The following are abstracts of recent papers. Please email me if you’d like to read (and/or comment on) any of the papers which are not available here.
Hilma af Klint, detail from The Ten Largest (1907)
“Love Is Only Between Living Beings Who Are Equal in Power”: On What Is Alive (and What Is Dead) in Hegel's Account of Marriage
European Journal of Philosophy 28: 1 (2020): 93-109. For a provisional version click here.
The paper develops a conception of marital love as a complex recognitive relation, which I articulate by juxtaposing it against other recognitive relations that figure in Hegel's theory of modern civil society (i.e., respect and esteem). Drawing on Hegel's early writings, I argue that, if love is to provide its unique sort of recognition, it must obtain between “living beings who are equal in power”—a peculiar form of equality that I name (drawing on Stanley Cavell's work) “dynamic equality.” I conclude that it is by Hegel's own lights that we should reject his notorious conception of the sexual difference. However, I also offer reasons why, from Hegel's early 19th century perspective, he could consider the following two conditions as compatible: (1) equality within marriage and (2) sexual hierarchy outside marriage, namely, in civil society.
Alleviating Love’s Rage: Hegel on Shame and Sexual Recognition
British Journal for the History of Philosophy 28: 4 (2020): 756-776. Click here for a provisional version.
The paper reconstructs Hegel’s account of shame as a fundamental (‘existential’) affect. Qua spiritual, the human individual strives for self-determination; hence she is ashamed of the fact that, qua bodily or natural, she is weak, vulnerable, and needy—namely, externally determined. Hegel approves of two typical responses to shame: (1) Reduction—the individual struggles for honour in civil society by disciplining her activity, including hiding potentially shameful features from others. Here, shame is reduced but remains a psychological burden. (2) Within marriage, however, shame is alleviated—the individual reveals shameful features to her lover and is recognized as a bodily, needy and vulnerable creature. I discuss two modes in which such recognition is manifested: First, since love is an ‘immediate unity’—rather than governed by a rigid normative code—the spouses are implicated in each other’s failures, and, moreover, can creatively modify the significance of features, expressing their ‘infinite uniqueness’ by conferring positive value on what counts (in civil society) as shameful. The second mode is sexual intimacy: lovers affirm each other’s bodies by bodily, habituated—and therefore trustworthy—means.
Finite Freedom: Hegel on the Existential Function of the State
European Journal of Philosophy (2021): 1-18. Click here for a provisional version.
The article argues that Hegel's glorification of self-sacrificein war is grounded in a commitment to individual freedom. Anticipating the existentialists, Hegel believes that being a human individual—a subject who strives to self-determination and “infinite uniqueness”—involves a contradiction with one's externally determined finitude, whic evokes shame and fear of death. In modern civil society, many individuals experience their finite lives as secure and adequately expressive of their self-determined uniqueness, and are thereby relatively shielded from fear of death. For Hegel, I argue, this experience loses touch with a basic existential condition and coincides with a rigid and “spiritually dead” mindset he calls “self-will.” Patriotism—including the willingness to self-sacrifice—constitutes Hegel's remedy to this problematic. The state summons its citizens to face their finitude and thereby injects their lives with renewed vitality and sensitivity.
Sex and the City: Rousseau on Sexual Freedom and Its Modern Discontents
Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy (2022): 1-26. For a provisional version, click here.
Like some ‘second wave’ feminists, Rousseau believes that modern sexual practices are not a manifestation of a newfound autonomy— rather, they reflect its systemic deprivation. Drawing on his critique of libertine culture in 18th century Paris, I show how even consensual sex may lead to a chronic deficit of recognition, coupled with psychological misery. To avoid such discontents, sexual freedom must include a satisfying sexual recognition. I articulate the conditions for such recognition as cultivated in Emile’s erotic education. Informed by amour-propre, Emile would seek a sexual partner who could recognize him as superior, yet, because Emile is also endowed with pity, he would understand such superiority in terms of uniqueness, independence and authentic expression, rather than as winning the transient favours of public taste. I propose that Rousseau’s recognitive account of sexual desire is applicable to current-day philosophical and public debates.
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),
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
Ingolf Dalferth & Trevor Kimball (eds.), The Meaning and Power or Negativity. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck (2021).
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.