Hegel On Particular vs. Universal

From Hegel’s Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences

Nature shows us a countless number of individual forms and phenomena. Into this variety we feel a need of introducing unity: we compare, consequently, and try to find the universal of each single case. Individuals are born and perish: the species abides and recurs in them all: and its existence is only visible to reflection. Under the same head fall such laws as those regulating the motion of the heavenly bodies. To-day we see the stars here, and tomorrow there; and our mind finds something incongruous in this chaos — something in which it can put no faith, because it believes in order and in a simple, constant, and universal law. Inspired by this belief, the mind has directed its reflection towards the phenomena, and learnt their laws. In other words, it has established the movement of the heavenly bodies to be in accordance with a universal law from which every change of position may be known and predicted. The case is the same with the influences which make themselves felt in the infinite complexity of human conduct. There, too, man has the belief in the sway of a general principle. From all these examples it may be gathered how reflection is always seeking for something fixed and permanent, definite in itself and governing the particulars. This universal which cannot be apprehended by the senses counts as the true and essential…
In thus characterising the universal, we become aware of its antithesis to something else. This something else is the merely immediate, outward and individual, as opposed to the mediate, inward, and universal. The universal does not exist externally to the outward eye as a universal. The kind as kind cannot be perceived: the laws of the celestial motions are not written on the sky. The universal is neither seen nor heard, its existence is only for the mind.

Simple Explanation Of Hegelian Dialectic Method

Hegel is considered as one of the hardest philosophers to read, and it is not rare case for people to say that this is not because what Hegel said is hard to understand or because his writing was bad, but that actually what Hegel wrote was nonsense.
It is easy really to point to some quotes from his works taken out of the context, and say… Look, the person who said this, was surely talking nonsense. After all, would any sensible person say such thing as “Pure Being and pure nothing, are therefore, the same” or that “They are (i.e. being and nothing) in this unity (i.e. becoming) but only as vanishing, sublated moments. They sink from their initially imagined self-subsistence to the status of moments, which are still distinct but at the same time are sublated”? Those two are quotes taken from the first part of Hegel’s Science of Logic.  How can one argue that two different things which every person knows are different, are in fact same? And what is that talk about “sublating”?

Here, I will give something that might not be named an example, but maybe better named an analogy of the dialectic method of Hegel.

The analogy would work with the notions of “Left” and “Right”.
Let’s analyze those notions as abstractions. When we think of Left as something immediate (as Hegel uses the term), it marks let’s say half of the space (or line which is in front of us, etc..), and Right as something immediate marks the other half of the space (or line, or whatever). But if we take now those half-spaces, or half-lines by themselves, or if we limit our thinking just to those abstractions (this is important), we can figure out that there is ideal symmetry between them.  There is nothing that distinguishes them internally. The half-space that we named Left can be Right, and the half-space that we named Right can be also Left.

It is in this abstract symmetry where different notions become equal. (or more general produce a contradiction of some kind)

But for sure Left and Right as notions are not equal, they have different meaning. So, we are brought to a contradiction, they are different, but also they are equal. This is the important moment in the dialectical movement. Two different abstract notions are taken, and it is shown how in their abstract symmetry they are equal. However pointing to this contradiction is not an end in itself. Hegel is not defending contradictions, the next step he takes in this dialectical movement is to resolve the contradiction.

The resolution is based on really simple principle – if the distinction between two universals is not in them taken alone, then their difference is something outside of them.

So, let’s return to the notions of Right and Left. We might say that what is determined as Left and what is determined as Right depends on the position of the observer. But if we try to specify the observer by a point, it won’t make much difference. Still there is the symmetry between Right and Left. We need vertical observer. But even if we imagine observer as short vertical line on the edge between Left and Right, still there is perfect symmetry. Even if we name one of the sides of the observer-line as Top, and the other as Bottom, still there is perfect symmetry between Right and Left. It is when additionally to Top/Bottom we also have observer with Front/Back where the symmetry is broken.

