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kreines spinoza kant and the transition to hegels subjective logic arguing for and against philosophical systems

© The Hegel Society of Great Britain 2018
Hegel Bulletin, page 1 of 28
Spinoza, Kant and the Transition to Hegel’s
Subjective Logic: Arguing For and Against
Philosophical Systems
James Kreines
Hegel’s Logic argues in a manner that is supposed to support a systematic philosophy.
But it is difficult to explain how such a systematic argument is supposed to work.
For answers, I look to the key transition from the Doctrine of Essence to the
Doctrine of the Concept. Here we find discussions of both Spinozist and Kantian
systems of philosophy: both are supposed to be helpful, and yet also to be lacking in
instructive ways. So the initial hope is that these comparisons can help us to understand Hegel’s own systematic argument, and what it means to transition from an
objective to a ‘Subjective Logic’. But the comparisons bring additional difficulties.
First, to defend a comprehensive system involves refuting rivals, and the discussion
of Spinoza demonstrates that refutation is difficult. Second, it is hard to see how any
argument for Hegel’s system could be akin to those in Spinoza and Kant given the
extent of the differences between them. I argue that the best way to deal with these
difficulties is to explain the systematic argument of the Logic as modelled on the
Transcendental Dialectic of Kant’s first Critique.
My focus in this paper is on this question: how does Hegel’s Science of Logic use
argument to support a philosophical system? As a main focus text, I take the
important transition from the Objective to the Subjective Logic, or the
concluding part of the book. One thing that makes this stretch of text so
promising is that we find here discussions of Spinoza and Kant’s systems. On
the one hand, the comparisons promise to help us to triangulate towards an
understanding of how Hegel understands his own systematic project. On the
other hand, Hegel’s comparisons here also quickly bring us into the difficulties
involved in my focus question. For Hegel sets a very high bar in this text, when it
comes to refuting a rival system in defence of one’s own, and it is hard to see how
he could hope to succeed, relative to this standard, in his responses to Spinoza
and Kant. And, further, Hegel takes refutation to require internal engagement
with rival systems, so that further development of the rivals somehow grows
Hegel Arguing for and against Philosophical Systems
them naturally into Hegel’s own system; but it is hard to see how one, unified,
systematic project could really be an extension of both of two alternatives that are
so radically different as Spinoza’s and Kant’s.
My solution to this problem turns on the proposal that Hegel builds his
philosophy around the fundamentally metaphysical issues and arguments of
Kant’s ‘Transcendental Dialectic’ of the first Critique. This will explain how
Hegel’s own system is supposed to grow out of both Spinoza’s and Kant’s, and
how such engagement is supposed to allow an argument for a system.
I should note that I am here also working out a new route to a better
formulation of an old thesis of mine, concerning the centrality of Kant’s Dialectic,
and I am defending this approach from my book (Kreines 2015) against opposing
criticisms that appeal to the transition from the Objective to the Subjective Logic.
On the one hand, there are those who think that the point of the transition to a
subjective Logic is to finally bring the book to a successful conclusion with something
like the perspective of Kant’s ‘Transcendental Analytic’, focused on issues about the
possibility of cognition of objects; they worry that my ‘metaphysics first’ approach
will fail to make sense of this transition and the priority they see there of ‘epistemiccum-semantic issues’.1 On the other hand, some would read Hegel’s metaphysics as
more specifically Spinozist than I would; they worry I will have a hard time
incorporating Hegel’s (in many ways positive) discussions of Spinoza, including
those toward the end of the Objective Logic.2 So as a secondary aim I here take on
both sides, while also pursuing the primary aim of resolving philosophical problems
concerning how to argue for and against systems of philosophy.
I. Spinoza and the problem of systematic argument
Hegel aims to defend a philosophical system. For my purposes here, it is enough
to think of two senses of systematicity:
a. Hegel aims for a whole philosophy with some unifying organization,
rather than just a heap of arguments.
b. Hegel aims for some kind of comprehensiveness, so that what he is
doing, especially in the Logic, should have implications everywhere in
While we have readily accessible models to explain how arguments work, I do not
think they can on their own explain how Hegel even hopes to argue for a
philosophical system, in these senses.
We can of course spell out arguments in premise-conclusion form. We can
explain, in this way, Descartes’s conceivability argument for substance dualism.
But this is clearly just one argument, and anything similar to this is not yet really
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trying to explain how an argument might aim for comprehensiveness. We can
of course think of another argument in premise-conclusion form—say, Hume’s
argument from perceptual variation against direct realism. Does it make sense to
think of aiming to compile a list of such argument explanations so long that it
aims for comprehensiveness? It hardly seems to matter, because the farther we
go in this direction, the farther we seem to move away from any organizing unity,
and so in this respect away from a philosophical system. Perhaps we would do
better, with organization, if we restrict ourselves to arguments addressing only
one kind of philosophical issue—say, issues concerning perception—but then we
clearly seem to do worse with respect to comprehensiveness, resulting in a kind
of narrowness. If the argument for a system is still lacking, then we can try to
imagine it is just another argument explicable in premise-conclusion form, which
we could add to our list; but since the problem concerns in part what organizes
or unifies all of the items on the list, it is hard to see how adding another element
to our flat list could provide what is needed. And so it seems from the beginning
difficult to see how one might hope to explain how argument could support a
We can explore the problem further by asking: if there is an argument
supporting Hegel’s system, then what would be the specific issues addressed by
this argument? For example, would they be the epistemological issues at stake in
Descartes’s argument for dreaming scepticism? Or some other set of issues?
With respect to the Logic, there is a proposal that is entirely natural, but in fact
makes no progress toward resolving our problem. The natural proposal is that
the central issues in the systematic argument of the book concern selfdetermination or freedom, for the transition to the final part of the Logic is clearly
a transition to this topic: the conclusion of the Doctrine of Essence is supposed
to show that Spinoza’s ‘necessity is elevated to freedom’ (SL: 11:408/504).3 And
this gives the Subjective Logic or the Doctrine of the Concept its topic: ‘the
concept, the realm of subjectivity or of freedom’ (SL: 11:409/505).4
But what is the argument suggested by the natural proposal? On the face it,
the very broad strokes of the argument would be something like this:
a. Spinoza’s account of the absolute as substance precludes a sufficient
account of freedom.
b. Thus, Spinoza’s philosophy is incomplete, and substance must also
be self-determining subjectivity.
This too is a natural way of thinking. After all, Spinoza is radical in dismissing
at least some senses of freedom, including freedom of the will, even in the case
of God (e.g., E: 1P32); Hegel’s interpretation of Spinoza, following Jacobi, is
specifically as a determinist and fatalist; and Hegel is certainly eager to contrast
his metaphysics with Spinoza’s on this score. But the question here is one of
Hegel Arguing for and against Philosophical Systems
argument, and if we start with this argument structure, then I think that any way
of filling in the details will still fall short of supporting Hegel’s system. This is for
reasons that Hegel himself highlights in the transition to the Subjective Logic. For
here Hegel says that the Spinozist can resist any refutation from outside:
any refutation would have to come not from outside, that is,
not proceed from assumptions lying outside the system and
irrelevant to it. The system need only refuse to recognize those
assumptions… Effective refutation must infiltrate the opponent’s stronghold and meet him on his own ground; there is no
point in attacking him outside his territory… (SL: 12:15/512)5
The kind of argument I just sketched cannot meet this standard: for all it makes
explicit, it merely assumes that there is freedom in some sense ruled out by
Spinoza’s system. And this assumption is what Hegel singles out for complaint,
alluding to Fichte:
...it has been said that there cannot be any refutation of
Spinozism for anyone who does not presuppose a commitment to freedom and the independence of a self-conscious
subject… (ibid.)
Since the natural proposal about self-determination does not explain how an
argument in Hegel hopes to really engage and impact Spinoza’s system, it
certainly does not yet explain how an argument in Hegel hopes to impact
comprehensively everything.
