Josh Dunigan |||

Robert Brandom’s A Spirit of Trust


In this post, I aim to just toss out some reflections and comments and questions on parts of this massive work of Brandoms. I found this book to be very good and hope that through this people will engage with me on my own thoughts as well, particularly Hegel scholars and those who have read this as well. I did not spend much time engaging with either Hegel primary text or other secondary texts, if I did it would be never ending. Most of this is my own notes from while reading or connecting it to Zizek, his Less than Nothing and The Sublime Object of Ideology being the most recent Hegel books I have read besides this, also Pippin especially that I read his book on Hegel and painting recently too. This could definitely have been developed better, but I plan to do it iteratively and come back to this post later on edit it or dive more into particular things I do not understand or have a problem with.


By this I mean broadly that he thinks that what confers conceptual content on acts, attitudes, and linguistic expressions is the role they play in the practices their subjects engage in. On this broadly functionalist picture, meaning is to be understood in terms of use. (Brandom p. 3)

How does this line up with how Ng or Moyar interprets Hegel’s account? Is the functionalist picture missing something about Hegel’s concept of Life” as Ng argues. Rather, the form of conceptual use is not just functionalist but functional situated within the concept of Life from the Science of Logic? That seems to be how Ng understands concepts and judgment at times. Throughout the whole of the book, this seems to be something Brandom avoids. He does not the hylomorphic structure of form and content as he says above this quote, and throughout the book, however he does not go into detail as much as it seems Kant or Hegel wanted to in the particular Subject-Object relation or as Pippin calls the Absolute” that philosophers such as Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, and Hegel were interested in justifying. At least, at times, it seems like I needed to do the patchwork of this throughout the book by thinking of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason or Hegel’s Logic and the scholar’s that treat this question more intimately. This might be a lack on Brandom’s part for it being a book just about the Phenomenology and not the Logic, despite him having read it.

The discovery or invention of a kind of concept playing this distinctive sort of expressive role is one of the founding Big Ideas of German Idealism. The conception of such metaconcepts makes possible a new way of thinking about self-consciousness—and so, Hegel will insist, a new kind of self-consciousness. The categorial metaconcepts are the expressive organs of self-consciousness so understood. (Brandom p. 5)

I have seen criticism’s of Brandom’s approach. However, he seems to be on board with metaconcepts as sort of Sellarsian invariable” features of experience (as I read from Ekin’s paper), or as Kant might say as transcendental conditions of experience itself, not conditions of particular experiences or experiencings”. To me and throughout the book, he does not deny metaconcepts, he just thinks that the work of the Phenomenology and this particular way of reading it can be done through ground level concepts. This seems to be something Hegel does explicitly in the Logic when he mentions the State or something. Obviously Brandom is concerned with something more street-level” and empirically messy” such as Language, but I am fine with that since it seems to be quite fruitful a way of explaining things, as I love particularly his discussion of normativity and negative / positive freedom in language which is a better way of explaining the Kantian idea of normativity of willkür and wille (the particular technical German words Kant clarified later on in his career because people misread him).

However it is with Kant, Hegel brings the normative down to earth by explaining discursive norms as the products of social practices. (John Haugeland suggested that the slogan for this explanatory strategy is All transcendental constitution is social institution.”) (Brandom p. 12)

I particularly love this quote because I think at times you can get a lot of mileage in understanding Hegel this way, only if you have done enough Kant I think. It is not easy to go from the social -> transcendental, but once you understand how Kant’s transcendental idealism works throughout his philosophy, I think this makes sense. Particularly, it is the conception of how one can be wrong or right in their representations of something, be it theoretical or practical reason. Onora O’Neill gives a good argument in this common strand of thought through Kant. Taking the example of the categorical imperative, it functions as a norm that governs all action. It takes a public-private role in autonomy/heteronomy, where we see Korsgaard argue, just as Hegel wants to I believe, that utilitarian / instrumental reason / happiness conceptions of agency and ethics transcendentally depend on autonomy and the categorical imperative.

Hegel makes a similar argument as Brandom details in his wonderful discussions of Hegel’s theory of action that the alienated subject who denies mutual recognition in a way depends themself on their own commitments to Hegel’s mutual recognition theory. Pippin takes a similar approach in his Hegel’s Practical Philosophy in which he cited the same lectures I did above in The Sources of Normativity. So roughly if we understand the role of public reason” in Kant and how it operates in his philosophy, we can get pretty far by substituting Hegelian public reason”, which takes on a more literal notion of the public as the social in terms of the reciprocal-recognitive dyads” that make up the intersubjective network of agents. Brandom even notes a bit how Kant himself was aware of the problem of public reason and tried to solve this unlike any of the other modern philosophers, to which I agree Kant was aware and attempted I believe.

Viewed prospectively, the process of experience is one of progressively determining conceptual contents in the sense of making those contents more determinate, by applying them or withholding their application in novel circumstances. This is the perspective that makes visible the attitude-dependence of normative statuses: the conferral of meaning by use. Viewed retrospectively, the process of experience is one of determining conceptual contents in the sense of progressively finding out more about the boundaries of concepts that show up as having implicitly all along already been fully determinate. This is the perspective that makes visible the status-dependence of normative attitudes: meaning or conceptual content as normatively governing applications or uses of it. It is of the essence of construing things according to the metacategories of Vernunft that neither of these perspectives is intelligible apart from its relation to the other, and that the correctness of each does not exclude but rather entails the correctness of the other. (Brandom p. 17)

Here is something similar to how Moyar understands his Basic Argument” to go and gets at something more fundamental about Hegel as opposed to Kant it seems. Hegel thought there was sort of a reciprocal dependency on the determining and reflective judgements of Kant’s first and third Critiques. There seems to be something of a mirroring here. In the moment, prospectively, there a sense in which we go from particular to universal, or particular novel” circumstances. Sometimes we correctly judge and sometimes we incorrectly, and through the retrospective lens of recollection, we go from universal to particular, from normative statuses to particular actions and see if the action sort of passes a similar test as the categorical imperative. The test being that it is like a syllogistic judgement as Rödl might formulate it. The major premise being the categorical imperative as the universal, the maxim as the particular willing of the agent in some scenario, and the conclusion is an action or inaction. This does not mean agents go about and do this all the time, but it is how we make an action intelligible and determine if it was right or wrong, as a judge and jury will do when deciding a court case even if the agent did not go through this syllogistic reasoning in the moment.

I have no idea if this is on to something or has been said and I missed it, but the way that the prospective and retrospective line up with determining and reflective judgement seems somewhat possible maybe.

Brandom sort of hints at this a bit more here

The mediation of immediacy in general is also modeled on the raising of particulars to individuals by their coming to fall under universals. Hegel puts us in a position to see judging to begin with as subjects exercising their authority to bring sensuous particulars under conceptually articulated universals. Doing that now shows up as a genus of practical doing generally. Intentional agency is assimilated to the work of shaping sensuous immediacy to make it fit under endorsed universals: making things be as one is committed to their being. The Reason chapter is accordingly addressed to this topic. Reason is purposive agency.” [PG 22] (Brandom p. 27)

The raising of particulars” and the mention of agency as purposive, is reminiscent of Kant’s third Critique which Ng notes how influential it was to Hegel.

Chapter 1

The epistemological enterprise is not intelligible unless we can make sense of the relation between representations of representational relations (what they are for representers) and those representational relations themselves, and then representations of those relations, and so on. Until we have grasped all of that infinite chain of representings of representings of representings . . . , we are not in a position to understand the representational relation, and hence not the instrument or medium” of representation. ( Brandom p. 48)

Brandom takes it, I believe, that Kant is still a Cartesian (just like the joke about Marx being a minor Ricardoean figure or whatever), as a way of lumping them into a broader and more fundamental similarity to show that say, Hegel is more fundamentally different than even people thought Kant was. The issue here seems to be the problem of concept and intuition, of mediated and immediate knowledge. This started with Descartes, as Brandom wants to show in this opening. Kant, like Descartes, both fail to articulate and make conceptual the relation of concept to intuition and thus they have not overcome some form of skepticism, Brandom particularly uses the word semantic skepticism.

Now, I am not expert on Kant’s first Critique. I get the problem he is posing. However, I am not sure this is entirely accurate to say. Since the most recent thing I read on the first Critique was Heidegger’s lecture on it (not the problem of metaphysics one, the other one) and it is freshest in my mind, I will discuss Heidegger’s take. Heidegger himself was aware of this, how we sort of tie concept and intuition together or how we, as Brandom wants to, conceptually articulate the relation itself that relates concept to intuition. Heidegger hints towards the faculty of imagination as being the common root” of the two. So rather, there are not two faculties of knowledge, receptive intuition and spontaneous thinking, but rather three with one at the common root.

Brandom also accuses Kant of thus falling ill to a regress here which is why it resorts of skepticism. At face value without diving in I would be skeptical too if Kant fell victim to the regress since he was most concerned with regresses throughout his philosophy I think. I think this also plays on another possible misinterpretation of what intuition means in Kant, it does not seem that intuition is pure receptivity that we have no part in, that it is immediate in like a vulgar empiricist way, which I think Lucy Allais makes as a central point throughout her book. Maybe it is, I need to study the first Critique a lot more in depth as it is the most difficult and most important one. Would like to see some people especially Kantians comment on this.

All these arguments involve ignoring what Sellars calls the notorious ing’/‘ed’ ambiguity,” which turns on the distinction between thoughts and beliefs in the sense of acts of thinking and believing and thoughts and beliefs in the sense of what is thought or believed, or what is thinkable or believable. (Brandom p. 52)

I quite like the Sellars formulation and it is something that gets misinterpreted about Kant quite a bit and I assume would be about Hegel if he was studied as much. I believe Rödl takes this up as well. In action, there is an intelligible component and a psychological component, and many people I think only can interpret it as the latter because of ideological blinders. Blinders in the way that many people think there is a strict either or in terms of happiness or freedom in Kant, but it is false dichotomy that Kant never sets up, and people who dogmatically choose happiness in this antinomy we can call it read Kant like this I think because of their already existing commitments to some utilitarian theory of value and action.

So with this ing/ed distinction, there definitely is a component that when we are deciding what to do we do some sort of reasoning as best we can. But when Kant is talking about right or wrong, categorical imperative test etc., he, I think, is usually stressing the intelligibility of action as such and not how to be rational” like it was a NYTimes best seller book. Why I think this is because of the sort of common root of normativity that Kant takes up as response to Hume in theoretical and practical reason. In short, we want to make action intelligible in terms of rules and normativity and representations in Kant. In the Metaphysics of Morals and the Religion Kant will elaborate more about the psychologizing component of action, but the Groundwork and the Critique of Practical Reason I think are more in line with what contemporaries call meta-ethics which are heavily inspired by Davidson and Anscombe it seems, which is why Rödl in his book Self-Consciousness takes those to be two primary people to put in discussion with his virtually Kantian theory since it is based on autonomy of Kant and not Hegel really.

Hegel is similar for sure, especially with the social substitution that goes on I mentioned above. Hegel might even have a more fleshed out and articulated psychological component with what I discussed above with how action actually happens in the minds of agents. Broadly speaking, agents are already constricted by their social roles and their form of life, and thus this form of life plays the role of continuously making actual the normative statuses that a person embodies in their ethical life. We see this in Antigone especially as someone who did not really reflect one way or another, as was the point of the movie Harakiri I believe, Antigone just went through with her social role and applied it as best she saw fit in the novel circumstances that arose in the play.

With Kant, Allison notes a little bit in his new book how Kant dealt with this question a bit more in the Religion which gets Kant’s discussions of human nature, evil, and how one sort of psychologically deals with the burden of the moral law, also see Wood as well in his latest book Kant’s Religion for more in depth discussion. One thing Allison does great on I think is the role the third Critique plays for this task in relation to freedom and actualizing” or realizing the moral law (normative statuses in Brandomean langauge), which is tied I believe to Kant’s discussion of the ethical commonwealth in the Religion a bit as well.

The Genuine Knowledge Condition is satisfied on this model. For taking thoughts to stand in representational relations to facts implicitly involves commitment to the possibility of an isomorphism between subjective normative relations of incompatibility and consequence and objective modal relations of incompatibility and consequence, and the model does not semantically preclude such an isomorphism from holding objectively—at least locally and temporarily. (Brandom p. 61)

This chapter seems to be the corner stone of his system, or rather, his attempt at a modern day analytic Fregelian Absolute” as Pippin calls it. The Absolute was an attempt at the subject-object relation, mind and world, noumena and phenomena, etc. I don’t know if Brandom succeeds in that, there is a lot more going on with Kant and Hegel I think than just this modal isomorphism of representation in the alethic and deontic realms it seems. As Allison calls it, transcendental idealism (Hegel’s absolute idealism as well) are meta-philosophical positions. Whether or not that makes sense, there is something very fundamental about the idea of how one is even justified in going on with philosophy itself. Jake McNulty’s new book is pretty much dedicated to this entire problem itself, Pippin’s book as well, Allison’s major Kant work. Ng I think attempts this as well and spends a lot more time on this isomorphism”, which I am not sure is proper to call it.

Now, I will grant that this is known by Brandom, he says such at the end of the book. Anyone who thinks Brandom would overlook such concerns is the worst type of reader of philosophy I think and sets themselves up for failure. People who read the great canonical philosophers, however controversial, specifically the Western idea, of a canon is, only hurt themselves by dogmatically reading these texts and dismissing them. There is a sense in which someone is saying Ah yes, Brandom (Aristotle, Kant, Spinoza) overlooked this trivial thing that I have exposed immediately, thus I will no longer read them”. This is how I think many people taught Kant specifically, so much focus on the Groundwork and lying or what have you, the teachers basically set up students into strawman thinking. Especially when you read Wood who almost argues that the Groundwork is unintelligible at times without understanding Kant’s first Critique. Then after setting up this straw man or false dichotomy between utilitarianism and Kant (not that they are not different, but Kant sort of puts bounds on the game of happiness, happiness is not the only consideration for ethics), we can now just move beyond Kant as some representative of whatever the heck deontology is. I know that we need to move on” at times from philosophy, otherwise we would never move beyond Plato and Aristotle, but sometimes people seem to be in a rush to be done with the history of philosophy so they can sort of create new philosophy, I am sure economic incentives and academia status incentives play a huge role in this, and we see this really badly in computer science with the drive to publish producing mass amounts of garbage work.

In short, I think that Brandom’s greatest weakness in this book is that it was too short in a way, as funny enough as that sounds. In the afterword, he makes it seem like this is going to be his magnum opus, that everything leads up to this work. So I think to properly read Brandom and the scholar that he is, we need to take what he says seriously below.

Throughout the time I was wrestling with Hegel’s ideas, I was illuminated and informed in ways too various to mention by the works of, and by conversations with, Robert Pippin and Terry Pinkard. It always seemed to me that we were moving in generally the same direction, thinking in concordant ways. More recently, I also learned a great deal from Paul Redding and Robert Stern. But I found that I could not do justice to working out the story that was taking shape for me in Hegel’s text and at the same time triangulate that story with what these other insightful and sympathetic readers were making of it. This was my fault, and my loss. May others do better. (Brandom p. 769)

Brandom’s academic trajectory to me seems very noble and in a way it is because he attempted to make a very good example of Hegelian reconciliation, a more progressive trajectory of his academic career. Starting with whatever was the contemporary philosophy of his time, which seemed like he was neck deep in American pragmatism and the analytic turn to philosophy of language, Brandom recognized that there were more fundamental and meta-philosophical problems afoot that, by not confronting, we can easily end up talking past each other, repeating work that has been done in the history of philosophy canon already, and regress back into the dogmatism that Kant himself was seemingly aware of and tired of, how philosophy can seem to make progress of. Brandom ended up returning more intimately over and over to what seem to be Kant and Hegel, Kant being a more popular ancestor of contemporary English speaking philosophy, but where Kant is Hegel is on the trail, especially in the pragmatism world. So Brandom to me represents the way philosophy ought to be, a sort of balancing of contemporary and historical philosophy. But I think Heidegger is correct and also Nietszche maybe in an aphorism I just read today so I will use that quote.

Original. –Not that one is the first to see something new, but that one sees as new what is old, long familiar, seen and overlooked by everybody, is what distinguishes truly original minds. (Nietszche aphorism number 200, p. 156 of the Kaufman basic writings anthology)

This is why Heidegger thought Kant was the greatest philosopher since Aristotle and I think Hegel did too. This is why I think Brandom will be considered truly original in that he made a return from contemporary philosophy and reanimated Hegel, as Pippin notes of Zizek’s Hegel as well. Zizek and Brandom to me were the last ones I read in my Hegel deep dive starting on the first of January in 2021. I did not find that they were any bit wildly off or unaware of major interpretive issues in Hegel scholarship. I think they would hold their own against any Pippin or Houlgate or more traditional what we call Hegel scholar”. They are just approaching Hegel as something new from their perspective. For Zizek it seems to be from this heavily cultural object perspective of film and literature and other art forms, from French philosophy, from psychoanalysis and specifically Lacan, Marxism, some of Zizek’s own readings of say Plato, Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and also even some contemporary analytic philosophy such as Kripke or Searle.

Brandom does something similar with contemporary philosophy of language, analytic philosophy such as Frege, Wittgenstein, Davidson, Sellars, pragmatism, and also canonical philosophers such as Descartes, Hume, and Kant. But philosophers can only philosophize for so long, and Brandom is aware. I think anyone who is into Kant, Frege, Wittgenstein, Hegel, or any of the more modern analytic and contemporary philosophers since, have to take on Brandom’s project if we are to appreciate him, to help him where he left off. I think scholarship in philosophy should be a team effort. Maybe we can supplement Brandom by doing this triangulation for him. I have heard he is still trying to publish more work on Hegel and hope he has the chance to do his own work on this if he is, but I think Brandom is a great figure in bridging Hegel and Kant to all the philosophers he puts them in position with, just as Zizek is a great bridge between the ones he puts Hegel in position with. But the ending of the acknowledgements seem to be hinting that this is not a task that he has on his mind for the rest of his career with the comment may others do better”.

