What does "mind-independent" mean in Hegel?

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In Burbidge's "The Logic of Hegel's Logic" p. 25 he says, describing Hegel's position vis a vis Schelling:

"Since the world is genuinely independent of our thinking of it, then we must do three things..."

I don't think full quote is needed for my question. I realized (for the hundredth time) that I have a poor grasp of the overall sense of Hegel's unique style of idealism.

In Kant, of course, we have the remnants of a "mind-independent world," in the noumena, but no knowledge about it. My understanding was that Fichte, Schelling , and Hegel were dissatisfied with this dualism. And in Hegel's case he tossed out anything "more real" behind the phenomena. Reason generates a rational ordering of phenomena "all the way down," so to speak. Or something like that.

So what in this general scheme would count as "mind-independent"? My only guess would be that it is what consciousness does not yet know but that will appear of necessity as the concepts evolve. This would retain the self-generative character of his logic and experiences that appear "independently" out of necessity in due course.

In other words, the actual is being generated by Reason, but according to rational necessities that do not "depend" on what is understood at any given, partial stage of consciousness.

Can anyone help clarify? Note, I leave out Burbidge's context because he just uses the phrase "independent of our thinking" in passing, and I trust he is not making some controversial interpretation of Hegel.

Nelson Alexander

Posted 2020-10-28T18:35:41.107

Reputation: 11 748

1I guess the key here is distinguishing between individual mind and Absolute Geist. Of course there is Reality independent of our thinking of it, since our thinking is shrouded by some layers of particularisms, so to speak. More of an idea rather than an answer proper, though. – Philip Klöcking – 2020-10-28T18:54:05.250

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Interpretatioins of Hegel are controversial. The "tossing aside" is one, e.g. defended by Rockmore, but there is also metaphysical realism interpretation, where the "noumena" are accessible to finite reason because "the rational is the real", e.g. defended by Stovall in his critique of Rockmore:"This will not entail a renunciation of knowledge of the world as it is in-itself, but rather an understanding of consciousness's close relation to the world as it is in itself". But Rockmore does have empirically realist "mind-independence" of the Other.

– Conifold – 2020-10-29T00:57:50.807

1Many philosophical systems treat the subject matter, be it epistemology, ontology, metaphysics or ethics as neat little boxes which all stand as discrete fully formed logically complete forms of one theory or other, that too few see philosophical learning and moving from the work of piecing together, into binding together, of assimilating and absorbing raw data, into comprehending the composition of the knowledge which must be 'extracted' from its foundational reference in solidly actual essential and concrete axiomatic primal and therefore 'real' apperception, into wisdom. Hegel saw the road. – None – 2020-10-29T03:20:00.083

1@Conifold I really think Rockmore is on the wrong path there, considering the historical setting and various letters and explanations of Hegel which strongly suggest that one main motivation was the sublation of the divide of phenomenal and noumenal. Maybe legit as a modern re-reading of Hegel as some kind of Neo-Hegelianism, but certainly not representing what Hegel himself thought IMHO. – Philip Klöcking – 2020-10-29T10:35:39.800

Answers

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TL;DR

It hinges at what we understand under "mind" and "independent". Since spirit can only become as instantiated in individual objects apprehended by minds - coming back into itself in a spiral, dialectical movement as illustrated in the figure below - a reality completely independent from subjects seems nonsensical. On the other hand, there is some truth to it that the motion of spirit in-and-for-itself, its very being, is (and has to be) independent of what we think or like to think about it; it just 'is', as Reality should be. In the end, we (our whole beings) are tiny parts of this movement and it would be weird to state that it was dependent on us. Thus, it is in a meaningful sense "mind-independent" if we take Hegel by the letter.

Long answer

I think that it is worth having a look into one of my favourites when it comes to German Idealism: The Twenty-Five Years of Philosophy by Eckart Förster (and Brady Bowman), here the beginning of chapter 14, pp. 351-52.

Let me first introduce a figure which Förster makes reference to (The numbers refer to the chapters in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit): The dialectical movement of Spirit coming to itself

Now to the text itself:

The last circle is not yet complete; only the dialectic of natural consciousness has come to an end. One step beyond section V.B still remains to be taken before the final circle is completed. Natural consciousness, at the conclusion of its dialectic, has arrived at ‘our’ standpoint, that of the philosophical observer. It now knows, as we do, that the opposition of subject and object with which it started has been sublated, and that both subject and object are moments of a spirit higher than either, and that this spirit therefore cannot be identical to just one or the other. This standpoint of spirit, a standpoint beyond subject and object, the standpoint of “absolute” knowledge is the appropriate starting point for logic, but that does not mean that it is identical with “our” standpoint. (bolded mine)

If we take "mind" to be equated to "natural consciousness", which is not too much of a stretch, then we already can establish at that point that any "mind" will, as an individual subject, be different from (absolute) spirit/geist. But let us explore this road a bit further. The following sentence reads as follows:

The logic, as the pure self-movement of the concept, must be able to unfold as though “we” had no part in it.

