINNINGS OF PHILOSOPHICAL INVESTIGATION, there has been widespread recognition that reason must be autonomous to think the truth and that philosophy must be the freest of all disciplines. (1) The freedom reason and philosophy must wield has two sides, one negative and the other positive.

On the one hand reason must possess the negative freedom to liberate itself from all determining conditions. If reason fails to do so and lets itself be guided by any external authority, every claim reason makes will be relative to the particular grounds that rule its operation. To overcome the hold of unexamined opinion, reason must emancipate itself of all presuppositions regarding its subject matter and methodology. Otherwise, thought remains bound by dogmatic claims about its topic and procedure, unable to obtain knowledge that surmounts particular opinion and enjoys unconditioned universal validity.

By casting aside the hold of assumed foundations, such liberation indicates how the autonomy of reason and philosophy is tied to the attainment of the unconditioned universality that gives thought its special role as a vehicle of truth. Nonetheless, by itself, this emancipation leaves liberated reason utterly empty unless it can exercise an autonomy that is not just negative, but positive as well.

The negative freedom that revokes acceptance of given opinion may free thought of all predetermined form and content, but this liberation leaves thought with a universality that is devoid of any particular content, rendering its unconditioned character a vacant promise. Only if reason can determine by itself what its subject matter and method should be, can reason move from its empty negative emancipation to a positive constitution of philosophical wisdom. Philosophy can proceed from repudiating dogmatism to being fully responsible for all its own claims only if it exercises the positive self-determination where the unconditioned universality of thought shows itself to be pregnant with content.

To be the freest of all sciences, as the search for wisdom requires, philosophy must commence as logic. Any nonlogical starting point automatically leaves thought encumbered with given assumptions about both its form and content. Whereas logic is a thinking of thinking, nonlogical investigation thinks what is different from thought. As such, nonlogical investigation cannot account for the thinking it employs, since it inquires into something distinct from the reasoning it exercises. Nonlogical investigation must presuppose not only its method, but the defining boundaries of its subject matter. Only by assuming that its topic has a given character distinct from thought does nonlogical science have anything to investigate. On both counts, nonlogical science is conditioned and relative. Whatever results it achieves are tainted by acceptance of the predetermined procedure and content with which it begins. Nonlogical science, as immediately undertaken, is doubly unfree, doubly heteronomous. It establishes neither what its subject matter should be nor what procedure it should employ. Both are simply taken for granted.

Philosophy escapes this twofold heteronomy by beginning in the element of logic. Only as logical can philosophy escape taking for granted its method and its subject matter. In logic, there is no difference between form and content, between subject and object of knowing, between procedure and topic. Neither can be given at the outset of logical investigation, for the aim of logic is validly to think what valid thinking is. Only at the end of its investigation can logic determine its method and subject matter, for only when logic concludes its investigation is valid thinking fully unveiled. Hence, logic must begin without any given method or any given subject matter and yet, from this indeterminate starting point, develop valid thinking without relying upon any external givens. Logic must therefore be a self-determined development of self-thinking thought, where that autonomous development proceeds from the elimination of any difference between subject and object, between form and content. …

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