The results are similar, I think, if we take the currently popular route of
treating the Logic as focused on issues concerning what is now called
‘normativity’. Perhaps there is some sense in which Spinoza leaves no place
for some kind of normativity. But if we explain by saying that the basic issuefocus, all the way down, is on that kind of normativity, then it looks as if the
Spinozist can declare whatever part of this she cannot reconstruct within her
system as something external and indifferent to her system.
I am not sure if anyone would be tempted, in the face of these difficulties, to
hold that Hegel is somehow beyond arguments or refutations, but it is important
to note that Hegel himself clearly conceives of philosophy as requiring argument.
This is clear, for example, in what his criticisms of Schelling—right or wrong
about Schelling—tell us about Hegel’s own commitments. Hegel says that ‘[w]hat
is lacking in Schelling’s philosophy’ is that its central claims are ‘absolutely
presupposed, without any attempt being made at proving that this is the truth’.
Schelling is supposed to appeal to ‘intellectual intuition’ in a specific manner
amounting to only bare assertion of authority or privilege, so that in response,
‘[o]ne can say nothing else than: you do not have intellectual intuition, if this
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appears false to you … The proving of anything, making it comprehensible,
disappears’ (LHP: 20:435/3:525–26). Hegel, by contrast, says that ‘[w]hen we
philosophize, we want to have proven that it is so’ (LHP 20:435/3:525–26).6
Setting aside the Schelling interpretation, if there are any philosophers claiming to
be somehow beyond argument, this seems to me a powerful response, and
certainly makes clear Hegel’s view of philosophy as committed to argument. So
it is worth focusing interpretive efforts on Hegel’s systematic argument, and
working to broaden our appreciation of the forms that arguments can take, until
we can make sense of this.7
II. Transcendental analytic model of systematic argument
My focus on these problems so far is not meant to suggest that we have no
model of how Hegel’s systematic argument might work. I think there is one
familiar kind of interpretation that can in fact provide us with a powerful model.
This will not be my approach to Hegel, and I do not mean here to get bogged
down in interpreting interpreters. My aim is to start with some familiar and
powerful ideas,8 and to extrapolate a model of how an argument for a system
could work, and draw some positive lessons from this.
The key text here is the praise, in the introduction to the Subjective
Logic, of Kant’s discussions of the transcendental unity of apperception,
including the account of these in terms of the constitution of ‘objective validity’;
this ‘is one of the profoundest and truest insights which constitutes the
essence of the concept’ (SL: 12.18/515). Of course, Hegel also here criticizes
Kant; for example, Kant is supposed to fail to systematically derive the categories
from the fundamental principle of apperception (SL: 12:28/525). But one
approach would be to understand this as a basically Kantian attempt to improve
Kant’s execution.
Now the idea that Hegel’s systematic arguments might focus on the topic of
the transcendental unity of apperception does not automatically resolve the
problem noted in the previous section, concerning comprehensiveness and the
relation to Spinoza’s system. We can certainly imagine arguing that Spinoza’s
system does not leave room for something about a transcendental unity of
apperception, or perhaps a kind of spontaneity associated with apperception.9
But whatever that something is, precisely to the extent that it could not be
reconstructed within Spinoza’s system, the way would remain open for the
Spinozist to declare it a matter of indifference. So the problem remains that a
systematic argument focused all the way down on issues involving apperception
would apparently lack an argument for investing such importance in the topic in
the first place.
Hegel Arguing for and against Philosophical Systems
Progress requires instead consideration of the arguments of the
Transcendental Analytic of Kant’s first Critique where apperception figures so
importantly. These arguments do not assume its importance; they argue for the
importance of apperception from consideration of broader issues. What are the
broader issues? One way of formulating them comes from Kant’s famous letter
to Herz, focused on the question: ‘What is the ground of the relation of that in us
which we call ‘representation’ to the object?’ (131/10:130). To go farther into the
Analytic itself would mean breaking down the issues in more detail: perhaps the
issues concern the possibility of correct representation. Or perhaps there is some
complex interplay with issues concerning conditions of the possibility of any
representation at all. Either way, we can already see how a focus on these issues
from the Transcendental Analytic might be thought to change things with respect
to the engagement with Spinoza. The idea would be that the Spinozist himself is
purporting to think of or represent or judge about an object—about substance,
for example. So, one could argue that the Spinozist owes an account of how such
representation or judgement is possible, or an answer to the question of how the
concepts he is using designate something in some determinate fashion, and
something one might then judge correctly or incorrectly. And the way would be
open to argue that the Spinozist must fail to provide what she owes. For example,
if the Kantian can show that accounting for how concept-use represents
determinate objects requires a Transcendental Unity of Apperception, in some
sense, and that this requires in turn some spontaneity of the subject—and if
Spinoza’s monism somehow conflicts with our having that sort of spontaneity—
then we might argue thereby that there is an inescapable problem already inside
Spinozism, preventing the Spinozist from declaring these issues to be external
and a matter of indifference.
This approach to Hegel would also give us a nice approach to what it means
to transition to a Subjective Logic. The idea would be that an Objective Logic
would concern attempts at philosophical theories of objects considered independently
of spontaneous and apperceptive contribution by a judging subject. The failure of these
attempts would be supposed to demonstrate the need, now in a subjective logic, to
construct a theory foregrounding the account of the representation of objects,
and specifically in terms of the active contribution of a subject.
And this approach can explain in similar terms Hegel’s criticism of Kant as
well. Part of it would run along these lines: consider Kant’s epistemic restriction,
leaving us inescapably ignorant of things in themselves. One might argue that, if
knowledge of objects requires an active contribution from the subject, and if this
would leave things in themselves unknowable, then those very supposed things
would not even be representable or thinkable for us.10 Thus the unknowability
claims would be eliminated from within.11 And Hegel might then seek to argue,
against Kant, that properly executed deductions do not just generate conclusions
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about a priori conditions relative to a restricted form of cognition of ours, but
rather a priori conditions that are absolute.12
This approach to Hegel may be relatively familiar, but I want to argue that
we better understand its considerable power if we make more explicit what I call
—following early work by Rorty—a metaphilosophical claim: a claim about what is
fundamental or inescapable in philosophy.13 In particular, the claim here would
assert the fundamentality or inescapability in philosophy generally of the issues
favoured in the sketch above: those concerning the possibility of representation.
Note that this is what provides the promising approach to both respects, with
which I began, in which Hegel seeks to support a system.
First, the metaphilosophical claim would explain a unifying organization,
but without narrowness: A system could address many diverse issues throughout
philosophy, but all in a manner organized by approaching them through the lens
of our one supposedly most fundamental kind of issue. So our system inspired by
the Transcendental Analytic need not just address one kind of issue. If it argues
that some form of spontaneous apperception is needed to make sense of
representation, then we might also explore its implications concerning ethical
issues, for example.14 And the prospects for this approach hinge, to my mind, on
the same being true of metaphysical issues: this approach need not banish them,
or give a so-called ‘non-metaphysical’ reading of Hegel. Metaphysical issues, if
they can be formulated and approached in light of fundamental questions about
representation, could be resolved in that same unified and organized fashion. If
we prefer to say that the fundamental issues concern ‘intentionality’, then we
could call this a ‘metaphysics of intentionality’.15
Second, this would allow a claim to comprehensiveness: we could in this way
try to argue that other, rival philosophical projects in general, in so far as they all must
make claims about something or purport to represent something, would be impacted
by this systematic approach. We could say that rival systems would generally be
addressed by means of the kind of argument just-noted with respect to Spinoza,
which I would call a ‘track-shifting’ argument: philosophical systems working along a
track that fails to foreground issues about the possibility of representation inevitably
incur a philosophical debt; a truly systematic and comprehensive philosophy would
have to pay that debt, and so would have to shift tracks, to a project committed now
to view everything rather through the lens of issues about representation of objects.