The reason I tie this first chapter to the acknowledgement and some overall praise of Brandom is like I said in a bit above that the first chapter is very important, but it is lacking I think in a rigorous discussion of the figures he mentions and also to more directly tie his interpretation to Hegel and specifically I would say the Science of Logic. Pippin spends almost a whole book in the Realm of Shadows to work for the position that Hegel is in some sense a transcendental philosopher taking up a fundamental Kantian position of subjectivtity and transcendental apperception or how Ng spends a whole book to articulate the subject-object relation and Life as the immediate ground of this all, or Houlgate who spends much time on just the objective logic and how Hegel’s philosophy can even start, since the starting point itself in Kant and Hegel was of the utmost importance. Anyway, all this is to say I think we should keep this in mind throughout the book the scope of Brandom’s book and how we should take him as an ally and carry on his work that he did in his own way.

Chapter 2

For, in the context of the constellation of collateral commitments in our example, the straight-stick belief provides a reason for rejecting the bent-stick belief. The collision between the two is rationally resolved. (Brandom p. 79)

This is an example he uses quite all over the book and I want to discuss it for a bit, hopefully not over-discuss it too early in this post. First, it seems that Brandom is not going full-blown almost Zizekean at times that contradictions are sort of real” in the sense of like ontological fabric of the world itself. I need to read more about dialethism as well, but it seems to me Brandom is avoiding anything as strong as this as well. Pippin in his book has a treatment of this as well and it goes back to sort of Kant’s discussion of negative magnitudes.

When we see the stick that is bent in the water, the story goes like this. Before the bent-stick-event, we held the belief that there is no such thing as bent stick in the sense that if it bends too far, like the bent stick we are seeing, it will break, and so in the alethic modal sense of material implication, there is no possibility for this event to occur. Call this the belief X that we hold for short now, it is a belief about the way the world is in-itself. Brandom notes as well how this judgement we have is something we hold that would be true for all time and all perceivers even if there were no perceivers alive to perceive this anymore. Brandom also relates this judgement about the way the world is-itself to Kant’s noumena. That is, Brandom takes Hegel to be saying No Kant, this is the way that the object is in-itself and not just the way it appears for us”. Now, I am suspicious that this is what Kant really meant with noumena, story for another day. Anyway, before the bent-stick-event, this belief X is something we hold to be true, the objective representation of some facet of material reality itself.

With the bent-stick-event, our representation of the world is in crisis, but Brandom does not think the world itself is in crisis. Rather, the bent-stick-event is now some new representation and judgement we hold about the way the world is. This same belief X we have is now contradicted by a not X”, but it is not a logical not X”. Rather, this is what Kant denotes as a and -a” or adding the implicit sign here of +a and -a”, think in more familiar terms of the number line arithmetic we do and visualize as children. Just as we can take the absolute value of both | +a | and | -a | there is concept of a neutral a leftover such that we can talk about something that sort of persists after this operation, we are taking about the same concept a in both +a and -a.

So we thus hold a sort of belief of +X and -X” and not something like X and not X”. This allows us, us Brandomeans and Pippinites I guess, to say that the contradiction is in the subject’s commitments and not the way the world is in-itself”. We have two incompatible descriptions and thus since the contradiction is in the realm of the subject the subject has a deontic normative (Brandom argues for this move earlier on, I am not reciting the book verbatim) obligation thus to reconcile these incompatible beliefs. The way we reconcile these beliefs, or more precisely Kantian judgements as belief has too much baggage in philosophy, is however indeterminate in a way. All we must do is reconcile.

I take it that this is a very fundamental and lower level discussion of the idea of belief/judgement and reconciliation with incompatible facts and beliefs, but we see similar instances in discussion of ideology via Geuss or Zizek at a higher level. Brandom will later discuss his argument on sort of how we understand reconciliation as more progressive, but there is a sense in which it can go many directions. It is a more fundamental point that Zizek takes up in his ideology work and his discussion of what I believe is repetition in Less than Nothing, but I am not sure Hegel need not worry too much about repetition.

The reason he need not worry is that, in Brandom or Pippin’s interpretation, this is a deontic normative requirement, it is an ought. Someone may reconcile their commitment, but as Zizek points out about capitalism or anti-Semitism, there is a sense in which one can do nothing” about this new seemingly irreconcilable event, in this case the bent-stick-event. All the Brandomean or Pippinite has to do is say that it is indeed a deontic normative failure, one ought to incorporate beliefs about the world and we can explain the failure to do so. Or maybe this is something where Hegel and Kant can be used to ground or link to things like Bayesian formal epistemology.

To use Zizek’s anti-Semitism example, a native” German citizen is bombarded with anti-Semitic propaganda all day and goes home and sees their neighbor, before things went really bad, and see that they are a nice person in appearances. They can thus still make some move see, this is more proof of how nefarious and evil Jews are, look how good at pretending they are!” or something along those lines. We can maybe say that every time some seemingly incompatible thing comes in, there is a qualitative and quantitative shift in beliefs. In this case, the anti-Semite has a higher credence in anti-Semitism. However, this is getting too off topic but does pose some interesting ways of thinking about what reconciliation actually is.

The way that Brandom and Pippin want to talk about them is more qualitative. In the bent stick example, we can reconcile it in many ways. Maybe I reconcile it in a very particular way without changing much more fundamental commitments, I just revise my conception and think that there are A sticks and B sticks, the B sticks can be bent”. Or maybe I pull the stick out of the water to investigate more, I see it is no longer bent. Then maybe I change my belief to reconcile it by saying water bends sticks and air bends them. Maybe I investigate further and realize that while it is submerged I still feel that it is straight despite seeing that it is bent, so I think that it is something with the way I see it not the way the stick is.

However, it is possible I take a minimal reconciliation with the division of A and B sticks in the first attempt, and this is still rational”, it is no more or less rational I think Hegel would be required to say. For this particular agent, this is now the most rational conception of the world they have and there is nothing above this to judge them as right or wrong about the world. If the agent got to the last stage in locating the problem with sight, they are at almost a full blown modern understanding of dealing with light, the eyes, the brain, and perception. But we can think of the history of science with things such as astronomy or medicine where it seems like, from our current perspective, that someone is stupid for thinking that there is no such thing as bacteria or that the Earth is the center of the universe. But we come at this from way down the chain of human experience, knowledge, and history. At the time, after the reconciliation with some new fact, that was just the most rational conception of the way the world was.

In teaching science, we tend to teach it in these large fundamental shifts of say Copernican or Newton or Einstein. We can write a science text book thus with this in mind, as what is true of the way the world is now to us, but we also like to teach this experience of error and material incompatibilities, of how some scientific advancement was a leap, but in another sense had its own contradictions. For Hegel, this is sort of all there is to experience is the process of error and reconciling error. To end this discussion, let me tie up the loose ends and the question I want to ask.

So with the negative magnitude example, reconciliation looks something like this

  • Before the bent-stick-event, we hold belief X
  • After the bent-stick-event, we now realize that X is really just +X and -X
  • Reconciliation is thus some sort of resolution of this material incompatibility ( dialectics baby ) where at the calling of the deontic normative ought we need to perform the equivalent of the absolute value operator to get back to just X, we cannot think the stick as being something that can never be bent and also believe that this stick here is bent.
  • Reconciliation is performed (in some fairly open ended way) and our function of $f(+X, -X)$ does something equivalent to an absolute value to get back to holding belief X.

Maybe it is appropriate to say here that we hold something like two possible worlds in some Lewis sense, +X corresponds to one world and -X the other world, and thus we need to reconcile and get back to just one world, the X with no +/-.

To me this is something very close to how Hegel’s dialectics works. We retain something about the original world X, but we go through some crisis. To use the Hegelian terms, we originally see that X was something only for-consciousness” when originally we thought it was to-consciousness”. The phrase for-consciousness” is something akin to saying that this judgement about the world was not the way the world was in-itself, it was not noumenal, it was merely phenomenal and subjective.

The original belief, the original way the world was, does not disappear. This is where Hegel thinks he overcomes the skeptic in his dialectics as positive in that contradiction does not end”, it moves on, aufheben and all that Hegelian jazz we love. This is similar to how the absolute value operator leaves us with some neutral a after we apply it to +a and -a. In the Philosophy of Right, Abstract Right is not abandoned, we move on into morality and also into ethical life after contradictions. Abstract Right still persists after the sublation, just as we still have some neutral a after the absolute value operator is applied, and just as we have still have the same stick after the reconciliation of +X and -X.

The question now is, is this all that is going on? In the Logic, this way of thinking of material incompatibility gets difficult because it is unclear if this is how it Hegel thinks of negation in the negative magnitudes Kantian sense we have been discussing. I take it, I hope I am getting it close at least, that one of the big Pippin-Houlgate debate questions that piques my interest (see Gardner’s The Transcendental Turn for an essay by each on this). Pippin takes to be on the same team that the reconciliation and dialectic going on is related to apperception, the subject, and deontic normativity, we have a normative practical obligation to reconcile contradictions. However, the Logic does not start with a subject. Brandom brings the subject in right away it seems with his discussions of normativity and apperception. The issue is that there is a sense in which we are sneaking premises in where they do not belong. The Logic starts with Pure Being and moves into Pure Nothingness, into Becoming as the oscillation between the two. It is the most primitive a contradiction we can get it seems.

There are all sorts of questions of why is Hegel justified to start with Pure Being itself as well. But we want to understand if Brandom and Pippin are missing something about how negation and dialectics works in Hegel. With Pure Being and Pure Nothing we have something like a similar scenario as the bent stick scenario. We start with X (Kant’s a, Pure Being), but somehow Hegel introduces a -X into the picture (Kant’s -a, Pure Nothingness). Brandom is able to introduce this by sort of doing what McNulty calls an appeal to experience”. Brandom is not explicitly grounding this introduction of a -X in experience as we might say look I have hands”, but in the way that Hegel thinks Aristotle did not justify or ground logic, or as analytic philosophers might just take logic itself to be grounded by how it sort of works” in math especially but also in other areas. However, McNulty argues at great length that this is quite possibly peak dogmatism and the most anti-philosophical stance.

The problem with the Logic here, which is possibly a detriment to Brandom’s Hegel insofar as something more is going on than just material incompatibility and apperception and deontic normativity, is that what Brandom cannot explain how what Hegel thinks to be the cornerstone of his system even gets off the ground. There is no subject in this scenario of Pure Being and Pure Nothing. There is a sense here that we want to say that the concept of Being itself autonomously sublates itself into Becoming somehow, no subject needed. The Pippin camp wants to say that we learn that the subject was there all along, but we need to start with the Objective Logic and Pure Being to see how the Subject and literally the Subjective Logic in the text arises out of the objective.

Either way, there is something radical going on in Hegel. Hegel is attempting some presupposition-less philosophy that he thinks that Kant tried to do but failed. It is circular in some way that attempts to be not a vicious circular. It is also holistic in a way that is not axiomatic like a geometry but, for example, Becoming depends both on Pure Being and Pure Nothing, it does not stand by itself to make conceptual sense and Pure Being does not count as some beginning axiom. There is lots of spooky things going on Hegel and most spooky in the Science of Logic, but if philosophy is not getting spooky then it is probably garbage. Self-consciousness is perplexing, paradoxical, and tautological seeming. Kant’s fascinating transcendental argument for the authority of the state is similar in being like this. When we start hitting the bedrock of thinking and being itself things get weird. Especially after Kant just the idea or possibility of doing philosophy was taken to be radically a question in its own right, to which other such as Fichte and Schelling took seriously as well it seems.

The conclusion to this long winded discussion of the quote is that, does Brandom have a robust enough conception of what dialectics is? Not to mention that he does not even use that word, discuss negation as Pippin does in his Realm of Shadows, discuss the beginning of the Logic like Houlgate. Dialectics is not just material incompatibility it seems to me, it is quite more robust. I think Brandom is on the right track and is using non-Hegelian language he brings in from his own path to Hegel, but is this enough to be considered an interpretation of Hegel at all? Is not the starting point the most important discussion after Kant, which Hegel himself says in the preface of the PhG and takes the Logic to be his definitive statement? I am not sure. It does not mean to discard Brandom’s very robust discussion of material incompatibility, apperception, error, experience, and all the things that follow this as it ends up in areas such as his other great discussion of Hegel’s theory of action. Maybe we can just slap it on to Pippin’s Hegel and call it a day, but this might be the price to pay for not treating the meta-concepts in themselves and paying a price for staying at the street level too much.

Chapter 3

Hegel wants to understand the relation between the two objects,” the first in-itself” and the being-for-consciousness of the in-itself” as one of negation. This new object contains the nothingness [Nichtigkeit] of the first, it is what experience has made of it.” [PG 86] The key point is that skepticism results from taking the sense in which the second object is negation of the first to be formal or abstract negation, rather than determinate negation. Doing that is allowing the result which emerges from an untrue mode of knowledge” to dissolve into an empty nothingness.” The sense in which the second object contains the nothingness of the first” is not that [t]he stick is bent” is succeeded by [t]he stick is not bent.” It is that it is succeeded by the realization that [t]he stick is bent” is not saying how things really are. It is an appearance of, a misrepresentation of a straight stick. That is the materially incompatible commitment for which the bent-stick representation was discarded, changing the normative status of the discarded one. (Brandom p. 97)

I overshot a lot of discussion of what is in this chapter as well it seems, forgive me. We can see here more how Brandom realizes as well that it is not formal negation of not X”, but rather is like the negative magnitude discussion. Only wanted to include this quote as well to further give some of what I discussed in Brandomean terms. To note, he uses the precise sublation type language of how the second object, if the first was our original X, we should have called this $X_1$ , which might be possible to state in Lewisean terms that it is the world consisting of all the facts we hold to be true now, whereas we then have our $X_1$ turn into $+X_1$ upon this new world which is presented with the determinate negation, the -a to the a, Pure Nothingness to Pure Being, $-X_1$. The second object is thus the reconciliation that incorporates this misrepresentation of the stick being bent or the world of $X_1$ where instead sticks can be bent, and we end up with a second object $X_2$, 2 meaning it is the object (or world as we now know it) after reconciliation. If negation was merely logical here, there is a sense in which Hegel would not be licensed to do any of this. It is not the absolute value where we are left with something, some neutral a, we are left with nothing, null.

I should claim that it has been awhile since I did Lewis in undergrad which was also only briefly, it could be entirely misleading to bring it up.

Chapter 4

Exactly 150 years before Sellars, Hegel is making a point of just the same shape in his opening chapter. The fact that cognitions acquired receptively through sensation are noninferential in the sense that they are not the result of exercising inferential capacities does not mean that they are nonconceptual in the sense that they are intelligible as determinately contentful apart from the situation of those contents in a space of implications” of the sort exploited by inferential capacities. Being immediate in the sense of intuitive as an act of receptivity does not, Hegel will argue, entail being immediate in the sense of intuitive as having a content that does not involve universals. Those two Kantian senses of intuitive” come apart. Running them together results in what Sellars calls the Myth of the Given.” (Brandom p. 114)

This is more of what I brought up before. Kant does seem at times to be discussing multiple different types of intuition, it is unclear if this results in bad arguments in Kant, or if it was just the messiness due to complexity. Leaving this here as a placeholder for further discussion by people who know more and as a reminder for me to dive back in and understand this more myself later. This is quite important as Brandom takes Hegel to be critiquing a lot here Kant’s own conceptions of intuition in the Sense-Certainty opening of the PhG.

The conception of empirical knowledge that Hegel calls sense certainty” mistakenly tries to understand the role of immediacy of origin—the immediacy of the act of endorsing a content—in terms of various conceptions of immediacy of content—the immediacy of what is endorsed. So understood, immediacy is a category of pure independence, in the normative sense of authority without correlative responsibility. (Hegel criticizes this normative concept in the allegory of Master and Servant in Self-Consciousness.) (Brandom p. 130)

Another reason that this is so important is that this is also part of Hegel’s running entire critique of Kant throughout what seems to be everything he ever wrote at this point, mainly because as I said Hegel and Kant took seriously what I called public reason and also not just that but how normativity, judgement, knowledge, concepts, initutions, etc., all play throughout their philosophy and even areas such as politics or art. Here Brandom notes how Kant falls victim to bad sense of normativity. This is because despite the large advances Kant made, he still failed to overcome some form of independence in his philosophy.

The former point is already fully present in Kant, who treats judgments involving both intuitions and concepts as the minimal units of awareness or experience, and intuitions without concepts as blind.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that the overall structure Hegel discerns in this chapter is also already foreshadowed in Kant. For it can be seen as a development of the structure of transcendental syntheses culminating in experience that Kant offers in the A edition deduction of the categories in the first Critique. To yield anything recognizable as experience, he says, apprehension in intuition must be capable of reproduction in imagination, and these reproductions must then be suitable for recognition in a concept. To be cognitively significant, the sort of pointing-out that we would express explicitly by the use of demonstratives must be capable of being picked up and reproduced (preserved) by an act of the sort we would express explicitly by the use of anaphorically dependent pronouns. (Brandom p. 131)

Now, this is Brandom ending chapter 4, with what seems be saying that Kant, like Heidegger said, does account for this with the imagination. Now Brandom takes Hegel to make two Good Arguments he says in this chapter, and that Kant maybe only just mixed up the way the two types of intuition” that is going on is being done in Kant. That is, particularity of representations and representations of particularity. Also,

Kant thinks of intuitions as both singular-term-like, in representing particulars, and demonstrative-like, in being unrepeatable token(ing)-reflexive representations. These features can, of course, coincide. But they need not. There are demonstrative and indexical predicates, such as that shape,” and my mother’s favorite color.” And there are singular terms all the cotypical tokenings of which are coreferential, like Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,” and the inventor of bifocals.” When these features diverge, Kant’s intuition/concept distinction breaks down. We already saw that a similar breakdown occurs when immediacy of origin diverges from immediacy of content, in either of these senses of immediacy of content.” (Brandom p. 119)

So it appears that, if I am understanding correctly, Kant wants to justify the authority of intuitions using one way but there really are two different ways intuitions are mediated and gain their authority in terms of knowledge? Either way, I shall need re-read this chapter in particular I think to understand more precisely this critique of Kant, but part of it is the lack of understanding of these more nuanced Kant points that I shall come back and re-read this after some more Kant has been read.

Chapter 5

Nothing here that I want to bring up now. Goes into larger detail about determinateness while also leading up to Hegel’s speculative identity thesis that Ng stresses as absolutely important, the identity of identity and difference”. This is a place to further dig into how Brandom does and if he is again warranted in arguing for this without the Logic.

Chapter 6

Thought encompasses in addition sensuously unconditioned universals—that is, universals that are not observable. These are purely theoretical. Where perception acknowledged entities that could in principle be known in two ways, either by observation or by inference from observation, thought acknowledges also entities that can be known only inferentially. Perception learned that there are no properties that can be found out about only by observation. (Brandom p. 171-172)

Is it acceptable here to say that this is a jab at a Humean picture of experience? Not just that knowledge of experience is thoroughly mediated, but some knowledge of things arises not in connection with observation but can only be known by mediation and inference?

