Kapital und Schwärmerei

1. David Harvey is giving a course that undertakes a close reading of the first volume of Capital, which you can watch over at davidharvey.org (via NP).

2. Here is a collection of talks given at a workshop with Brandom in 2005. Immersed in Fred Beiser’s The Fate of Reason, German Idealism: The Struggle Against Subjectivism and Schiller as Philosopher as I have been over the last few weeks, I found the anaemic post-analytic approach of them somewhat grating. Nevertheless, there’s still some good stuff to be found in there.

Hegel and the Law of Non-Contradiction
Paul Redding
abstract :: sound recording (including discussion)

What are the Categories in Being and Time? Brandom’s Account of Zuhandenheit and Vorhandenheit
Bruin Christensen
abstract :: sound recording (including discussion)

Pragmatism, Expressivism and the Global Challenge
Huw Price & David Macarthur
abstract :: sound recording (including discussion) :: slides

The Significance of Embodiment – the Dangers of Leaving Nature Behind
Nick Smith
abstract :: sound recording (including discussion)

Kantian Lessons about Mind, Meaning, and Rationality
Bob Brandom
abstract :: sound recording (including comments by David Macarthur, and discussion)

9 thoughts on “Kapital und Schwärmerei

  1. Thanks for the links. When you say you disliked “the anaemic post-analytic approach of them” I assume you mean the talks. I think I know what you mean, but can you elaborate? As a “post-analytic” type myself, I would hate to come off as anemic. But then (and perhaps this is the key) I don’t pretend to know much about Hegel.

    I did read about half of The Fate of Reason, and I just bought myself German Idealism for my birthday. I’d really like to hear about the Schiller book, if you could post on that sometime.

  2. There’s a few ways in which post-analytic philosophy (though perhaps that’s not the best label) rightly seems flavourless, but the one I had in mind here is the tendency to engage in a particular type of anachronistic reading of the history of philosophy. One common problem, obviously not unique to post-analytic philosophers, is their relative lack of historicism, in the sense of engaging in a careful reconstruction of a philosopher’s own conception of what they were up to on the basis of an examination of their influences, contemporaries, early texts, letters, etc. How this tends to play out in the post-analytic case is in importing a particular fixed contemporary conceptual framework — semantic, normative, second-order, non-metaphysical — into which the claims of historical philosophers are then regimented. As Beiser says about recent readings of German idealism, the result “has been to emasculate, domesticate and sanitize it, to make it weak, safe and clean for home consumption.” So, for example, from reading much of the Hegel literature you’d think that he was just Sellars with bells on!

    All this is not to recommend a deferential attitude towards the tradition or endless pedantic disputes about ‘what X really meant’. So too, I don’t think we should be afraid of redescribing someone’s position in terms they would not have endorsed. Very often, we have to reclaim a philosopher’s insights by transposing them into a more familiar contemporary landscape.

    But there is a limit to this. We risk failing to do justice to the figures in question when we only mine them for something that looks like a solution to contemporary problems. Perhaps more importantly though, I think we learn most from past philosophers through a sympathetic reconstruction and internal critique of their positions, rather than fiercely pushing them to directly speak to us about our contemporary projects (e.g. how to ground social norms or structure an inferential semantics, etc.).

    This is not to say that they weren’t often concerned with the same issues but that the methodology that produces the sort of semantic, pragmatic, normative, post-metaphysical narratives that we tend to see from post-analytic philosophers stacks the deck in a way that I find both hermeneutically inaccurate and philosophically unhelpful. We post-Sellarsians don’t need the mighty dead to dramatise our current battles, and I think we’d fight them better by drawing on a historical tradition that came with the novel perspectives afforded by Entfremdung. So again, I think the problem is importing a particular conceptual framework, in an otherwise highly admirable aspiration to present the past as relevant to us, that leads to dubious historical scholarship and pleasing reflections of our own concerns that make it harder, not easier, to learn from the past.

    I say all this as someone who probably counts as a post-analytic philosopher themselves when it comes to my positive project, and I’ve also been guilty of all these problems in my historical readings. Any flicker of something that looks like a discussion of normativity and my mind starts translating it into ‘space of reasons’ this and ‘minimal empiricism’ that; and it’s this reflex which I want to stamp out, though, of course, in the hope that in the long-run it’ll help rather than hinder my own non-historical projects.

    The Schiller book is excellent, by the way. I’m not yet confident enough about Schiller to say anything much about it yet but maybe I’ll write about when I’ve had a chance to give Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen a more thorough read.

  3. I agree totally with your (Tom’s) and Beiser’s evaluation of recent treatments of German Idealism. The attempt to “clean up” and popularly repackage the philosophies of that period for a modern audience invariably deforms them, reducing the insights of noble minds to common-sensical banalities. In Adorno’s Three Studies of Hegel, he makes much the same point regarding those who lazily fall back on the “realism” of Hegel’s later philosophy without investigating the specific sense in which he construed reality (apart from the pithy one-liners that make up the reader’s digest version of Hegel).