Meanwhile, Kant would be addressed in a different way. We would read Kant’s own
system as based around the argument of the Transcendental Analytic, where
transcendental apperception figures so prominently; and then we would give what
I would call a ‘track-extending’ response: We would claim our new system follows the
track of Kantian deductions, from the Analytic, even farther than Kant managed.16
So here we can make explicit how an argument might support systematicity:
it might do so by defending a metaphilosophical commitment that will then
Hegel Arguing for and against Philosophical Systems
organize a system of subsidiary arguments addressing the philosophical
comprehensively. This way in which arguments reflect back on the nature of
philosophy itself turns out to be what was missing in our initial thoughts about a
kind of flat list of arguments in premise-conclusion form, addressing substance
dualism, perception, etc.
All this gives us a wonderfully systematic, consistent approach to four
important questions considered below:
Transcendental Analytic Model of Hegel’s Systematic Argument
1. What are the fundamental issues at stake in Hegel’s arguments?
Issues about the conceptual conditions of the possibility of
representation or cognition of objects.
2. What is the central argument strategy? Focus on the case for a
necessary spontaneity of the subject in any possible representation of
3. What distinguishes Subjective as opposed to Objective Logic?
Subjective Logic has overcome attempts at theories of objects
supposedly independent of contribution of or mediation by
spontaneous subject.
4. What is the root reason why pre-Kantian metaphysics is supposed to
fail? On the grounds of broadly epistemological problems about the
possibility of representation and/or knowledge of its supposed
objects, like Spinoza’s one substance, God or nature.
This seems to me a powerful model of everything a systematic interpretation of
the Logic should be. But I should say that it is not my approach; my aim is to
abstract the model and discard the specifics focused on Kant’s Transcendental
Analytic. To explain why I do not rather just stop here and declare success, I will
mention my worries about this Transcendental Analytic approach to the Logic.
I have discussed in detail one worry previously: I see Hegel as considering
carefully this kind of philosophical program, oriented around worries about the
possibility of cognition of objects. Part of his gloss of such programs is this:
‘prior to setting about to acquire cognition of God, the essence of things, etc., the
faculty of cognition itself would have to be examined’. But what I call Hegel’s
‘swimming argument’ makes the case that the argument for such programs is
‘as incoherent as the Scholastic’s wise resolution to learn to swim, before he
ventured into the water …’ (EL: §10 An). Since Hegel’s argument is quite
general, I have argued that it is some reason, at least, to read him as pursuing a
different kind of program.17
A second worry is more connected to my topic in this paper, involving the
discussion of Spinoza noted above. Part of this is a philosophical worry: it seems
to me that the Spinozist can answer that the track-shifting argument above begs
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the question. Say we argue for the priority of issues about the possibility of
cognition of objects by focusing, through and through, on worries about the
possibility of cognition of objects. If so, then we are really just assuming the
priority of such issues from the start. Someone like a Spinozist could then, with
equal right, adopt an opposed metaphilosophy, making the case in his terms that
his issues are more important, fundamental, and so on. The Spinozist might take
the success of her arguments (as she sees it) as all the reason we need to accept
the possibility of cognition of objects, including those with which she is
Rorty’s wonderful early work on metaphilosophy generalizes this kind of
worry. Any revolutionary will want to found philosophy on a new method, with
its own metaphilosophy. But the old guard will have its old metaphilosophy, and
‘[s]ince philosophical method is in itself a philosophical topic … every
philosophical revolutionary is open to the charge of circularity’ (1967: 2).
But aside from this philosophical concern and Rorty’s general worry, to
which I return below, consider the interpretive issues regarding Hegel’s
discussion, above, of the refutation of Spinoza. Hegel seems not to argue that
Spinoza’s system-building prioritizes the wrong issues, and requires a track-shift
—for instance, towards building around issues about the possibility of cognition
of objects. On the contrary, Hegel says that what is needed, with respect to
Spinozism, is ‘acknowledging its standpoint as essential and necessary and then
raising it to a higher standpoint on the strength of its own resources’ (SL: 12:15/
512). I do not see how this promise to advance by means of Spinoza’s own
resources could fit the idea that Hegel’s Subjective Logic is really switching tracks,
away from Spinoza’s issues, to build on something more like a deduction of
conceptual conditions of cognition, from Kant’s Transcendental Analytic.
The third worry, again central to my topic today, is this: I think that
understanding Hegel’s response to Kant in this way, as an attempt to engage
internally and overcome Kant’s arguments for epistemic restriction, would miss
something important in Kant. For I do not think that Kant rests his restriction, or
his denial of the knowability of things in themselves, on considerations from the
Transcendental Analytic. So, we cannot in this way show that considerations from
a Kantian argument for the restriction actually, when taken further, support
eliminating the restriction. The restriction thesis is part of the package of
Transcendental Idealism. Kant does not think that either idealism, or any
limitation of our knowledge, follows just from the need for our spontaneity to
play a role in any knowledge of objects; he does not give a so-called ‘short
argument’ for idealism, but rests his arguments for restriction, and transcendental
idealism more generally, on details concerning the pure forms of our sensible
intuition: space and time.18 So if one wants to turn Kant’s own argument for the
restriction against Kant—as it is pretty widely agreed that Hegel does—then this
Hegel Arguing for and against Philosophical Systems
seems to me to require according rather the central role to either the Aesthetic or
(as I will argue) the Dialectic of Kant’s first Critique.
III. Kant’s Dialectic as infiltration of the opponent’s territory
I seek, then, to borrow the above model of a systematic interpretation, but to fill it
in with a very different approach to Hegel. Recall again, from my central Hegel text,
the problem Hegel raises about there being, with respect to a pre-critical
metaphysician like Spinoza, ‘no point in attacking him outside his territory’. This
raises an interesting question: does Kant have a critique of pre-critical metaphysics
that might address this kind of worry? I think that he recognizes the need, and
supplies one. More specifically, my view is that Kant’s Transcendental Dialectic is a
solution to just this kind of problem. Consider the way in which the B-Preface
distinguishes two main lines of argument in the Critique. The first, epistemological
line, addresses issues about the conditions of the possibility of experience, defending
synthetic a priori knowledge; the second, centered on the Dialectic, addresses the
topics of pre-critical metaphysics. From the first line, Kant says, ‘there emerges a
very strange result and one that appears very disadvantageous to the whole purpose
with which the second part of metaphysics concerns itself ’: ‘we can never get
beyond the boundaries of possible experience’ (B: xix). This gets at just how a precritical metaphysician, concerned with objects beyond experience, should respond to
the first line of argument: given the metaphilosophical commitment built into the
kind of project she pursues, it would be strange to recognize the authority of the
topic of Kant’s epistemological reflection over her project, bringing as it does such
disadvantages concerning the issues and concern that (on her view) are central. But
this is the occasion for Kant’s second overarching line of argument, which
presumably will not have this limitation relative to pre-critical metaphysics: it will, in
my Hegelian terms here, ‘infiltrate the opponent’s stronghold and meet him on his
own ground’. So Kant immediately proceeds to say that ‘herein lies just the
experiment providing a checkup on the truth’ of his result, or on the position
‘leaving the thing in itself as something actual for itself but uncognized by us’ (B: xx)
I take this to mean that the issue-focus of Kant’s Dialectic criticism cannot
be distinguished in broadly epistemological terms. The basic focus cannot be on
the possibility of representation, and not on a priority or a priori objective validity,
and so on. Nor can the focus be any claim that accounting for representation
requires attention not just to judgement but to a broader context of rational
inferences, or a space of reasons or the like. That thought may be in Hegel, and it
may be in Kant’s Dialectic. But, even if so, it cannot be what drives Kant’s
criticism of pre-critical metaphysics, and (I will argue) it cannot be the way that
this material from Kant influences Hegel’s systematic argument.
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On my view, then, we must keep the critical argument in mind when thinking
of what Kant means in highlighting the focus of the Dialectic on conditions and ‘the
unconditioned’ (B: xx), which are supposed to be of direct interest to our faculty
of reason. In the argument critical of prior metaphysics, I think the key sense
of condition is: something worldly that is such as can be appealed to in explaining.