It has turned out that a structurally necessary feature of a world containing observable properties that differ from one another in two ways, both compatibly and incompatibly, is that the particulars that exhibit sense universals are not themselves immediately knowable. Only their observable properties are. The particulars discovered by consciousness conceiving itself according to the categories of perception—that is, as knowing through perceptually taking in sense universals, are theoretical entities. (Brandom p. 172-173)

This seems more along the same lines, arguing for structural necessary features” that are known only in thought itself smells of some version of Kantian transcendental conditions of the possibility of experience.

I take it that one of the large lessons Hegel wants to teach us through the subsequent discussion in this chapter is that it is a mistake to reify the laws— that is, to think of them as constituting a supersensible world. (Brandom p. 189)

This tracks with much of Hegel and people tying the idea of reification even starting with Kant. It is the idea that the way things appear to the subject are not to be taken as things-in-themselves, which is a sort of reification. This is an error on the side of practical reason and the ought.

Exactly the same information is presented in Hegel’s IW, but packaged somewhat differently. Rather than contrasting the actual world with other possible worlds, each actual state of affairs is contrasted with all of the states of affairs that are incompatible with it. So what contrasts with the actual world, as a maximal set of compossible states of affairs, is rather the whole set of (noncompossible) nonfactual states of affairs. (Brandom 196)

IW here means inverted world. Brandom takes it to be that this is in some sense equivalent to what the possible worlds discussion in contemporary philosophy is doing. As I mentioned above with the worlds of $+X_1$ and $-X_1$, they are not disjoint worlds that we represent, rather, we are representing possibles states of affairs of one world and the $f(+X_1, -X_1)$ absolute value operation we perform in reconciliation can be done because we are only thinking of states of affairs of one world.

It is for his purposes immaterial whether those exclusively different possibilia are construed as strongly contrasting states of affairs (as in IW) or maximal compossible sets thereof (as in PW). What is being diagnosed as a mistake is the assimilation of our semantic relation to them to our semantic relation to actual states of affairs, with both falling under the rubric of description” or representation.” Universalizing this semantic model, what might be called descriptivism or representationalism, is the fatal flaw in understanding consciousness that must be overcome to move beyond it: from the meta-metaconceptual framework of Verstand toward the meta-metaconceptual framework of Vernunft. (Brandom p. 197)

Brandom thinks that the inverted world is no less crazy than possible worlds, in fact they are formally equivalent. But the inverted world and possible worlds pictures are both lacking in a way, to which Brandom takes up next chapter in more detail.

Chapter 7

Like Kant in his response to Hume’s skepticism about necessary nondefinitional relations and what is expressed by alethic modal vocabulary in general, Hegel thinks that what is expressed by law-like statements of necessary connections cannot be understood in terms rigorously restricted to description of the objective world, but must involve recourse to talk about the cognitive activities of knowing subjects. (Brandom p. 202)

The problem with the inverted world is that the inverted world is the wrong type of semantic relation” Brandom thinks that these cannot just be free floating descriptions of the objective world, when we talk of necessity and rules we must return to cognition as Kant did in his response to Hume.

The claim that the objective pole of the intentional nexus cannot properly be understood apart from an understanding of the subjective pole, and so of the whole intentional nexus, marks a decisive move in the direction of Hegel’s idealism. It is of the first importance to understand it correctly. As already indicated, Kant had a version of this thought. For he had the idea that in addition to concepts whose principal expressive role is to describe and explain empirical goings-on, there are concepts whose distinctive expressive role it is to make explicit features of the framework within which alone description and explanation are possible. Kant’s thought was motivated, as Hegel motivates his version here, by thinking about the distinctive expressive role played by the alethic modal concepts deployed in statements of laws and the subjunctive conditionals they support. (Brandom p. 204)

Brandom is here going at things I already hinted above, as the way Brandom sort of unfolds his work by teasing out where he is going and then in the next chapter stepping back a bit and then going more into detail finally. But the solution seems to be as above something Kantian in the way we understand how things appear and how they are. The insufficiencies of Sense-Certainty, Perception, and Consciousness in the PhG lead Hegel in a Kantian direction to understand the role of self-consciousness in sort of actively constructing the world itself, being a participant and not just a receiver, and understanding not just how the objective side affects the subject, us, but how the subjective side relates to the objective side.

The dependence of the objective on the subjective he is asserting is a sense-dependence relation. The objective world is understood as semantically mind-dependent, not causally or existentially mind-dependent. The latter extravagant and implausible view is a kind of subjective idealism sometimes extrapolated from Berkeley and sometimes libelously attributed to Fichte. Whatever the justice of those associations, there is nothing of the sort in Hegel. (Brandom p. 213)

Here Brandom then wants to, as Kant does, distance from any sort of strong dependence that the objective world has in the subject. Brandom wants to say that Hegel is articulating a sense dependence only. That is, the objective world is not referent-dependent on the subject, if the subject was not there to perceive or make the world it would not exist.

Objective idealism tells us we cannot understand the ontological structure of the objective world (its coming as law-governed facts about the properties of objects) except in terms that make essential reference to what subjects have to do in order to count as taking the world to have that structure—even though the world could have that structure in the absence of any subjects and their epistemic activities. The sort of unity-through-essential-difference that objective idealism attributes to conceptual contents by explaining how their objective (alethic nomological) and subjective (deontic normative) forms are related is fundamentally different from that grasped by understanding consciousness in its thought about force and its expression and force and law. (Brandom p. 215)

This seems to be the important difference here, that, Brandom wants to claim that we cannot even make sense of ontology without reference to the way that the subject interacts with this ontological world.

It is only by understanding the kind of identity of content requiring diversity of form characteristic of the reciprocal sense- dependence of concepts articulating the structure of the objective represented world and concepts articulating the structure of the epistemic activity of representing subjects that one can understand the kind of identity constituted by the necessary relation of diverse moments characteristic of the objective pole of that intentional relation: the relation of force to its expression, the play of forces, and of both to the laws that govern them. (Brandom p. 216)

The identity of object and subject here, the way both deontic and alethic modality share similar patterns of normativity, Brandom thinks is the only way we can then explain even the objective side of things. Without understanding the identity, we will not only fail to understand the subjective side, but also the objective side. This seems to be quite the claim against many science type people and those who think Kant was just doing non-sense.

And in so many words in-between Brandom concludes that this gets us to a Kantian version of understanding self-consciousness not as something like representation above and beyond representations of things, otherwise we would just be on an infinite regress, but as some sort of expressive framework of consciousness itself.

The progressive evolution of empirical consciousness conceiving itself as understanding that Hegel has rationally reconstructed and rehearsed for us has brought it to this objective idealist insight. When consciousness conceiving itself as understanding realizes that, when it achieves the conception of objective idealism, it achieves a new kind of self-consciousness. It is aware that, to understand the structure of the objective world, it must understand our own discursive activities. This is the third sense in which consciousness presupposes self-consciousness. (Brandom p. 230)

To understand the way that laws, facts, and properties of objects work in themselves ontologically or objectively, as Brandom says on the page before, we need to dive into the discursive activities of the subjects, how we make intelligible these objective going-ons when we are doing things such as referring, asserting, and inferring.

Chapter 8

So we should ask: What is it that one must do in order properly to be understood as thereby identifying oneself with some but perhaps not all elements of one’s self-conception? The answer we are given in Self-Consciousness is that one identifies with what one is willing to risk and sacrifice for. Hegel’s metonymic image for this point concerns the important case of making the initial transition from being merely a living organism, belonging to the realm of Nature, to being a denizen of the normative realm of Spirit. The key element in this index case is willingness to risk one’s biological life in the service of a commitment—something that goes beyond a mere desire. (Brandom p. 238)

This is important not just now in this part of Brandom and the PhG but also when Brandom starts discussing forgiveness and confession. The element of risk here Hegel thinks to be important for distinguishing an actual norm we identify with versus just illusion, that we are a bundle of natural desires and causes, no reasons and no norms. I wish this got explored more, maybe it does in other Hegel works, but it seems to be a way of naturalizing norms in a non-pejorative sense. If you do not risk for the norms, then you really never were identified with those norms. This seems extreme, but maybe there is something to it. Hegel takes the ancient Greece world to have been closer to this, and thinks that modernity is plagued by sort of nihilists and ironists who do no actually identify with any norms. This is also a sense in which it gets into a similarity with Marxist revolutionary discussion of being willing to die and risk your life for the revolution.

Are there different elements of sacrifice going on here? Can one identify with a norm and prove it by sacrificing time? We rarely, if ever, are put in a place where we need to risk our life for some norm. However, sacrificing time or other commitments we have is a type of sacrifice. By sacrifice my own personal pursuit of pleasure or sacrificing time spent with one person over another I can prove that I do identify with some commitments more than just as pleasure. This seems to be part of a worry with Hegel in that, for Kant, norms were formal and regulative in the realm of the practical, whereas Hegel adds a bit of actuality” which raises worries and replies by sort of naturalistic skeptics of things such as norms and external reasons I imagine.

This is not to say Brandom does not discuss this in depth, but maybe I was just unsatisfied with the amount of discussion or presentation order of this. He goes on to say

As we will see, what is required to be able to take something to be a self is to be able to attribute attitudes that have distinctively normative significances: to move from a world of desires to a world of commitments, authority, and responsibility. (Brandom p. 244)

Brandom starts with the triadic structure of orectic awareness, which he says is where self-consciousness arises. He is aware that this is a philosophical challenge, with these building blocks do we get a self-consciousness with norms and commitments? He discusses orectic awareness here

Orectic awareness has a triadic structure, epitomized by the relations between hunger, eating, and food. Hunger is a desire, a kind of attitude. It immediately impels hungry animals to respond to some objects by treating them as food—that is, by eating them. Food is accordingly a significance that objects can have to animals capable of hunger. It is something things can be for desiring animals. Eating is the activity of practically taking or treating something as food. It is what one must do in order in practice to be attributing to it the desire-relative orectic significance of food. Eating is the activity that is instrumentally appropriate to the desire of hunger. It is subjectively appropriate, in that it is the activity hungry animals are in fact impelled to by being in the desiring state of hunger. It is objectively appropriate in that it is an activity, a way of responding to environing objects, that often (enough) actually results in the satisfaction of the desire. (Brandom p. 245)

So something about this basic structure will show that orectic awareness in some sense presupposes self-consciousness and Hegelian commitments along with mutual recognition, getting to Hegel’s conception of reason.

To begin to address these questions, and to indicate an important point of contact with Hegel’s own vocabulary, we may call what I must do, the activity, whatever it is, that I must engage in, in order thereby to be taking or treating something in practice as something things can be something for, recognizing” that other creature. So far, we should think of this term as just a label for an answer to the first question. Recognizing others is attributing to them the practical significance of exhibiting the triadic structure of orectic awareness: taking them to be takers, subjects for whom things can have a practical significance, relative to a desire, and mediated by an activity. What can we then say at this level of abstraction about the desire or attitude that is the third element completing the TSOA whose activity is recognizing and whose significance is exhibiting the TSOA? Hegel’s answer is, I think, clear, if surprising: it is desire for recognition, the desire that others take or treat one in practice as a taker, as something things can be something for, as an instituter of significances. (Brandom p. 249)

I think this is similar to what Brandom takes to be the problem with alienated conceptions of self-consciousness later on, especially in the meta-narrative of the judge in the Religion section of the PhG. That is, we ourselves in our own basic orectic awareness take ourselves to be takers” of the way things are for-consciousness. That is, we take ourselves to have conceptions and commitments about the objective way things are. With orectic awareness it is that we take ourselves to have commitments about the way some object is food or not and will satisfy this desire.

Chapter 9

Lots of stuff in this chapter that is good and gets brought up later on. Post is already long enough and there is not too much in here that I find awfully perplexing or take a problem with.

Chapter 10

This is a practical normative conception that understands the Master as a locus of pure independence, authority without responsibility, and the Servant as a locus of pure dependence, responsibility without authority. (Brandom p. 327)

I think this hits at a more fundamental and theoretical point that gets reiterated with the rabble that threatens the modern state as Zizek points out. Whether or not Marx and Hegel are similar on diagnosing a problem, there is something similar going on. Hegel and Kant were both not thinking of positive and negative freedom in terms of utility like classical liberal theories of the state. However, Kant’s state is quite different than Hegel, but that is besides the point for this post. With Hegel, the rabble are sort of this subject that is put into a situation of pure dependence. However, this shows that the state actually has not sort of integrated” the rabble, there is no mutual recognition, the rabble stays an other or alien presence to the state. Moyar notes the same in his book Hegel’s Value in that, if there are no rights without duty (not responsibility without authority), then there is something deficient in this recognitive relation. What would a reconciliation or sublation look like? I take it Marx’s theory of the state is something along these lines, that we must incorporate the rabble or the proletariat as the negative of this current state of affairs. This might be too much a leap and overfitting of connecting Hegel to Marx. However, on Hegel alone, there is a radical issue that the rabble presents to civil society and the state. If there is something constitutive about the state and capitalist mode of production that creates this negation, this symptom of society, what do we do? Hegel provided an answer similar to younger Marx did with imperialism in a way, but we all know how that worked historically.

What is new about the life-and-death struggle is not that two desirers come into conflict. Two predators might covet the same carcass, and so fight over it, without victory instituting a Master-Servant relationship. What is distinctive about the case in Hegel’s allegory is that the parties to the struggle each practically existentially identifies with the second-order desire that everything be in itself just whatever it is for the desirer. This desire cannot be satisfied by wresting a carcass from a rival and feasting on it. It requires the subjection of the rival. Second, it matters that what they are struggling and risking their lives over is a kind of self-conception: that provided by the second-order desire that one’s desires be immediately satisfied—that is, that everything be, in itself, what it is for oneself. Finally, the particular second-order desire to be an immediately, transparently constitutive desirer is unlike other, first-order desires, in that second-order desires of this particular kind are incompatible with and opposed to one another de jure, necessarily, in principle, and universally, as opposed to de facto, contingently, in practice, and in particular cases. That is why the parties must struggle. (Brandom p. 334)

So now we get to Brandom paying his philosophical debt from chapter 8, which also goes to show one has to read philosophy as a whole sometimes, not just line by line. In here, when two self-conscious individuals meet and there is a clash about the way things are for-themselves, they are not just fighting over some way some thing is, they are fighting over the stance they take about the way some thing is. This is also the reason that the allegory moves into Master and Slave, in that, it is a desire not just for a thing, a carcass”. If i lose the carcass I move on. Rather, this is fighting for a conception of our independence as subjects that was latent in the orectic triadic structure.

This orectic structure accordingly makes possible the sort of experience of error that the Introduction identifies as the source of consciousness’s practical grasp of its representational character. (Brandom p. 333)

In the orectic desiring phase, we take it that we have an immediate as opposed to mediated conception of what things are in themselves. What we take things to be are what they are, there is no gap.

Though he is wrong about what he has achieved, the victor in the life-and-death struggle is not simply deluded. He has substantially transformed himself by staking his life, by existentially identifying with his practical self-conception. In so doing he raised himself above being in himself simply a desiring living being. For he succeeded in making himself essentially self-conscious, someone such that what he is for himself is an essential component of what he is in himself. As such, he is subject to a distinctive new kind of self-development. For changing what he is for himself changes what he is in himself. As an essentially self-conscious being, he is now an essentially historical being. The act of practical self-identification he performed was constitutive. It was a self-taking that was a self-making. In this special case and in this sense, the Master is right to think of himself as a constitutive taker. (Brandom p. 336)

I think this section is quite good in that, the Master risked his life and succeeded in some degree. Also, it is the beginning of a history, the specific line of him now being a historical being” is interesting. History opens up, it seems to Brandom, once there is some reconciliation. This is the case in say, the bent stick example and science generally, it is how we tell history, it is also the history of individuals themselves it seems too.

A vivid example of the pathology at work in the form of self-consciousness that consists in practically conceiving of oneself according to the categories of Mastery is a kind of psychological distress that is a common affliction of celebrities—for instance, in entertainment or politics. It is compounded of these elements. First, such subjects revel in the feeling of superiority over ordinary, noncelebrated people that they take their status to establish and consist in. Their celebrity status is understood both as epistemically witnessing or testifying to that superiority and as ontologically constituting or instituting it. Second, they identify with that status. They take that superior, distinguished status to be essential to what and who they really are, in themselves. It is the basis of their self-esteem, articulating what they are for themselves. Third, they despise the mass of inferior, undistinguished, talentless ordinary people, by contrast to whose lesser status their own is defined. An integral part of the status the celebrity identifies with is the right to look down on those of lesser status. (Brandom p. 341)

This is exactly Zizek’s and Lacan’s point it seems about the mad person who says they are a King, and the King who says they are a King. In this story, which is also why Zizek takes Hegel to be the way we should look at ideology through, is that the King or the celebrity thinks that there is an immediate identification with being a King or celebrity independent of those are able to institute the status as a King or celebrity. Thus there is a similarity in the mad man and the King, insofar as they deny the authority of others to institute the status and recognize it, they are the same in terms of faulty self-consciousness. There is nothing ontological or natural about being King as such or a celebrity as such outside of the historical practices and the intersubjective network of agents who recognize them as King or a celebrity. So there is a truth when the celebrity realizes they are nothing without their fans or the benevolent King who realizes they are nothing without their subjects. This is a similar point that people make about God, that God is nothing apart from the subjects. There is a reciprocal dependency. However, the Master-Slave dialectic moves through the Slave, the Master is not in a position to recognize this defective form of self-consciousness.

Of course it is part of the irony that the supposed immediacy of gratification of the Master’s desires is achieved precisely by the mediating labor of the Servant. (Brandom p. 346)

The irony here is that the Master takes things to sort of be immediate, the way they takes things to be just is the way they are immediately. However, the labor of the servant is actually how they satisfy their own desires. This is reminiscent of a way to critique capitalism on its own terms, since capitalism has its own form of alienation where the alienated deludes themselves into thinking they are purely independent and not dependent on any one else. They are just as mad as the mad man who claims they are King.