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful response to my question. Your subtle qualifications make it hard to disagree. There is clearly a trade-off here between relevance and faithfulness which is very difficult to negotiate.

    Still, I’m not sure that I would characterize “post-analytic” discussions of Idealism as (in Ross’s words) an “attempt to ‘clean up’ and popularly repackage the philosophies of that period for a modern audience” (which would indeed, I agree, “invariably deform them”). That sounds more like the (say, Quinean) “analytic” attitude than that of its successors.

    Speaking for myself, I would be astonished if anyone took my own confusing and highly unintuitive views as “common-sensical banalities,” and even such more fully worked out systems as those of Brandom and McDowell hardly count either. So to “translate” Hegel into those terms – if that’s even what they’re doing – doesn’t seem particularly well described as “popular repackaging” (or mere Schwärmerei).

    Again, though, don’t get me wrong – I do see the danger you describe. I just think that a better approach to (say) Brandom’s “misuse” of Hegel might be to say not that “he gets Hegel wrong” but instead that his own views, so expressed, get the world wrong. In the course of so arguing, you might, I think, be able to appeal more effectively to your own Hegel than in a context in which “what Hegel meant” is the explicit rather than implicit subject of discussion. (Maybe.) I will try to think of a way to make my attitude clearer. (Think post-Davidsonian thoughts.)

    Anyway, the whole business reminds me of the joke where two men of the cloth have agreed to disagree about some theological matter: “After all, we both serve the Lord: you in your way, I in His.”

  5. I just think that a better approach to (say) Brandom’s “misuse” of Hegel might be to say not that “he gets Hegel wrong” but instead that his own views, so expressed, get the world wrong.

    This seems to be an instance of the very blurring of interpretative issues with independent philosophical reflection that I want to get away from. I do accept that there are a number of connections between the two that we can’t or oughtn’t avoid. For example, we can’t just abstract ourselves from our social-historical and philosophical climates, and these things will bear upon our selection and framing of texts, what we recognise as philosophically salient, and so on. So too, I think that the reconstructive work that interpretation involves licenses some appeal to a principle of charity. It should count in favour of an interpretation that the position it ascribes to someone gets the world right by our lights. However, there are plenty of instances where such a principle should not trump other historical and philological considerations. This seems trivially true, since otherwise we could never suppose anyone disagreed with us. So, accepting a principle of charity will require weighting other considerations too. It is these weightings that I think much post-analytic philosophy gets wrong, and which I think is reflected in its tendency to run interpretation and criticism of a position so closely together.

    Brandom is both the worst and least bad offender in this respect. His interpretations are shot through with his own conceptual framework such that there is very often little room for the distinctive voices of his interpretees to get through. They are submerged in Brandomianism — often mere adjuncts to the wider project, squeaking ‘Yes, Socrates’ on command. But he is at least very explicit about his common methodology, which in TMD he calls his ‘de re‘ approach (on analogy with his analysis of propositional attitude ascription in MIE). He says his aim is to get to the conceptual content of the text, and crucially a ‘de re’ interpretation takes it to be legitimate to treat the ascriber’s commitments as the relevant auxiliary hypotheses to fix this conceptual content. So, it is no wonder that he ends up with what he calls ‘bebop history’ that is larded with familiar Brandomian themes. He espouses a pluralism of interpretative approaches — surely each adds to the rich tapestry of interpretation in its own way? Perhaps; but I would urge that such ‘de re’ interpretation is best done against the backdrop of a ‘de dicto’ interpretation so that the sets of auxiliary assumptions used can be identified and contrasted such that the bounds between ‘de re’ and ‘de dicto’ readings can be made clear (even if they are not entirely clear-cut or separable).

    Maybe that’s one way of broaching our disagreement?

    I agree that ‘Schwärmerei‘ is overly harsh — I was just being provocative. 🙂

  6. I suppose I mostly had in mind the so-called “post-metaphysical” rereading of Hegel that has been undertaken in recent years by scholars like Pippin and Pinkard. Among the more post-structuralist/deconstructivist readings of Hegel, I found Rodolphe Gasché’s The Tain of the Mirror rather disappointing, though it occasionally surprised me with some flashes of insight into the context of the Romantic period that surrounded Hegel’s philosophy. Pippin and Pinkard are admirable scholars; I take nothing away from them and am in fact grateful for the attention they have lent to Hegel (whose thought was for such a long time avoided in Anglo-American circles). However, I read the partial advance copy of Pinkard’s new translation of the Phenomenology and was not particularly impressed by it. I’m not even sure if it’s going to be published now, actually.

    My point with regard to popular reworkings of Idealist philosophy refers principally to this approach to Hegel’s work. Frankly, I don’t see how one can fail to see the metaphysical foundation of Hegelian philosophy after reading The Science of Logic.

