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Home arrow Sociology arrow Hegel, Love and Forgiveness: Positive Recognition in German Idealism



Cassam’s central thesis in Selfand World is that it is not possible to give an adequate account of self-consciousness without acknowledging the importance of bodily self-awareness. At the same time, however, it is not possible for the subject, qua subject, to be conscious of itself as an object. Nevertheless, he defends a materialist account of self-consciousness. The materialist account is basically the argument that we are aware of ourselves or conceive of ourselves as corporeal objects among corporeal objects. Essentially, this is an empiricist argument: Michael Ayers, for example, states that ‘our experience of ourselves as being a material object amongst others essentially permeates our sensory experience of things in general’.11

As Cassam points out, it is often argued that materialism about self-consciousness is equivalent in some way to materialism about the self. If the self is a physical object, then no more is needed to argue for the proposition that consciousness of that self is necessarily consciousness of it qua physical object. The converse, of course, is not true - it is entirely possible to be an immaterialist about the self such as Descartes and not be committed to saying that thinking subjects do not appear to themselves as physical. Cassam points to Shoemaker’s argument in support of the view that materialism about the self does not entail materialism about self-consciousness:

[W]hen one is introspectively aware of one’s thoughts, feelings, beliefs and desires,

one is not presented to oneself as a flesh and blood person, and does not seem to be

presented to oneself as an object at all.12

Simply put, there is no difficulty in believing that the self is presented to the self as other than it actually is. As Shoemaker and Cassam both point out, if we say that there is a contradiction or difficulty here, we would have to say that someone who is a materialist about the self and thinks that subjects are bodies (or some part of the body) would have to regard looking in the mirror as a form of introspective awareness.13

Here, we come to an important distinction between models of self-consciousness that will be particularly pertinent to Tugendhat’s concerns. This is the distinction between conceiving of the self as being a certain thing, and being intuitively aware of the self as a certain thing - this is the difference between thinking of something as a certain type of thing, and experiencing something as a certain type of thing. When Tugendhat talks about identifying the self as something within that self and treating the perceived self as an object before one, this would seem to be far more of a danger for an account that falls into what Cassam calls a ‘concept version’ of self-consciousness than for an account that sees the self as intuited in self-consciousness.14 A concept version would not inevitably be guilty of falling into this particular fallacy - it is possible that the self which is conceived of is precisely what the self actually is - but the intuition version would seem to be less susceptible. Of course, it is entirely possible that one could be intuitively aware only of some part of what actually constitutes the self, but the picture of this part of the self being observed as something apparently outside the self seems not to apply. However, the advocate of an intuition version of self-consciousness seems already to have headed down the road of the epistemological model, ‘inner gaze’ equally rejected by Tugendhat.

Many neo-Kantian, analytical accounts that are materialist about self-consciousness have been ‘concept versions’, influenced as they are by the Strawsonian tradition. Writers in the Continental tradition such as Husserl, Sartre and Merleau- Ponty have, in contrast, have adopted an intuition version. However, as Cassam points out, these philosophers have fallen into a Schopenhauerian dualism, making a distinction between the ‘objective’ body and the ‘phenomenal’ body (this terminology is from Merleau-Ponty.)15 One can have an intuitive awareness of oneself as a physical thing without simultaneously being aware of oneself qua subject as a physical object amongst physical objects in the sense Strawson demands.

The problem with this subject/object dualism of Schopenhauer’s is that ‘there is a conflict between awareness of something qua subject and awareness of it as an object among others’.16 This statement is clearly correct. However, it will be a central claim of this work (particularly in Chapter Four) that there is no difficulty with this at all, and in fact it is this very dualism or tension that allows a person to become self-conscious in the Hegelian sense in the first place. Phenomenologically, this view of the self is convincing.