Human history is the working out of the interdependence of the Servant’s two sorts of self-conception: of himself as merely dependent or constituted (compare: recognized) being, and as independent or constituting (compare: recognizing) being. The correct understanding of the latter is not (pace the Master) possible without seeing its presupposition of the former. This is the road to the appreciation of the essentially social nature of subjectivity, which requires mutual recognition synthesizing independence and dependence in freedom, and universality and particularity in individuality. (Brandom p. 345)


The Servant’s relationship to desire is abstract, mediated by his social relation to the desiring Master. For the Servant acts on desires he does not feel, is not immediately moved by, because they are not his desires but the Master’s. They show up to the Servant in the mediated, normative form of commands, obligations, exercises of authority, to which he is responsible. That is why it is the Servants who become the true normative subjects of subsequent human history, leaving the Masters behind as evolutionary dead ends. (Brandom p. 346)

In a similar vein of Marx as the history being interpreted through class struggle, in a more abstract and fundamental point is interpreted through the Servant. In fact, this is one of the proper ways to teach history as through the dialectical advancements of the oppressed. Frederick Douglass for example, engaged in some sort of similar immanent critique from his own position as a slave against the Master’s own conception of what America was. It was not a Republic as much as they said it was. The white people also did not build the country themselves, it was actually mediated through the labor of slaves. Douglass’ own life played out a similar, literal struggle in that Douglass recognized that the Master had a dependency upon the slave not just for their labor, but for their own conception of self-consciousness. The idea was that the master’s entire sense of self was built around the fact that their slaves did not resist and they were superior in some way. By resisting, it threw a massive shock into that conception. Now, Douglass notes how this did not work all the time and some slaves were killed. However, Hegel accounts for the certain sense of how this is irrational not just normatively, since the Master’s self-consciousness depended on the slave being a slave, but also in a material sense it is irrational to destroy the person who you exploit for material wealth. I take it that all of this Brandom is hinting at the sort of radical conception of politics despite himself not really ever wading into it seriously in his career.

This budget of options is what the Stoic is expressing in saying, for instance, that although my performance had the consequence of causing me pain, this forces me to acknowledge that things are not just as I was taking them to be in producing that performance only if I acknowledge that pain is a bad thing, or that my performance expressed an expectation or commitment incompatible with its painfulness. Because it is within my power, as free in thought, to withhold such acknowledgments, it is within my power to deny the independence of things (their authority over my takings) or their constraint on me (my responsibility to them), in spite of my experience. (Brandom p. 355)

This is a central conception of normativity that Hegel thinks plagues almost all other theories of normativity, that Hegel thinks Kant attempted to solve but failed.

The thesis here we see later on is a contraction sense of normativity instead of an accordion” sense. The Stoic, I think, is the best example and is also a similar criticism Kant has against the stoke in the Religion book he wrote in a footnote. The critique is such that the Stoic here has a thoroughly alienated and unmediated conception of what is true in that if they simply deny that pain is a bad thing they can say they are never in pain. I can think, I can take a normative attitude, to some commitment and by simply withholding that attitude I can deny being out of sync or in error with any objective way things are. This is where Hegel’s theory of action opens up the possibility for, as he goes into detail later, you being misguided in the way you take your own actions to be.

To me, this is one of Hegel’s most revolutionary and thus progressive theories and puts him in the camp of very progressive philosophers despite any of his own personal held political judgements or seemingly conservative things like the rational is the actual”. That is, liberalism was progressive for a time and in a way, in the Kantian What is Enlightenment?” way. However, it is also backwards in that, it produces three of the most extreme forms of alienation which is a super reductive scientist type who denies any sort of reasons”, the nihilist, and the ironist.

It is even confusing when people do not accept this in a way since it is latent in two institutions of modernity itself. In law, you can be guilty of doing something despite not intending in a weak sense of intention. Hegel wants to say that no, the person who yelled fire in the theater did in some broader way intend that action. It is also latent in the #metoo movement. Now, we should differentiate what can be legally enforced and that is coercible as Kant and Hegel both agree in the realm of Recht, but the #metoo movement had this Hegelian kernel to it. Since modernity and liberals at times are too atheistic (too one sided in the Enlightenment), at times they advocated for punishment for things that are not punishable in the juridical sense, opening up proper criticism from the left and the conservatives. The proper solution though is something along the left and not right, like every solution should be a progressive reconciliation not retrogressive. But there was a realization that, we need some way to understand that the sexual harasser is in fact wrong objectively, and denying the victims with overwhelming evidence is denying mutual recognition which is the transcendental condition of any meaning at all.

Liberals turn this around on themselves with their political policy. The government is responsible for many horrors, but they like to deny that that was their intention. Take means-testing welfare. Over and over it is proven, on its own aims of what they were trying to achieve, that they fail to even get aid to the people they want. They are formally equivalent to the man who sexually harasses woman, says that is not his intention, it keeps happening, etc etc.

This is why Brandom says that

We are to learn the lesson that there is no content without constraint, which is a mode of dependence. (Brandom p. 362)

This is a Rousseau-Kant point about normativity in general. This is where liberals who preach negative freedom over and over, and think that any attempt at positive freedom is a path to totalitarianism. Not to mention the hypocrisy of how this plays out in capitalism, to which Allen Wood points out on multiple fronts the inadequacy of this position.

Chapter 11

Conceptual idealism builds on and presupposes bimodal hylomorphic conceptual realism and objective idealism. Both of those display symmetrical relations between the subjective and objective forms of conceptual contents. Conceptual idealism adds the idea of an asymmetrical priority of this recollective activity to both those kinds of symmetrical relations between the two poles of the intentional nexus. (Brandom p. 373)

Here Brandom says that, yes, there is a sort of reciprocal dependence between subject-object, but the subject has a priority in some sense. In this way, Brandom takes a stance in a way that the subjective practical aspect of recollection adds a priority to the subject over the object, in a way, seemingly siding with Pippin in the Logic. This is opposed to the ontological priority Houlgate and McNulty want to argue. However, maybe everyone is sort of talking past each other in a way. This is also not me reading too much into Brandom, he says this explicitly.

Some confirmation for the thought that conceptual idealism is a lesson to be gathered from an appropriate understanding of purposive action or intentional agency (that is, an understanding articulated in terms of the meta-categories of Vernunft rather than of Verstand) can be found in the final substantive move of the Science of Logic. In its idiom, any understanding of the unity-comprising-diversity of thought and being is a version of the Idea.” This is already a terminological commitment to some sort of idealism— perhaps conceptual idealism. (Brandom p. 373)

Absolute idealism, I want to say, is what you get when you add conceptual idealism to objective idealism and bimodal hylomorphic conceptual realism. (Brandom p. 374)

And so, Brandom I think in his own way stresses the way that there is a reciprocal dependence / relation going on with subject-object, but Hegel is still some sort of Kantian with a priority on cognition itself.

It is a fundamental criterion of adequacy of an account of action that it explain how it is possible for me to succeed in actually achieving what I intend, in the same way and for the same reasons that it is a fundamental criterion of adequacy of an account of cognition that it explain how it is possible for me to succeed in knowing how things actually are. Accounts that do not meet these criteria of adequacy, incorporated in the concepts of action and knowledge, excavate an unbridgeable gulf between certainty and truth of the sort Hegel has told us in the Introduction it is his primary purpose to show us how to avoid. (Brandom p. 377)

This problem is one that I think Brandom lays out perfectly I think for what Hegel thinks is wrong with theories of action. Whether or not this applies to Kant is one thing. But Hegel does take, Brandom and Pippin and Wood in their books on this too, that many fall victim to a theory of action that precludes the possibility of someone achieving what they set out to do and the flip side of that is knowing how things actually are”.

Another way to put this point is

Hegel wants to bring into view a sense in which a bad painting, poem, or novel cannot be understood as the botched execution of a fine aim or plan, but must be understood rather as showing exactly what its creator actually intended—however it might seem to its author. (Brandom p. 385)

A liberal might be worried that this gets rid of agency” like some people have accused Hegel, strangely enough Kant, and Marx. With Hegel it is more perplexing given his explicit praise of modernity and the right of intention”. Hegel wants to unite in some way the traditional conception of agency that was called the heroic” conception, where in some sense the hero was imputed everything that resulted from their action despite intending or not intending some of the effects. However, Hegel thinks this is a tragic heroism. It is tragic when we look at the Oedipus Rex. Oedipus on Hegel’s theory of action could be imputed with murder, but not parricide. However, in the traditional era, Oedipus was in some sense guilty of parricide as well since this was indeed a truthful act-description of what he did.

The distinction between Tat and Handlung is the distinction between what is done as an actual event, performance, or (as we will see is most important to Hegel) process—something that happens—and those features in virtue of which it is a doing—something normatively imputable to the agent. This latter is what Hegel calls the first determinate characteristic of an action: that in its externality it must be known to me as my action.” [PR §113] (Brandom p. 386-387)

So corresponding (at least roughly) to the Tat/Handlung distinction in Hegel’s account is an Absicht / Vorsatz distinction. The content of the feature of an action that Hegel calls its purpose” need not extend to everything the developed deed contains, while the content of the feature of an action that Hegel calls its intention” does extend to everything the developed deed expressing it contains. The distinction among features of the deed that is induced by the purpose is what determines the deed as the agent’s doing, in the normative sense of being something the agent is responsible for. What the agent thereby becomes responsible for (doing) is the whole deed (what is done). And that fully developed deed reveals an intention that extends beyond what is merely meant” or purposed. (Brandom p. 386)

It is simply not settled yet whether the investment I made yesterday will eventually be identifiable as the wisest financial decision I ever made,” or the most foolish,” or (more probably), something less dramatic in between. We will just have to await the results. Davidson calls the way the potential descriptions of an event expand with the passage of time the accordion effect.” (Brandom p. 388)

Brandom identifies Hegel as sharing a similar theory of action with Davidson. I don’t know Davidson well enough to vouch for this. However, calling it the accordion effect has a nice ring to it. This is because there is a sense throughout Hegel that things are radically undetermined currently and can change over time. So much so that Zizek goes as far to say that Hegel criticizes the principle of sufficient reason here. We see this go all the to Hegel in his discussion of the right of history” to which Allen Wood in his Hegel’s Ethical Thought does an exciting way of explaining. There is a radical sense that, just as in the struggle of the Master and the Slave, a revolution is a similar struggle, a genuine conflict in society. Thus Wood argues that the revolutionary, if they were not an immature one, would not justify themselves now by appealing to the present or any ideals, they would in some sense appeal to the fact that their actions will justified if they win. One needs to differentiate I think how one understands this dialectic, as Zizek does, when he notes the evolutionary versus creationist dialectic that goes on, the former being Stalin and the latter being Benjamin, to which Benjamin I think is strictly on the Hegelian understanding.

This is not lunacy. Americans are born into a world where America won our revolution, and thus it is no wonder that politics has only been on the spectrum of left or right wing liberalism for the most part. To this day, liberalism is dominant in the minds of everyone. We look back at the founding fathers as heroes”. However, if they lost, we would probably look back at them as terrorists. This is the sense in which we have to await the results”. The results of the action tell a truth to them. Understanding that Hegel is not advocating for a return to tradition, literally, conception of action, but an expressive theory of action of translating the inner to the outer while simultaneously not alienating yourself from the outer effects of your action is the challenge with Hegel I think.

The broadly Davidsonian understanding of this splitting up” of the action can be exploited so as to explain how the deed, unfolding consequentially beyond the ken or compass of the purpose of the agent, can nevertheless be acknowledged by the agent as the agent’s doing—so that the agent does not in its practical activity become a riddle to itself.” (Brandom p. 393-394)

This is hilarious because liberal mouthpiece par excellence Matt Yglesias, who is popular like all the other commentariat class not for wisdom or ingenuity or anything like that, just because they are a manifestation of mass ideology, is almost learning this riddle” himself.

The fact that the universities themselves do not even remotely embody that ideals espoused by the faculty who work at them — that they are actually some of the most inegalitarian and exclusionary institutions in the whole country — is an interesting riddle. (see matts twitter)

The riddle is that liberals are alienated from the own outer effects of their own intention. This alienation is akin to the sexual harasser who went dozens of women come forward he goes I did not intend it”. This time of defense does not even hold up, in theory I guess, in liberal legal theory. However, giving up this commitment to liberal ideology is massive and will not be done easily. Seeing how central this theory of normativity is to Hegel’s entire system, the liberal will not abandon something so fundamental to theirs either. Otherwise, liberalism and capitalism would be on the hook for millions of deaths, genocide, wars, etc., they would need to examine why despite their best intentions the system they act in keeps producing horrible results over and over.

Quite the cognitive overhaul to do so, these are the things Geuss and Zizek are interested in in their theory of ideology, and things psychoanalysis is interested in as well it seems. This is why Zizek sees so much fruitful synthesis in Hegel and Lacan because there Hegel’s account of recollection and finding unity in the inner and outer goes back to Lacan but also to Freud it seems. Freud flips the one sided liberal theory of intention with his discussion of slips of the tongue and parapraxis. Like Hegel, Freud found that there is lots of truth in examining these things, they are not exceptions to the system, but they are foundational to the system, to the objective way things are. Marx did similar with political economy, to which inspired the whole field of Critical Theory it seems, which have their Kantian Hegelian philosophical disputes about grounding a critical theory as well it seems to me.

To say that the deed or work is actual is to say that it is public, available to all. The truth of the performance, what it is in itself, is expressed in all of the descriptions of what is actually achieved, all the specifications of the content in terms of its consequences. These descriptions are available in principle to anyone in the community to recognize the performance under or to characterize its content. The work is, i.e. it exists for other individualities.” (Brandom p. 394)

This is Hegel’s solution to the problem of public reason that is central to Kant’s theory of normativity. For Kant, there is a normative standard that sets what is right or wrong, but it is formal, it is transcendental. Hegel it is the social, it is the realm of mutual recognition, it is in not being alienated from other’s and the own way things objectively are. Kant took his categorical imperative, moral law, and universal principle of right to be his formulations of public reason in the spheres of practical reason, inner freedom/virtue, and outer freedom/right. Hegel takes public reason to be rooted in the community, however we want to articulate what counts as a community, who is in it, etc.

The deed is attributed to the agent under consequential descriptions as the explicit expression of a determinately contentful implicit commitment. What the deed is can be said of it,” and the ones for whom it is something that can be said of it are others, for whom it is something actual and observable, like any other fact.” [PG 322] The content is what is both acknowledged by the agent and attributed by the community: the product of a process of reciprocal specific recognition. The content of my action accordingly does not depend on me alone. It is not just what I take it or make it to be, but depends as well on its determinate acknowledgment by others who attribute to me responsibility for the performance specified in ways that go beyond those in terms of which I made it mine. (Brandom p. 396)

The Sache selbst is a spiritual expression of individuality, compounded out of the moment of independence displayed by the particular deliberating self-consciousness in privileging some specifications of its responsibility as the descriptions under which the performance is intentional, and the corresponding moment of dependence on the universal or assessing consciousness in characterizing in consequential terms the achievement and so what one has actually accomplished and so is responsible for in that sense. Contingency, the manifestation of the dependence of the action on the circumstances of the performance and the talents and material means available, is somehow to be incorporated integrally into the unity that is the Sache selbst. (Brandom p. 397)

So Hegel takes seriously that for actions to have any determinate content, to be intelligible at all, is when we recognize that they also depend upon how the community interprets what we are saying and doing. Furthermore, Hegel takes seriously that our actions also radically depend on many contingent conditions as well, every time we act we do not act in a vacuum, but within an already causally restricted domain. Someone who does not know how to properly use oil on canvas will not be able to reproduce an image of fruit in a bowl, they lack the technical means. Someone who lacking right types of skills to meet the current whimsical and arbitrary fluctuations of supply and demand will not just be able to make a lot of money or have financial stability or job security under capitalism, look at the Rust Belt. There is a sense in which they may try to achieve something, but already latent in their constrained conditions they will fail. They will produce a bad painting or they will be stuck living paycheck to paycheck or out of a job. I take it this is also the path to the Hegelian counter to the people who think that Freud, Marx, or Nietszche might invalidate some Hegelian theory of action, which Brandom takes up later. After all, these genealogical critiques seek to show that the commitments, beliefs, reasons people hold can be better explained or only contingency, and this contingency injection threatens to uproot the conception we have of ourselves as rational agents”.

It is certainly the case that a greater or lesser number of circumstances may intervene in the course of an action. In a case of arson, for example, the fire may not take hold, or conversely, it may spread further than the culprit intended. Nevertheless, no distinction should be made here between good and ill fortune, for in their actions, human beings are necessarily involved in externality. An old proverb rightly says, The stone belongs to the devil when it leaves the hand that threw it.” By acting, I expose myself to misfortune, which accordingly has a right over me and is an existence of my own volition. (Hegel, PR, §119H)

Brandom quotes this and the proverb is still quite good and worth remembering and just repeating.

Writing a book, teaching a student, building a house, putting on a dinner party, and so on, these better, more representative, examples of actions, are all processes with a rich temporal—indeed, more specifically historical—structure. (Brandom p. 412)

Here Brandom brings up something related to contemporary meta-ethics it seems. Korsgaard discusses this with practical agency in her gardener example, most recently in Fellow Creatures. Rödl also has a discussion of practical agency as well that is intended to fill out this picture. I take it the basic point is now just how do we explain that I am say, flicking a light switch on or off which is indicative of a very precise, almost singular moment that can be picked out in time. The light switch is some example where we can say the act only needs one unit of time, a moment, to describe it. Whereas something like reading a book, making dinner, has many moments. How can we explain that when, I think Rödl uses the dinner example, we can see unity over many such moments, $t_0, t_1, … t_n$ such that the whole time series is seen as expressing one intention, act.

That is, the intention should not be identified with the plan operative at any one time slice of the TOTE cycle of action. The plans change, but the intention endures. (Brandom p. 412)

So we want to be able to explain an act not by identifying it as one moment, but as a possible time series of many moments. Say I am making dinner and I get out ingredients, and then I all of a sudden rush out the kitchen. At this point, it is still possible to say I am making dinner. I could easily be running to the corner store to grab another ingredient. But with too narrow a conception of action, we might be forced into a position where we would say that this person stopped making dinner and abandoned their intention. I take it what Rödl, Brandom, and Korsgaard are all doing here in these things is to find a unity over time in actions such that we can say that someone is doing something for some reason, as opposed to just mere empirical descriptions of they took the food out, they ran to the store, they …”. At least, if I remember the others correctly, these are the sort of problems they take themselves to be overcoming (I don’t want to start opening up other books it would take forever). Brandom does not go too far into this, but it seems to be a similar concern.