The corresponding meaning of Kant’s term ‘unconditioned’, I think, would be
something worldly such that appeal to it might explain completely some particular kind
of regress of conditions.19 These issues are designed by Kant to capture the interests
of the pre-critical rationalists, who are his central targets. Take Leibniz’s theory of
monads. Monads would be supposed to explain how there could be composites.
The topic here is not at base epistemological. It is not about what we can infer from
what. Indeed, the epistemology, the inference, goes in the other direction: we infer
the existence of monads from the existence of composites. But the metaphysical
supporting or grounding or conditioning would flow from the monads, explaining how
there can be composites. The existence of composites does not similarly explain
how there can be monads.
So the issue-focus here is on what I will call the metaphysics of conditions
and the unconditioned; or, I would also say, the metaphysics of explanation. Kant
holds that the faculty of reason itself requires that philosophy directly raise and
pursue those issues—that we occupy this territory, to use Hegel’s metaphor. But
the way Kant argues in the Dialectic is to demonstrate that our pursuing these
issues, or occupation of this territory, necessarily leads to the contradictions of
the Antinomy (e.g., B: xx). The contradictions, then, must be demonstrated
without appeal to Kant’s epistemology, and without appeal to transcendental
idealism, because the Antinomy is supposed give independent support for all
that. In Kant’s terms, ‘the antinomy of pure reason leads inevitably back to that
limiting of our cognition’ (Ak. 20:290–91). That is, we are supposed to conclude
that our knowledge is limited, and that our pursuit of theoretical philosophy can
never really answer the nonetheless necessary and inescapable questions raised by
reason itself. Kant wants to conclude that progress in philosophy requires
transforming metaphysics and everything else—it requires re-orienting everything around reflection on broadly epistemological issues concerning conditions
of the possibility of representation of objects by a subject.20
Now, recall the problem about refutation of a system on its own territory, or
Rorty’s worry that targets of refutation can always escape by contesting on a
metaphilosophical level. Kant’s Dialectic seems to me a powerful solution to this
kind of problem: we can assume the opponents’ metaphilosophy, or the priority of
her favoured issues, but for the purposes of showing that the opponents’ project,
systematically pursued, goes astray from within—and in some way requiring a
solution available only if we shift tracks, to a different and favoured kind of
philosophical program.
Hegel Arguing for and against Philosophical Systems
Hegel, on my view, hijacks, for his own purposes, the Dialectic model, so
that the prominence he gives its terminology—‘dialectic’, ‘reason’, and so on—is
no surprise. Hegel would thus be agreeing with Kant’s Dialectic in seeing the
fundamental issues as those concerning the metaphysics of conditioning and the
unconditioned, in Kantian terms. And Hegel would agree that a philosophy
pursuing this focus necessarily generates contradictions. But Hegel would be
taking the contradictions to teach a very different lesson. They would not show
any need for philosophy to shift tracks, making another set of issues fundamental
rather than the metaphysics of conditions and the unconditioned. Rather, they
would show how to reform and fix such a metaphysics, or respond to these
issues in a way that is, for the first time, truly systematic because it is uniformly
built around these contradictions. So Hegel aims to show that it never was
necessary to change tracks, in the manner Kant thinks is required—that we can
and should better extend the track yet farther along its course in the Dialectic.
The Logic puts the point like this:
It must be regarded as an infinitely important step that dialectic
is once more being recognized as necessary to reason, although
the result that must be drawn from it is the opposite than Kant
drew. (SL: 6:558/741–42)
Furthermore, Hegel says that Antinomy contradictions are not limited, as in
Kant’s account, but occur everywhere (EL: §48R)—which is what makes for a
Hegelian or a dialectical Logic.
I conclude that the considerations about refutations of systems, in my focus
text at the transition to the Subjective Logic, suggest further support for my
thesis, that the primary issues to be built around in Hegel’s systematic argument
come from Kant’s Dialectic, rather than Analytic. I now turn to testing this result
against the challenges involved in making sense of what Hegel says at the
transition about Spinoza’s and Kant’s systems.
IV. Rising higher with Spinoza’s own resources
The first step, then, is to explain how reading Hegel as extending the
considerations of the Dialectic makes sense of his claim to surpass Spinoza’s
system building from Spinoza’s own resources. Here I want to highlight two
roots or elements which support Spinoza’s argument for monism, and are
highlighted in Hegel’s lectures’ explanation of it. The first element is a principle
requiring that everything be explicable, which Spinoza interpreters (although not
Hegel) now tend to call the principle of sufficient reason (PSR).21 Spinoza
says for example: ‘For each thing there must be assigned a cause, or reason’
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(E: 1P11D2).22 I see Hegel as thinking of this in terms of explanation, in so far as
Hegel views it all through the lens of Jacobi’s interpretation. Jacobi suggests that
the Spinozist ‘wants to explain all things absolutely … and will not otherwise let
anything stand’ (30/194). Jacobi—and we will see that Hegel follows—thinks of
this as the principle that nothing comes from nothing: ‘the spirit of Spinozism …
certainly nothing other than the ancient a nihilo nihil fit’ (14/187). Hegel follows.
The second element would be the Cartesian ontology of substance, attribute
and mode.
Note, about these two elements, that the issues they foreground are those in
the metaphysics of explanation or conditions, made central in the Dialectic. In
the case of the PSR, this is the demand that everything depend on some
condition that explains it. In the case of the ontology, think for example of
the way in which ‘mode’ is defined as something conditioned by something
that explains it, or as ‘that which is in another through which it is also conceived’
(E: 1D5).23 So, on my approach, Hegel would take Spinoza to be broadly correct
concerning which philosophical issues are most fundamental.
Further, I think that Hegel takes Spinoza’s way of pursuing these issues to
be natural, even if Hegel thinks this will generate contradictions and need to be
The key for Hegel is specifically Spinoza’s pursuit of those issues in his
proof of monism. The proof is worth attention in its own right, but here I will
just note the role of the two elements I have highlighted, focusing on steps
highlighted in Hegel’s lectures.
An important step, emphasized in Hegel’s lectures, is Spinoza’s argument
for ‘P5: … there cannot be two or more substances of the same … attribute’
(E: 1P5; LHP: 20: 173/265).
Note here that the first element (PSR) requires that, if there are distinct
substances, then there would have to be a cause explaining this. The second
element (the ontology) dictates what kinds of causes would be available. Modes
are one possibility, but modes are supposed to be too dependent to explain this;
so Spinoza concludes that only attributes can serve as a cause here, and that
distinct substances would require distinct attributes.
Another key step is the ban on cross-attribute causal relations (E: 1P2–3).
What Hegel emphasizes, in this connection, is P10: ‘Each attribute of a substance
must be conceived through itself ’ (E: 1P10; Hegel 20: 173/265).
Together these steps can support a big conclusion, by this route: if there is
any substance, then by the PSR it requires a cause of its existence. Ruling out
cross-attribute causality, and attribute sharing, rules out the cause being another
substance. So any substance would have to be the cause of itself, or a necessary
being in this sense (E: 1P7). And Spinoza argues this requires any substance to be
infinite in its kind (E: 1P8).
Hegel Arguing for and against Philosophical Systems
But Hegel sees that this falls short of monism; it would, so far, still allow
multiple substances, each a necessary being and infinite within its kind or
attribute. And Hegel sees that Spinoza needs to rule this out by arguing that,
should there be any substance other than God—defined as a substance with all
attributes—this would be unexplainable. Hegel highlights this idea, translating
Spinoza’s argument in E: 1P14: ‘if there were a substance other than God, it
must be explained by means of an attribute of God’ (E: 1P14D; Hegel 20: 174/
266).24 Since that would require two substances of the same attribute, the
existence a substance other than God would be unexplainable, and the only
scenario satisfying the principle requiring that everything be explained is
supposed to be the existence of God alone, and so substance monism.
We can give in these terms a Hegel-inspired interpretation of Spinoza’s way
of arguing for a philosophical system, along these lines:
Spinozist Systematic Argument
1. Fundamental Issues: Issues about the metaphysics of explanation
/of conditions and conditioning.