It would be difficult to deny that we have different kinds of relations to our bodies at different times - the everyday experience of our bodies as instruments of agency, the experience of pain or illness in part of the body, the simple regarding of some part of it. It seems clear, however, that there will be a particular kind of relation to one’s body that is specifically relevant for the development of selfconsciousness , and it would seem rather peculiar if this did not coincide with the way the body is for self-consciousness, the conception of the self that under?lies the account of self-consciousness. This objection comes, of course, from the point of view of an intuition version of an account of self-consciousness. On a concept version, there is no problem at all with conceiving of the self as a particular thing or group of qualities that do not completely, wholly or even partly overlap with the way the self is experienced in daily life - indeed, for a concept version of a materialist account of the self and self-consciousness, it is difficult to imagine how self-consciousness could work in any other way if we are to avoid saying that the self can be regarded by looking in the mirror.

What Cassam, and, I will argue, Hegel himself, are advocating is a view of the self as the bodily subject of consciousness. In this way, they agree fundamentally with the most prominent contemporary analytic champion of the importance of Hegel’s thought on self-consciousness and the self, namely John McDowell, who has the following to add to the debate:

If we begin with a free-standing notion of an experiential route through objective reality, a temporally extended point of view that might be bodiless so far as the connection between subjectivity and objectivity goes, there seems to be no prospect of building up from there to the notion of a substantial presence in the world. If something starts out conceiving itself as a merely formal referent for ‘I’, „how could it come to appropriate a body.,? Perhaps we can pretend to make sense of the idea that such a subject might register a special role played by a particular body in determining the course of its experience. But that would not provide for it to conceive itself, the subject of its experience, as...a bodily presence in the world.17

McDowell’s target here is Kant. His objection is to Kant’s bodiless conception of the self as important for self-consciousness. He is entirely correct to say that one cannot move from Kant’s idea of the transcendental self to a position where we can conceive of ourselves as bodily presences in the world. Like Jenkins, he appeals to the empirical, the way we actually do experience our bodies in the world. ‘How can we work up [from Kant’s transcendental self] to the sense of self we actually have, as a bodily presence in the world?’ he asks.18 What Kant ends up with from his idea of a subjectively continuous series of states in which conceptual capacities are implicated in sensibility in some a priori manner is a slice of life singled out from the whole of it, as McDowell argues. It is not clear how any unity is actually meant to be discerned. Kant, in other words, has scarcely made any real progress further than Hume’s bundles of perceptions.

With the Kantian account of self-consciousness, however, we are faced with two problems, and McDowell’s focus is only on one of these. He argues for a conception of ‘second nature’ as the answer to the problem of Kant’s transcendental self not being truly located within the life of a living being. McDowell’s starting point in Mind and World is the idea of spontaneity, as Bubner puts it, ‘that specific achievement of subjectivity whose beginning and ground lies not outside, but within itself’19 Bubner argues that the object of the middle part of McDowell’s

Mind and World is to argue that spontaneity must be independent, yet stand in genuine union with nature. Equipping Kant with the concept of a second nature would allow a connection to be made between self-consciousness and consciousness of the world, a connection that is impossible from the point of view of Kant’s transcendental self as it stands. Second nature is a concept originally emerging from Aristotle’s ethics, and is defined by McDowell in the following manner:

For Aristotle, the rational demands of ethics are autonomous; we are not to feel compelled to validate them from outside an already ethical way of thinking. But this autonomy does not distance the demand from anything specifically human, as in rampant platonism. They are essentially within reach of human beings. We cannot credit appreciation of them to human nature as it figures in a naturalism of disenchanted nature, because disenchanted nature does not embrace the space of reasons. But human beings are intelligibly initiated into this stretch of the space of reasons by ethical upbringing, which instils the appropriate shape into their lives. The resulting habits of thought and action are second nature.20 This is to be distinguished from naturalised platonism, which is far closer to the position McDowell ultimately advocates.

This, for McDowell, is how one could flesh out a Kantian conception of self and world in order to provide not only an empirically convincing account of self-consciousness, but also a useful account of the relation of the self to the world. The idea of a second nature is, I will argue over the course of this work, crucial to an account of how a Hegelian idea of self-consciousness can help us to develop a picture of a life that is truly human, starting from an epistemological standpoint. Perhaps most importantly, it will help us to show how the ethical can develop seamlessly from the epistemological in the sense McDowell (and I) find interesting.

