The Claims of Self-Sufficient Agency: Freedom and Self-Consciousness

This is chapter 3 of Terry Pinkard’s Hegel’s Phenomenology: The Sociality of Reason.

1. Self-consciousness and the desire for recognition

Previously, we saw that claims concerning self-sufficient knowledge were only tracing out the structure of the understanding itself.  In other words, consciousness was not concerned with the structure of things, but with the structure of our own conceptual activities.  Now, consciousness has to be integrated with this new form of self-consciousness.  Pinkard explains, “The conception of the independent existence of the sensuous objects remains intact in this conception; the object of reflection, however, is now the structure of our taking these objects as such and such—that is, the set of inferences (the ‘social space’) in terms of which we describe, classify, and explain those objects, and not the objects themselves” (Pinkard 1994, 47).

Hence, consciousness requires that we have a position in ‘social space,’ and self-consciousness is the awareness of this problem.

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The Claims to Self-Sufficient Knowledge

From Terry Pinkard’s Hegel’s Phenomenology: The Sociality of Reason.  This is chapter 2.

1. Sense-certainty

The most obvious reason to begin with sense-certainty is that any philosophical system must begin without presuppositions, and develop everything out of that beginning.  Hence, the Science of Logic begins with pure being, and the Phenomenology begins with sense-certainty.  The second reason is that the general aim of the Phenomenology is to show that a wide range of things, from religion to the French Revolution, are forms of consciousness and so that all claims to knowledge are historically situated forms of social practice.

Of course, it seems self-evidently true that we do know some things quite apart from any social practice, and that these things can serve as an independent standard of evidence for truth.  Basically, we know some things regardless of whether we are ancient Greeks or modern Europeans.

What Hegel shows in the first chapter is that these kinds of knowledge fail on their own terms to provide the knowledge they claim to.  He also wants to show that they logically culminate in a subject/object model of knowledge and practice.  There is a subject, an independent object, and a representation (Vorstellung) which links them.  This “representationalist” account of knowledge is concerned with whether our ideas match up with their objects.  Hence, Hegel’s second goal is to show that this representationalist account, again, fails on its own terms to achieve the goals it sets for itself.

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Why the Phenomenology of Spirit?

From Hegel’s Phenomenology: The Sociality of Reason by Terry Pinkard.  This is chapter 1.

2. Hegelian Preliminaries

In the introduction, Hegel says the book is a theory of knowledge, in particular how knowledge claims can match up with the objects they are about.  So it is odd, then, that most of the book is about issues which do not appear to be epistemological at all.  We need to understand how Hegel thought many other issues, from Kantian ethics to the philosophy of religion, are related to knowledge.

If we say that a theory of knowledge has to explain how our knowledge-claims match their objects, Hegel says this puts the problem of skepticism at centre-stage in two ways.  First, the basic issue of such theory is whether our claims can or do match their objects, and so a generalized skepticism, in which claims never match their objects, is a major concern.   

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On Transitions

From Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future.  This is chapter 8.

Talking about postcapitalism means we have to talk about transitions: what constitutes an economic system, and how does one give way to another?

We have no good models of transition.  For example, Stalinism was a disaster, and Occupy had only fragmentary ideas.  There are two transitions we know a lot about: the rise of capitalism and the fall of the Soviet Union.  This chapter is about what we can learn from them.   

We have to begin with our imaginations.  Alexander Bogdanov’s 1909 novel Red Star imagined a Martian utopia in which production was organized by a computer, and humans directly linked their brains into the computer—basically an information economy.  Bogdanov was a founding member of the Bolsheviks, but his insistence that a Proletarian cultural revolution had to precede the larger revolution, and his belief that a postcapitalist society would be information-based, provoked Lenin to force him out.  Lenin’s Marxism entailed an imminent breakdown of capitalism and a revolution, regardless of culture.

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Capital in the 21st Century, Ch. 2 – Growth: Illusions and Realities

This is chapter 2 of Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century.

Today, there is a global convergence process: poor countries are catching up with rich ones.  This is primarily driven by poor countries investing in themselves, and not because of investment in them by richer countries.

To understand convergence and inequality, we need to divide output growth into population growth and per capita output growth. The former is a demographic matter and the latter is economic, which allows for improvements in the standard of living.   

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Real Freedom for All – Ch. 1: Capitalism, Socialism, and Freedom

Phillipe Van Parijs’s Real Freedom for All: What (if anything) can justify capitalism?  This is the first chapter.

In the introduction, Parijs begins by stating two convictions.  First, that capitalist societies are full of unacceptable inequalities.  Second, freedom is of paramount importance.  The book is primarily written to those who already agree with these statements, and its goal is to provide a response to the libertarian position that these two convictions are mutually exclusive.

Chapter 1 – Capitalism, Socialism, and Freedom

Each chapter begins with a prologue in the form of a dialogue.  In this dialogue, the distinction between capitalism and socialism is whether or not the bulk of the means of production is privately or publicly owned, and both are distinguished from slavery or collectivism by people’s ownership of themselves.  It also states that a maximally free society is not necessarily a capitalist one; it is a society in which all members have wide latitude in shaping their own destiny.  Some have argued that such a society can only be a democratic socialist society, but he thinks this relies on a confusion between freedom and power.

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Badiou & Gauchet: What is to be Done? Ch. 2-3

What is to be Done?: A Dialogue on Communism, Capitalism and the Future of Democracy is a dialogue between Alain Badiou and Marcel Gauchet.  Their discussion reckons with the past and future of the title subjects.

Chapter 2 – From Marx to Lenin

Question: “First theorized by Marx, communism became embedded in history beginning in 1917 with the October Revolution, in which the Bolsheviks seized power.  How do you asses the transition from the idea to the concrete experience of communism in the USSR?  In Particular, do you think the regime established by Lenin corresponded economically, politically, and ideologically to Marx’s original conception?” (WBD, Loc 337-339)

Gauchet says there is an ambiguity in the use of the word “communism,” between the idea of the political project and the historical experience of the regimes that called themselves communist.  The idea existed before Marx; he gave it its theory of history.

Marx thought we could establish communism by abolishing private property and collectively appropriating the means of production; this was supposed to eliminate divisions in society, such as the division between capital and labour, but just as much the division between men and women.  It was the promise of a “great reconciliation.”  Gauchet says, “In every sphere, the aim is a harmonious totality.  As regards this desire for the One, it’s clear that Marx’s thinking, almost in spite of itself, lends itself to a possible totalitarian-type capture” (WBD, Loc 352).   

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