Part Two: Mediating the Immediate: Consciousness and the Inferential Articulation of Determinate Empirical Conceptual Content

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Until that shift is made, the holistic character of the theoretical concepts that provide inferential cognitive access to theoretical objects is more or less unintelligible. Nonetheless, since the Concept is always already implicit in any use of concepts whatsoever, partial progress is possible along the expressive road that leads to an explicit grasp of it. Consideration of the “play of forces” has shown the instability of an approach that treats the concept of each ‘force’ (theoretical object) as independent of that of any other, when combined first with an acknowledgment that the concept of a force is essentially, and not just accidentally, related to the concept of its expression (on the basis of which alone we have inferential access to the force itself), and second with the realization that what is expressed is always a holistic system of interacting forces. The practical effect of this holism is that the only way to understand the forces that had been treated as having identities independent of their relations to each other is to focus instead precisely on those relations—for the nodes in the network are what they are only in virtue of their relations to each other. Those relations are the laws that determine how forces interact to produce their expressions: the laws that determine how theoretical objects interact to produce observable manifestations.
Hegel summarizes this development:

In this way there vanishes completely all distinction of separate, mutually contrasted Forces, which were supposed to be present in this movement…Thus there is neither Force, nor the act of soliciting or being solicited, nor the determinateness of being a stable medium and unity reflected into itself, there is neither something existing singly by itself, nor are there diverse antitheses; on the contrary, what there is in this absolute flux is only difference as a universal difference, or as a difference into which the many antitheses have been resolved. This difference as a universal difference, is consequently the simple element in the play of Forces itself and what is true in it. It is the law of Force.90

