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Hegel and the ‘Pantheism of Love’

What Kroner terms Hegel’s ‘Pantheism of Love’ is the first real glimpse of the dialectical method that would be one of his most enduring legacies. The main thrust of the argument is the overcoming of dualisms, in a manner very much reminiscent of the discussion in Chapter Two of this work, that is, including the division between subject and object.3 Another dualism which this Pantheism of Love as expounded in the Spirit ofChristianity and its Fate (and glossed by Kroner) wishes to overcome or sublate is that between reason and passion, between being led by intellectual or epistemic factors and being led by emotional ones. There is a fundamental problem with the Kantian notion of autonomy: in mastering himself (and being the only master of himself), one becomes master and slave, and thus estranged from oneself (to use slightly anachronistic terminology). At best, one is mastered by reason and becomes a slave. It is in Jesus’ ethics that we find an ethics of love, free from rational constraint, that allows us to be reconciled to ourselves without alienation.4

Whilst theological speculation is clearly at odds with Hegel’s later ontological (in sense (c) as described in the Introduction to this work) claims and method, it does at least resonate with his work on recognition. Recognition and self-consciousness precede knowledge of reason in the Phenomenology, so it is not qua rational being that the self encounters the Other. If one first had to attain a state of rational autonomy as a fully-developed self, then alienation as described in the Spirit of Christianity and its Fate would surely occur. At the same time, when the self and the Other develop together and both become rational possessors of knowledge, the relationship between them does not fundamentally change.

These, and other, considerations might suggest that there is one dichotomy that should be overcome before a genuine account of positive recognition might be possible. That dichotomy is between the epistemic and the emotional, the cognitive relation with or understanding of the other, and the emotional connection. At many points in this work, I have asked whether the relationship of self to Other needs to be epistemic or cognitive, or whether there is any place for a Levinasian relationship between self and Other that comes before any epistemic or cognitive conception. I have concluded that, as long as self and Other ultimately have a relationship that is epistemic or cognitive, their initial contact not being thus is less important. But is the distinction really so clear in the first place ? Are we really sure what we mean when we separate emotion from understanding ?

This is a fundamental philosophical question going far beyond the scope of this work. However, by using some insights from the philosophy of emotion, and by reflecting on the concept of the social self from the previous chapters of this work, and by examining Hegel’s work on love in the rest of his work, I make some suggestions.

In the Fragment on Love from the Early Theological Writings, Hegel seems to sense this dilemma when he writes ‘[i]n love the separate does still remain, but as something united and no longer as something separate; life senses life.’5 The confrontation (in the sense I discussed it in the previous chapter) is transformative, and it is not initially cognitive, but rather, is a more Levinasian in the sense of a primordial encounter where the Other compels in some way without the involvement of any cognitive framework or epistemic work. The self recognises something fundamental in the Other that is the same as the self, the self repeated in the Other, but this does not have to be on the level of rational thought or epistemic reasoning, just as Levinas’ confrontation or encounter between faces (as described in Chapter Three) does not have to be.6

Desire, as in the master-slave dialectic, acts in a paradoxical way. Although desire at first affirms or is conscious of the self and wishes to negate the other, it simultaneously does the opposite: it affirms the Other and denies the self. Such objects resist desire, and the subject affirms the reality of the other by highlighting its resistance. What is more, if self-certainty and even my reality is achieved only by this relation to the other, if I negate the other I will simultaneously negate myself. Although I have a strong desire to negate the other, I have a vested interest in its continued existence. The only other possibility for the subject is a life of existential instability, a life of finding objects to desire and negate.

It is only in love that an equilibrium is achieved between negation and affirmation is achieved, and the precondition for this is total physical and general surrender of a particular kind. This is most strongly and concisely elucidated in this passage from the fragment on love:

Love is indignant if part of the individual is severed and kept back as a private property. This raging of love against [exclusive] individuality is shame... If shame, instead of being an effect oflove, is an effect which only takes an indignant form after encountering something hostile which wanted to defend an assailable property of its own, then we would have to say that shame is characteristic of tyrants, or of girls who will not yield their charms except for money, or of vain women who want to fascinate. None of these love; their defence of their mortal body is the opposite of indignation about it; they ascribe an intrinsic worth to it and are shameless.7

Shame, then, is a reaction to the Other of love wishing to defend an aspect of itself and to refuse complete surrender. Here we can see an instructive parallel with Sartre’s concept of shame, which is a reaction on the part of the subject to being objectified by the Other (the famous keyhole example). Hegel’s subject feels shame when the Other remains in some respect resolutely Other, when it insists on differentiating itself. By differentiating itself in this way the Other in turn objectifies the subject - recognitive intersubjectivity in the real sense does not take place, so the only possible relation the subject can have for the Other is that of an object to the Other’s subject. Like Sartre’s shamed subject, Hegel’s shamed subject under these circumstances becomes an object. The Fragment on Love, then, seems to support the general view of recognition as involving ambiguity that I outlined in Chapter Four. Recognition in a positive sense involves the self seeing itself and the Other as both subject and object simultaneously.

At this point in the discussion, I am treating love as caritas, that is, love for one’s fellow human, in the same way as romantic love or love as partnership. In the Spirit of Christianity and its Fate, Hegel is talking mainly about the former and in the Fragment on Love, mainly about the latter. This demonstrates how clearly Hegel, at least the very early Hegel, believed love as caritas to be enmeshed in theology. The Fragment on Love lacks this framework in any obvious or explicit sense, although it might well still be rooted in an ontology (in sense (c)) involving theological aspects.

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