So, we come to conclusion that the Left/Right distinction starts to make sense only in the whole new notion of Vertical-Observer- With-Bottom-and-Top -and-Front-and-Back-Sides- Who-Is-Existing-In-Space. OK, this is one silly named universal, but we can understand what Hegel means by “sublated” now. Hegel says as explanation for this term:

To sublate has a twofold meaning in the language: on the one hand it means to preserve, to maintain, and equally it also means to cause to cease, to put an end to. Even ‘to preserve’ includes a negative elements, namely, that something is removed from its influences, in order to preserve it. Thus what is sublated is at the same time preserved; it has only lost its immediacy but is not on that account annihilated.

So, in this case Left and Right are sublated. “They sink from their initially imagined self-subsistence to the status of moments” of the new wealthier silly-named concept.

So, what Hegel tries to do through this method, is to show a structure of universals, in which the “lower” ones are sublated in the higher and richer ones, arguing that former have their truth and meaning only as moments in the later. One can easily see that Hegelian philosophy is holistic, and that it denies that abstract universals have truth in themselves isolated from the whole. He tries to show that each of those concepts taken as having determinate meaning in itself necessarily will produce contradictions.

Few Links

I enjoyed few recent posts on philosophy blogs, so why not link to them…
The Pursuit (or Not) of Happiness – Eric talks about how it doesn’t seem that we are very good at pursuing happiness, and that it doesn’t seem that we are very interested in it either.
At Trinities,  Dale is starting a series of post of how Christian theologians defended (or tried to defend) the Trinity doctrine from the arguments of Muslim theologians that it is just a kind of polytheism.
At Siris, Brandon has interesting post about how in parallel to the atheism/theism debate, there is more interesting atheism vs. atheism fight.

And two not-blog links that I guess everybody already knows about:
Scott Soames’s paper on the history of analytic philosophy in America from its pre-analytic origins to the present. It is around 50 pages and should be interesting read.
And Commentary on Keirkegaard page which contains English translations of some Kierkegaard’s texts, and commentaries on lot of them.

Defending Metaphysics, Part 3

In this post I want to write about the issue if universals come from the mind, more specifically in relation to Kant’s critical philosophy. Hopefully in a next post I will cover some other possible “universals come from the mind” accounts.

In previous posts I wrote how universals are connected to particulars. In the first post I wrote that while the universals can be (and are) learned from particulars, they transcend the particularity, and are not in any way connected to that particular. And in the second post I added that this is possible only because universals are abstractions, and not some kind of synthesis from multiple particulars (i.e. as some kind of information “gathered” from multiple particulars and then put together through some kind of “similarity”. That would never bring the required universality.)  I also argued that because the universals are abstractions we can think about the relations between abstractions as unconnected to any particular concrete, but the relation we figure-out will cover the relations between any particular(s) which might fall under those abstractions.

Which brings us to the issue I want to write about in this post, and that is the issue if those universals come from the mind?
That seems like an obvious possibility if we accept the argument that universals transcend particulars, and that we can think about those universals isolated from any particulars. One path to take here is to take something like Kantian approach, where the form of the experience is what the mind provides. The “empirical” part on other hand provides content, in sense that it actualizes specific possibilities already there in the mind-form. So that mind-form is which defines the possibility of all those concepts/universals we can have. Whatever concepts we might gain, it will be actualization in that mind-form.
The notions which are of interest to metaphysics, namely those universals which are not contingent but will be present in any experience (so not the universals like for example RABBIT, CHAIR, FIRE and so on), are then really not something outside in the world, but the forms of our mind. And if we accept that we can give some a priori judgment about them, they will be merely clarifying the relations between the parts of the form which our mind provides to the experience.
But one problem with the Kantian approach is that it implies that everything we experience is given through this form. Things being in time, them being in space, causally interacting, even the categories of “being a thing”, “having a property”, “being part of” and so on will belong to this form. So, in this picture in best case, what is left to us is the practical reason, and possibility to learn contingent facts about the world, connected to contingent universals, as for example, that rabbits jump and are easily scared, or that there are 8 planets in our solar system.
But I think that the critique of the transcendental idealists and Hegel of Kant’s well.. theory, was valid.
Not just that the Kant’s critical philosophy fails to be critical enough about the undertaking it does (as Hegel said… Kant’s requirement to become acquainted with the instrument, in this case the Mind, before one starts to use it, is like a resolution not to venture into water until one has learned to swim), but also that it is inconsistent in assuming the causal relation between the noumena (things in themselves, those which can’t be known) and our Mind, when the category of things, and causality as a universals are something which should not be applicable to them.
The consistent application of the principle that only thing of which we can think is phenomena will end up with negating the notion of noumena, and with that of the phenomena/noumena distinction, and with that of the separation of the Mind and world as Kant pictured it. But with that the explanatory power of Kant’s theory about where universals which are of interest to metaphysics come from, and why we can form a priori judgments about them is lost too.