By ‘law’ Hegel means what Kant meant: a rule that has objective validity. A rule unifies a diverse set of instances, by applying to all of them. So we are now to look at the rules that relate theoretical objects to each other and to their observable expressions. And for present purposes, to say that the rule is objectively valid is just to say that the objects really conform to the law (behave as it says they must), as opposed to expressing just our subjective view of them. As the element of unity within the diversity that is the expression of the play of forces, law is “the stable image of unstable appearance.”91 Laws are what is “true in” the play of forces because they express the regularities that support the inferences from the observable to the theoretical, in virtue of which we can know anything at all about the latter.
The essence of the play of forces now appears in the form of the objective rules that govern it. Three features of these laws merit mention. First, as rules, they are general: they apply to many actual and possible instances. Second, they are conditional or consequential: they say that if a specified condition is satisfied, then a consequence of a definite sort will occur. This is to say that the laws codify inferences. Third, the laws specify the ways in which the occurrence of one theoretical state of affairs can (in context) necessitate the occurrence of another: they have a modal force. This is to say that they do not just specify what is in fact the case, but rather what would happen, or must happen if a state of affairs of certain kind were to occur. This last is a feature of laws that reflects the character of the counterfactual inferences they must support. For the inferential commitments that articulate the contents of both observable and theoretical concepts are not restricted to those whose premises are judgments that express my doxastic commitments. They underwrite my concluding that if the meter needle had moved to the right, there would have been a higher voltage in the test wire, and vice versa.
The lawlikeness, or lawfulness, of the consequential relations among kinds of theoretical states of affairs, which Hegel is discussing in the middle of Force and Understanding, is the correlate on the side of truth of the way one judgment entails another inferentially, on the side of certainty. Hegel here puts on the table, without much in the way of argument, Kant’s fundamental claim that necessity is an essential structure of empirical consciousness. This is the idea that there is an internal connection between the way the modal rulishness of concepts involves commitments that go beyond the this-here-now and what it is for them to have content in the sense of intentional purport: to be about objects, in the sense of answering to them for the correctness of their applications to particulars in judgment. Norms of thought and laws of nature are two expressions of the fact that one commitment may be inferentially implicit in another. We are not yet in a position to lay out the relations between these two aspects of consciousness: truth and certainty, the objective and the subjective. That topic is first addressed in the next chapter.92
We can think about the various conceptual points that have been made in the discussion of Consciousness in terms of the kinds of logical vocabulary that have been discovered to be necessary to make explicit what is implicit in ordinary empirical knowledge claims. Besides the demonstratives, with which we began as the basic way of trying to say what is meant in immediate experience, we discovered that we need also anaphoric pronouns, to make it possible to hold onto and recollect what is indicated by the demonstratives: to make what is presented available for inference. Singular terms, predicates, and negation then turned out to be needed to articulate the propositional content of simple observations. It now emerges that quantifiers (for generality), conditionals (for the consequential element), and modal operators (for necessity) would be needed as well, to make explicit the inferential connections that relate observational and theoretical concepts—that is, to state laws.
The focus is now on the features of things that underwrite inferences: on the connections among the facts (and possible states of affairs) presented in judgments, rather than on those facts themselves. Although this realization represents real metatheoretical progress, from Hegel’s point of view the notion of law is fatally infected by its expressibility in the form of judgments. A law, as statable, is a kind of superfact. As a result, the concept of law still incorporates a conception of the determinateness of conceptual contents that is structured by categories of independence. No judgment, including one that states a law, can be thought of as simply true or false, so long as the concepts it employs are defective. But they will be inadequate so long as they contain the potential, when properly applied in concert with others to which they are inferentially related, to lead in empirical circumstances to incompatible judgments. But that holistic potential is not a merely regrettable, because dispensable, feature of the employment of empirical concepts. For Hegel, as we are aiming to put ourselves in a position to see, that residual ‘negativity’ of such concepts not only provides the normative motor for conceptual and doxastic change, and thereby the mechanism whereby immediacy and contingency are incorporated into concepts—mediated and given (made to have) the form of necessity—but is what determines the content of such concepts, and so constitutes their determinateness.
So statable rules, even lawlike claims that codify proprieties of inference, are the wrong sort of unit to look to for a solution to the unity-in-difference problem raised by acknowledgment of the essential contribution made by inferential relations to other concepts in the constitution of the content of one concept. For such rules or laws still presuppose, rather than articulate the nature and conditions of the intelligibility of, the determinately contentful concepts in terms of which they are formulated. As Hegel sees it, Kant has not told us how thinking of a concept as a rule helps us understand how it unifies the diversity of particulars that falls under that universal. And it is no help with that general problem to go on, as Kant does, to point out that rules can be expressed as hypothetical judgments (so explicitly incorporating inferential commitments), relating a consequence to the satisfaction of some antecedent conditions. (Recall the remarks about he principle underlying syllogistic reasoning above.) For such explicit rules (e.g. “All gold is metal,”) still presuppose the determinate contentfulness—the unity in difference—of the concepts in terms of which they are couched.