For pursuing the initial plan to realize his purpose, in the context of the contingencies that arose in the pursuit of all of the myriad subsidiary expository goals, led to the development of the plan as it became more determinate. Hegel as I am reading him is happy to say that this is a process of finding out what the actual content of his intention had been all along. (Brandom p. 413)

The fact that I did not have enough ingredients does not invalidate my intention to make dinner, but it does make more explicit what the content of the original intention was in the first place. That is, my dinner was doomed to fail, but my plan became more complex over the course of time. So my plan to make dinner was not just take out food and cook, it ended up being take out food, go buy some more, and then cook. Brandom and Hegel want to able to explain how we have a sort of general main plan, and also that latent in that plan was actually always some more side quests”. These side quests (going to the store) are however still subsumed under a larger plan, such as to make dinner still.

Chapter 12

Just as truth as Hegel understands it is not a state but a process (“a vast, Bacchanalian revel”), so, too, is determinateness. Indeed, they are aspects of the same process. (Brandom p. 431)

This to me seems to be a huge misconception about Hegel. At the end of the Logic, as Pippin stresses as well, that Absolute Knowing and the Idea, things that to me the Young Hegelians parodied either ironically or unironically as I have been reading them a little bit, think that Hegel has attained some eternal immortal truth, some Enlightened state. Rather, as Pippin notes, Absolute Knowing is stressing on the active -ing part, like swimming, and is closer to something like Absolute Method. The Idea is this, as he says on the page before, a cycle of action-and-cognition”, the unity of Theoretical and Practical Reason. Just as Kant did, Hegel does not think some Absolute God or Content or Truth. For Kant God was something we only knew from moral-practical reason, it was not part of the world. Hegel is similar, God is something we know by deed, action, it is a process.

I am not sure if this is what some nihilists or existentialists (absurdists too don’t know don’t care) are worried about, but Hegel sort of says sorry, all there is is this process of Life, this dialectic of experience and error and reconciliation and mutual recognition. That is where value is, anywhere else to look for it is meaningless. The True and the Good reside here, in experience and sociality with other people.

The actual experiential process that produced the current constellation of commitments is no doubt replete with what show up from that retrospective vantage point as wrong turns, blind alleys, and retrograde steps. These are experiential episodes—applications of concepts in judgment and intention that obliged the subject subsequently to acknowledge incompatible commitments— that did not, from that perspective, turn out to have revealed aspects of how things really are. They were not expressively progressive. That is, the revisions with which the subject responded to error or failure took one further away from, rather than nearer to, the truth. In order to have a picture, suppose that at each stage each concept (universal) is assigned a pair of sets of possible particulars serving as its extension and an antiextension, and incompatibility and inferential relations to other such concepts. Then a revision that puts in the extension a possible particular that does not, according to the currently endorsed standard, belong there, because the universal does not in fact characterize that particular (or dually for the antiextension), will count as expressively retrograde. Likewise, if the response to the acknowledgment of incompatible commitments (taking two universals one treats as incompatible to characterize the same possible particular) is to stop treating the two universals as incompatible, where one now takes it that they really are incompatible, that will be an expressively retrograde step. And similarly for revisions of endorsed material consequence relations. (Brandom p. 438)

There is a lot to discuss here in the realm of the political. If we are to create a binary political spectrum as a political tool, this seems to be like a ripe way to evaluate politics. It is no wonder that Hegel who is, I think, quite progressive finds this to be in line with his politics. Charles Taylor dispenses with the myth that Hegel was a conservative throughout his Hegel book. Particularly is the Philosophy of Right which is taken as a sort if deification of the Prussian state. Taylor notes how the Prussian state being described in Hegel’s book was actually quite nothing like the actual Prussian state at the time. Hegel was doing, as Kant did in his Doctrine of Right, politics and political philosophy and trying to connect the two where it was appropriate they thought.

A Marxist or other left-wing person might criticize Hegel for being too conservative” here even with this knowledge that Taylor says people have overlooked and created a myth about Hegel. Despite my own sympathies with Marx, Marx and the like committed many political errors in those years in terms of judgement. If the conservative mistake in politics is to hold on to something for too long, the progressive mistake in politics is to say that something is over or will be soon when it is not. This has nothing, I think, with any theory but exists in the realm of practice and is what distinguishes people who are good at politics and those who are not. It is also something that people use to characterize political leaders who are good is those who can sort of see into the immediate future in this way, to recognize how things are going to play out.

We see these types of retrogressive dialectical movements throughout political history. But Brandom is not concerned with judgement in the technical as opposed to Kantian judgement of the three Critiques. Rather, Brandom wants to discuss what a bad reconciliation is. In politics, we see find abundant examples of this. One classic is with the pro-life position, people who do not have a sufficiently complex theory end up prey to easy critiques. If you are pro-life, then what about providing for that child’s well being until they are an adult? The critique is that someone is not treating two commitments they have as incompatible. It might also be that someone is doing the reverse in a way, they try to argue that two things are incompatible. The classic one for this, off the top of my head, is that we should take care of Americans at home instead of refugees. Well, are those two incompatible commitments we can hold, are they in real opposition? No not at all.

This is part of why Hegel is such a fruitful thinker for history and especially politics or critical theory. One way to see this play out wonderfully in history is when I read the Verso Marx’s Political Writings book and am now making my way through the Conservatism book by Fawcett from Princeton Press. Both are great examples of how we see different people playing out this dialectic and when they were truly progressive or retrogressive reconciliations.

There is much more to discuss in this section, but again I do not want to recite the whole book.

For appearance talk so understood presupposes reality talk; the ability to use the safe looks” presupposes the ability to use the risky is.” (Brandom p. 459)

Brandom is now discussing alienation and the Stoic, or other forms of pure independence. I really liked this line because it is a transcendental condition in the wild. To be able to say that something looks or seems like something presupposes something that seems or looks like something. I take it this is also critique some people have of Allison’s Kant, but I need to reread that and see if Allison ever really denies this and is closer to someone like Allais the whole time in interpreting Kant. Either way, the point is that alienated individual who wants to hold too much to their intention as the truth of what happens can only even use the language of looks like” by already accepting an objective way things are.

The attempt to see the concept of action realized immediately in volition is a strategy of independence with varieties analogous to the strategies of independence pursued by the stoic and the skeptical consciousness. Where the cognitive stoic withdraws into his freedom to interpret as appearance, and hence in a certain sense assign the significance of experience, and thus master it, the volitional stoic withdraws into his freedom to attempt, which reality is powerless to interfere with. The stoic admits other descriptions of his actions are possible, but insists that their true significance is to be found only in the description under which they were purposed. The volitional skeptic, more radically, would identify action with volition, treating willing as the only sort of action possible—as the cognitive skeptic identifies knowledge with appearance. Moral intentionalism—a one-sided strategy complementary to moral consequentialism—finds what is to be appraised (that is, the achievement) in the purpose. It is accordingly to be understood as committed to one or the other of these strategies of independence. (Brandom p. 458)

Thus the Stoic and all the other alienated figures must accept on their own terms that there is something they are describing, the objective way things are, since they are saying that their action as it appears to them subjectively is one way. But the key here is that appearance is the appearance of something. Thus alienation is is only when the subject is in a state where they do not recognize that their own ways of understanding their own truth, the way things are, the things they value, depend on this broader Hegelian theory.

So at this point we can see that both the theoretical-cognitive and the practical-agentive sides of consciousness are to be understood in terms of their subjects engaging in norm-governed practices. And they each have both social-recognitive and historical-recollective dimensions. The higher form of self-consciousness Hegel calls absolute” (in the concluding chapter of the Phenomenology, titled Absolute Knowing) consists in an explicit understanding of the relations between recognition and recollection, the social and the historical dimensions of normativity. (Brandom p. 464)

As said above, Absolute Knowing is just taking explicit what we already took to be implicit all along. It is something like Kant’s transcendental response to Hume. It is a yes, I agree, but …” in that their own commitments are only intelligible within some broader framework. Hume wants to discuss experience, Kant wants to discuss the possibility of experience. Instrumental reason folks want to say that this is all reason is, Korsgaard wants to show that even this depends on a Kantian autonomy.

Now, since Hegel is not a transcendental but absolute idealist, there is a slight difference. We mentioned before how with Hegel we can substitute the transcendental with the social. But in doing so, there is one caveat. Someone who refuses to be in any sort of intersubjective relation, even the most minimal conception of a social relationship here, would be not alienated”. That is, they could refuse some conception of mutual recognition as Hegel criticizes the Stoic for. Kristeva notes how this is equivalent to death, which, I would argue, is worse than alienation even.

If it lives, your psyche is in love. If it is not in love, it is dead. Death lives a human life,” Hegel said. That is true when we are not in love or in analysis. (Kristeva, Tales of Love, p. 15)

If we imagine that there is something fundamentally normative and similar in what Hegel would call the post-modern” life of overcoming alienation and love, then Kristeva is right on the money. The dead human” who is still biologically alive is not alienated. Alienation only comes in when you have not comprehended Absolute Knowing. I don’t think Hegel is saying that one need to read the PhG to achieve this, but there is a sense in which we are living in Peter Singer’s world of utilitarianism, the capitalist world, or the liberal who is scared of positive freedom”. It seems to be the dominant ideology today, that many people treat each other as disposable. But, more on this later when Brandom discusses the symptoms of alienation and modernity.

Chapter 13

Geist” is Hegel’s collective term for everything that has a history rather than a nature—or, put otherwise, everything whose nature is essentially historical. Geist is all of our properties, doings, and institutions, specified in a suitable normative vocabulary. Geist as a whole has a history, and it is Hegel’s view that, in an important sense, that history boils down to one grand event. That event—the only thing that has ever really happened to Geist—is its structural transformation from a traditional to a modern form. The advent of modernity in this sense is not just an intellectual matter—not just the Enlightenment or the scientific revolution. Hegel was the first to see its economic, political, and social manifestations as all of a piece with those theoretical advances. (Brandom p. 469)

There are a lot of key points being made here I think. One is that Hegel thinks that there was a sort of profound shift in Geist itself. As I think Jensen Suther put it on twitter recently, this might be at tension with some of Brandom’s claims about making it explicit” in that, Brandom himself here I think is saying it seems, that there is not some continuity between traditional and modern Geist. There was a radical event, as shift in the principle itself. Maybe we can defend Brandom here in saying that Geist does undergo large shifts, but it has only been once so far, and this is when we might not be able to use the phrase making it explicit”.

The other important thing I think here is that Hegel is a holist. He saw modern Geist fill itself in all the aspects of modernity. It was not just in ideology, but it was pervasive in the economic and political spheres, the family, art, etc.

While Hegel does think that the transition from traditional to modern culture was expressively progressive—that it essentially involves the becoming explicit of central features of ourselves and our practices and institutions that had previously remained implicit— he does not think that that progress was either complete or unalloyed. Something crucial and important was also lost. (Brandom p. 471)

Here reminds me of a similar structural change that Marx and Engels outline. There was traditional life and primitive communism”. Marx and Engels saw a progressive element in capitalism, but also a regressive element. This was seen in the Origins of the Family book I think. One need not buy into a clear stage-ism with Hegel or Marx either, at least it does not seem necessary or what they intended. Rather, both Hegel and Marx when they talk of modernity were ahead of their time. Pippin notes how modern painting did not come to life til after the middle of the 19th century. Kant and other early modern philosophers were a bit ahead of their time, and so was Marx in his understanding of capitalism. Social relations are messy because there is not some world-spirit that exists in the world itself as a creator or mover, but rather it is the messy recognitive dyads” of two people at the base unit of the social realm.

One twitter user had a great tweet that expressed this I think.

a tragic part of a serious relationship ending is the language you shared together being lost all those facial expressions, jokes, noises, verbal intimacies that only the 2 of you understood, become a dead language never to be spoken again

Hegel starts with where meaning is made, it is between two people, the most asymmetrical relation between Master and Slave, but still the most minimal social relationship. Now think of the opposite, the most full relationship between two lovers or best friends like this tweet refers to. There was, literally, a language between the two. There was a history between the two. It was a relationship most likely, if it was a good one, full of confession and forgiveness as Hegel would say. Now think of the interconnections between your friends, your family, the people you love, your coworkers. You already live in a community with others and the modern condition of alienation is failing to realize that this is all there is and where meaning is dependent on, it is the Kantian transcendental condition of it.

This is also something Pippin notes on his book about painting and modernity. Hegel in his own lectures, as Kristeva notes, that these relations you have with the people you love are where meaning in life is found. In painting, Pippin notes how Manet opened up the world of painting to the subjectivity” of modernity. The task now is to realize this principle of modernity, this stage of Geist, and overcome it in some sense. In our relations with other in love, in painting and art, politics, and economy.

Stage One: Sittlichkeit, no modern subjectivity; Stage Two: Alienation, modern subjectivity; Stage Three: Sittlichkeit (in a new form, compatible with subjectivity), modern subjectivity (in a new, sittlich form). (Brandom p. 472)

Sittlichkeit is then a matter of the bindingness (“Gültigkeit”) of norms. That is, it concerns the nature of their force or practical significance. The Hegelian image is that one is at home with sittlich norms, one identifies with them. They are the medium in which one lives and moves and has one’s being. (Brandom p. 473)

This notion of being-at-home is a central way to think of Hegel’s conception of freedom. The subject of stage one as Brandom says above is one who sort of identifies immediately with their allotment in life, there is a sort of immediate unity. However, this came with the price of a sort of submission to fate. Modern subjectivity is a genuine improvement, but it came with alienation that did not exist before, a situation where people struggle with being-at-home in the world. Hegel is aware as well that traditional sittlichkeit had its own issues as well. The born slave was not allowed to be a member of the say Greek city-state. This is the problem with blind fate, being born into a situation where freedom is denied to you. Now I guess we will see if Hegel and Brandom present a robust enough picture of history and the normative structures to allow us to sort of diagnose the ills of modernity and how to overcome it.

The problem is not that natural distinctions are given or taken to have normative significances, but that they are understood as already having those significances independently of the practices or attitudes of those for whom they are normatively significant. Nature, not the accident of circumstances or choice, assigns one sex to one law, the other to the other law.” [PG 465] These defining normative roles are accordingly not practically conceived as roles individuals can play, but simply as facts about them. (Brandom p. 484)

Here is Brandom showing that Hegel took that this immediacy of natural facts was not reasonable to conclude that because of some fact about them they were thus normatively bound to these roles. Brandom says that this is fetishizing the natural”, which to me seems to be something TERFs do, maybe why they hate Hegel too who knows.

The paradigm example he chooses to exemplify this claim about traditional misunderstandings of the significance of natural properties for normative proprieties is gender essentialism. In emphasizing that the core of modernity consists in a rejection and overcoming of the most basic presuppositions of this constellation of practical attitudes, Hegel deserves a place in the feminist pantheon. (Brandom p. 485)

And so, Hegel presents us with a compelling route to show that natural properties do not get us off the ground in themselves to any full blown normative roles and obligations.

The eruption of modernity begins when a gap emerges between these—when how things ought to be is not simply, directly, and immediately translatable into what one ought to do. The wedge that opens that gap is conditioning the connection on the attitudes of the subject—on what the agent knows and intends. (Brandom p. 491)

And thus spoke modernity or something.

Not only is language the existence of Spirit, it is the existence of the individual self as self. That is because the language and the linguistic utterances and the relations among them is the medium in which recognition takes place. In speech, self-consciousness, qua independent separate individuality”—the individually self-conscious self, the one characteristic of modernity—“comes as such into existence, so that it exists for others.” That is the petitioning for recognition. What it is petitioning to be specifically recognized as, the commitment it is authorizing others to attribute to it, is the individual as a normative being in the sense of one who identifies with the authority of the norms. One does that by sacrificing one’s particular attitudes to the norms when they conflict. The agent of the state is making his attitudes responsible to those norms by undertaking a commitment that serves as a standard everybody can hold him to and measure his performances against. This is constituting himself as that sort of a self. That recognitive making oneself responsible to the norms is a doing that consists in a certain kind of saying. It is going on record, making a public commitment. (Brandom p. 508)

The easiest way if wanted to create a Kantian philosophy of language is through backtracking from Hegel. The reason being here is that Kant says some similar points in his writings. One is about the sort of realm of discourse and petitioning. For Kant, the state is a transcendental condition of external freedom, it is the transcendental condition actually. He therefore denies a right of revolution in the sense that it is a similar contradiction that the Stoic makes when they use the language of such and such seems to me” while denying and underlying objective way for things to even seem” of. But on the flip side of this, there is always a right of petition against the state. In one of his political writings about politicians as well and the moral politician, he says something explicitly about public as in going on record” public, but I don’t want to go open that book right now.

The more fundamental point is that this is sort of articulating a point about public reason from Kant that Brandom takes up. In speech and discourse, how do actually talk in a way or give reasons in such a way that anyone could accept them in principle? If I give a maxim along the lines of you should not do X because you are a Christian” we are appealing to something private, this is heteronomous. If someone is not a Christian, then they have no incentive to accept this. Public reason and the practical reason in general are meant to give reasons such that they are independent of any heteronomous incentives such as you are Christian or straight or white. This is a similar line of thought that O’Neill examines in Constructing Authorities and shows how Rawls’ Kant and Habermas’ Kant are similar in this regard, although she argues they both miss important aspects of Kant’s theory.

Hegel has his own sense of public reason. There is no formal or transcendental principle for Hegel in the way Kant gives it, but there is still a method public reason, of giving reasons for things. There is also a radical mutually dependent way these reasons exist. There is a sense that they are conditional insofar as we are taken to be authoritative and responsible while taking others. In this case, with language, Brandom takes the first step to sort of abiding by some standard of public reason is to actually signify that this is what you intend. Otherwise, it is hard if not impossible to acknowledge your right of intention. That is, Hegel thinks modernity showed us that there is a dependency on normative statuses which is that they are in some way instituted by normative attitudes. This public declaration is a going on record that this is what you are binding yourself to. This is how Badiou thinks the words I love you” work. They do nothing more than signal an intention, but the other aspect is making this intention actual, making actual in the outer what is inner.

For in being public, it gets a significance that runs beyond what it intended. The I that utters itself is heard or perceived, it is an infection in which it is immediately passed into unity with those for whom it is a real existence, and so is a universal self- consciousness.” I” is important because it is the concrete, explicit expression of the role of language as the medium of recognition, and hence of the social constitution of self-conscious selves and their attitudes, and the social institution of norms and communal institutions. (Brandom p. 509)

Just as the I” in Badiou’s I love you”, Hegel and Brandom both take there to be significant meaning in the utterance of the I.