Defending Metaphysics, Part 2

In the previous post I was talking about relation between concrete experiences and universals. In this post I will add few comments on it, and then put attention on the issue of apriority.

I said that while universals are learned from(are noticed in) concrete experiences, once they are learned they are not connected to any concrete experience. Once you learn what HIGHER means, you really don’t  need to remember the example on which you learned what it means. You will be able to judge something being higher then something else even you haven’t ever seen things of that hight. Even more salient example is that of the notions of MORE and LESS. Once we learn those, we can use those on so much different things, that it is clear that while they are learned from experience, they are not connected to any particular experience. So we can say that what universals mean can a)be found in concrete experiences, but b)we learn the universal not by connecting it to particular experience, but by noticing it in the experience as an universal.  In principle one doesn’t need lot of examples to learn the universal, universals can be learned just from one example. But lot of examples can be given, so that they make salient the universal, by changing lot of different features, so that just what is pointed to stays the same. In one example it is hard for student to figure out what about the example the teacher is pointing to. Or said differently, the universals don’t need to be seen as some kind of synthesis based on lot of data. They are, on contrary – abstractions. This can be seen everywhere, in every concrete experience, where we put concrete under universal. We say for example “that is rabbit”, or “that is circle”, or “that apple is red”, and so on; and we know that the relation between subject and predicate is that of abstracting. The subject is always more then just the predicate tells. (Both dog and cat are mammals, but being a mammal is just one part of what they are. It is abstraction from their whole concrete being).

However because universals are abstractions, and because the concrete is always something more then the universals, a concrete thing can fall under multiple universals. What can be determined as universal A, can also be determined as universal B. Nothing magical in that. Now, in some cases that two universals can be found in a concrete situation, is merely contingent thing. They might have been there, or might not have been there. But what is interesting for possibility of metaphysics is that there are cases where if a situation is determined as A, then it will necessarily fall under (can be determined as) the universal B. Which gives possibility for a priori judgments.
One common idea which appears in this situation is that those apriori judgments must be analytical, and they are analytical only if the concepts (universals) are somehow described by other concepts (in ordinary language as definitions, list of necessary and sufficient features, or otherwise). If we imagine concepts in this way, and we put equation sign between apriority and analyticity, then it is hard to see what value those a priori judgments might have. One has in them nothing more then what has been put in them by definitions.
But when the student learned what “one” and “two” meant (in the previous post), or when she learned what “color” meant, were they supplied with definitions, with list of necessary and sufficient features? Not really. And still they figured out what the words mean – they learned the concept. Can we define what “red”, “orange” and “blue” means? Can we tell when the red stops being red, and starts being purple? But once I have those concepts of BLUE, RED and PURPLE, I can also figure out that purple is bluish and redish in same time. I can comprehend that truth, even I don’t have definitions. And really, if I want to make someone else aware of that truth, I won’t provide definitions. I would just show blue, red and purple to someone. The relation is there waiting to be comprehended.
Or put in the terms of universals as abstractions, we can say that after learning some universal, I can become aware that whenever some situation is determinable as universal A, it will be necessarily determinable as universal B. So, for example after I learn the notions of ONE, TWO and THREE, I can comprehend that when a situation is determinable as THREE, can be seen as THREE, but it also can be seen as TWO and ONE, and ONE and TWO, or ONE and ONE and ONE. I don’t know this truth analytically, I understand it by becoming aware of the necessity that when a situation is determined as THREE, it can also be determined as TWO and ONE. I haven’t learn those notions through some kind of definitions. If it was so children would be able to say that ONE AND ONE are TWO, because for them TWO would be ONE AND ONE. But they aren’t. They need additional education to learn that, and comprehend it (Of course they might merely memorize it also, but that is another story where there is no apriority at all). How does one defined RED, GREEN, PURPLE and SIMILAR, before saying that PURPLE is more SIMILAR to RED then to GREEN.
Anyway, this is not to say that a priori judgments can’t be in lot of cases formalized and made analytical in that way. But they not need be made such for their necessity to be comprehended. And why should we accept the formalism as right in first place? How does one account for validity of modus ponens?

