The following are abstracts of recent papers. Please email me if you’d like to read (and/or comment on) any of them.
Hilma af Klint, detail from The Ten Largest (1907)
The Necessity of Rupture and the Comfort of Unity: Towards an Ethical Remedy to Modern Skepticism
Chapter IV of my dissertation, Personal Freedom and Its Discontents: Hegel on the Ethical Basis of Modern Skepticism (deposited in October 2017).
Standard interpretations of Hegel’s distinction between mediated and immediate knowledge understand it as an epistemological point, e.g., Robert Brandom’s distinction (following Sellars) between knowing by inference and knowing by perception. The chapter, by contrast, offers an ethical account of immediacy, developing an analogy between immediate knowledge and immediate freedom—two ideas that Hegel associates with modern individuality as such.
Hegel identifies the modern commitment to immediacy with dogmatic naturalism, on the one hand, and skepticism about metaphysical knowledge, on the other. While this dogmatic-skeptical hybrid is mistaken, it is grounded in basic features of modern individual freedom, features that are conducive to economic and cultural progress. It is therefore an inevitable and even necessary mistake. Since it is ethically functional that individuals cling to it, I call it a “rational mistake.” The chapter ultimately addresses a crucial question: if skepticism is inevitable, how are we to mitigate its ethically problematic aspects? My answer reconstructs some of Hegel’s “ethical remedies” to skepticism, with special attention to the nuclear family.
Nihilism and Second Nature: A Hegelian Critique of McDowell (and Others)
The paper was written for the International Hegel-Kognress (June 2017), and will be published in the conference proceedings.
This paper approaches the notion of second nature via an ethical problematic that was central to Hegel’s account of modernity, namely, a tendency to see one’s normative layout as a whole (so not just specific demands) as “toter kalter Buchstabe,” in relation to which human agents experience their second-nature lives as mechanical and repetitive. I argue that John McDowell, like Robert Brandom and Sebastian Rödl, fail to appreciate this modern problematic. For McDowell, any attempt to vindicate the normative demands embedded in our second nature “from outside” our second nature reflects modern “philosophical anxieties” that we should better leave behind. We come to appreciate the reality or validity of our normative grid only from within our form of life, insofar as we received a proper Bildung. But for Hegel, I argue, these anxieties are not (merely) philosophical but existential, rooted in basic characteristics of the modern ethical order.
Negativity and Modern Freedom: Hegel’s Negation of Pantheism
The paper was written for the Meaning and Power of Negativity Conference at Claremont Graduate University (February 2017), and forthcoming in Claremont Studies in the Philosophy of Religion.
The paper offers an interpretation of Hegel’s critique of Spinozistic pantheism. For the pantheistic consciousness, particular entities—including human individuals and their activities—are mere negations or “privations” of an all-encompassing substance; they are a contingent reduction or dilution of the substance’s reality (like sickness, say, is a privation of an organism’s reality). This view excludes human freedom from what is really real, as it were. By contrast, Hegel maintains that the negation exercised by human freedom—including the separation is sets between subject and object—is necessary for the continuous perfection and development of reality (in a similar manner to how sickness can ultimately enhance an organism’s vital growth). I argue that Hegel’s commitment to this conception of negation was bound up with his growing commitment—starting the early 1800’s—to an Enlightenment ideal of individual freedom.
From Hölderlin to Luther: Hegel’s Constructive Critique of Innerlichkeit
The paper was an invited talk for Innerlichkeit in German and Jewish Modernity, workshop at the Zentrum Jüdische Studien Berlin-Brandenburg (January 2016).
Hegel is probably the source of a long intellectual tradition that identifies the Germans with “inwardness”—an inclination to individual solitude and suspicion towards social and political institutions. Thomas Mann has even blamed this apolitical “innerlichkeit” for the rise of national socialism. The paper explores Hegel’s life-long occupation with German inwardness, and argues that his account of Protestant subjectivity was an attempt to reconcile inwardness with the demands of the modern socio-political order.