We see language, then, in its characteristic significance as the expressive medium for conceptual normativity—the sea in which normative fish swim. (Brandom p. 510)

Nothing to comment here, I just think this is a great sentence, language is the sea where us normative fish swim. We see this in Rousseau’s writings on the origins of language if I recall correctly. We also see this in Freud’s writings on primitive language and its relation to sex. We see this also in Marx and Engels’ discussion of language of earlier tribes and how they express normativity and how they relate to each other in their language as well. All very beautiful stuff. I never got around to philosophy of language before Brandom but all this stuff with Hegel, Rousseau, Marx, Freud, etc is very interesting ways to frame something we take for granted in a this is water” David Foster Wallace way.

Brandom has a discussion of wealth and the state of modernity and how alienation manifests itself in language. One is the flatterer, is someone who pretends to sacrifice something, you flatter them. Flattery is a form of alienation here, I think as I understand it, in that it is usually intended as one-sided and unprompted. However, the flatter Brandom argues is someone who merely pretends, they are flattering for their own personal pursuit. The sacrifice was only an illusion of what actually was an act in the pursuit of power and wealth to a superior. We see this in say prestige dramas where someone who is trying to climb some hierarchy while thinking they are better than their superior (this is the same as the King who thinks they are the immediate King, not mediated through intersubjective relations with their subjects), gets pissed off if their flattery was for nothing because they embarrassed themself or something.

The more interesting point I think is with irony. Forgive me for another long quote but this was interesting, very interesting so it gets lots of text.

There is a corresponding form of flattery on the side of Wealth: the language that gives wealth a sense of its essential significance,” which likewise dissembles because what it pronounces to be an essence, it knows to be expendable, to be without intrinsic being.” [PG 520] The most explicit expression of alienation, however, pure culture,” is a linguistic way of being in the world that manifests the asymmetrical recognitive relations between the two forms of actual consciousness. It is a nihilistic game” of destructive judgment,” witty talk” that undercuts the validity of every distinction and assessment, stripping of their significance all moments which are supposed to count as the true being.” [PG 521]

What is learnt in this world is that neither the actuality of power and wealth, nor their specific Notions, good” and bad,” or the consciousness of good” and bad” (the noble and the ignoble consciousness), possess truth. [PG 521]

The whole normative dimension of life is rejected as illusory. There are not really any norms, no distinction in how things are in themselves between what is appropriate or fitting and what not, between what one is obliged to do and what is not permitted. So the institutions that administer and apply those norms are founded on lies, are deceptive frameworks for the pursuit of private ends and interests. This conclusion is the consequence of the modern discovery that the norms are not simply objectively there, independently of our attitudes and activities, in the context of a conception of normative authority as independence that obliges one to treat that fact as demonstrating that they have no real authority over our attitudes at all. If the norms are dependent on what individuals do, if the acts and attitudes subject to assessment according to those norms bear some responsibility for those norms, then what individuals do cannot, on the alienated practical conception of authority as independence, be genuinely responsible to those norms. Norms are an illusion. There are only attitudes. The hyperobjective traditional picture of normativity gives rise to a hypersubjective modern, alienated conception, according to which the very idea of a norm is a mere projection of our attitudes, of practical distinctions made by individuals.

The practical understanding this disrupted consciousness has of its own attitudes is ironic. It still makes distinctions and employs concepts, but it does not take its commitments seriously, does not take itself to be undertaking responsibilities by its talk. The content of what Spirit says about itself is thus the perversion of every Notion [Begriff] and reality, the universal deception of itself and others.” [PG 522] In that vanity, all content is turned into something negative which can no longer be grasped as having a positive significance.” [PG 526] What goes missing is something required for normative attitudes to have determinate content. So the attitude of this lacerated” consciousness to its own attitudes must be distanced and remote. Its ironic stance consists in not identifying even with its own attitudes, which it knows to be in the end vain and contentless, never mind with the norms to which those attitudes on their face profess allegiance. Its language expresses and enacts pure alienation:

[I]t knows everything to be self-alienated, being-for-self is separated from being-in-itself; what is meant, and purpose, are separated from truth; and from both again, the being-for-another, the ostensible meaning from the real meaning, from the true thing and intention. . . . It is the self-disruptive nature of all relationships and the conscious disruption of them. [PG 526] Still, the adoption of this nihilistic recognitive attitude remains a characteristically modern assertion of the authority of the individual—a manifestation of the rise of subjectivity, even if a perverse overreaction. It is a self-centred self” [PG 526], which seeks recognition of itself in its exercise of the power to make the norms vain by taking them to be so.

This vanity at the same time needs the vanity of all things in order to get from them the consciousness of self; it therefore creates this vanity itself and is the soul that supports it. Power and wealth are the supreme ends of its exertions, it knows that through renunciation and sacrifice it forms itself into the universal, attains to the possession of it, and in this possession is universally recognized and accepted: state power and wealth are the real and acknowledged powers. However, this recognition and acceptance is itself vain; and just by taking possession of power and wealth it knows them to be without a self of their own, knows rather that it is the power over them, while they are vain things. [PG 526]

Its merely ironic; mock renunciation and sacrifice is no genuine recognition at all. It is a petition to be recognized as not recognizing. Irony is accordingly visible as a strategy of Mastery. The same application of categories of independence (the atomistic practical conception of authority as asymmetrical and nonreciprocal, as not only not necessarily, but not even possibly balanced by a coordinate responsibility) that shapes its take on the relations between norms and attitudes shapes its self-consciousness as well.

(Brandom p.511-514, not all of it but in this range)

The immediate thing this reminded me of was the last discussion of irony on the pod”, with Anna, Dasha, and Adam Curtis. They were talking about how there is a similar air of extreme irony pervasive everywhere. They mentioned how it felt similar to the end of the Soviet Regime. The ironic attitude comes about it seems as the end path of alienation. It is one where someone has no desires to flatter and pursue power, which seems to be what Senator Krysten Sinema did. In some way, this is why Trump seemed so authentic” is that he did not flatter any of the people in power, maybe, but he did flatter the most powerful political minority in America quite successfully to go vote for them in droves. However, this too was a facade, in that, he still just pursued state power and wealth, a billionaire president as the most fitting manifestation of modernity Hegel would think. The reason it is easy to see he engaged in flattery too is that he did nothing what he flattered the supporters who voted for him or those media people like Bannon who worked day and night to get his propaganda out there, still are actually. Trump did nothing to take on the Healthcare industry, no health care bill proposed. Gave massive tax cuts and helped oversee covid pandemic wealth transfer. Even so much so that he did nothing to prevent his own base that he flattered from even saving themselves, them dying in the tens of thousands so much that it might influence the elections.

Irony is the same as flattery in that instead of sort of sucking up to norms while not actually sacrificing any personal interest or attitudes for normative statuses, irony attempts to undercut all norms and the possibility of norms. This is why irony leads to nihilism Brandom argues, and also that nihilism is not itself like a genuine philosophical position but rather a product of modern alienation itself.

My own experience with irony seems to be the person who is sort of rigorously engaged in discussion of things, interested in ideas” and the like, but only as a fun little game to test their wit. When it comes down to it, inevitably, they always acknowledged the pursuit of wealth and state power, which are more or less the same thing. These people also tended to get into arguments after they were passionately engaged in it it seemed, only to end it with an ironic tone of not being serious, they never really identified with any of the ideas” or norms” they were defending in the first place. Furthermore, they would describe the friends in their life in odd ways to other people. They would be like cool collectibles and also highlight how did X, Y, Z novel accomplishments or something. I feel like this is also part of the literature and arts world in general too. These people if they do engage in discourse around things, it is always in maintaining it in some pursuit. When conversing with maybe people they don’t like or wanting to show their intellectual prowess and wit they take an ironic stance, when they are near a social superior, some rung on the ladder, they flatter them. The amount of times I have heard someone say something along the lines of cannot stand that person but I need to be nice to them for X, Y, Z”, X, Y, Z being some reasons for climbing the hierarchy. We even have an entire social media, Linkedin, which its only purpose is this. Anyone who thinks it is anything more is a deluding themselves.

I think this also why people are so impressed by anyone who is unironically into and passionate about their ideas and norms or their pursuits. Or someone who is willing to draw boundaries and possible risk some potential gain from someone in their field for their ideals. I think this is what Hegel and Brandom says is the task of bringing back heroism, it is in some sense heroic to just not be a flatterer or ironic.

Now, the normative structure around irony is to be replaced with trust, and this leads up into the main thesis of Brandom’s book, what he takes the sort of penultimate” lesson we learn in the Phenomenology and also why the book is titled A Spirit of Trust.

I think in a pivotal transition section to this Brandom goes on what seems to be one of his favorite ways to phrase what he takes to be what Kant and Hegel got most right about normativity and freedom, which seems to be the big German idealist lesson. I have discussed this in the previous post on here and so I think I will rehearse what I take to be his main lesson without any quotes since I myself do not need to dig anymore into this section.

When we talk about freedom in Kant and Hegel, it presents itself as a type of restriction. Many people have thought the most strange things about this. Obviously there is quite a lot of ideological blindness to being able to understand this point if you are too bought into some alienated conception of agency. The reactions to Kant have thought that Kant sort of argues that what it is to be ethical is to be a slave, some relating Kant to the I was doing my duty” line the Nazi makes. Others have accused Hegel as well as being totalitarian, citing his the rational is the actual” language or whatever misreadings of his philosophy. However, Kant and Hegel are not even far off from the liberal tradition itself. The entire social contract tradition was founded on how do we get from the individual to the state/community, that is, how is a restriction on the individual’s liberty or negative freedom justified for the things we also seem to want, that sweet sweet positive freedom. Not to mention that we already had states in reality, so there is a sense in which philosophy was going in reverse at times with these classical broadly utilitarian liberals (Kant is not one of these), so there is an element of rationalization going on.

Kant and Hegel are not utilitarians by any means, nor do they deny utility. Rather, utility and happiness is good within a sort of boundedness already, there is something conceptually prior to discuss and think about. Brandom uses first the example of language to discuss this binding, this restriction. Language itself is a restriction, but we do not see it or think it since it is the sea us normative fish swim in. Or Zizek might say something like we might think we are free birds but we are always already in a cage. Language itself is a restriction in that we pronounce things certain ways, we use certain sounds and symbols to mean one thing and not another. This is a genuine restriction, a determination, there is exclusion going on. But no one thinks that this is bad” or that we are unfree for speaking and communicating via languages. Rather, there is a massive explosion of positive freedom in these restrictions we gain.

However, we do not want to think of this as a utilitarian trade off, there is no calculus. For Kant, Fichte, and Hegel, the individual is not prior to the social (Kant in a way too), the public grounds the private, not the other way around. In Kant’s political philosophy, private property only is intelligible within a civil condition, it flips the entire classical liberal tradition around. There is no mine or thine in the state of nature. Hobbes probably comes close to this, but it is still rooted in human nature, the individual, and empiricist reasoning.

And so I think Brandom with his language and political analogies wants to then transition to what a recognitive community based on trust as opposed to alienation with flattery and irony looks like.

Zizek is in agreement with Brandom on all this as well.

… in both cases we encounter the same logical structure of passage: the subject, totally lost in the medium of language (language of gestures and grimaces; language of flattery), finds his objective counterpart in the inertia of a non-language object (skull, money). ( Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, p. 240-241)

The flatterer in attempting to hole themselves up in their intention and inner psychology nevertheless must enter the world of language to engage in flattery. Thus, they enter the normative sea we swim in, they get caught up in the symbolic order as Zizek might say coming from his background. Language is the realm of self-consciousness and the I and thus their objective reality ends up in some non-language object, in this case for flattery the realm of Wealth and the State.

By telling us what he thinks Faith is right about, what he thinks Enlightenment is right about, how Faith looks to Enlightenment, and how Enlightenment looks to Faith, Hegel assembles raw materials that are crucial for the transition from modernity to a form of normativity structured by selfconsciousness with the form of Absolute Knowing. In general, Hegel’s reading of Faith—the distinctively modern, alienated form of religion—is a successor project to Kant’s Religion Within the Bounds of Reason Alone, a book that had had a tremendous influence on Hegel when he was still a student at the Stift in Tübingen (and on his classmates Friedrich Schelling and Friedrich Hölderlin). (Brandom, p. 524)

The last part of the PhG is Hegel’s attempt at what Kant was doing in the Religion. Kant and Hegel both find something rational in religion. For Kant, this was the ethical commonwealth, a social community centered around the promotion of the good and prevention of evil in what he called the visible church”. It is not as well developed as Kant’s Doctrine of Right and his political commonwealth, but we can patch together his moral writings and especially the third Critique to unify Kant’s thought there. Hegel wants to do something similar, tying together the Enlightenment and Christian Faith, showing like Kant that if they seem contradictory it is only either apparent or something we can dialectically overcome.

Normativity, universality, is not to be reified into some kind of a thing, either over there (as God) or in individual human beings (as Reason), but rather as implicit in the articulation of individuals in a community, their recognitive interplay, and the utterances and attitudes that actualize and express the norms. (Brandom p. 526)

This is also why Zizek says that latent in Christianity itself is atheism in that Christianity is not a theistic religion that needs some reified God. Kant and Hegel are attempting express the Truth of Christianity itself and that Christianity is not contrary to the Enlightenment. God only lives” in the community of humans, it is nothing other than sittlichkeit itself. Kant and Hegel both see the Christian community and many of the teachings written down and practiced to be articulating sort of moral and normative truths all along.

What is constituted by Faith is a certain kind of self-conscious individuality. The recognitive account of self-consciousness tells us that this is possible only if a corresponding kind of recognitive community is instituted at the same time. The religious community is established by individuals’ reciprocal recognition of each other as serving and worshipping, which is to say as identifying with the norms through sacrifice of merely particular, subjective attitudes and interests of the individuals they would otherwise be. This recognitive relation Hegel calls trust” [Vertrauen]. (Brandom p. 529)

Whatever particular Christian ways sacrifice comes about in Christianity and all its flavors, we see a core element of what it means to bind yourself to some normative status, to something that is higher than your own particular self (your normative attitudes). So latent in the community of Faith is something integral to Hegel’s entire lesson of the PhG, trust.

Put another way, because of the shared renunciation of particularity, the individuals one identifies with by recognizing them as identifying with the community and its norms are not being treated in practice as split into a particular and a universal aspect. This constellation of attitudes foreshadows the final, fully self-conscious form of mutual recognition. (Brandom p. 529)

Brandom also notes how this Kantian-Hegelian line of thought is also genealogically tied to their own religious upbringings as pietists.

So the eschatology the pietists inherited from Pelagius treats the City of God not as something to be achieved in another life, but as an infinite task for religious communities to achieve here on earth. Praxis pietatis is accordingly a communal striving to do good works, one that puts special emphasis on secular education (Bildung) and personal improvement as the means whereby the good could be rationally discerned, and the will to pursue it rationally cultivated. In this way homo religiosus was to be reformed, and civil life regenerated. The pietists—in particular, Crusius, the preeminent pietist intellectual of his time, and the principal conduit through which these ideas reached Kant and Hegel—attacked Wolffian rationalism, the peak of Enlightenment theory, from the point of view of practice and the primacy of the practical. (Brandom p. 532)

Not to mention the religion, but Crusius as well was influential for Kant’s understand of freedom as Allison notes in his new book. Also worth noting is Wolff as one of the large influences on Kant as well.

For all the positive things in Faith, Enlightenment is correct in some of its criticisms of Faith.

In this respect, Enlightenment is right in its criticisms of Faith. It does seriously misunderstand its object, which is not (as Faith thinks), an objective, independent being, but a product of its own thought and practice. (Making a mistake of this kind is what in Marx’s anthropological allegory is called fetishism.”) (Brandom p. 533)

Brandom sort of sums up the normative scoreboard between the two in this paragraph.

Faith and Enlightenment each has both a cognitive, theoretical dimension and a recognitive, practical dimension. Faith is wrong in its cognitive attitudes, misunderstanding its object and its relation to that object. But it succeeds with its recognitive practices, creating a community of trust. Enlightenment is right in its cognitive attitudes, correctly seeing that the normativity both are concerned with is not something independent of our attitudes and activities. But it fails on the recognitive, practical side. Because it creates a community with the reciprocal recognitive structure of trust, Faith acknowledges norms that can have some determinate content; they are contentful norms because a community like that can actually institute, sustain, and develop determinately contentful conceptual norms. But Enlightenment creates no such community. On the cognitive side, it sees that contentful norms cannot simply be read off of the way the world simply is, independently of the attitudes, activities, practices, and capacities of the creatures who are bound by them. Rationality is a human capacity. But Enlightenment is stuck with a purely formal notion of reason. It can criticize the contents Faith purports to find, but cannot on its own produce replacements. (Brandom p. 534)

Brandom’s discussion of here is quite interesting I think, or should be, to any modern person. There are many of the archetypal liberals who pretty much outright dismiss the entirety of Christianity. When people argue or critique Christianity they really are only criticizing some sort of argument about a reified God. These are pretty much always on the money, unless someone is advocated for like a Spinozan or highly articulated conception of a non-Kantian/Hegelian God. But I imagine many of the Christians are not staking their life on this type of reified God but feel more attracted to and pulled into the communal aspect, a sanctuary of sittlich in the modern alienated world. Even more so from the perspective of the Christian Faith is the utilitarian thinking of the liberal, utilitarianism being the most abhorrent moral theory I can think of.

Charles Taylor in his discussion about why Hegel is important today makes a similar point as Adorno does below, but I will quote Adorno (well, Bernstein in his introduction about Adorno) how the supposed freeing reason of Enlightenment contains sort of the seeds of its own destruction. Taylor and Adorno both note how this leads to fascism inevitably, which is a distinctly modern symptom just like capitalism and nihilism in this Hegelian view.

Its [Dialectic of Enlightenment] central claim is that the very same rationality which provides for humankind’s emancipation from the bondage of mythic powers and allows for progressive domination over nature, engenders, through its intrinsic character, a return to myth and new, even more absolute forms of domination. The feature of enlightened reason which accounts for this subsumption of the particular under the universal. Subsumptive or instrumental rationality disregards the intrinsic properties of things, those properties that give each thing its sensuous, social and historical particularity, for the sake of the goals and purposes of the subject — originally self-preservation itself.

