Saturday, October 29, 2011

Philosophy after Kant 2

... A second reaction to Kant was that of G. W. F. Hegel, whose sense of history we discussed in the previous chapter.  We can now process those ideas in terms of his reaction to Kant.  It is possible to see him as presenting a sense in which philosophy over time is indeed coming to know the world as it actually is, truth in itself.  Up to this point in history, such understandings have been partial.  The whole point of his thesis-antithesis-synthesis process is the refinement of ideas, with each synthesis removing partial untruths and synthesizing ideas that are purer.  Eventually, these ideas would reach the point of absolute truth, true knowledge of reality as it actually is.

It is fascinating that a person such as Hegel can have such an astounding influence on later thinkers when so much debate exists over what in fact he himself meant to say.  Nevertheless, we saw in the last chapter that Hegel in fact had that influence.  Karl Marx is of course the best known example, who took Hegel's ideas and applied it to his sense that world would eventually evolve into a society without class distinctions (see chaps. 12 and 14).  But his ideas also had a significant impact on many other thinkers, not least on biblical studies in the later nineteenth century through the so called Tübingen School. [1]

The name of Hegel's masterpiece is often translated as The Phenomenology of Spirit.  The word phenomenology has to do with the way things appear.  In Kant's language, the world-in-itself, as it is apart from us thinking about it, is the world of the noumena.  He thus used the word phenomena to refer to the world as it appears to us.  Therefore, when Hegel spoke of the "phenomenology" of Spirit, he was writing about the manifestation or the unfolding appearance of Spirit in history.

Indeed, in the twentieth century, Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) and Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) started a school of philosophy known as the phenomenological school.  Husserl tried to "bracket" consideration of things-in-themselves as Kant had understood them.  Our experiences were the things-in-themselves worthy of consideration.  So Husserl tried to analyze how our minds relate to objects as they appear in our minds and ignore Kantian questions about what they might be without minds looking at them.

Heidegger developed Husserl's approach and took it in an existentialist direction. [2]  Heidegger defies the traditional use of the word "being" as some external world distinct from ourselves and defines being entirely as a matter of being-in-the-world (Dasein).  Husserl was still very much focused around our intentions toward the world as it appears to us.  For Heidegger, the key issue is our concern or "care" (Sorge) about being in the world.  The goal is for us to take responsibility for our being in the world, to embrace our mortality and the cares of living.  It is for us to be in the world authentically.

The way in which these approaches flow directly into French existentialism is fairly easy to see.  In chapter 9, we saw that the French existentialists Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus were focused on inventing a meaning for your life, a reason to exist.  This is much the same as Heidegger's goal of us being in the world authentically.  We embrace the world as it is for us and choose an existence to embrace.  When people speak of "continental philosophy," they are largely referring to the phenomenological school and existentialism...

[1] See chap. 14, n. **.

[2] The personal relationship between Heidegger and Husserl has been a notorious topic of interest since World War II.  Heidegger was Husserl's student, and Husserl arranged for Heidegger to take over his post when he retired.  Heidegger even dedicated the first edition of his famous book Being and Time to Husserl.   At the same time, Husserl was Jewish, even though he had early on become a Lutheran.  Meanwhile, Heidegger publicly supported Nazism.  Some have accused Heidegger of doing nothing to try to help Husserl after the 1933 race laws in Germany removed all his academic privileges at the University of Freiburg.  Heidegger later indicated that the two had already split well before that time.  Thankfully, Husserl died in 1938 before Hitler's anti-Jewish agenda gained full force.


Anonymous said...

Did this continental philosophy advance the understanding of Christianity by explicating how our doctrine is firmly based in reality, or did it merely rework and expand adoptionist, docetist etc. heresies into updated 19th century rationalist versions?

Ken Schenck said...

I personally take away very little from these particular philosophers. They take a great deal of time, with immense complexity of language and argument, to say very little. Nevertheless, they clearly had massive impact on European and American history and should at least be mentioned in a philosophy book.