The Dialectic of the Absolute-Hegel's Critique of Transcendent Metaphysics

By Gabriel, Markus | Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

The Dialectic of the Absolute-Hegel's Critique of Transcendent Metaphysics


Gabriel, Markus, Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry


Heidegger famously criticized Hegel's philosophy for being an ontotheological system. The snag Heidegger finds in ontotheology is that it hypostatizes a first principle on which, to quote from Aristotle, "the universe and nature depend" (Meta. 1072b13-14). According to Heidegger, Hegel presupposes an absolute in the form of an absolute subjectivity from the very outset of his system; an absolute principle, which accounts for the teleology in the various histories Hegel subsequently reconstructs. Heidegger attacks Hegel because he believes that Hegel draws on a determinate version of the ontological difference which, eventually, defines being as an absolute, self-transparent Geist, and beings as its spiritual manifestations. (1) If Heidegger were right in his interpretation of Hegel, Hegel would actually be defining being as Spirit and would, therefore, be determining it as a peculiar kind of thing instead of understanding it as the process of alterations within the ontological difference that Heidegger envisages with his concept of Being.

In order to reassess this criticism one needs to first look at Hegel's concept of the absolute. In what follows, I shall argue that Hegel's conception of the absolute is based on a detailed exposition of the dialectical failure of transcendent metaphysics. Hegel denies that there is an absolute beyond or behind the world of appearance. The world we inhabit is not the appearance of a hidden reality utterly inaccessible to our conceptual capacities. But this claim does not entail any kind of omniscience on the part of the philosopher, as many have suspected. It rather yields the standpoint of immanent metaphysics without any first principle on which totality depends. Moreover, Hegel does not claim to finish the business of philosophy once and for all; on the contrary, his conception of the absolute entails that philosophy is awarded the infinite task of comprehending one's own time in thought. Hegel himself conceives of the absolute as of a process which makes various forms of conceptualizing totality possible.

Unlike Heidegger, I do not believe that the concept of the absolute in Post-Kantian Idealism entails a denial of the finitude that looms large in Kant's own system, as Heidegger acknowledges in his Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics. (2) One possible way of interpreting the overall internal development of Post-Kantian Idealism is to regard it as an extended commentary on Kant's concept of the "unconditioned" in the First Critique. In fact one could easily argue that the whole Post-Kantian movement ought to be understood as a development of the Kantian exposition of the "transcendental ideal of pure reason". (3) The epistemological and metaphysical enterprise that is awakened by Kant's analysis of the dialectical consequences of the transcendental ideal primarily depends on a theory of determinacy.

However, given that determination cannot be restricted to being a property of concepts qua mental contents or qua tools of sapient creatures like us, such a theory of determinacy must be both logical and ontological. Determination must be in some way out there, in the things themselves, because even if we denied the determinacy of the world, this would still presuppose its intelligibility qua undetermined or unmarked something. Indeed being an unmarked something is as much a determinate predicate as being a particular something. (4) There is no way to oppose mind (concepts, consciousness and what have you) and the world without, at the same time, relating them to one another. Both, mind and world, i.e. the logical and the ontological order have to be determined, at least over against their respective other. In this sense, they depend on each other, a principle Putnam explicitly concedes to Hegel in claiming that "the mind and the world jointly make up the mind and the world." (5) The logical in which mind and world are both distinguished and interdependent can be called the "unconditioned", the "absolute", or the "infinite". …

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