Monday, November 27, 2017

Evening Note for Monday, November 27

Thought for the Evening: The Hegelian Ontological Argument

Graham Oppy, in his article on ontological arguments for the SEP:

I provide no example of a ‘Hegelian’ ontological argument because I know of no formulation of such an argument. Many people assert that Hegel provided an ontological argument; but, when pressed for a list of the premises of the argument, Hegel’s friends fail to deliver.

I find this a little baffling, because while there are complications with interpreting Hegel in general, and while there are complications with interpreting Hegel on ontological arguments (because the best discussion, in Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, is something of a mess due to not being in a finished form), there is no real mystery about this -- the basic outlines, at least, are clear enough, and there's no excuse for Oppy to be talking about it at all if he is incapable of doing the basic scholarship of actually picking up Hegel and working through it on his own. I thought I would say a few things about it; I am going to try to avoid the very technical and finicky (anything Hegelian gets both very quickly), in order to deal with the basic point.

The first and most important thing to understand about Hegel on the ontological argument -- about Hegel on anything, really -- is that Hegel thinks concepts, positions, and arguments are dynamic, not static. They are in motion. Arguments do not consist in a "list of the premises" (although single stages, snapshots, will have such a thing); they consist in the movement from premise to conclusion. And, what is more, arguments transform into arguments, positions into positions, concepts into concepts in rigorous fashion. This is the fundamental key to grasping the basics of Hegel's position on the ontological argument: Hegel's argument is not going to be just a single stage, but is going to be a result of an argument being faced with an objection which can be overcome by a rethinking of the original argument in light of the objection. That's Hegelian dialectic: the original argument is right (but not as originally interpreted), the objection to it is right (but it opens the possibility of an interpretation to which it does not apply). It's perfectly fine to call the last stage of this 'Hegel's ontological argument', but the whole point is that you cannot understand its 'list of premises' unless you understand how those premises grew.

Stage I. Hegel begins with Anselm's version of the argument; it is where he starts and in a sense where he will end up. He intends to give a version of Anselm's argument. It will, of course, not be Anselm as Anselm understood him, but Anselm Hegelianized, transformed. Things are complicated a bit, as well, by the fact that Hegel's Anselm, like Kant's on those few occasions where Kant acknowledges him, is a somewhat Cartesianized Anselm. That argument is, more or less (this is just the simplified form of an argument that can be explicated more fully):

(1) God is what is most perfect, beyond which nothing can be thought.
(2) If God is merely an idea, He is not what is most perfect.

In other words, we start with God 'subjectively', as idea, a possibility, distinct from being, and since God cannot be God and be merely 'subjective', God must also be 'objective', exist in reality. This is the transition involved in Anselm's argument.

Stage II. To this, Kant opposes the objection that being is not a real predicate, and so does not add anything to the concept. As Hegel notes, this assumes there is no difference between the case of God and finite, limited, contingent things. But the objection has some bite because Anselm's argument starts with the concept distinct from being and then transitions to being; this seems to be the sort of thing that can only be done with hypothetical necessity. The ontological argument assuming God's existence to get God's existence.

Thus we have Anselm's argument, which is not exactly refuted by Kant's objection (since Kant's objection assumes that the case of God is not different from the case of thalers), but which is problematized by it; and Kant's objection, which does not quite succeed as a refutation but raises a serious problem for Anselm. But there are no impasses in Hegel.

Stage III. The problem, Hegel thinks, is that both Anselm and Kant think that you can start with the concept rather than the existence. This is not quite right. Remember, Hegel thinks that concepts are in motion. Concepts do not just sit there; they express themselves. This is the reason for the famous comment Hegel makes on Kant's thalers: You can't imagine thalers into existence, but you can achieve them as a goal by working for them. We don't merely go around with the concept of money; our concept of money expresses itself into an actual system of economics in which money can be obtained. Working for money shows that concepts move into actual being. The concept obviously is generally not just the same as the being; but concept is related to being as (actualizing) potential to actual. The concept has existence potentially; but this is, again, not a mere passive potential, but is being worked out as the motion of the concept. The subjective concept is making itself objective. This is true of all concepts, although it is in the very nature of how Hegel thinks of this that the potential dynamism in each concept will often work itself out in very surprising ways. This is very important: Concepts are not static for Hegel; they are ongoing processes expressing a potential.

