Home Sociology Hegel, Love and Forgiveness: Positive Recognition in German Idealism
Mediation and Reconciliation
Part of the key to the theological aspect of recognition is an understanding of what, in general, mediation by God might consist in. What is mediated, and how does this process work? How might it be integrated into our ethical lives? One version of a Christian account of forgiveness insists that God is the necessary mediator of forgiveness, as he is of human interaction in general. This could be a theological, or more generally metaphysical point, or it could be a more straightforwardly moral point. On one version, humans can ask each other to refrain from resentment or sanction because of some wrong that has been committed, but only God can truly grant forgiveness. This might be the case with some versions of the Muslim view of forgiveness. At this point, the question approaches one of semantics. On any account of forgiveness that originates from an Abrahamic theological point of view, the individual has to answer before God for the sins committed. Asking another person for forgiveness will not fulfil the offender’s religious obligations in and of itself, although it might, as in the Jewish account of forgiveness, be a necessary step. The idea that God is necessary for reconciliation is quite a similar one, though with more metaphysical than purely theological roots. If we can come to a better understanding with each other with the help of forgiveness asked for and granted, the idea that true reconciliation is greater, and something that can be achieved only through divine intervention, will have its ultimate origin in a metaphysics that proposes some kind of metaphysical unity. What is at stake here is not the theological or religious question of the forgiveness of sins, but of the fundamental ontological roots of human interaction. It is with this latter question that I am concerned, and the concept of mediation gives us an insight into it.
S omething that falls between a purely moral and a fundamentally ontological account of forgiveness would be a reference to the general framework of separation, togetherness and alienation that underpins the German Idealist account of reconciliation. The general argument runs as follows: by being separated from the unity of which he is part, that is, by insisting on his separation, man becomes alienated from himself. In order to become reconciled to himself, he must also become reconciled with that metaphysical unity of which he is a part, that is, on the theistic account, God. In the Other, the self becomes the self once more.
What is the relationship between this kind of reconciliation and the kind of reconciliation that occurs when forgiveness is sought and granted? In both cases, a conflict of sorts is resolved. In reconciliation to oneself, it is the desire to be Other (the desire to be purely object) and the desire to be self (the desire to be purely subject) that is resolved (for Hegel, sublated). In the resolution of tragic conflict. the reconciliation comes with the death/obliteration of whoever has come in the crossfire between the two dominant forces (in Sophocles’ Antigone, as discussed in the next chapter, it is Antigone herself who fulfils this role). In the reconciliation that comes along with forgiveness sought and granted, the picture seems a little more complex. Both the forgiver and the forgiven have arranged themselves in some way in relation to the offence (for a fuller discussion of this, see Chapter Five). They do not, however, obliterate the offence; this would be a negative form of forgiveness in Milbank’s sense. The offence stands, and both forgiver and forgiven are changed by it, remade and broken, in the sense of metanoia. They are reconciled to each other, and to the offence. Just as with the reconciliation that comes with the confrontation with the Other, things do not return to how they were before the confrontation, but move to a new, changed state. This is at least partly because of the proximity in which the subject and object, forgiver and forgiven, stand to each other.
A view like Milbank’s is useful to the general sort of account of interaction I am proposing as it reinforces the idea that forgiveness, understood along with its theological dimension, requires confrontation, understood in quite an extended sense to include any kind of interaction, including correspondence.51 Whilst it would obviously be a serious problem for any truly secular account of forgiveness if God were necessary to mediate forgiveness, the importance of confrontation is something that can function entirely outside the theological sphere. The question remains, then, as to whether recognition and forgiveness need to be mediated - there do not seem to be any other obvious candidates for who or what would mediate the interaction, unless one wanted to argue for a non-divine phenomenon similar to Hegelian Spirit. Thus, the two main options for the mediation of interaction or unity/reconciliation are a divine monological entity, or no mediation at all. I take up the idea of a divine monological entity in the next chapter.
From the preceding sections, then, we can claim the following. Hegelian intersubjectivity, and the kind of intersubjectivity necessary in order to account for, and provide the background for, positive recognition, can be described in the terms of epistemology, ontology (in senses (a) (b) and (c) as discussed in the Introduction) and practical philosophy. The framework required for this intersubjectivity involves a particular understanding of self-consciousness, but also a wider framework of ontology in sense (c). As mentioned at a number of points so far, a lot ofthe arguments in favour of the view of the self I am putting forward here are transcendental arguments that take as their starting point the way we actually do interact with each other. The political concerns mentioned at the start of this section are therefore key, even if what we wish to end up with is a fully ontologicaly-rooted account. It is to monistic ontology that I move on to in the next chapter.
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