The Charioteer

"The charioteer of the human soul drives a pair of steeds, and one of the horses is beautiful, good, and formed of such elements, whereas the makeup of the other one is quite the opposite." -Phaedrus

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Location: Duquesne University, United States

A Blog For All and None. Consider it my narrative history of ideas. A place primarily to share and obtain feedback to my thoughts through my graduate career in philosophy. For philosophy is simply "thoughts that have been thought out."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

"Criticizing Consciousness: The Question of the Finite Subject in Hegel and Ricoeur"

[This is the beginning of the paper I wrote this semester for Tom Rockmore's course, "Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit." There are tentative plans to submit the paper for the 2nd Annual North American Society for Philosophical Hermeneutics conference at Villanova University, Philly, Sept. 2007. View the entire article.]

§I. Introduction

Hegel was not, strictly speaking, a hermeneutic thinker;[1] Nevertheless, it has been proposed that a resemblance can be detected between some fundamental Hegelian themes and those of the hermeneutic tradition in philosophy. The most familiar of these is how Hegel departs from Kant’s and Fichte’s transcendental philosophy, and manages to ground the subject in a temporally and historically structured framework. Perhaps, then, Hegel is to Kant, within the context of nineteenth century idealism, what Heidegger will later be to Husserl’s transcendental turn, in twentieth century phenomenology. And it is precisely upon Heidegger’s Being and Time whereby hermeneutics takes a phenomenological and ontological turn, and also whereby some phenomenologists take a hermeneutic turn. Paul Ricoeur, who I will here place in dialogue with Hegel, is the most important hermeneutic phenomenologist to delineate the anthropological or ontological implications of hermeneutics by his quest to break down the primacy of the subject and render it radically finite.

Perhaps, then, there is this ontological similarity between Hegel and the hermeneutic approach, which necessarily gives to the subject its essential characteristic as finite. However, the concept of finitude is just as much an epistemological claim as it is an ontological one, and it is precisely on the level of epistemology, I think, where Hegel and Ricoeur diverge. Hegel, on the one hand, cannot base a theory of knowledge in consciousness, and so must do so only within self-consciousness; thus, “It is true that consciousness of an ‘other’, of an object in general, is itself necessarily self-consciousness, a reflectedness-into-itself….”[2]

Ricoeur, on the other hand, takes an opposite, approach. Placing himself deeply within the phenomenological tradition and utilizing Husserl’s concept of intentionality, Ricoeur emphasizes instead how the very “meaning of consciousness lies outside of itself”[3] and is therefore not simply reflexive. He writes, “…no consciousness is self-consciousness before being consciousness of something towards which it surpasses itself.”[4] The dichotomy here rests on the double problematic of intentionality and the primacy of self-consciousness, namely, whether self-consciousness is always already there, before consciousness, to the extent of negating intentionality, or whether self-consciousness is found precisely in our intentional relationship with the world. The further, and more important question, then is how might these epistemological differences between Hegel and Ricoeur determine their respective conceptions of the subject as finite.

I do not propose a complete and impassable distanciation between Hegel and Ricoeur, for the two cohabitate in many similar themes. However, I am concerned here primarily with their divergence. Both attempt to criticize consciousness, but ultimately, I think, in very different ways. So, may paper will proceed as follows: I will first explore the claim that Hegel’s subject is essentially a finite one, and will then offer a theory of my own concerning this claim through an interpretation of Hegel’s discussion of consciousness. Secondly, I will compare how Hegel’s conception of consciousness compares with Ricoeur’s, especially with respect to the notion of intentionality. And third, I will conclude in noticing how their different theories of consciousness culminate in one (Hegel) abandoning the notion of the finite subject, due to his primacy of self-consciousness, and the other (Ricoeur) remaining at the level of finitude through his development of a “hermeneutics of the self.”

[1] Tom Rockmore, “Hegel and the Hermeneutics of German Idealism,” International Journal of Philosophical Studies 3 (1995): 111-31. Particularly the line, “Hegel never explicitly reflected on problems of interpretation.”

[2] G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), §164.

[3] Paul Ricoeur, “Phenomenology and Hermeneutics,” in Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action and Interpretation, ed. and trans. John B. Thompson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 112.

[4] Ricoeur, “Phenomenology and Hermeneutics,” 115.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Interesting Photograph

I just now came across an incredible photograph while finishing up my last post, on von Hildebrand; so to remain in the spirit of the moment, I just had to put it up as well.

As you can see, this is a picture of Märit Furtwängler and Max Scheler (on the left) and Margarete Denck and Dietrich von Hildebrand (on the right). Dietrich here is only twenty years old, which would make Scheler around 33. Now, Märit (who is pictured here with Scheler) and Dietrich were actually engaged at an earlier stage in their life. The engagement was broken, and Scheler then came to meet Märit through Dietrich, and the two later married. Even after Scheler's divorce with Märit, in 1926 I think, she never remarried because of her love for Scheler. It is said that while Scheler was dying, it was Märit he called to his bedside before seeing Maria, his new wife at the time. Even on his deathbed, Scheler asked Märit to write down some thoughts or new insights he had at the time. But they never got out; Scheler was doing philosophy up until the last moments of his life.

Its simply incredible there exists a photograph with all four in it, that I have not yet seen.

See directly below for my previous post on von Hildebrand.

Von Hildebrand's The Heart, Newly Published

Just out from St. Augustine Press (Oct. 30) is the a new edition of Dietrich von Hildebrand's book The Heart: An Analysis of Human and Divine Affectivity. The new edition is edited by a past professor of mine, John F. Crosby (Franciscan University) who could very well be one of the only philosophers in America advancing new scholarship on von Hildebrand's work. I know Crosby is now also working on a translation of Dietrich's work on love.