This is the line of thought underlying Hegel’s rehearsal of the conceptual troubles with the concept of law. The initial conception is that of the "calm realm of laws", a unified, eternal, changeless order, contrasting in its repose with the motion of the diverse, ever-changing busy-ness that is its actual manifestation (including what is observable). Structurally, this position ought to be compared to the first conception of force, as confronting some sort of other that is responsible for its expression. But this conception can be maintained no more than its antecedent, in spite of the progress made by moving up a level to consider connections among theoretical things, rather than just the things. Reflection on the role of the realm of laws reveals that the concept of law is doing two different things, that two different conceptions of law are really in play. (Compare the 'doubling' of forces into unifying force whose expression is solicited and diversifying force that solicits that expression.) On the one hand law is the principle of unity, of the unification of diverse appearances by exhibiting them as necessary, that is as instances of a rule that necessitates them. This is law as the principle of lawlikeness, law as the abstract form of law.93 It is the principle that ultimately demands the unity of science, what appears in Kant's philosophy of science as the ideal that science form a system, that all laws eventually be capable of being exhibited as consequences of one law. Otherwise the realm of law, which unifies diverse appearances, itself contains an irreducible contingency and diversity of laws. On the other hand, laws must have determinate content, if they are to unify the restless particularity of phenomena by exhibiting their connection as instances of rules. Explanation cannot proceed according to empty or contentless laws, but requires determinateness and content. For us, but not for the consciousness undergoing this experience, this splitting of the realm of laws into a unifying principle or form and a set of diverse, determinately contentful particular laws manifests the requirement that anything with determinate content acquire that content in virtue of its role in a Notion, a system of relative identities constituted by their relative differences. This principle arose for us already in the exposition of perceiving consciousness. Law as unity must have diversity within itself if it is to have content. It cannot be purely diverse if it is to be able to perform its unifying function. So law is seen to 'double' itself, just as force did, when the idea of its confrontation with an 'other' is reflected upon, and its implicit presuppositions made explicit.
The final movement of understanding consciousness operating according to the conception of supersensuous, necessitating law unfolds the consequences of the demand for determinate content in the laws appealed to by explanation. Explanation, which "condenses the law into Force as the essence of the law," finding in things a "ground constituted exactly the same as the law".94 With the concept of explanation necessity becomes not an abstract form or principle divorced from the determinate contents of the laws that govern actual appearance, but rather a feature inherent in those laws themselves. The question is how understanding consciousness is to conceive the relation between the diversity in virtue of which a law can have a determinate content and the unity that is its necessity, without which it would not be a law in the sense that explanation requires. In making explicit this relation, understanding consciousness focuses on the necessity, asserted by a determinate law, of the relation between the different terms that express the content of the law. A law of motion relates the distinct concepts of space and time, a fundamental law of chemistry relates temperature, pressure, and volume. And the lawlikeness of the law, not now thought of as a separable component but as a feature of determinate laws, consists in the necessity of the connection asserted between these terms. The question is how to understand the necessary connection of genuinely distinct terms.
Consider Newton's fundamental law F=ma. Is this a definition, say of force? If it is, then we can understand how it has the special status marked by calling it 'necessary'. But in that case the distinctness of force from mass and acceleration is merely apparent. Explanation by appeal to such an analytic 'law' then seems to be a cheat, a trick. For it just consists in exhibiting or asserting the necessary interrelation of things that only appear to be distinct. On the other hand, if this claim is not analytic, that is, if force is not being defined as the product of mass and acceleration, then the explanatory invocation of this law would not be misleading, and we would really learn something from it. But how in that case are we to understand the alleged necessity of the law? What does it mean to say that things that are really distinct are also necessarily related to one another? Here, of course, Hegel is asking Hume's question. How is it possible to make sense of a natural necessity that does not collapse into uninformative analyticity or empirical contingency? If consciousness does not respond as Hume does, but treats the necessity as real, then two strategies become available, each of which turns out to be unsatisfactory as a resolution of the problem of the relation of the Many and the One. On the first horn of the dilemma, explanation appears as consciousness recognizing as necessary connections between elements that are distinct only as consciousness has divided them up in appearance. Here once again the supersensible in itself is conceived as a unity, with diversity being merely an appearance for consciousness. On the second horn of the dilemma, it seems that the necessity must be an importation of consciousness, a feature of its formulation of laws or what things are for it, not something that could be considered as grounded in what things are in themselves. Necessity resides in the Understanding, since the unification into a rule or law of what are in themselves distinct things is its work. This latter is of course Kant's strategy.
These two approaches are unsatisfactory, however. In the end, they place too much of the responsibility for the nature and existence of natural laws on the subject who uses them to explain the happenings of appearance. As the conception of force errs on the side of objectifying the movement of unity into diversity and its return to itself, so the conception of law errs on the side of subjectifying that movement. It is a primary explanatory criterion of adequacy that Hegel places on his conception of the Notion that it be able to avoid these abstract extremes and explain what they could not: necessary connections between the distinct determinate contents actually present in appearance (both sensuously immediate appearance and purely mediated appearance, and both the appearing and what appears). The incompatibilities between determinate contents within the Notion include a modal component. Two claim-contents that are incompatible cannot be true together, they don't just happen not to be. It is these incompatibilities (determinate negations), and the inferential relations they determine (mediation) in virtue of which contents are the contents that they are. But these incompatibilities are not simply stipulated, or analytically true. They are features of the contents comprised by a system, the Notion, that has produced them as the products of a course of concrete experience. That experience is the movement of the system in response to the immediate (noninferential in the sense of being commitments that are not the results of a process of inferring, not in the sense of being articulated without reference to their inferential roles) deliverances of perception, what is implicit in the world becoming explicit for consciousness through observation. And that experience is the movement of the system in response to the purely mediate deliverances of inference to the best explanation in response to the explicit confrontation of incompatibilities among its commitments, what is implicit in the system of concrete contents becoming explicit for consciousness through reflection. These meanings have not evolved and cannot be grasped independently of what is taken to be true. The necessity of their holistic interconnections cannot be reduced either to a reflection of an antecedent and independent objective reality, nor to a reflection of an antecedent and independent subjective reality. Determinate diversity of content and universal unity of necessity as its form are aspects of the Notion that cannot be understood independently of one another.