Without the possibility of judging particulars and rationally considered ends and goals, the reason which was to be the means of satisfying human ends becomes its own end, and thereby turns against the true aims of the Enlightenment: freedom and happiness. (Bernstein, Adorno: The Culture Industry, p. 4-5)

The point about self-preservation ties back to the origin of much of classical political theory, seen in their best representative of Hobbes. The point about judging particulars is exactly the critique that Kant and Hegel have against happiness. They were never against happiness, but freedom sort of comes prior to happiness and helps us decide on ends.

Kant does, of course, think that there are also higher-order, purely formal principles that are binding on us simply as rational creatures, i.e., in virtue of being able to bind ourselves by conceptual norms in judgment and action. Acknowledgment of the bindingness of those principles is implicit in all of our discursive attitudes and practices. As we will see, Hegel develops this side of Kant’s thought as well. The important point to realize here—a point that lies at the base of Kant’s idea of normative autonomy—is that those norms are intelligible only against the background of the ground-level institution of conceptual commitments by attitudes of acknowledgment, in judging and endorsing practical maxims. (Brandom p. 540)

This is another point I have been making about about Kant and Hegel throughout and I think is most interesting on studying the two is understanding that Hegel is in some sense a transcendental philosopher as well, at least I would argue in their conceptions of normativity. Kant wants to make actions intelligible, even instrumental reason or private property rights, but it is only in the background of a theory of public reason (autonomy in the former, public right in the latter examples).

Without explicitly recognizing the problem of alienation, Kant tries to solve it. According to his scheme (1) principles genuinely constrain individual actions, which are what they are appraised as according to such principles; (2) performances are actions only as so constrained; and (3) there are no (non-formal) facts about what principles are valid apart from the facts about what principles people take to be valid by endorsing or appropriating them—that is, by committing themselves to their validity. These are precisely the elements required for alienation to be overcome. (Brandom p. 541)

Brandom is making the point I have been making about what is at stake in overcoming alienation and public reason, to which Kant definitely attempted to do. This is also why we can make a transcendental->social substitution in terms of public reason I think as well with Kant to Hegel. They both offer their own solutions in their own ways.

Chapter 15

But every actual performance is a particular doing, and incorporates contingency. It is always more than just the acknowledgment of a norm, and may well also be less than that. (I can never just turn on the light or feed the poor—I am always also doing other things, such as alerting the burglar, or cutting the education budget or raising taxes.) Contingent motives and interests will always also be in play. Thus it will always be possible for the niederträchtig consciousness to point out the moment of disparity, the particularity and contingency that infects each action. It is never just an instance of the universal. The Kammerdiener can always explain what the hero of service did in terms of self- interested (hence particular, contingent) motives and interests, rather than as a response to an acknowledged normative necessity. There is no action at all that is not amenable to this sort of reductive, ignoble description. (Brandom p. 552)

The Kammerdiener, I think the appropriate translation is the moral valet, is someone in this sort of allegory Hegel is telling who sort of always appeals to some genealogical or self-interest on the part of the hero. I take it the basic crutch of this is that there is a radical element of contingency in every act that someone does and the moral valet can reduce every seemingly noble” action to an ignoble” description.

Zizek notes this, which shows I think that he is a pretty good reader, that Kant was one of the first if not the first to account for this, not just Hegel. Kant develops a theory of radical evil, not radically as in wild or extreme, but closer to the latin radix, root. That is, there is a sense in which all of our actions could be explained via this competing explanation by the moral valet and thus sort of undermine our own sense that we are doing actions because they are good in themselves. Think of the high schooler who is doing community service, they are most likely doing it for self-interest and looking good on an application for college.

Kant distances himself from the Stoic, even if Hegel thinks Kant is still like the Stoic overall in that his theory of normativity is still a form of Mastery, in his theory of evil. As Zizek notes in his Sublime Object, evil is not something external to the will but it is found in the will itself. Kant himself actually denied that we could have knowledge of this, something I think Hegel would critique him on. Kant did not think this was a problem for his philosophy though. First, the moral law can tell us if an action is sort of good outright. There is a sense in which community service is still good even if we are doing it out of impure motives, so Kant would not say that they are totally evil. Some forms of evil, Kant calls frailty, actually we can know because these are when our actions actually empirically manifest as contradictory to the moral law, such as a lie or something obvious we can tell. The last type is depravity, but we need not go too in depth here, seen Wood’s Kant and Religion book for more.

Another interesting point of similarity in the above quote is with Zizek, who I think gets much right on Hegel just like Brandom if we look past their particular ways of doing Hegel exegesis.

Our predominant idea of the subject is, in Lacanian terms, that of the subject of the signified’, the active agent, the bearer of some signification who is trying to express himself in language. Lacan’s starting point is, of course, that symbolic representation always distorts the subject, that it is always a displacement, a failure, - that the subject cannot find a signifier which would be his own’, that he is always saying too little or too much: in short, something other than what he wanted or intended to say. (Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, p. 197-198)

This reminds us of the flatter, the ironist, the beautiful soul, the liberal, the stoic, the #metoo sexual harasser in denial, etc. Central to liberalism I think is the idea that we can sort of ever be in a state of negative freedom totally. There are always ways that we are constrained, we always say too little or too much as Zizek says or every doing is a more or less of an acknowledgement of some norm. There are all sorts of banal examples where this sort of thinking arises. We did not intend to leave our phone out and get it stolen. We did not intend to leave water in the cast iron pan, etc. It also manifests in larger things like massive federal government policies. Every action is infected with contingency, we always are doing too much or too little, we always fail a little bit in our doings.

It is this large-scale, fundamental disagreement between the reductive naturalist and the rational-normativist that Hegel is committed to resolving in his discussion of what the Kammerdiener gets right, what he gets wrong, and what lessons we should learn from him. This project, broadly construed, is to provide a response to Kant’s Third Antinomy—the challenge to integrate reasons and causes. A significant proportion of Hegel’s claim to contemporary philosophical attention, I think, should be seen as deriving from his response to this issue of normative naturalism. So the stakes are very high. (Brandom p. 558)

And so Brandom locates this section of Hegel’s PhG with Kant’s third antinomy, which as we know Kant shows is an antinomy, they both are sort of right and sort of right in a way. With Brandom, he takes Hegel here to be discussing the resolution between reasons and causes, freedom and determinism, necessity and contingency, which goes all the way back to philosophy versus sophistry.

At the core of Hegel’s thought is the idea that in order to make the Kantian strategy work—to make intelligible the idea of the knower-and-agent as responsible for bringing a norm into force (the authority of attitudes over norms), while still seeing the norm as genuinely constraining the knower-and-agent (the authority of norms over attitudes), by insisting that the knower-and-agent is not responsible for (authoritative over) the content of the conceptually articulated commitment—one must acknowledge both a social and a historical division of labor. (Brandom p. 559)

Brandom thus takes Hegel to solve the problem of how norms can be considered to be genuinely binding or rule guiding or efficacious in a different way than Kant and ties into something with how norms are in some way dependent on sociality and history. The threat to Hegel Brandom perceives against reason” here is naturalism via some sort of Humean picture or genealogy via figures such as Marx, Nietszche, and Freud.

The general thought is that the possibility of offering a certain kind of genealogical account of the process by which a conceptual content developed or was determined can seem to undercut the rational bindingness of the norms that have that content. This is a form of argument that was deployed to devastating effect by the great unmaskers of the later nineteenth century. Suppose that the correct answer to the question of why we draw the distinction between right and wrong as we do in some area of discourse is a causal explanation in terms of economic class structure, or a quasibiological ac count in terms of the limited number of ways the will to power can manifest itself in the weak, or a description of how early traumas incurred while acting out the Family Romance reliably recathect libido into standard repressed adult forms. If any such genealogy can causally explain why our normative attitudes have the contents that they do—why we make the judgments we do instead of some others—then the issue of the rational justifiability of those attitudes lapses. We appear to have reasons for our deliberations and assess ments, and it may be comforting to ourselves to think that is why they have the contents they do. But talk about what reasons there are for adopting one attitude rather than another is unmasked by a convincing genealogy of the process as a mere appearance. The genealogy tells us what is really going on, by presenting the underlying mechanism actually responsible for our taking this rather than that as appropriate, fitting, or correct. Seeing ourselves as creatures who are genuinely sensitive to reasons, who are trying to figure out what is in fact appropriate, fitting, or correct—what we really have reason to do—then comes to seem naïve and old-fashioned: the result of applying an exploded explanatory framework couched in a fanciful vocabulary, whose adoption can itself be explained away genealogically as the result of a pro cess quite different from the reasoning to which it pretends. (Brandom p. 560-561)

With Marx, we can say his critique undercuts our rationality” from the side of material and class interests, the bourgeoise only are liberals because their class position and material interests. With Freud, we are only acting such-and-such way because of our sexual development from childhood onward. There is thus the temptation here that because the best and most importantly only way to explain these reasons people hold are not due to any sort of reflective process but through some sort of causal account is intended to undercut the whole project of norms in Hegel. So on the genealogical account, we should abandon talk of reasons here as just illusion. Thus in explanation we do not need to give an argument as the liberal might desire, but we can instead explain the beliefs someone holds or the actions they do by giving some sort of genealogical account.

Both the ancient and the modern conceptions of reason motivate a project of purifying reason, by extruding the alien, extraneous influence of what is merely in fact efficacious in bringing about beliefs. On their conceptions, what merely as a matter of fact is or has been believed—the judgments (applications of concepts) that have in fact been endorsed—should be granted no rational weight or force—that is, authority. Kant is only making fully explicit a way of thinking that is already fully in play in Descartes’ Meditations when he decisively separates causal from justificatory grounding, criticizing Locke for producing, in effect, a mere genealogy of empirical beliefs rather than an account of how they are rationally warranted. Hegel thinks that reason as so purified is reduced to something empty, contentless, purely formal—and so inevitably set on a road that leads to skepticism. Hegel’s notion of reason is not opposed to the authority of tradition; it is an aspect of it. What merely is does have rational (defeasible) authority. (“The actual [wirklich] is the rational; the rational is the actual.”) How we have in the past actually applied a concept—from one point of view, contingently, because not necessitated by the norm antecedently in play—helps determine how it is correct to apply it. Conceptual norms incorporate contingency, and only so can they be determinately contentful. This is how they come to be about what there actually is, to represent it, not in an external sense, but in a sense that involves incorporating into the representing the reference to what is represented. (Brandom p. 566)

Brandom takes Kant here to be doing something the history of Western philosophy has been attempting to do the entire time. For Kant, reasons in the realm of the practical are noumenal causes with empirical effects, which does not violate anything established in the first Critique. Kant has a rather strict separation between reasons and causes then. However, Kant in the Religion, as discussed above, anticipates the genealogical critiques via his account of evil, which can be reframed in that Kant is handling the interaction practical reason, what we actively take to be true or what we do, is reconciled with the ideas of duty and obligation to norms.

Kant is criticized throughout almost the entirety of Hegel’s work for ending up with some empty formalism. Whether or not it is correct or even a problem for Kant is a different story, it does shed light on Hegel’s own position. Kant takes that appeals to heteronomy, I did such and such because I am a mother” in the case of Antigone, is not a sufficiently good argument or reason for doing such and such”. Hegel thinks that this misses the mark. Being a mother can be a rather rich normative status or role that someone identifies with and is not undercut by it being a contingent part of your life, that is, not everyone is a mother.

Every intentional action is charged with the aspect of particularity,” in that the agent must have had some motive for performing it, some attitude that was efficacious in bringing it about. (Brandom p. 571)

Brandom recalls prior discussions of actions and norms in that, we saw how every time we do or say something, there is contingency baked into it. But this is not a problem, at least one that Kant or Hegel see in their theories of actions. That is, the fact that we can talk about the rational and the causal part of some action does not undercut either explanation.

But the normative vocabulary is also sovereign and comprehensive within its domain, and can achieve a corresponding explanatory equilibrium. For it is a vocabulary for describing the use of vocabularies—including the vocabulary of natural science. Everything the scientist does, no less than the activities and practices of other discursive beings, can be described in the language of judgment, intentional action, and recognition. The Kammerdieners attitude, too, is a discursive attitude. (Brandom p. 572)

As we have been saying before, reasons (Kantian autonomy or transcendental conditions) have their own domain of explanation. However, the naturalist or genealogical account itself is its own normative stance, albeit an alienated one on this Hegelian picture. By not realizing it is itself a subjective stance about the way things objectively are, it commits some sort of discursive contradiction in explanation by denying the very vocabulary that makes possible the causal account itself. Not just in the realm of the practical, but as Brandom says the natural scientist depends on using this expressive, metaconceptual framework akin to something like Kant’s categories of the understanding which are transcendental conditions of the possibility of natural science itself. Thus, Kant and Hegel are not in a sense disagreeing, it is a false dichotomy to pit the two together.

One strategy for doing that is to see the naturalistic and normative vocabularies as incommensurable, but as each providing a legitimate, valid, in some sense comprehensive perspective on things. They are understood as just expressing different features of things. The choice of which to employ in any particular case can then be understood to be pragmatic in the classical sense: a matter of what best conduces to securing the ends and interests motivating the subject making the choice of vocabulary at the time. Rather than disagreeing about an objective matter of fact, the naturalist and the normativist are seen as expressing different subjective preferences, adopting different attitudes, which reflect different interests. Whichever vocabulary one adopts makes possible genuine knowledge of some aspect of how things really are. (Brandom p. 573)

This part I am not entirely sure of exactly due to my lack of familiarity with the pragmatist tradition, but I see the thought. Kant’s account of evil can be framed in this way. Some times it is best to explain what I do in terms of it being evil. However, this can only be done by presenting some sort of genealogical account of what I did as a counter. Here we are talking mainly about the problem of impure actions. I think that Kant would agree with Hegel that there is no such things as a non-impure action, or at least it is plausible. Contingency is always mixed with necessity. I also take it that Kant and Hegel would welcome the genealogical tradition, they are ways of surfacing ourselves our own means of deception, they can be seen as ways to rid ourselves of impurity gradually.

Brandom concludes with the slogan No cognition without recognition!” to stress the point he is making that is sort of a rehearsal of something throughout the work. The person who attempts to deny the way that things seem to another person, the way they subjectively take things to be or how they are doing, is denying the practice that makes possible their own subjective stance. The only way to sort of adjudicate things is via the experience of error, where we realize what things were to-consciousness were merely for-consciousness. The genealogical account can help us in creating a more explicit picture of the way things were. Be it via Freudean analysis or Marxist critique. The fundamental point, Brandom thinks, is that this is no different than the way error worked with the bent stick.

The right of intention is a right that we take ourselves to be true in what we judge or do. I can say that I am doing such and such because I am a mother, or because it is what I committed to do with my lover. Reconciling failing to live up to the norms or deluding ourselves that we are indeed binding ourselves by some commitments is part of the experience of life itself. Brandom takes Hegel’s final lesson of the PhG to be articulating what this relationship between people of mutual recognition looks like. Error is followed by robust practices of confession and forgiveness based on trust. There is nothing transcendental above it to get to the truth of the matter, truth is a process between mind and world which is full of error and failing to live up to norms, the flesh is weak”.

I also see this being the route of making a Hegelian case for Love. A proper relationship of Love is one where we see someone as actually binding themselves and committing themselves to the relationship in however it manifests in the many ways one can. None of us look at our lover through a purely causal account. But this does not mean we are blinded by love in any way either, which is an apt way that a naturalist might look at the Kantian or Hegelian account of normativity here, blinded by reasons. But a proper Love does not treat each other as babies either, we do not let someone treat us as mere means” nor should we treat another in such a way. We ought to be able to trust that we can talk to our lover and show that, possibly in Brandom’s pragmatist sense, that it seems to us that they are not living up to the norms they are supposedly explicitly committed to in the Badiouean I love you” declaration of language we discussed above. We want to be able to say that they have been acting weird because of jealousy, etc. Or we wish that the reverse will happen, that our lover, unprompted, will feel they can trust us with confessing their failures. So proper love is already this Kantian-Hegelian-Bradomean relationship, at least, the normative and intelligible aspect, in that it is a constant dialectic between two subjects articulating the Truth of their relationship and the way they take things to be. The other aspect of love that is sort outside the realm of philosophy is the sensuous phenomenological experience of love itself, the particular histories that two lovers accrue together over time, just as when we look at paintings or watch film the sensuous mixes in with the beautiful, just as the contingent is mixed in with necessity.

This is also a good segue into the last chapter!

Chapter 16

The first step toward a symmetrical, genuinely reciprocal interpersonal recognitive relation is taken by the individual who is judged, who confesses his particularity and the contingency of its attitudes. [PG 666] ( Brandom p. 593)

As I mentioned above with Love, confession to failure is a vital part in instituting the proper recognitive relation one ought to take up as subjects. The reason that confession is the first step to building this recognitive relation built on trust is that the confessor is admitting that the way things they took to be are not the way things are, the way things were to-consciousness originally are now seen as merely for-consciousness retrospectively. We in fact were not acknowledging some commitment we held. This is a huge step, a transformation of self-consciousness of the same kind that the Master and the Slave had after the struggle, but this is the first step to proper symmetrical and mutual recognition between two subjects, the self-conscious awareness of the conditions of intelligibility at all. In confessing, I am acknowledging the subject-object relationship central to Hegel’s theory of action by actually overcoming being alienated from the actual results of my actions themselves. I am identifying the fact that the way things ended up are not as I took myself to intend. This confession, I am sorry for X”, plays the same sort of role in language of making a public act as I love you” or The I that utters itself is heard or perceived, it is an infection in which it is immediately passed into unity with those for whom it is a real existence, and so is a universal self-consciousness” in that we are acknowledging the way that as self-conscious subjects, language is the realm where objectivity is played out. The utterance of I am sorry is expressing that inner-outer relation.

Making such a confession is identifying with that structural disparity that knowing and acting consciousness involves. For it is sacrificing the claim to entitlement for or justification of the judgment or action by appeal to the content of the conceptual norm being applied. (Brandom p. 593)

This sacrifice is central to binding oneself, after all, the entire story Hegel presents starting with the Master-Slave dialectic is that it was kickstarted by sacrifice, you were willing to sacrifice your flesh for something beyond itself. So sacrifice on Hegel does not need to be understood in a literal genealogical account, like this struggle was an empirical event that happened. Sacrifice manifests itself many different forms, Hegel finds it all throughout Christianity as well. In this case, we are sacrificing our right of intention as the way things are. In a Zizekean sense (something like this), we are identifying ourselves in the symbolic structure itself and realizing that our own meaning objectively depends on this large symbolic order. Both are an explicit acknowledgement that there is some necessary dependency for objectivity that we are committed to in our discursive practices, be it Geist or the big Other, both Brandom and Zizek want to show us that these intersubjective relations and language are the ways that we express our own inner, we must in some sense unite the inner and outer.