Despite the fact that, since his conversion to Catholicism through the inspiration of Max Scheler, von Hildebrand became more of an obscure figure in mainstream German phenomenology, it is clear he has been a great influence on the part of bringing the fruits of phenomenology to the life of the Church and, to a lesser extent, her doctrine. Pius XII's statement of Dietrich as a "twentieth century Doctor of the Church," is certainly a testament to how his penetrating phenomenological analyses are not to be held in opposition to the Church's entrenched Thomistic tradition, but as complementary. Another testament to this, of course, is Franciscan University itself, which is one of the only philosophy departments in the country, which is strongly rooted in the Catholic tradition (I'm thinking also of University of Dallas, and perhaps, though to a lesser extent, Ave Maria with Fedoryka), and whose faculty have more of a phenomenological representation than a Thomistic one; and whose graduate program (this is unique to Franciscan) is modeled according to "realist phenomenology," explicitly. This type of phenomenological realism is precisely what the work von Hildebrand promotes.

Alice von Hildebrand's biography of her husband, The Soul of a Lion, is excellent exploration of Dietrich's truly fascinating life and his philosophical and spiritual journey. However, I must say, as a Schelerian, that many of the sections concerning Dietrich's relationship with Max, and especially what the book brings out about Scheler's life, is not to be wholly trusted as accurate, for a number of reasons. Nevertheless, read it.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Phenomenology of John Paul II: Conference Review

During the past two days, Duquesne University hosted a conference on the phenomenology of Pope John Paul II. I would certainly judge the conference as a whole to have been very well executed with a outstanding turnout (some 400 registered), with presenters from a wide variety of universities across America and a couple from Europe (Leuven and the International Theological Institute in Austria), and of course three impressive keynotes: George Weigel, Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., and Jean Bethke Elshtain. It certainly is encouraging to see John Paul's philosophy to be more of a force in the philosophical community in America than I would have initially expected.

However, the content of many of the papers I heard certainly didn't surprise me. With the particular focus of the conference on John Paul's phenomenology, his phenomenological strain certainly was well represented, but nevertheless, still accurately portrayed, i.e., always balanced with his ultimate philosophical foundation in Thomistic metaphysical realism. This certainly is key for Wojtyla in his philosophy, which arguably may have in some ways hindered him from adopting the full fruits of phenomenology, but is always important to keep in mind.

Wojtyla's phenomenology, it is well known, began with his Habilitationshrifft (second doctoral dissertation) on Max Scheler. Now, I certainly am interested in John Paul's philosophy in itself, but this relation between Wojtyla and Scheler (if anyone knows my philosophical interests) was of particular interest to me throughout the course of the conference. There was a presentation on the criticisms of Scheler Wojtyla lays out in his Habilitation, which was certainly helpful; as well as a panel discussion the following morning precisely aimed toward addressing this relation. Now, my sympathies on the issue, it is true, lie with Scheler. This of course, was not the opinion of most of the presenters, nor, most likely, with the majority of the conference attendees who probably have never read any of the Scheler's work, and who are probably only familiar with the Pope's criticism. This is understandable (though it may not be ideal). It is one thing, however, that attitude to exist amongst the attendees, but it seems less tolerable when it exists among the scholars. And perhaps it doesn't necessarily exist--perhaps these scholars have carefully weighed the arguments and made a careful philosophical judgment on the issues that apply. The impression, however, I get is that when dealing with the philosophy of a previous Pope, some issues are not weighed appropriately, specifically among catholic scholars, because there seems to be this unconscious (maybe even conscious) tendency to always be in favor of the Pope. For, of course, "the man is infallible!" "It would be heresy to do otherwise. " Now, these tendencies--if they exist--are absurd, for these essentially philosophical writings do not deal with dogmatic issues. And quite frankly, if these tendencies do exist, I do not think Wojtyla himself would approve of our possibly preferring his philosophy over other positions due to matters of faith, and not reason, strictly speaking.

But that's if these tendencies and tensions exist. Far be it from me to claim them so. But this Scheler-Wojtyla debate is an interesting one because some people are more or less sympathetic and seem to adopt a stance in relation to Scheler based on just how much Wojtyla himself adopted Scheler. So it seems that among catholic thinkers, the debate on how positively we are to look on Scheler comes down to the debate on how positively did Wojtyla look upon Scheler. Again, if you know anything of my philosophical interests, I look upon Scheler far more positively than Wojtyla in fact did, and am not fearful to claim my views on how Wojtyla has misread Scheler.

Josh Miller (Duquesne), one of the presenters of the panel discussion mentioned above, holds similarly as I, but perhaps not to the same degree. I highly applaud his presentation for the courage to actually mention how he thought Wojtyla was wrong on one of the issues I do--and yet so diplomatically, and carefully, and, I might add, convincingly! But I'm partial, and one of the perhaps the very few, if any, that didn't need convincing.

I am currently working on the third revision of my paper on my defense of Scheler against Wojtyla's critique and plan to present it for the ACPA (American Catholic Philosophical Association) conference next October in Milwaukee.

Nevertheless, John Paul was an excellent philosopher and scholar who had the amazing personality to love in all he did. His tender and careful dealing with even thinkers so often dismissed as "enemies," such as Kant, is surely an inspiration for philosophers, as well as how he always maintained an eye on Christ in his work.
In Memoriam
. Thank you Pope John Paul II.