Focusing on explanation brings explicitly into view a topic that has been in the background throughout the discussion of theoretical entities: the distinction between appearance and reality.

Our object is thus from now on the syllogism [Schluß] which has for its extremes the inner being of Things, and the Understanding, and for its middle term appearance; but the movement [Bewegung] of this syllogism yields the further determination of what the Understanding descries in this inner world though the middle term, and the experience from which the Understanding learns about the close-linked unity of these terms.95

The end of Force and Understanding discusses the relationships among inference, explanation, and the distinction between appearance and reality. The issues surrounding them are discussed in the context of three conceptions of a reality beyond or behind appearance, which is inferentially revealed by appearance: the first supersensible world, the first inverted world, and the second inverted world. Four crucial, interlinked distinctions are put in play in this discussion. To understand the position Hegel is unfolding, we must distinguish them, so as to be in a position to appreciate their relations to one another. First is the distinction between two distinctions: on the one hand, the distinction between observable and theoretical entities, and on the other the distinction between appearance and reality. Second is the distinction between two ways of conceiving appearances: as a kind of thing distinct from realities, and as aspects of those realities, ways in which the real shows up or is expressed. Third is the distinction between broadly inferential relations and inference as a process (‘movement’). Finally, there is the distinction between two ways of understanding the inferential relations (or mediations) that conceptually articulate our knowledge: as a special kind of reality behind appearances, and as something that is implicit in and expressed by them.

The first conception of a supersensible world is what one gets by running together the distinction between observable and theoretical things or states of affairs with the distinction between appearance and reality. Hegel wants to disabuse us of the natural temptation to identity these two distinctions. To appreciate the temptation and the lesson, we must be clear about the difference between the two distinctions. It is one thing to realize that the capacity to make inferences from what is immediate—which turns out to be implicit in the capacity to be immediately aware of anything—can give us cognitive access to things of which we cannot be immediately aware. It is quite another to take it that the things to which our only cognitive access is inferential (mediated), conceptual rather than perceptual, are more real than the things to which we (also) have perceptual (immediate) access. Making this latter move is taking it that what theory reveals is what is real, while what observation reveals is merely the appearance of that reality: the way it shows up to creatures with our sort of perceptual capacities. But what is this latter distinction? What is it to take some things of which we can be aware (by whatever means) as real, and others as merely their appearances to us?
Hegel starts to use the language of appearance before he answers this question:

Within this inner truth…[which] has become the object of the Understanding, there now opens up above the sensuous world, which is the world of appearance, a supersensible world, which henceforth is the true world…96

Theoretical objects, as purely conceptual, as “existing only as objects for the Understanding,” present “the inner being of things, qua inner, which is the same as the concept of Force qua Concept.” 97

This true essence of Things has now the character of not being immediately for consciousness; on the contrary, consciousness has a mediated relation to the inner being and, as the Understanding, looks through this mediating play of Forces into the true background of Things. The middle term which unites the two extremes, the Understanding and the inner world, is the developed being of Force, which, for the Understanding itself is henceforth only a vanishing. This ‘being’ is therefore called appearance.98

The actual, observable manifestations of theoretical objects—the products of the play of forces—serve for the Understanding only as premises, from which to make inferences about the objects whose interactions they express. These are objects individuated solely by the inference-supporting laws they are subject to. The true essence of this first conception of the supersensible world is taken consist in those laws: the “calm realm of laws”. Immediacy ‘vanishes’ for the Understanding in playing only this mediating role. But in what sense, is the supersensible world—the world accessible to thought through inference—taken to be the true world? What sort of invidious distinction is being made between the (mediated) immediate and the purely mediated-and-mediating, when one is taken as mere appearance, and the other as reality?
It is because of its priority in the order of explanation. Appearance is to be understood, in the sense of explained by, an (in that explanatory sense) underlying reality. The notion of explanation explains what it is to take the theoretical to be real, yielding the appearances that we can observe. One takes theoretical objects to be real and what is observable to be their appearance by seeking to explain the latter in terms of the former, and not vice versa. The real is that in terms of which one offers accounts, and what one accounts for is how things appear.99 This sort of explanation reverses the direction of the inferences by means of which theoretical objects are revealed (appear) to us. To find out about theoretical objects, we draw conclusions from observational premises. To explain what we observe we draw conclusions from theoretical premises. Thus we know there is current in the test wire because of the movement of the meter needle, and take it that the meter needle moves because there is current in the test wire. In the context of the experimental apparatus, the current shows itself in (appears as) the movement of the meter needle. The propriety of both inferences is expressed in a law: the statement of a necessary connection among distinct determinate concepts (current in the test wire and movement of the meter needle). But what the law expresses is a force, an actually efficacious ground of explanation, the current as making the meter needle move. In “the process called explanation”:

A law is enunciated; from this, its implicitly universal element or ground is distinguished as Force; but it is said that this difference is no difference, rather that the ground is constituted exactly the same as the law. The single occurrence of lightning, e.g. is apprehended as a universal, and this universal is enunciated as the law of electricity; the ‘explanation’ then condenses [zusammenfat] the law into Force as the essence of the law…Force is constituted exactly the same as law…the difference qua difference of content…is withdrawn.100