2. Argument Strategy: Draw consequences from (a) demand that
everything has an explanation, and (b) the ontology of substance.
Some may expect Hegel’s own systematic argument to fit the Spinoza model, but
I think that we should evaluate this question by looking to Hegel’s response to
Spinoza in the Logic.
Of particular interest are the discussions of Spinoza in ‘Actuality’, the final
section of the second book or division of the Logic, prior to the transition to the
culminating Subjective Logic. For here Hegel levels a powerful criticism:
Spinoza’s monism involves a denial of all determinacy and finitude. For example,
‘Spinozism is a deficient philosophy’ because, with respect to the one substance,
‘there is no determinateness which would not be … dissolved into it’ (SL: 6:195/
472; cf. E: §151Zu).25 I do not think that Hegel is saying that Spinoza nowhere
contradicts that conclusion. The point is that Spinoza’s argument strategy should
force him to it. We can see this, for example, where Hegel says that those who
employ the principle that nothing comes from nothing (PSR), whether they know
it or not, are forced to Eleatic monism, denying the reality of change,
determinacy or anything but the abstract ‘one’:
Ex nihilo, nihil fit … nothing comes from nothing … Those who
zealously hold firm to the proposition … are unaware that in so
doing they are subscribing to the abstract pantheism of the
Eleatics and essentially also to that of Spinoza (SL: 5:85/61).26
I think that Hegel has multiple lines of attack here, each worthy of more
discussion: I focus here on the simplest and most ambitious, arguing that
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Spinoza’s own argument should commit him to the denial of the existence of
determinate attributes, and so of all the modes dependent on them, leaving
nothing but indeterminate substance.
I would defend Hegel’s case by showing how it can rest on a re-working of
Spinoza’s argument in P5, about the possibility of distinct substances. The
argument rests on the need, if there is distinction, for a cause to explain it. It
should be in this spirit to require that, if there are distinct attributes, then there
would have to be a cause to explain this as well. And yet Spinoza’s version of the
Cartesian ontology would offer nothing that can do this work. Modes cannot
serve; for, Spinoza argues, in considering modes as explaining the distinctness of
substances, that their dependence renders them incapable of explaining the
distinctness of that which they depend upon (E: 1P5D). The alternative allowed
by Spinoza’s own demonstration of P5 is attributes themselves as causes. What
would it be for the distinctness of attributes to explain the distinctness of
attributes? This would have to be the case: to be attribute X is to not be attribute
Y, and so on for all attributes. But this is what Spinoza rules out, as in Hegel’s
citation of P10: ‘Each attribute of a substance must be conceived through itself ’.
In an earlier letter, Spinoza had tried defining attributes by ruling this out: ‘By
attribute I understand whatever is conceived through itself and in itself, so that its
concept does not involve the concept of another thing’ (E: 67).27
In sum, Spinoza’s own way of arguing leaves no room for a cause to explain
the distinctness of distinct attributes. Hegel’s Logic charges that Spinoza just
cheats here: ‘Differentiation occurs with Spinoza quite empirically—attributes
(thought and extension) and then modes, affects, and all the remaining’ (21:381/
333). Spinoza cannot allow empirical evidence to settle the matter of distinctness,
since his anti-monist opponents would happily adduce what they take to be
equally strong empirical evidence for distinct substances. So Spinoza cannot
allow any case of the distinctness of distinct attributes, and consequently his own
principles require him to deny the existence of distinct attributes at all, leaving
only the Eleatic one, with no determinate differences.
One sense in which this Hegelian criticism uses Spinoza’s ‘own
resources’ (as Hegel requires) should be clear: the point is that the very
elements supporting Spinoza’s argument for monism in fact force the elimination
of determinacy.
Granted, a certain kind of Eleatic monist might try to retrench here, in just
the manner I have worried about all along: she might embrace the conclusion
that there is nothing determinate, and reject Hegel’s worries by declaring
determinacy itself to be external and indifferent to her Eleatic system. But
consider this possible retrenchment from the point of view of Hegel, understood
as following Kant’s Dialectic. Part of what makes Hegel think that Spinoza’s steps
are natural ones for philosophy is that Hegel takes philosophy to be an
Hegel Arguing for and against Philosophical Systems
expression of reason’s interest in the metaphysics of explicability and complete
explicability. Philosophy, for example, exists to ‘procure for reason’s urges the
satisfaction it deserves’ (EL: 8:38/26). But Spinoza pursues this same interest in
a very specific manner, and one that leads to a destination that can seem perverse
given the starting point: it turns out that if we pursue explicability in this way, via
the Cartesian ontology and the demand that everything real would have to be
explicable, then we end up having to conclude that there can be nothing
determinate about which explanatory questions could arise. So, from this point
of view, the source of appeal of Spinoza’s starting point—the interest in the
metaphysics of explicability—would be itself contradicted by the conclusion to
which Spinoza’s way of pursuing that interest forces him.
Hegel seeks to draw a conclusion from this. But it is not the conclusion
that philosophy need shift tracks, to make some other issues fundamental,
such as broadly epistemological issues about representation and its objects.
Rather, we must extend the same tracks further, or to better pursue the
same issues within the metaphysics of explanation. It is better not to pursue
those same issues by following Spinoza’s specific argument-strategy, drawing
consequences from intuitive principles and ontology. It is better rather to
attend to the way in which such a natural pursuit generates contradictions,
and to draw whatever metaphysical conclusions follow from those
contradictions, even if these are initially less intuitive than Spinoza’s principles
and ontology.
Part of Hegel’s point is negative: the rejection of the ontology in
which substance is basic. More generally, the treatment of Spinoza at the end of
the Objective Logic is supposed to bring to a conclusion Hegel’s case for the
abandonment of all forms of what Hegel calls ‘the metaphysics of the
understanding’. We could also call this a thing metaphysics, in the sense that it
makes basic what Hegel calls substance as substratum, supposed to correspond
with the subject-place in judgement (see Kreines 2015: chapter 6). Natural as that
ontology is, Hegel argues that it leads to unacceptable dead ends. The last of
these is supposed to come after investment in supposedly independent things as
causes, including Spinoza’s conception of substance as cause of itself (§153An),
and of everything else. Hegel argues that it would have to be in the nature of the
cause to bring about the effect. What it is to be the cause, then, would end up
depending on the effect. The result is ‘reciprocity’ as a ‘vacuousness’ (§156):
everything would be equally cause and effect of everything else, in infinite regress,
and metaphysics would be left with nothing which is such that appeal to it truly
explains anything else.
We can see in these terms why Hegel would take Spinoza as an essential and
necessary step, while still pressing a far-reaching disagreement. Spinozism is ‘the
foundation of all true further development, but it is not possible to stand pat with
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it’ (§151Zu). The well-known expression of the point in the lectures on Spinoza
is that ‘[w]hen one begins to philosophize one must be first a Spinozist. The soul
must bathe itself in the aether of this single substance, in which everything one
believed true has perished’ (LHP: 20:165/3:257, my translation). This cannot be
an embrace, on Hegel’s part, of a one indeterminate substance—given the
criticism of Spinoza. The point is rather that philosophy must focus on Spinoza’s
issues, and must think through his powerful argument for monism, in order to
free itself from the intuitive thing-metaphysics of the understanding—‘everything
one believed true’—and in order move on to better resolve those fundamental
issues in very different ways.
But attention to contradiction is supposed to support not just the abstract
negation of subtracting intuitive content; rather, specific contradictions are
supposed to support determinate negation and so specific positive lessons. The
specific defect in Spinozism teaches the need to try to replace Spinoza’s
conception of explanatory completeness in terms of the idea of a necessary being
as the self-causing ground of reality with something else—with some one
something that nonetheless generates from itself difference, or with a metaphysics
of self-determination, or freedom, or ‘self-negating negation’ (11:376/472).
Metaphysics was left with nothing such that appeal to it could explain anything; it
must turn to something self-determining enough to be responsible for
something, such that appeal to it can explain.