There remains, however, the problem of concept versus intuition. McDowell’s picture focuses clearly on the idea of the self’s conception of the self, not about how the self experiences the self. Therefore, for reasons discussed above, he will be less able to defend himself from Tugendhat’s criticism of the confusion between the third and the first person, of identifying something within the self used then as the self and regarded as one would regard an object. Equally, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile his view with Cassam’s requirement that the subject, qua subject, should not see itself as an object. If we take Tugendhat’s and Cassam’s challenges to accounts of self-consciousness seriously and wish to produce an account of self-consciousness that incorporates these concerns, yet wish to incorporate McDowell’s emphasis on second nature in order to provide an epistemological basis for the ethical, it seems the most obvious solution is to find a way to translate some of McDowell’s ideas into an intuition-type account of self-consciousness.

However, this presents extremely serious problems for the Hegelian. For Hegel, it is this conception of the self as a certain sort of thing that is absolutely crucial to his account of self-consciousness. In the master/slave dialectic, action is certainly crucial to the self’s becoming self-conscious, but it is the conception of the self as occupying a particular role tied up with this action that is equally crucial. Indeed, it is just this role of action in the development of selfconsciousness that can prevent Tugendhat’s criticism of misidentifying the self from applying. The self cannot possibly intuit what it is by means of an ‘inner gaze’ - the language Hegel uses during his discussion of the emergence of selfconsciousness is about what the self takes the self to be, e.g., ‘his essence and absolute object is the I’.21 In some sense, the self is an object for itself, even if this is not the whole truth of self-consciousness.

The most obvious reason why it is a conceptual knowledge of the self that is crucial for self-consciousness is the role of the Other, which is made clear at the outset of the master/save dialectic:

Self-consciousness exists in itself and for itself, in that, and by the fact that it exists for another self-consciousness; that is to say, it is only by being acknowledged or ‘recognized.22

In this sense, Hegel’s account of self-consciousness is an intersubjective concept version. The Other does not intuit the self, and the self does not intuit the Other, as having some particular ontological status - considering the model of intuition as an inner gaze, this would not be coherent unless we were prepared to say that the Other has some kind of privileged cognitive access to the self, which seems absurd. Recognition involves conceiving the Other, and being conceived by the Other, as a certain sort of being (in the sense of ontology in sense (a) as described in the Introduction).

Although Hegel has a concept version of the self, this is not to say that intuition does not play a role, and that the question of about phenomenological plausibility cannot be adequately addressed. For an explanation of how this might work, I turn to Kant and to McDowell. The starting thought is as follows:

So the picture is this: the fact that thoughts are not empty, the fact that thoughts have representational content, emerges out of an interplay of concepts and intuitions. ‘Content’ in Davidson’s dualism [of scheme and content] corresponds to intuitions, bits of experiential intake, understood in terms of a dualistic conception of this interplay.23

The very idea of any representational content, says McDowell, requires an interplay between concepts and intuitions as conceived of by Davidson.24 This corresponds with the Kantian thought that empirical knowledge results from a co-operation between receptivity and spontaneity, where receptivity is the mind’s ability to receive representations (sensibility), and spontaneity is the mind’s power of producing representations from itself (the understanding). Thus, the self cannot be detached, contemplating the Other in a purely intellectual manner, but the direct recipient of the Anschauung (Kant’s term for intuition). Of course, the Kantian picture, and the extent to which it applies to Hegel, still takes the form of practical experience of the Other slotted into a theoretical framework. I discuss the shortcomings of this picture in the next chapter.25

These considerations all have an important bearing on the extent to which recognition is an epistemic phenomenon. I first mentioned this idea in the Introduction, and discuss it again in Chapters Three and Four. This question also has an important bearing on whether the picture of the self as less than fully autonomous and fixed is one that is conducive towards positive recognition (or perhaps even necessary for positive recognition). In order to clarify this further, a preliminary examination of the way that the terms ‘subject’ and ‘object’ are used is required. I take this question up once more in Chapter Four.26

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