Academic journal article Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations

Hegel and the Metaphysics of Absolute Negativity

Academic journal article Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations

Hegel and the Metaphysics of Absolute Negativity

Article excerpt

Hegel and the Metaphysics of Absolute Negativity Brady Bowman (Pennsylvania State University) New York: Cambridge University Press, 280 pp. ISBN 978-1-107-03359-7, 2013

According to Bowman, Kant holds that the logic of finite cognition is marked by an essential negativity which may divide reason against itself. The categories and logical forms of the understanding lead to antinomies when applied to the unconditional. Transcendental logic is fundamentally an investigation into the categories in which experience becomes intelligible, succeeding in taking up the categories as functions of synthesis. The categories must be grasped as rooted in a single, underlying structure, and they systematically lead into forms of error when we try to apply them to the unconditioned (the categories cannot be identical with the structures of transcendental reality). The Kantian categories, qua functions of unity, constitute the objectivity of the sensible manifold as an object of possible experience (the categories are forms of possible objects). Kant's categories of the understanding are distinct, independent functions of synthesis. The form of possibility consists in the logical compatibility of internal determinations which make up the content or material element of possibility. Reason, like the understanding, is a faculty whose basic function is unity. In its purely formal or "logical employment," reason is a faculty of inference. Reason is continuous with and subordinate to the faculty of understanding. The concepts of reason have a merely regulative function.

What matters for the present discussion is that diagnosing the fatal weaknesses of classical metaphysics is a step towards its rehabilitation. Kant distinguishes between metaphysica specialis as a (specious) body of scientific knowledge and metaphysica naturalis as a natural disposition of the human mind. The manifold of sensible intuition is given prior to all thought. Kant introduces the distinction between reason and the understanding: understanding is a spontaneous faculty whose activity arises from within and does not need to be produced by external impulse. A concept is a function. The activity of the understanding consists in the formation and combination of concepts by way of judgment. Kant correlates ontology with the understanding and special metaphysics with reason. Understanding and reason are faculties belonging essentially to finite, discursive minds, being as permanent as the human species itself. The ideas of reason are just concepts of the understanding that have been "freed" of their legitimate limitations. Objectivity is a function, a product, of the synthetic activity through which consciousness brings about its own apperceptive unity. Objectivity is a metaphysical condition of the formal reality of the I. Representation is the genus of all mental content. Conceptual synthesis comprises multiple functions of unity that work together to produce objective, unified representations. The pure concepts of the understanding are substantively with the subset of traditional ontological categories that are authentically conceptual.

Bowman points out that Kant rejects the geometrical method as an appropriate form for philosophy: philosophy is a discursive discipline concerned with the adequate analysis and elucidation of given categories, and mathematics has a superior source of evidence in a priori intuition and can define its objects into existence. The geometric method is an inappropriate means of realizing the scientific ideal for philosophy. The axioms of geometry are principles only in relation to what can be given in intuition (they are principles only in relation to the form of outer intuition which is itself nondiscursive). Kant emphasizes the epistemic qualities of mathematical cognition.

The point of interest here is that Kant systematizes the contradictions at the core of metaphysical discourse, deriving them from the form of (finite) thought itself. …

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