This last point provides us with a very different account of the systematic
relevance of the transition from an Objective to a Subjective Logic. What
distinguishes the Objective Logic is a focus on the intuitive thing-metaphysics of
the understanding, on substance as substratum, and so on. The Logic aims to get
beyond this. So:
… objective logic comprises within itself the metaphysics which
sought to comprehend with the pure forms of thought such
particular substrata, originally drawn from the imagination, as the
soul, the world, and God … Logic, however, considers these
forms free of those substrata … (SL: 21:49/42)
And the transition away from the intuitive thing metaphysics still dominant in the
Doctrine of Essence—leaving us with the ‘conceptless’ (§156Zu) relation of
cause and effect and reciprocity—must give way to the Doctrine of the Concept
or the Subjective Logic. Or, ‘This truth of necessity is thus freedom, and the truth of
substance is the concept’ (§158). I take this to mean that the Subjective Logic retains
the same issue-focus, on the metaphysics of explanation; but it now pursues this focus
freed from the old intuitive constraint, free to develop towards a metaphysics of
complete explanation in terms not of a necessary being but a kind of free selfdetermination—ultimately, what Hegel will call ‘the idea’.
Hegel Arguing for and against Philosophical Systems
It is now possible to fill our model from above in a new way:
Transcendental Dialectic Model of Systematic Argument
1. Fundamental issues: metaphysics of explanation.
2. Argument strategy: expose contradictions, determinate negation
produces better theories of the fundamental issues.
3. What distinguishes Subjective from Objective Logic? Subjective
Logic pursues the metaphysics of conditions and the unconditioned,
but no longer constrained by intuitive commitments like that to the
substrata of the metaphysics of the understanding, generating an
account of the unconditioned as a kind of free self-determination.
4. What is the root reason why pre-Kantian metaphysics is supposed to
fail? Because it generates, within metaphysics, Antinomy contradictions that it cannot resolve.
Now I have focused here on the transition to the Subjective Logic, and it is
important to mention that there are crucial further steps to come, closer to the end
of the Subjective Logic. The view I have defended elsewhere (Kreines 2015) argues
that the end makes clear the focus on the metaphysics of explanation, and turns out
even more anti-Spinozist than is yet clear at the transition discussed here. I think the
key argument will be this: out of contradictions in mechanism and chemism, Hegel
draws the conclusion that an adequate metaphysics of explanation must take
teleology as more complete, less conditioned. But the greater explanatory completeness
of teleological life turns out to require realization in something non-teleological,
something it can use for its purposes. Without the non-teleological realizer, life could
not act without getting sucked into the mere conditionedness of mechanism. So this
will mean denying also Spinoza’s principle. In order for there to be something
completely explicable—the idea, including in the first case life—there must also be
things not completely explicable: non-teleological things. So it cannot be the case that
everything is explicable. The less explicable must be neither completely a form of,
nor in, the idea—they are rather insubstantial, not entirely actual or wirklich, and
external. So I think that Hegel’s criticism of Spinoza also leads away from
metaphysical monism in important respects.
But here I will not pursue those later parts of the Logic. What is crucial here is
that it is thinking in terms of the Dialectic that lets us see how Hegel uses a resource
from Spinoza himself, but to lift philosophy higher, into a different system.
V. Kant in the Doctrine of the Concept
The initial problem included how to make sense of discussions of both Spinoza
and Kant at the transition point to the Subjective Logic. And the remaining
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challenge here is significant. Recall Hegel’s complaint that Spinoza fails to
generate attributes out of his one substance. In that case, I concluded that Hegel
is promising to pursue similar issues, and yet in a different way that does better
with respect to those issues. But now come back to Hegel’s comparable
complaint, noted above, about Kant: he fails to generate his categories out of the
‘I’ of apperception. Parallel reasoning would seem to suggest the reading that
Hegel is promising to use the conclusion of the Logic to argue in a way that
pursues fundamentally the issues from Kant’s Analytic, about the possibility of
cognition of objects, and yet to execute in a way that does better in this same
respect. But then we have all of the problems encountered along the way: if we
now say there are two equally fundamental tracks of argument in the Logic
pursuing distinct kinds of philosophical issue, then this would be to say that there
is no organizing unity, and no systematic argument in this respect. If those tracks
are non-fundamental, and organized or given unity by something else, then none
of the ways of reading Hegel so far considered has made any progress toward
explaining this something else, or how Hegel hopes to argue for a system. And if
the Spinoza-inspired track is supposed to be non-fundamental and superseded by
an Analytic-inspired track, then we have lost our account of the comprehensiveness of Hegel’s systematic argument, in losing track of a convincing refutation
of Spinoza, given the problem of contesting metaphilosophy—and more
specifically, of a sense in which Hegel commits to raise Spinozism higher by
means of its own resources.
I would argue that the natural, parallel reasoning causing trouble in the last
paragraph is mistaken: that the Logic is not, in the end, fundamentally pursuing
the issues of Kant’s Analytic, concerning the possibility of representation, and
that they are not what unifies its argument into defence of one system. And that
means providing a different way to understand Hegel’s complaint about Kant’s
execution—one that fits better, I think, with Hegel’s response to Spinoza and the
aim of systematic argument. We need not see the complaint against Kant as a
promise to do better in the very same respect. The point could instead be this:
consideration of the potential for a systematic philosophy based on the issues
from the Transcendental Analytic shows this to not work out, given the problem
about derivation of the categories from transcendental apperception. What this
shows is not that this kind of system can be better executed. It shows rather that
a system of philosophy is better built by making fundamental instead the distinct
issues within the metaphysics of explanation. The point is then that consideration
of a Transcendental Analytic-based system eventually shows this to go astray, and
in need of digging down below itself, as it were, and out of itself into another
kind of project or system. For such a project cannot rest content with something
like formal conditions of the possibility of the representation of objects.
Ultimately, it would require also a metaphysical account of how some one, unified,
Hegel Arguing for and against Philosophical Systems
subject might generate diversity out of itself.28 This would be not a track-extending
but a track-shifting argument: even if we do try to pursue a positive program
modelled on deductions from Kant’s Analytic consideration of the possibility of
representation, and pursue it systematically, ultimately this forces us to shift, so
that we instead recognize as more fundamental the kind of metaphysical issues
that Hegel and Spinoza orient their systems around.
Consider in this light a passage in the introduction to the Subjective Logic
that takes an interesting turn. The well-known passage begins like this:
…we find in a fundamental principle of Kantian philosophy
the justification for turning to the nature of the ‘I’ in order to
learn what the concept is.
So far, this might seem to be Hegel proposing to argue or justifying conclusions
in exactly the manner of Kant’s Analytic. But Hegel immediately continues with a
familiar complaint about Kant:
If we cling to the mere representation of the ‘I’ as we
commonly entertain it, then the ‘I’ is only the simple thing also
known as the soul, a thing in which the concept inheres as a
possession or a property. (SL: 12:19/516)
So the complaint is that Kant’s way of arguing, by pursuing conditions of the
possibility of representation or cognition, prevents philosophy from doing what it
needs to do, namely, of revising the store of metaphysical ideas, or revising the
metaphysics of the ‘I’. Kant’s ideas remain, Hegel often charges, shaped by the
metaphysics of the understanding, and substrata in which properties inhere.
Kant’s denying knowledge does nothing to help reconceive the metaphysical ideas.29
So I take Hegel’s conclusion to be that proper pursuit of Kant’s own principle
should have pushed him to shift tracks and alter his positive project, so that it
came to cede the priority of different issues: not issues about deducing pure
categories of the understanding, but about the metaphysics of the unconditioned.
Now perhaps some would make a new proposal here, saying that this kind
result is just a way of better executing Kant’s Analytic project. The issue-focus in
such a program would remain on the possibility of the representation of objects.
The conclusions would include the claim that among the conditions of this is a
metaphysically self-determining or spontaneous subject. So the program would
be organized by issues concerning representation, and the metaphysical
conclusions would rest on those underlying it, or more basic considerations.