So the point here is that, a priori judgments are possible by comprehending that if a situation is determinable as falling under universal A, it will necessarily fall under universal B. This is possible as it was said in last post because universals are not connected to concrete and specific experiences in which they are learned, but that they transcend them.

Defending Metaphysics, Part 1

Eric of Splintered Mind, in his post Metaphysics, What? raised the issue of what metaphysics is, and its role in well… lives of certain people. Inspired by it, I will  write a series of posts, in which I will use small parts of the post to try to point to, what I take, are misconceptions about metaphysics. It won’t be exactly a reply to Eric’s post, but more of an different view.

The first can be connected to what Eric puts in this way (which he argues is “mystical view”):

“Metaphysics is the discovery, by a priori armchair reflection without depending upon anything empirical, of necessary truths of the universe… How do we learn about the outside universe (not just our minds), without looking at it?”

There are two things I want to say about this:

1. If the “universe” refers there to this particular (is there any other?) universe as a whole (as some sort of rigid designator) or to all the particular facts in it (Wittg. 1.1 ‘The world is the totality of facts’ idea), and “learning about the universe” refers to learning facts about it then… the easy reply is “We don’t”. But, that is surely what metaphysics is not about! Metaphysics is not about particularities and facts of the universe, it is about universals and their relations. Or maybe it is about particularities but just as much as they fall under universals. More on this later.

2.One can connect that question also to concepts used in metaphysics. Can we have concepts before looking at the world (having experience)? Proponent of metaphysical (or any a priori) thought doesn’t need to say that we have the “proper” notions to think metaphysics before we “look at the universe”. So, again the answer would be “We don’t”. Metaphysicist can freely accept that the concepts are learned from experience. What is required for a priori thought is that what is learned from concrete experience are universal notions. Or so to say,the requirement is that notion which is learned from particular experience, is not dependent on that particular experience. That notion is then separate and can be appropriate for a priori thought. While this might seem problematic, it is really simple… one can give several examples of ostensible teachings, where this happens:

a)The teacher teaches the numbers “one” and “two” to a student. She shows him a series of examples. She shows either one pencil, or two pencils. And she says “one” when she shows one pencil, and says “two” when she shows two pencils. The student figures out what is that about the examples that the teacher is pointing to. When he had figured it out, he is ready to join the linguistic community of users of the words “one” and “two”. But wait! If the concepts of “one” and “two” are based on examples with pencils, will he not use them just when he is shown pencils? Well.. would you be able to say how many sirens are in front of you if you see them? Of course you will be, even you have never seen sirens in your life before! Same with that student. Once he figured out what distinction the teacher was pointing using the examples, he can as well forget the examples. He might have been taught using different examples. Doesn’t matter. What example do you think when you think of numbers one and two? I’m not thinking of examples. I don’t imagine neither pencils, nor points, nor anything. (Why would someone imagine points anyway? Has anyone learned what one and two is based on examples with points?). So, while the concepts are learned from experience, they transcend examples, they transcend concrete.

b)If you think there is something magical about the notions of numbers, think about notion of “color”. Have you ever seen all the colors, all the particular shades? Do you not know what color is until you have seen them all? Do students first learn that green is color, and then again that blue is color, and then again when they see pink, do we need to tell them again that PINK is also color? Of course not! (Lot of exclamation marks, I know. I can’t help it.). Students ask “What is that color?” for the colors they never have learned. But how is that possible if the concept of color doesn’t transcend the particular colors?