The metaconception of understanding that Hegel is considering in this part of his story does not have a sufficiently good grip on the structure of the Concept to follow out this insight coherently. But in explanation for the first time the identity of content of thought in its subjective aspect (thinking) and objective aspect (what is thought about) appears, albeit darkly. When things go well, there is an identity of content between a statement, claim or judgment and a fact, between a propriety of inference and a law. It is a criterion of adequacy for Hegel’s metaconception of the infinite Concept that it make sense both of this identity of content and of the difference of form between the subjective certainty that can attach to that content and the objective truth that can attach to it: the difference between what something is for consciousness, and what it is in itself. Explicating this fundamental sort of identity-in-difference, which is constitutive of consciousness as such, is the topic of our next chapter.
It is a mistake, however, to identify the appearance/reality distinction with the observable/theoretical distinction. The distinction between observable and theoretical objects is not a distinction between two different kinds of objects at all. It is, as Sellars will later put it, not an ontological distinction at all, but only a methodological one.101 It has to do with how we come to know about the objects, not with what kind of thing they are. To say that something is a theoretical object or state of affairs is to say that the only way we have of knowing about it is by means of inference. Theoretical concepts are those that have only inferential circumstances of appropriate application, whereas observational ones also have noninferential (immediate) circumstances of application. But this is a time-relative designation. The line between things to which we have only inferential cognitive access and the things to which we also have noninferential cognitive access can shift with time. Thus when first postulated to explain perturbations in the orbit of Neptune, Pluto was a purely theoretical object; the only claims we could make about it were the conclusions of inferences. But the development of more powerful telescopes eventually made it accessible also to observation, and so a subject of noninferential reports. Pluto did not undergo an ontological change; all that changed was its cognitive relation to us.
There seems to have been a permanent philosophical temptation to endorse the platonic principle, that a difference in our means of knowledge is the criterion of differences in the sorts of being that is known thereby. Descartes is a cardinal modern example. But this move is at least optional. And examples of theoretically postulated items—genes are another example—that become observable suggests that applied to the methodological distinction between theoretical and observational, it is a mistake. Sellars is concerned to argue against instrumentalists, who would treat theoretical objects as ontologically second class citizens because they are only inferentially accessible, reserving the designation ‘real’ for what is observable. Hegel is here concerned to reject the converse mistake, made by someone who, having appreciated the role of mediation in even immediate awareness, and so the genuineness the cognitive access afforded by thought. Such a one has accepted the reality of what is only inferentially accessible (purely mediated and mediating), but is then tempted to reject the reality of what provides only premises for pure thought.

For the world of appearance is, on the contrary, not the world of sense-knowledge and perception as a world that positively is, but this world posited as superseded, or as in truth an inner world.102

A humdrum way into this mistake is through Eddington's story of two tables. The table in front of me appears to be still, solid, and colored. Physics, he says, tells us that it is really a nearly empty cloud of tiny, colorless particles vibrating at incredibly high speeds. Nothing is really still, solid, or colored. Yet we irresistibly believe in the table of appearance, the one we are assured does not really exist. Now we, who are following the phenomenological exposition, are not supposed to be taken in by this.

But such antitheses of inner and outer, of appearance and the supersensible, as of two different kinds of actuality, we no longer find here. The repelled differences are not shared afresh between two substances such as would support them and lend them a separate subsistence.103

That is, the difference between how things are in themselves and how they appear is not also not an ontological difference—at least not one that is happily thought of in terms of two sorts of thing (two worlds). In the Phenomenology, an alternative to this way of thinking about the relation between appearance and reality, phenomena and noumena, how things are for consciousness and how they are in themselves, has already been sketched in the Introduction. We will discuss this view in the next chapter [[INTROREP]]. It turns on the notion of explaining error. On this account, though appearances can take the form of observable states of affairs, they can equally take the form of purely theoretical ones. Its purely theoretical status in no way disqualifies a concept (say, phlogiston, or natural slave) from turning out to be a feature only of how things appear. Putting ourselves in a position to understand this broader conception of appearance (and so, the fourth distinction mentioned above, between two ways of thinking about the relation between appearance and reality) requires looking more closely at the relation between the notion of explanation, which is the basis for the distinction between appearance and reality, and that of inference, which is the basis for the distinction between observable and theoretical entities.

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