Thus another way to state the problem both with Anselm and with Kant, as Hegel thinks of it, is that they are both thinking of concepts or ideas as static, and thus missing part of what it is to be a concept in the first place. (Hegel would, of course, regard Oppy's demand for a list of premises as a sign that he, too, misses the point, not because you can't give such lists of premises, but because they are only samplings of the actual argument, identifying only one stage of it, and unable to be interpreted without a context. If Oppy gets a list of premises, what is he going to do with them? Merely assume that he understands them? Guess at their meaning? As we'll see this is not a mere quibble; it is the heart of the matter.) If, however, we interpret Anselm's argument not statically but dynamically, the argument avoids any problem raised by Kant's objection. The concept, in being a concept, is an activity of turning itself into reality. It is not merely subjective; it is becoming objective; it is a living movement. God is not assumed; being is not assumed as being in the concept, it is put forward as the goal, the result, of the task or process that the concept is.

Thus the premises are not a problem here; if you want premises, they are the same as Anselm's (in the Cartesianized forms of which the simplified version is given above). This doesn't help you any, however; you need to know the interpretation, which you can only have by establishing its place in the dialectic. Hegel's premises are rethinkings of Anselm's. A crude, rough way to get a sense of what Hegel means is that Anselm's starting-points need to be interpreted teleologically. Mind, conceptualizing the Absolute, works itself out to be the Absolute. This is why Hegel is so very sympathetic to the ontological argument: interpreted in Hegelian terms, it just is the basic outline of Hegel's system.

Various Links of Note

* Emanuel Rutten, Dissolving the Scandal of Propositional Logic?

* There's been some recent hubbub over the CFPB, a relatively new agency devoted to upholding financial protections for consumers; the Obama-appointed Director, Richard Cordray, is leaving. The Trump administration appointed an Acting Director -- and Cordray appointed a Deputy Director to become Acting Director. The latter would in most cases be insanely stupid, since the first principle of government ethics is that actions under color of authority must have an appropriate ground of authority, and most Directors would not have such an authority. But in this particular case, when Congress set up the CFPB, it gave the Director the authority to appoint a Deputy Director and the Deputy Director the power to be the Acting Director when there is need. The conflict has led to legal action. In reality, I don't think Cordray has a leg to stand on here, although he has received support from some significant people, like Senator Warren; yes, Cordray has the authority to appoint a Deputy Director, but the Federal Vacancies Reform Act gives the President practically unlimited power to appoint an Acting Director, as long as it is someone who has already been appointed with the consent of the Senate. The FVRA has not been repealed; the standing rule for legal interpretation is that laws cannot be repealed merely by implication, so courts must uphold both laws in as substantive a sense as possible. The most natural way to do that is to hold that the President can appoint an Acting Director in either way: by letting a Deputy Director serve as Acting Director without special appointment, or by specially appointing someone. And the other issue here is that in a matter of dispute over how the government itself works, one defers by default to the relevant Constitutional office; as Congress has not explicitly required the President to let the Deputy Director become Acting Director (a requirement that would certainly be challenged and could very well not be constitutional), as a matter of government ethics (and constitutional law), the President would typically be presumed to have the authority to act as he could in any other case. This is not a sure thing, because laws can add complications, but it seems to me the natural diagnosis. In any case, Adam White discusses the matter with the relevant legal quirks. It has also been argued previously, by Kent Barnett, that the legislation concerning the Deputy Director of the CFPB is itself constitutionally problematic.

* Pius XI, Quas Primas, on the Feast of Christ the King:

If princes and magistrates duly elected are filled with the persuasion that they rule, not by their own right, but by the mandate and in the place of the Divine King, they will exercise their authority piously and wisely, and they will make laws and administer them, having in view the common good and also the human dignity of their subjects. The result will be a stable peace and tranquillity, for there will be no longer any cause of discontent. Men will see in their king or in their rulers men like themselves, perhaps unworthy or open to criticism, but they will not on that account refuse obedience if they see reflected in them the authority of Christ God and Man. Peace and harmony, too, will result; for with the spread and the universal extent of the kingdom of Christ men will become more and more conscious of the link that binds them together, and thus many conflicts will be either prevented entirely or at least their bitterness will be diminished.

* Charles Dickens and Two Kinds of Punch

* The Babylon Bee, Liberal Christian Attempts to Debate Atheist but They Just Agree on Everything. Sometimes parody is practically truth.

Currently Reading

Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass
Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments
Cathy Cobb, Monty Fetterolf, and Harold Goldwhite, The Chemistry of Alchemy
Kenneth Laine Ketner, Elements of Logic: An Introduction to Peirce's Existential Graphs
David Makinson, Sets, Logic and Maths for Computing
Edith Stein, The Hidden Life
Tanith Lee, The Secret Books of Paradys, III & IV

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