Perceiving this identity and giving utterance to it, he confesses this to the other, and equally expects that the other, having in fact put himself on the same level, will also respond in words in which he will give utterance to this identity with him, and expects that this mutual recognition will now exist in fact. [PG 666]

The other is the outer, that subject that we have a collision with in our normative statuses from the original struggle. Confession is the way in which one wants to not let the other remain an other, something alien. But it is only the first step.

Achieving the kind of self-consciousness that overcomes the alienation distinctive of modernity and moves us decisively into the postmodern phase in the development of Spirit requires first realizing that in taking or treating ourselves and each other as selves, as able to make claims expressing beliefs and pursue plans expressing intentions, we are implicitly adopting edelmütig recognitive attitudes. Then we have to adopt such attitudes explicitly, acknowledging those commitments as governing norms in practice. That requires more than confession, even reciprocal confession. In Hegel’s allegory, what it requires is forgiveness. (Brandom p. 597)

The next step is forgiveness, expressed in the powerful speech-act of I forgive you”. Brandom quotes this next paragraph multiple times, describing it as the penultimate paragraph of the Spirit chapter.

The forgiveness which it extends to the other is the renunciation of itself, of its unreal essential being which it put on a level with that other which was a real action, and acknowledges that what thought characterized as bad, viz. action, is good; or rather it abandons this distinction of the specific thought and its subjectively determined judgement, just as the other abandons its subjective characterization of action. The word of reconciliation is the objectively existent Spirit, which beholds the pure knowledge of itself qua universal essence, in its opposite, in the pure knowledge of itself qua absolutely self-contained and exclusive individuality—a reciprocal recognition which is absolute Spirit. [PG 670]

The important point here is the way forgiveness is also an abandonment on the part of the judger. Using our example of two lovers, the confessor we already discussed how they give up their normative stance, the one of alienation. But the one who forgives is also giving up their own particular normative stance. To see why Brandom is using the Hegelian example of the judger. The judger at first judges someone for sort of failing to live up to some norm or they try to say they did not do such and such for reasons but merely out of selfishness”. The confessor might on their own abandon particularity, but this does not mean the one who judged the confessor in the first place has taken up the proper recognitive stance either.

The judger, to actual forgive, must acknowledge that there is a complex interplay between the way we subjectively intend things and the way they objectively play out, that our individuality is made up of universality and particularity, a reciprocal dependence on normative statuses and normative attitudes. To deny forgiveness is to deny this acknowledgement, is to deny the proper awareness of the structure of normativity. However, it is to do this by denying it to the other, while not denying it to yourself. You still want to hold onto the acknowledgement that the way you take things to be are the way things are, while denying that the confessor’s stance that they were in error and are rather just changing natural states”. It is denying the realm of normative statuses at all

Forgiveness cannot just be done via words. There is something ridiculous if say, in a monogamous, one person keeps cheating on the other, then they say I am sorry and I forgive you, and repeat. To say that the mere speech acts themselves institute the recognitive relationship or make the normative statuses they are committed to actual would be magic” Brandom says. Once again, Brandom finds the solution in forgiveness. Only by actually doing the things, such as not cheating anymore, or going on dating apps, etc, whatever the two monogamous lovers commit to as sufficient for forgiveness. Or the person who says they want to make time to hangout and be with their friends who keeps bailing can only make their confession actual in the sense that they sacrifice their time or some of their other commitments. They thus will have to sacrifice some of their own selfish attitudes or they will realize that these are things that one does not want to commit themselves to, even maybe the relationship as a whole. Even this ending of a relationship or changing from one form to another, from lover to friend, should be base on Love still in that one should still trust that they can be forgiven, that they learned they do not want to be with someone. After all, would we not want the same option to take, and still be forgiven?

For a later judge concretely to forgive the earlier judge is to incorporate the decision that was the subject of confession into a retrospective rational reconstruction of the tradition of applying the concept in question, as having precedential significance. Doing that is recharacterizing and re-presenting the content of the concept (what it really is, what it is in itself) as gradually emerging into the daylight of explicitness through a sequence of applications of it to novel cases, each of which reveals some hitherto hidden feature of it, and exhibiting the forgiven judge’s decision as having played that role. From the point of view of such a reconstructive recollection, though the decision might have been caused by contingent subjective attitudes and justificatorily irrelevant circumstances, what was so caused was an application that was both correct and expressively progressive. (Brandom p. 602)

I take it that this is what Brandom means here. Through these experiences of error, through these collisions of our normative attitudes and our normative statuses, and through the way we intend things to be and the way things are, we learn more about our character and the way things actually are. Maybe through an argument (not necessarily something negative, a discussion) between two lovers, one may in fact realize they do not want to have this kind of intense of a relationship. Something we judged as true earlier (our conception of my feelings for my lover as something really intimate, the conception that sticks cannot be bent) no longer seems to be the case (my feelings were not that intimate, the stick can appear bent when half-submerged in water). In each case, there is some neutral a that arises when we have some conflict between the -a and the +a, but there is still something that persists. In the case of the two lovers, it is their relationship. In the case of the bent stick, it is the stick.

Forgiving presupposes something to forgive, something confessed: the disparity of sense and reference, conception and concept. Forgiving is, in Hegel’s image, the healing of a wound. So there must be a wound first, which is only afterward, through successful recollective rational reconstruction, made as if it had never occurred. (Brandom p. 607)

There must be something that is the collision of the two senses we take things to be, but the things to be is the thing we are referring to, the stick or the relationship. Forgiving is this healing of the wound. Imagine an argument between the two lovers where there is neither confession or forgiveness, it is like the two are in a suspended state of -a and +a, there is a wound. Only be reconciliation can the wound in Spirit be healed, can we return back to just the neutral a. In a way, this is a literal wound too. Having unreconciled arguments between two lovers is emotionally straining and it makes one wonder if the other is really trusting of the other, that they are in love with them in that rich sense. After all, this is supposed to be a way for two people to have a relationship built on mutual recognition, and to remain in a suspend state is to mistake the contradiction of senses to be contradictions in referent. Or, it is mistake in the way that we think we cannot reconcile the way things both seem to us. However, every problem can be reconciled if one is to actually engage in what it means to be in a mutually recognitive relationship. One lover may hold on to the fact they are not being jealous or they are not being lazy in terms of dedicating time to the relationship. To do this is to revert back to the alienated relationship to others, to deny the truth in that what it means for actions to be true is partly tied to the way they seem to others, like the #metoo example. It is to deny that for any relationship we must bind ourselves, we must restrict ourselves, we must sacrifice something of ourselves to be free at all.

I take it that this point is the punchline of the Phenomenology, the final lesson he has organized the whole book to teach us: semantic self-consciousness, awareness of the transcendental conditions of the intelligibility of determinately contentful attitudes, of thinking, believing, meaning, or intending anything, consists in explicitly acknowledging an always-already implicit commitment to adopt generous recognitive attitudes of reciprocal confession and recollective forgiveness. For that recognitive structure is the background for cognition and action, the context in which alone they can be made sense of. The two-phase account of experience in terms of error and recollection explains what it is we must do in order thereby to make objective conceptual norms available to bind ourselves by in judgment and action, so as to make the way the world is in itself available as something for our consciousness. Responding to the acknowledgment of error by undertaking the labor of forgiveness of those errors, both others’ and our own, is making conceptual norms have been efficacious with respect to attitudes, which show up in such recollections as both sensitive to and expressive of them. (Brandom p. 615)

This is something I have said throughout that Brandom takes Hegel to be a transcendental philosopher in this sense, that mutual recognition, forgiveness, confession, and trust are the practices that make norms actual and are the conditions of possibility of intelligibility of actions and judgement, action and judgment being the results of practical and theoretical reason.

Whomsoever I trust, his certainty of himself is for me the certainty of myself; I recognize in him my own being-for-self, know that he acknowledges it and that it is for him purpose and essence. [PG 549]

With this, we already have before us the Notion of Spirit. What still lies ahead for consciousness is the experience of what Spirit is—this absolute substance which is the unity of the different independent self-consciousnesses which, in their opposition, enjoy perfect freedom and independence: I” that is We” and We” that is I.” [PG 177]

And so here we get Hegel expressing, hopefully in words people can now make sense of through Hegel’s technical jargon, his account of freedom. The people we trust are people that we find our own being-for-self in, in that we realize the other is the condition of the possibility of being-for-self, not recognizing this is alienation.

To which we get the famous phrase of Hegel, I that is We and We that is I”, which Brandom takes to be articulating the reciprocal dependence that normative statuses (We) have with normative attitudes (I).

The mistake characteristic of modernity was the practical conviction that justice could be done to the essential contribution of the actual activities and subjective attitudes of individuals to the institution of normative statuses—their authority over what they are responsible for—only if those individuals are conceived of as wholly independent: as fully and solely authoritative, as constitutively authoritative. Within the confines enforced by the atomistic metaconceptual categories of Verstand, the sense in which what I believe and do is up to me could be acknowledged only by identifying practically just with whatever is entirely up to me. For independence (authority) is so understood as to be incompatible with any and every sort of dependence (corresponding responsibility). (Brandom p. 622)

And here, I think this is the reason Hegel is the great philosopher of Modernity in that, anyone who is going to study philosophy and our social reality will come back to Hegel. It is why Marxists come back to Hegel, why Lacanians and psychoanalysis comes back to Hegel (Zizek both of these), and why people saw in Hegel such a powerful figure in terms of critical theory, ideology, and understanding cultural objects. It is no wonder that a sort of empiricist, naturalist, and liberal academic philosophy world does not study Hegel much I imagine, or take him seriously.

For it is my adoption of an attitude, my endorsement of a purpose (Vorsatz) that opens the process that proceeds and develops therefrom to normative assessment in the first place. I must play the counter in the game for a move to have been made. But then, in another sense—visible from the point of view of Vernunft as a complementary sense—my fellow community members, those whom I recognize in the sense of trusting them to forgive my performance, are responsible for finding a way to make it have been a successful application of the concept expressed by the counter I played. (Brandom p. 623)

Another interesting counterpart I think to this model of confession and forgiveness is that the flip side of forgiveness is praise, which is something I think that is lacking. Hegel made intelligible what bad and good moves are, but I feel like many times people only focus on the bad, when things go wrong. There is a reason for this in that obviously we are more aware of error, it is when things go wrong. But we could all do better at saying when things go right too. Even more so, Hegel and Brandom here think we ought to since we are responsible in part for determining when actions hit their mark or not. How is a child supposed to learn without positive feedback? Or a student supposed to learn if they are only sort of told when their paper is bad in parts, while everything else is this neutral grey area to which the student will most likely assume that it is just ok at best.

But invoking the practical recollective work that is the recovery of an intention as a concept-application that unifies the purposive and consequential aspects of action points to the way in which forgiveness on the practical side can be not only retrospective, in reconstruing what is taken to be the objective content of the concept toward which a practical attitude is adopted in endorsing a purpose, but also retroactive. ( Brandom p. 624)

I believe this is why Zizek goes into such, uh, high and mighty language at times when discussing Hegel. It is because there is a retroactive component to conceptual content. That is, the content of something can actually change in time. After all, the content as Brandom argues has an asymmetrical priority in the subject. So this is where Zizek in Less than Nothing says things that Hegel abandons the principle of sufficient reason in that some deed, action, or event is never fully determined. And he further says in The Sublime Object of Ideology, noting Benjamin’s Theses, that there is this sort of view that opens up where we can imagine what things are like when everything is completely determined, there is no more history to be had, the last judgement, etc.

As new consequences occur, the plan is altered, and with it the status of the earlier event as aiding in the successful execution of the plan. That status can be altered by other doings, which, in the context of the earlier one, open up some new practical possibilities and close others off. The significance of one event is never fully and finally settled. It is always open to influence by later events. (Brandom p. 625)

To which Brandom seems to be on board with this, however Brandom is not the type of writing style for flair like Zizek. There is something quite radical in this understanding of events, especially how new possibilities can be opened up that previously were not thought possible.

In a community with the recognitive structure of trust and forgiveness, there is a real sense in which everything is done by everyone. For everyone takes responsibility for what each one does, and each takes responsibility for what everyone does. (Brandom p. 625)

This is why I take Hegel to express something quite radical. We are not even doing political theory here, but the political implications are quite massive. We are in some sense, responsible for all the failures. We live in a tightly knitted world, thanks to the explosive productive power of capitalism to sustain such large quantities of people. But part of this dramatic change in life came with the a forgetting of what it means to live in a community, to which we do. To say that we don’t is quite preposterous under capitalism. Dr. King expressed this in his last book how by the time we step out the door in the morning we owe half the world. We live in an interconnected community that was created through imperialism and trade that lives on in a complex network of global supply chains. To deny this relation to people on the other side of the planet let alone the people in our immediate physical proximity is peak alienation, to which we can remember Marx’s slogan Workers of the world, unite!”, a call to move beyond our alienation, to realize the radical dependency we have on each other.

The sharing of responsibility that is the execution of the expansion strategy is what makes possible heroism (what no man is to his valet) without tragedy. (Brandom p. 628)

Hegel does not think that this new sharing of responsibility is tragic, he thinks the postmodern sittlichkeit, the non-alienated community that acknowledges the right of intention, is where people can be heroic (rise above mere normative attitudes and self-serving utilitarian acts), however, without the tragic element. The tragic element being that our right of intention is overlooked, that we are sort of responsible for too many things, things that were in no way part of our plan. That is, there would be no modern day Oedipus Rex in that he would not be guilty of parricide.

The fact that he tries out different recollective strategies is evidence of just how wrong it is to see Hegel as trying to offer a priori derivations of proprieties governing the application of ground-level empirical concepts from the concepts of his logic. (Brandom p. 630)

Here is one of my main beefs with Brandom, to which we see I think his residual commitment to analytic philosophy meta-philosophical ways of doing philosophy as a practice. This is the same error I think Wood takes and also some Kantians take by not trying to see the way in which the speculative philosophy radically penetrates the entirety of their thought, it is what makes them systematic philosophers. I think Brandom is not making an argument here, but possibly putting down a promissory note for an argument, after all, this was only about the PhG. Without an advanced argument or story laid out here, I think this goes against even scholarly consensus and Hegel’s own words about the PhG, that it was rushed and he regretted some of it. The true task of taking Hegel as a great philosopher would be to take him at his own word, and look to see how in light of the Science of Logic we can make sense of fitting in the earlier work of the PhG into the latter Hegeliean system. Merely pointing out that Hegel tries different recollective strategies is true, but not sufficient for Brandom denying what I think is important, is that Hegel is doing some sort of a priori philosophy.

Now this is a huge issue and if I heard rumors correctly Brandom is still into this question of Hegel scholarship and textual precision and consistency. The possible concerns I take it is that, does the Science of Logic serve as a necessary and exhaustive collection of the a priori logical and ontological concepts to be used in the possibility of anything being intelligible at all? This was a question with Kant’s categories for example, why 12? Could there be more, less? With Hegel, we need to show many things I think. That the starting point of the logic is justified, that the method was justified, that he is more or less correct on all the necessary inferences, and to understand his claim of doing presupposition-less philosophy. These are all things that no doubt I think Brandom knows better than I, but as Brandom notes and I discussed above, was well out of the scope of this massive tome already. These are questions the Pippin, Houlgate, Ng, Redding, etc etc are all concerned with. If Brandom is able to give a compelling account of triangulating his A Spirit of Trust to the collective body of Hegel scholarship and Hegel’s own conception of his system, I think we should then look at A Spirit of Trust as an even more massive achievement than it already is.

In a way, this leaves me with a foul taste to end A Spirit of Trust. I rather am inclined to take Kant, Hegel, and some of their biggest textual interpreters that the meta-concepts are actually very important, more important than Brandom seems to take. After all, is there not a sort of similarity here in the problem that Brandom attacks the alienated shapes of Spirit with? That is, there is something transcendentally dependent on judging things to be one way or another, the alienated consciousness themselves implicitly depend on the transcendental conditions of discursive practice. Is there not one level higher, a meta-philosophy as Allison calls Kant’s transcendental idealism? Not everything is just concepts or case law or recollective stories. Things such as being, appearance, essence, judgement, life, are a priori concepts in the Kantian transcendental (or as Heidegger just says, ontological) way. Is there not a similar structure of being, essence, and the concept logic that is mirrored in the Philosophy of Right with abstract right, morality, and ethical life? Even within ethical life the structure mirrors the concept logic. Is this accidental, Hegel just doing systematic philosophy is just him having a fetish for the architectonic?

I am inclined to think otherwise still. I think if one cannot do what Kant attempted to in the Critique of Pure Reason or Hegel in the Science of Logic, which were really trying to find a determinate ground to justify philosophy itself non-dogmatically and by not appealing to anything such as experience (which my buddy Jake McNulty’s new book gives a great treatment to this philosophical problem Kant and Hegel were radically concerned with after Hume), it opens up philosophy to a shaky ground. Then with a shaky ground, the system comes crashing down, even everything that Brandom is attempting to do. Then the irrationalists who say something like belief, faith, aesthetics can rightly counter that this is the ground of philosophy, philosophy is no longer the most conceptually prior but instead it is dependent on things Kant and Hegel found to be completely unplausible ways of doing philosophy. I could be overstating this, but I think that these are the most fascinating questions and where philosophy truly made its mark with people like Aristotle, Kant, and Hegel, the ontological argument being a famous one shared by many, also it being something Hegel was into, but that goes into understanding the Houlgate vs Pippin stuff again.

I am also not sure if this has something to do with pragmatism or his analytic ties (them being the most dogmatic folks Hegel and Kant had and would have problem with I think, well I know Kant explicitly thought they were dogmatic in his time and the analytics of today are similar in method and meta-philosophy it seems to me at times. This is not to say it is unsalvageable, I like Brandom and he does a great job connecting the relevance of analytic philosophers I have not dove into as much as I should), but either way, this to me is the most disappointing aspect of the book in that Brandom thinks this to be a non-problem for his work, to which I think it is the most important problem for philosophy itself but especially Hegel and Kant, the two speculative philosophers that he ties himself to. I enjoyed the book quite a bit and learned a lot, I would hope to salvage as much of Brandom as I can by saying he is wrong about the foundation of his system while still being able to use Brandom.

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