But I think that, from Hegel’s perspective, this would be more ambivalent
than systematic. To see why, think of the full shape of the resulting philosophical
program. And think in terms of what I called Hegel’s swimming argument above.
So, the first step of such a program would be to reject direct engagements with
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the metaphysics of explanation, conditions or grounds. The reason we would be
supposed to not immediately think about essence or God, and the way these
are supposed to have kinds of explanatory priority, would be because (so the
story would go) there is something unsafe or worrisome there. The worry might
be scepticism about knowledge, or the worry that we might not be able to know
God or essence. But the worry could also be more like a kind of semantic
scepticism, or a worry that we might not be able to represent at all these objects
from pre-critical metaphysics. In either case, the worry would be supposed to
force philosophy to change tracks and systematically pursue issues about the
possibility of such representation as basic—deriving conceptual conditions of the
possibility of this, and so on. But now the new proposal we are considering
would add that it turns out that pursuit of that Analytic-based program cannot be
complete, and the needed reassurance for the worry cannot be provided, until
and unless we step right back into the metaphysics of explanation or reason. If so, then this
seems to be a spinning of the methodological wheels, rather than settling
on a systematic argument. And then there really was not any reason to abandon
direct pursuit of such metaphysical issues in the first place, and no reason to
privilege questions about representation of objects, so that the whole Analyticinspired track drops out as unnecessary. The apparent reason rested on what is
now conceded to be an illusion, namely: that we could pursue something
else, something meta-theoretical, in some pure form, and get reassurance about
the possibility and limits of representation of objects first. I do not think that
Hegel’s Logic is ambivalent or confused here: the consistent position is that such
hope is just an illusion, like the hope to learn to swim before getting in the water.
If so, then the systematic way of making positive progress is to face the
inescapable issues about the metaphysics of explanation or the unconditioned, in
their full breadth and generality, wherever they arise—whether these concern the
subject, or essence or God—and develop these by consideration of internal
contradictions into Hegel’s metaphysics of self-determination. Since it is now
conceded that systematic philosophy must eventually jump in those metaphysical
waters, it should now also be conceded that a unified, systematic approach would
be all-in.
Some who are attracted to Analytic-like programs in philosophy will
worry that jumping in the water sounds like a reversion to the pre-critical. But
this will only seem so if one merely assumes that the divide between the precritical and the critical is drawn in terms of neglect and attention to issues about
the conditions of the possibility of the representation of objects. I have provided
here what seems to me both a better and a more Hegelian way of classifying the
possibilities here: Hegel does not understand the modern spirit of critical
philosophy, which he intends to develop, as defined by reflection on issues
concerning the conditions of representation. He defines in terms of attention to
Hegel Arguing for and against Philosophical Systems
Antinomy-style contradictions, necessarily arising from consideration of issues
within the metaphysics of explanation. So, despite what can seem to be (from
Hegel’s perspective) a ‘retrograde step’ of Kant’s restriction of our knowledge,
[T]here is something deeper lying at the foundation of this turn
which knowledge takes, and appears as a loss and a retrograde
step, something on which the elevation of reason to the loftier
spirit of modern philosophy in fact rests. The basis of that
conception now universally accepted is to be sought, namely, in
the insight into the necessary conflict … (SL: 20:30/25–26)
Another way to put the point is to say that Hegel advocates jumping in the water,
but not swimming the same old stroke. That is, he prioritizes the old issues, but
addresses them differently than pre-critical metaphysicians. Instead of a precritical drawing of consequences from intuitive principles, as in Spinoza’s use of
Cartesian ontology, Hegel advocates attending to contradictions in those old
views, and learning from them that the old, pre-critical ways of thinking of
substance and the like must be revised. The procedure here is Kantian, but not at
all in the Analytic sense of building around consideration of the conditions of the
possibility of representation—it is Kantian in the Dialectic sense of reasoning
from contradictions within the metaphysics of conditions.
One more reason to think that this is what is going on in the Doctrine of
the Concept is to think of the ‘Mechanism’ chapter, for example. I do not think
Hegel asks whether the absolute mechanism considered there fails to provide the
resources necessary to account for the possibility of representation of objects by
a subject. That argument could have been very short. But this is not what Hegel
argues. He is here still, and finally fundamentally, pursuing the old issues, like
Spinoza’s. Hegel takes absolute mechanism seriously as a treatment of such
issues, concerning the metaphysics of explanation. And he seeks to refute it in its
own terms—to meet it, on its own grounds. What he is doing is working through
these issues, trying to show that any take on them generates contradictions
ultimately resolved only with a metaphysics of self-determination. Of course, this
eventually leads into a penultimate ‘Cognition’ chapter, but I would argue that
this pursues metaphysical issues about greater self-determination than covered in
the ‘Life’ chapter: the experiment considered turns out to rely on a metaphysics
of ‘the good’ and ‘the true’ (§233), and in ways requiring revision in the final
chapter on ‘The Absolute Idea’.
Now some might lodge a final objection. Gabriel has advanced it in a
useful form, raising the worry that my Dialectic-focused ‘reading ignores the
fact that Hegel does not avoid epistemology’ (Gabriel 2016: 204, fn 26). Here
I have tried to argue that consideration of the problem of arguing for a system
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highlights not questions about which issues are included and which avoided,
but rather questions about which kind of issues is prior, or taken as fundamental.
My proposal is that Hegel bases his project on the metaphysics of the Dialectic,
without needing to ignore epistemology. There are two senses in which it is
The first sense is that Hegel pursues broadly epistemological issues
in a track-shifting argument that has been my focus in this section. At some
points, like the beginning of the subjective logic, Hegel considers the possibility
of a systematic philosophy focused on such broadly epistemological issues.
But he does so in order to show that such a system is eventually forced
out of itself and into a project organized by the issues in the metaphysics of
To see a second sense, consider the very simple idea of organizing a system
around something like evil demon scepticism from the Meditations. We might first
reject competing views on grounds that they cannot resolve this scepticism
without begging the question, by appealing to something placed in doubt by
thoughts about an evil demon. We would have to conclude with a better answer
to scepticism, meeting these high standards.
But of course many other kinds of philosophical programs will reject
the standard of the evil demon. They will not take this issue as fundamental,
but will have some other metaphilosophy. For example, say we instead hold
that the problem of representing objects at all, let alone correctly, is more
fundamental. We could argue that evil demon scepticism about knowledge founders
in so far as it assumes but cannot explain the possibility of representing the objects
of which it questions the possibility knowledge. This rival kind of system is not
thereby precluded from addressing issues about knowledge. But the standards it
faces would be very different: it would not have to justify the possibility of
knowledge without presuming anything the demon places in doubt. The high
standards here would come with the alternative issues taken as fundamental: after
rejecting evil demon scepticism for failing to explain representation without
begging the question, by assuming representational notions in explaining this, this
new system will have to do better on that score—better in accounting for the
possibility of the representation of objects. This is part of why it is so important to
make explicit what metaphilosophy is driving the systematic argument, because
this sets the standard for what does and does not beg the question.
Similarly, I think that Hegel can argue that both kinds of broadly
epistemological programs just mentioned miss the fundamentality of yet other
issues still, about the metaphysics of conditioning and the unconditioned. To say
this is not to say that Hegel must ignore knowledge and representation. It is just
to say that he is not building or organizing his system in those terms. So he can
address knowledge, for example, without having to accept the terms of evil
Hegel Arguing for and against Philosophical Systems
demon scepticism and somehow resolve it. Similarly, consider the Kantian
question about representation:
What is the ground of the relation of that in us which we call
‘representation’ to the object? (131/10:130).