I guess those two examples are enough to give a general idea, of how the particulars and universals are connected.
The main point is that while experience of the world is necessary for learning concepts, those concepts transcend particular contingent experiences.

To be continued…

Monkey Island Nostalgia

I was big classic adventures fan, particularly of old Lucas Arts games from late eighties and early nineties (Loom, Indiana Jones, Monkey Island, Zack McCracken…).
So, I got pretty excited by the Happy Monkey Island music day post at Joystiq. It features few musicians playing themes from Monkey Island 1 and 2 games. Here is one of them (check their post for two more)…

If you are by any chance proud owner of copy of a Monkey Island (or any other Lucas Arts old adventure game for that matter), let me remind you that you can play it again not just on modern PCs, but also on Linux, Mac OS X, PS2, PSP, PocketPC, PalmOS, Symbian OS, and more, by using ScummVM engine. Just download the engine for your computer/device, transfer the original files to some directory,  start the ScummVM, and point it to a folder where you have previously copied game files to. The game should be playable with perfect graphics and sound.
For those who don’t own a copy, it will be hard to find a place to buy those games at a reasonable price. LucasArts doesn’t seem to sell it any more, and the Adventure Packs which used to contain several of their adventures are available only as collectibles, and can be pretty expensive. You can check the abandonware archives, where you might find them and download the files to use with ScummVM. Do a search for “is monkey island abandonware?” on google, and you will instead of an answer, probably find a download link.
If you remember some other favorite oldie you used to play, and want to check it again, you might want to try the underdogs. They have tons of abandonware, so there is good chance they have it.

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Top 10 Kant’s Appearances in (Not So) Popular Culture

10. Kant is so negative cartoon.
9. Edward’s action movie sequence.
8. Peter’s cartoon
7. Eyes Like Noumena. NC/DC song. (Kant makes phenomenal appearance there)
6. Immanuel Kant (featuring “Copernican Revolution” Action) action figure.
5. Monty Python’s football match where he plays against Greeks, and the related boardgame where he plays against French.
4. Stiv Fleishman’s: “Cause of Death of Kant: Transcendental Causes (although it was his own idea)”
3. Monty Python’s Philosopher’s Song. (text here)
2. Kant Song
1. Brandon’s  action movie sequence.

Intentionality And Its Content

Intentionality is not just mark of the mental processes, it is a mark of all the things of which we think.
Namely, we can’t think about a thing, we can’t remember a thing, see it or imagine it, and so on, without that thing being in same moment thought of, remembered, seen, imagined, and so on.By “thing” here, I mean concrete thing, property, event or a universal (notion, concept). Same goes for both cases.
Take for example case of a thing that we remember. It is inevitably intentional content of the act of remembering. Or if it is a thing we see, inevitably it is intentional content of the act of seeing.

So, not just that all mental acts are intentional, but there are no things we can think about which would not in same time be content of intentional acts.
It seems to me, that If we want to properly understand things then, we need to approach them as a content of intentional acts, and not separately abstracted from the intentional acts. The only way to leave the content as something separated from intentional acts is not to remember/imagine/see it etc…, and not to think of it. But that is hardly acceptable in philosophy.

Connected to this one can criticize the Kantian ‘ding an sich’, a notion mentioned but not thought about – an empty nothing and not even that (one can after all think about ‘nothing’), and also criticize representational theory of mind. What are those representations of?  No way to tell except by connecting to (what is taken to be) other representations, we are again left with real world consisting of (or being) things-in-themselves – something which is empty nothing, and not even that. But that didn’t stop neither Kant nor representationalists to assume causal connection between those empty notions and the mind; underlying those representations themselves. Here is how somebody represented (pun intended) this situation :

The serpent bites its own tail. But it is only after a long period of mastication that he recognizes the serpent taste in what he is devouring. So the serpent stops. But after a certain while, finding nothing else to eat, he starts chewing again. Then he comes to the point of having his head in his mouth. That’s what he calls ‘a theory of knowledge. – Cahiers, Paul Valéry

Look, An Ostensive Teaching!

