Continuing from part one on the Introduction to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s big book (1807).
We’re up to section 81 now, getting more detail on what Hegel’s goal in the book is and some of his basic terminology. He said that normally, we might think that in a philosophical investigation, there’s some criteria for truth that is going to constitute the essence of that investigation. So for a scientist, are the experiments repeatable? Are the results potentially falsifiable (per Popper)? For an empiricist like Hume, is there some basic sense information that the alleged knowledge successfully can be broken down to? But for Hegel, any criteria like that is going to be a result of philosophy, not just something we can posit at the beginning in order to do philosophy.
Moreover, a general way of characterizing the kinds of criteria I mentioned above is to say that we judge the success of a theory by how well it corresponds with the world, but of course if the whole point of the enterprise is to figure out epistemology, and of course Hegel came out of a tradition of German Idealism, so we can’t rely on some correspondence theory of truth to determine whether our theories are any good. Instead, Hegel’s book evaluates theories of knowledge using criteria internal of those theories: Does this theory actually do what it claims to do? We end up comparing consciousness with itself.
This internal way of looking at theories yields an interesting vocabulary: Something considered via its essence, by what it is as opposed to how it’s related to other things, is an “in-itself.” There’s truth involved there, in that the thing is what it is (corresponds to itself), but it’s a pretty thin, merely “Notional” truth. (Notion = Concept, not that that’s helpful. It is something preliminary; Wes says in our podcast that it’s like a blueprint.) Insofar as we’re considering something’s relation to us or to other things, it’s a “for-another.” (It turns out that anything we initially think is an in-itself ends up being so only for-another.) Once we’ve gone through the whole exercise of putting ourselves in the place of that thing and gaining a deep understanding, it’s a “for-itself.” Consciousness is always by definition for-itself (we’re aware of ourselves), but you wouldn’t think, for instance, that a tree is for-itself unless you enter into some reciprocal relation with the tree, considering the conscious experience that produces the tree for you, how it’s actually you that’s positing that that tree is objectively out there (so it becomes for-another), and then if you really gain a deep understanding of the tree, well, maybe the tree insofar as it is still a tree doesn’t become a for-itself, but there’s some unity connecting you and the tree that becomes in-and-for-itself, and that’s the end goal of philosophy.
Are we supposed to really understand that at this point? I don’t think so, and maybe the whole project doesn’t even work out. In at least one case, we can clearly see how this makes sense (and I’m pulling this from our ep. 36): As babies, we’re not self-conscious. We’re an in-itself. Then other people give us their attention, so we’re a for-another. Finally, we internalize the gaze of these other people and develop self-consciousness, becoming a for-itself.
Hegel didn’t consider us and the world and the way we think about the world to be fundamentally different things (again, coming out of this tradition of German Idealism), so we can analogically think of all increases in knowledge as being something like this. What “experience” is for Hegel’s theory (and remember that phenomenology = describing experience) is a dialectical movement from a poorer way of looking at the world to a richer one, and this change affects not just the subject (the person having the experience, getting the knowledge) but also the object. So as we’re approaching an object we want to know, it’s just an in-itself. But in contemplating it, it also becomes for-another, and then when we think about this for-another (i.e. we’re thinking in part about our own encounter with it), then that’s a new object. The object of experience has changed by being experienced. An object is not a static thing but is a moving process in which we are involved. The logical end-point of this would be us and all the objects being one object, conscious of itself (i.e. God).