    As far as Hegel scholarship goes, I feel as if the serious work has been done in recent decades by Dieter Henrich and Rolf-Peter Horstmann. And, while Adorno certainly had his own agenda he was pushing, I feel that he was one of the better readers of Hegel’s work.

    To be perfectly honest, I’m unfamiliar with the works of Brandom and McDowell. It may well be that their interpretation does not fit the description I so generally cast upon recent treatments of Hegelianism.

  7. Again (Tom), I think we’re not too far apart on this issue. (It almost seems that you express disagreement only to take it back. Almost.) My suggestion was intended as a way of using Brandom’s own approach against him. After all, “charity” is relative to the interpreter’s own beliefs; so if interpretations vary, then perhaps it is the beliefs that are at ultimate fault. Take that approach and Brandom cannot complain that you are taking issue with interpretive pluralism per se. But then, to the extent that you make any headway on that front (ie. the doxastic one), that puts indirect pressure on the interpretive one. (That’s a bit compressed, but that’s all I’ve got at the moment.)

    I also think that the term “post-analytic” is probably still too vague (or “contested,” I think the word is) to be of much use (yet). I think most people just use it to mean “philosophers w/ analytic backgrounds who are looking towards Hegel et al.”, which could mean anything. When I apply it to myself I mean something like “radically unorthodox (albeit surprisingly faithful, once you learn to read the relevant texts that way) non-Rortyan Davidsonian cum Wittgensteinian.” That’s what I want it to mean, anyway – which would be pretty arrogant of me, except I can’t help thinking that McDowell for one is closer to that position than it looks.

    It’s true (given that rather large caveat) that “we post-analytics” are in some sense “anti-metaphysical” — but that’s not saying much nowadays, is it. I do think that even it this context it’s rather pointless to read Hegel in a radically “non-metaphysical” way, especially given what “metaphysics” ends up meaning for him. So I agree (Ross) with your point about the Logic. But I am out of my depth here. I haven’t even read (much) Pippin, let alone Henrich (on Hegel). In general I find that those who rail against “metaphysics” loudest are the ones who have a few such skeletons in their closets themselves.

    My own use of Hegel (if that’s even what you want to call it) is pretty much limited to pointed uses of the term Aufhebung, in cases where (I swear) no other word seems to fit. Of course I don’t claim that (some post-Davidsonian move) is “what Hegel meant” by that term of art — but I do think that question, and my hopefully provocative usage, can’t be dismissed with the mere observation that he can’t, on pain of anachronism, have meant that specific move. (Not like anyone has bothered to make that objection, but still.)

    I wonder if either of you, or anyone else, has an opinion on Tom Rockmore and his treatment of these matters in his book Hegel, Idealism, and Analytic Philosophy. He seems to have the same concerns as you, but struck me as not getting McDowell (or Davidson or Wittgenstein) at all. Of course the book was written before McDowell had said much about Hegel; but even so, that wasn’t the problem. I started a review but my own ignorance of Hegel was preventing me from diagnosing his misunderstandings (i.e. of McD et al, not Hegel) very convincingly. I should dig up what I wrote and take another look.

  8. Responding to only a few points made by David:

    I agree that the term “post-analytic” is a bit undefined as yet. At least, I haven’t heard it used too much. But new categories are popular, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see it come into more general use in time. The suggestion you had, that it refers to analytics who express some interest in Hegel and the other idealists from that period, seems convincing to me.

    Additionally, the point you made about those who condemn metaphysics the most often having the most metaphysical “skeletons in their closet” matches my intuition. I know it’s a neat bit of lay psychology, but I have my suspicions. I tend to feel, with Hegel, that many of those who disavow metaphysics are ignorant of their own metaphysical assumptions.

    Pippin and Pinkard aren’t bad. I would agree that Hegel’s views on metaphysics are a wholesale departure from the traditional understanding. But this only is in his idea that our pure concepts are inherently mutable and give rise to one another. Henrich is excellent on this point. I highly recommend his series of lectures Between Kant and Hegel.

  9. Just quickly on Rockmore, I thought Hegel, Idealism, and Analytic Philosophy was very poor. He accuses Brandom and McDowell of ‘epistemological realism’, which is supposed to contrast with an idealist thesis about the construction of the object of knowledge by the subject. However, in brief, I think that this gets the idealists wrong, since the sense in which any of them (even Fichte) thinks that objects are ‘constructed’ is not as things produced by the knowing consciousness but (at most) through conformity to rules that underlie the possibility of subjectivity as such. Rockmore does nowhere near enough work in elaborating or finessing what this constructivist idea does and does not amount to, so that dismissal might be altogether too hasty. But that is just the problem though, he is so sketchy (and writes books at such a pace) that behind the polemics and broad-sweep narratives, there is not much substance to most of his claims.

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