Few times I mentioned ostensive teaching. I guess am kind of a fan of “ostensive teaching analysis” of the meaning of the words. I will put in this post few considerations about the ostensive teaching.

The people throughout the world teach each other concepts through examples, and successfully so. As far as I remember my own learning, and as far as I observe how I teach my kids things like colors, numbers and other concepts, I do it mostly with pointing to examples. And while ostensive teaching is used to teach the learner, I think that imagining “how would I teach my child such-and-such word” can help myself also to get a clearer picture of what I mean by that word, or what that specific concept to which the word is referring is.

Ostensive teaching is teaching of concepts, and not merely words, because the student needs to figure out what is that the teacher is pointing to. So, in the ostensible teaching, it isn’t just the case that the student is given the meaning from one side, and the word on other, and all the student has to do is to make association, but it is a kind of a “guess the meaning” game, where the student tries to guess what the teacher is pointing to (or which is the same, what the teacher means). In this kind of teaching, the words have also a role of feedback which allows the student to check if he or she guessed right.
How hard is this guessing game depends on the salience of what the teacher is pointing to. Some things are more salient in the situation than other. For children most salient in most cases are objects themselves, and not their properties (like color, number, etc..).  For them, for example colors are not something they notice, but there is just the gestalt of how the object looks. Two objects in different colors will look differently to the child, and it might find the one beautiful and the other ugly because of that, but they won’t have “different colors” for the kid; as the kid yet can’t notice the colors. How do I know? Because I experience the world in same way, (and I guess all of us do), if I see a running rabbit, I notice it the rabbit as a gestalt, and not the color of its fur. I don’t somehow first notice all of the properties, compare them, and then synthesize them into concept of rabbit. I notice the rabbit, and later when I see another one, I can recognize it. Not because of its properties, but because of its gestalt look.

While the teaching of words is not done through ostensive teaching lot of the time, it is not because it is not based on something people notice in the world, but because they notice it first, and then ask about it, for example we might ask “What is this?”. The way of this learning is very similar to ostensive teaching, just that in the case of ostensive teaching the teacher provides the examples, and tries to point to something about them. It is often that this is required for the things that the student hasn’t noticed by himself or herself, so for less salient things. What can the teacher do except trying to make the property more salient? Probably use examples in which everything but that specific thing stays the same. For example present blue ball, and then the same kind of ball but green, if one teaches colors. Or first one, and then two balls of same kind if one teaches numbers.  If that doesn’t work, one can just as the wise Rafiki (the monkey from Lion King movie) say – ‘No, look harder’.

Phenomenal Fishiness

In a previous post I asked if mind is phenomenal or theoretical concept. My own opinion is  that while the roots of the usage of that word are connected to direct observation of specific kind of phenomena, the philosophy is usually mixing theoretical content into it, and in lot of cases using mind not as referring to specific phenomena, but connected to the possibility of “conscious phenomenal experience” in general. In such usage, mind isn’t something that we discern as specific phenomenon in the world (phenomenal), but tends to be tightly connected to the subject and subject’s first person experience. For example it is said, that we can’t know for sure that other people have minds.

But it is not just the word “mind” whose usage is changed in this way in philosophy – from using it to refer to specific phenomena, to a different theoretical usage. The meaning of the words like “consciousness” and “experience” seems to be tweaked in this way also, both not used to refer to phenomena, but to something which is genuinely first-person (and accessible only from first person), and which is some kind of background for possibility of phenomena, awareness and thinking of them.

And then there is that word “qualia”, and also “phenomena” used in the phrases like “phenomenal experience”, “phenomenal world” and so on.
 I experience a quale of phenomenal fishiness.

Finally We Know: God Exists To A Degree Of 75%!

Forget Wittgenstein’s aphorisms (first 100 from PI available here). Could he come up with this argument:

64: The creator must create what he knows.
65: What did the creator know?
66: The creator knew himself.
67: What did he know about himself?
68: That he is a creator.
69: Thus, the creator created what he knew: the creator created other creators.

Check here for more jewels. Must Read!
(UPDATE:I scratched “Must read”, as the document seems to be updated and got longish, and the second part I think is not as funny as first 70 lines or so).