Hegel can treat this as important, not because of any specialness of the topic of
representation. Rather, just in so far as it is another question about grounds or
conditions, and a natural topic in a metaphysics of explanation. And this would
make a big difference in the standards he would have to meet. There is, after all, in
the Subjective Logic, an initial orientation around reflection on forms of judgement
(§166ff.). It is right to say that Hegel gives epistemological issues from the
Transcendental Analytic, such as those concerning ‘objective validity’ (SL: 12:18/
518)30, a Kantian answer in terms of the transcendental unity of apperception—so
long as it is added that Hegel takes this answer not to be able to stand on its own,
but to raise metaphysical issues, or to reveal a priority of metaphysical issues, the
resolving of which is what unifies the broader systematic argument.31
Finally, I can bring this to a conclusion in these very terms. The problem at
issue has been how to explain the aim for a systematic argument. The discussions of
Spinoza and Kant at the transition to the Subjective Logic can make this harder still.
But thinking of Kant’s Dialectic as Hegel’s model offers what I think is the best way
forward: This will mean that Hegel sees Spinoza’s defence of monism as focused on
the right issues, concerning what I call the metaphysics of explanation. But, also,
Hegel can argue that Spinoza’s case goes awry from within, and the track that
considers these issues needs to be extended into a Subjective Logic focused on the
metaphysics of self-determination. With respect to Kant, this will mean that the main
systematic relevance of Hegel’s drawing concepts from Kant’s Analytic is what I call
a ‘track-shifting’ argument: showing that pursuit of the Analytic program as a system
would eventually have to shift tracks to something more forced on the metaphysical
issues highlighted in Kant’s own Dialectic. Finally, settling in this way the
metaphilosophy or fundamental issues organizing Hegel’s systematic argument
promises to make clearer the stakes he imposes on himself: The basic challenge is
not to accept the terms of evil demon scepticism and reply to it. The basic challenge
is not to account for the possibility of representation without employing
representational notions. In my view, the basic challenge would be addressing the
broadest issues about grounds or conditions and the metaphysics of explanation, in a
manner that—while it must raise dialectical contradictions—can eventually give a more
satisfying resolution of those contradictions in a metaphysics of self-determination.32
James Kreines
Claremont McKenna College, USA
[email protected]
James Kreines
Redding (2016: 716–17)—and see related worries in Gabriel (2016: 200–1 and 204) and
Moyar (2018: 608f.)—on Kreines (2015).
Knappik (2016) and Bowman (2017) pursue these worries, in light of multiple texts touching
on Spinoza and monism.
Abbreviations used:
Hegel: References to the German text of the self-standing Logic are to the critical edition,
Gesammelte Werke (Hamburg: Meiner, 1968). Other references to the German are to the
writings contained in Werke in zwanzig Bände, ed. E. Moldenhauer and K. Michel (Frankfurt:
Suhrkamp, 1970–1) by volume: page in that edition. I cite the Encyclopaedia by § number, with
‘An’ indicating Anmerkung and ‘Zu’ indicating Zusatz.
English translations:
EL: Hegel, Encyclopedia Logic, trans. T. F. Geraets, H. S. Harris, and W. A. Suchting
(Indianapolis: Hackett, 1991).
PhG: Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977).
LHP: Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy in 3 volumes, trans. E. S. Haldane and F. H.
Simson (Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1995).
SL: Hegel, Science of Logic, trans. A. V. Miller (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1969).
Kant: Aside from references to the Critique of Pure Reason, all references to Kant’s writings are
given by volume and page number of the Akademie edition (Ak.) of Kant’s Gesammelte Schriften
(Berlin: de Gruyter, 1902).
A/B: Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. P. Guyer and A. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1998).
Spinoza: References to the Ethics by part (I–V), proposition (P), definition (D), scholium (S)
and corollary (C).
E: Spinoza, A Spinoza Reader, trans. and ed. E. Curley (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
Or, later, ‘The concept, as absolutely self-identical negativity, is self-determining’ (SL:
Hegel points out that the problem is yet more difficult, since Spinoza’s system can
give an account of subjectivity in terms of the attribute of thought; Spinoza need only
reject as irrelevant any aspects of subjectivity or freedom that do not survive his
Note that Hegel saves room here for notions like that of intellectual intuition to figure in
other ways in philosophy, without this specific failing.
Compare Hegel: ‘philosophy permits neither a mere offering of assurances, nor imaginings,
nor the arbitrary back-and-forth thinking characteristic of rationalization [Räsonnement]’ (§77).
Most important, to my mind, is the path-breaking Pippin (1989).
On this association, see Pippin (1987).
Hegel Arguing for and against Philosophical Systems
I think something like this is what Pippin means in seeing in Hegel a ‘confrontation with a “realist
skepticism”’ (1989: 94; also 31, 98–99, 107, 167). Or Redding: ‘Kant’s combination of conceivability
but unknowability seems to take away with the one hand a quasi-divine epistemic take on the world
… only to return something like a semantic version of it with the other’ (2007: 222).
Borrowing the terminology of eliminating from within from my (2006).
See e.g. Pippin: ‘our way of taking up, discriminating, categorizing the world’ can ‘somehow
pass from “ours” to “absolute” status’ (1993: 287).
Rorty (1967).
Kant himself seems to explore a similar idea in the Groundwork at Ak. 4:452.
This is how I would approach bringing out the appeal of understanding the history of
philosophy, under this title, in Brandom (2002).
This is how I would understand McDowell’s proposal to, following Pippin (2009: 69), read
Hegel as a ‘radicalization of Kant’.
See Kreines (2012, 2015). Note that this is not to say that Hegel excludes issues about the
possibility of cognition of objects. He may even sometimes, as in the Phenomenology, start with
such issues; I would argue that he is here making the case in detail, as summarized in the
swimming argument (PhG: §73), that emphasizing these issues necessarily gives way to the
fundamentality of metaphysical issues.
Following Ameriks (1990).
Here I follow Grier (2001: e.g., 2 and 144); Proops (2010: 455); and Kreines (2015: ch. 4).
‘[T]he concern of this critique of pure speculative reason consists in that attempt to
transform the accepted procedure of metaphysics’ (B xxii).
I follow this usage for concision, but Hegel does not use this terminology with respect to
Earlier, Spinoza says that ‘there must be, for each existing thing, a certain cause on account
of which it exists’ (E: 1P8S2).
In his rendition of E: 1P14D, Hegel equates erklärt (explained) and begriffen (conveived)
(LHP: 20: 174/266).
Hegel equates erklärt and begriffen here.
Spinoza’s is not the only monism against which Hegel makes comparable charges; I take it
that the charge is similar in the famous complaint about a view that would ‘palm off its
Absolute as the night in which, as the saying goes, all cows are black—this is cognition naively
reduced to vacuity’ (PhG: §16).
Note again the connection with Jacobi, from above.
Perhaps some will think there is a remaining possibility: perhaps a definition of substance,
somehow prior to its attributes, could explain the existence and distinctness of the attributes. I
do not think Spinoza’s own use of the ontology in proofs by elimination allows this. More
importantly, I do not think he can allow it: for example, he cannot allow competitors to
monism to define God as creating a universe of separate, finite substances.
This is what I would take to be the upshot of the powerful worries about Kant on
spontaneity in Pippin (1987).
James Kreines
There are many passages elsewhere—like the treatment of the critical philosophy at the
beginning of the Encyclopaedia—making plain that this is a complaint Hegel has against Kant
specifically: Kant retains the ‘thoughts’ of objects like the soul as things in this substratum
sense, downgrading these to just thoughts beyond the bounds of sensibility. (EL: §47An)
Thanks to Dean Moyar for pressing on this point, on which see (Moyar 2018).
I would argue that this is the case in the Phenomenology of Spirit.
I would like to thank the editors of this volume, Dean Moyar, and an anonymous referee, for
generous and helpful comments and suggestions—and participants and audience members at
the conference ‘Reconsidering Hegel’s Logic’ at the University of Pittsburgh for their feedback.
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Geschichte der Philosophie 72: 63–85.
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Reason and Hegel’s Logic. A Book Symposium on James Kreines’ Reason in
the World. Hegel’s Metaphysics and its Philosophical Appeal ’, Hegel-Studien 50: 129–173.
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Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Hegel Arguing for and against Philosophical Systems
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