Now we are closer to what "independent" could possibly mean here. I think it is true that to state that individual minds are completely disconnected from "the pure self-movement of the concept" seems a bit off. At the very least, our minds are the medium of this movement. But let us have a look, with Förster, at what Hegel himself has to say about that:

As Hegel makes clear, this last step from our knowledge to the standpoint of absolute knowing remains to be taken: “Of the moments noted as constituting the concept of knowledge, one seems still to belong only to us and not yet to self-conscious spirit itself, as it must if this is to be its perfectly self-transparent return to self, unadulterated by anything alien . . . This moment, that spirit has returned into itself and is for itself within the object as such, in being, which is opposed to being-for-itself, this moment seems to be only for us who know that I = I, or pure being- for-itself, is self-identity, or being. . . . However, if the present shape of spirit [is to be] its [sc. spirit’s] perfect self-knowledge, this moment must not remain merely our reflection. [GW 9:438-9]”

This is a fragment which according to Förster was supposed to be (or should have been) the concluding chapter of his Phenomenology of Spirit. Let us try to unpack the relevant passages of this quote.

Hegel clearly distinguishes between what "belong[s] only [sic!] to us" and "self-conscious spirit itself". The latter is to be "unadulterated by anything alien". More specifically, if spirit truly is to "return into itself [...], in[to its own] being", it has to be(come) beyond "our reflection".

Thus, I would argue that while there certainly are moments of Reality which we can take grasp of via perception, reflection, and reason, the point stands that Reality certainly is greater than - and insofar independent of - anything individual minds can possibly get hold of and hence there is Reality independent of (individual) minds. Additionally, we cannot influence the becoming of absolute spirit since it is a whole coming to itself, so moments like us will not do much to change the necessity of its movement.

In other words, we may become spectators of Reality unfolding itself (via dialectical processes, i.e. Logic or, being the same in Hegel, science) and agents of Reality understanding itself insofar we contribute infinitely small portions to that as moments of Reality. On the other hand, seeing and reflecting the small part of the Grand Scheme (of which we and our thinking are part ourselves) is everything our mind can possibly be to absolute spirit so that it remains "mind-independent" in a meaningful sense. After all, it is the whole of Reality understanding everything of itself. Something of which we can obviously only get a glimpse.

I would be careful not to identify Spirit with Reason, though, since Reason clearly is a moment of natural consciousness. Also, Hegel did not "toss anything beyond phenomena out", he rather said that the sublation of subjective (phenomenal) and objective (noumenal) moments can become a self-conscious one in several (i.e. four) dialectical cycles, three of which take place in our minds. Being or Reality understanding itself (absolute spirit) is not phenomenal, even if a phenomenological moment is part of it.

Philip Klöcking

Posted 2020-10-28T18:35:41.107

Reputation: 9 269

1"a reality completely independent from subjects seems nonsensical." Only if one's own mind is unself- consciously locked into some form of a duality principle and accepts it (duality) as a 'given'. Otherwise it's perfectly reasonable, understandable and the veritably only way to account for human knowledge! – None – 2020-10-29T12:08:01.287

1@CharlesMSaunders: You may have noticed that the statement is made in the context of Hegel's system, where even a self-conscious sublation does not change the fact that subject and object as moments are not independent from one another, nor from the highest level of the dialectical movement since there is a form of dependence from absolute spirit (substance) top-down, even if it turns out to be self-dependence when the last dialectical circle closes itself. – Philip Klöcking – 2020-10-29T12:17:43.527

1I think you just re-affirmed my point, thanks! – None – 2020-10-29T12:21:54.003

1@CharlesMSaunders: And I think you haven't understood that Hegel thought it absolutely necessary for the moments of Being to apprehend themselves as such, i.e. that there have to be interdependent moments of Being since Being is becoming and not a static thing. Thus, subjects are no mere chimaera that have to be disillusioned, but necessary (self-)instantiations that actually do stand in relations of dependence. Sublation is active, it changes. It is a virtue of Hegel not to devalue any of the moments of the becoming as "mere illusion" and instead see all of them as necessary steps. – Philip Klöcking – 2020-10-29T12:31:48.200

@Klocking. Thanks for your time and assistance. This is helpful and I will check out the Forster book. As always with Hegel, every answer breeds new questions.... BYW: In last paragraph did you mean "careful NOT to identify..."? – Nelson Alexander – 2020-10-29T15:14:26.333

1@NelsonAlexander Yep, good catch. I think as soon as one understood that even the absolute only has being insofar it goes through dialectical movement in Hegel, things become much clearer. There is no such thing as purely ideal substance there. To be is to become and to become is to become self-conscious sublation of opposites (object-subject, particular-universal, etc. – Philip Klöcking – 2020-10-29T15:45:39.340

+1 Great answer! – transitionsynthesis – 2020-10-29T19:15:00.713