A Few Queries Regarding Hegel

Some objections i raised during a discussion with someone on the importance of Hegel and his "survival" in the contemporary philosophy. If there is any Hegelian reading this, i would like to know how Hegelians respond to these queries.

When you talk of the Hegelian philosophy surviving the vicissitudes of time, and still manifesting its truth even being ingrained into the philosophies that attempted to refute Hegel, which component of his philosophy are u referring to? I am sure you are not referring to his Idealism [which Stanford Encyclopedia describes as '...Hegel is seen as offering a metaphysico-religious view of God qua "Absolute Spirit"...] Hegelian Idealism is said to have been refuted by the analytical philosophers in the start of the 20th century; even Marx didn't accept it. So the Idealistic part of Hegel came to a dead end. Lets see the concept of Hegel's State. It doesn't matter if Hegel's conception of State is as tyrannical or totalitarian as Russell/Popper would have us believe, but the point is no one believes that anymore. Even Marxist conception of a government is far from that of Hegel's. So that too is a historical dead-end.

I assume the part of his philosophy that you think is valid is the Dialectics. Now, i have certain objections against it, which i will mention.

1. It attempts to give a God's eye view of the whole human intellectual process, while being a product of human mind itself, it too should be subject to dialectical change (by its own account) and hence not be immutable.

2. It says that the development of all human knowledge is dialectic in nature. But i believe many examples can be found to the contrary. For instance, the ancients believed that sun revolved around earth. Copernicus showed that it was wrong, that earth revolved around the sun. Forgive me, but i fail to see any dialectical progression in this. The geocentric view was refuted, it didn't not form any synthesis or any such thing with the heliocentric theory. It did not continue to exist in the scientific knowledge as dialectics would have us believe. Consider another example. Big Bang Theory verses Steady State Theory. Steady State was refuted; Big Bang accepted. End of story. No synthesis, no dialectics.

3. Dialectics propose that there is an ultimate Truth towards which scientific knowledge is moving. This conception of Truth in science has long been obsolete since the works of Popper and Kuhn. There is no ultimate metaphysical Truth that science can achieve.

4. A special focus of Hegel's dialectics has been history. Now, there are instances where merging of cultures can broadly be seen as following a dialectic pattern but otherwise i do not believe it can be treated as historical law. For instance, what would be the dialectical pattern seen in the history leading to the partition of subcontinent? Russell wrote abt it "It was an interesting thesis, giving unity and meaning to the revolutions of human affairs. Like other historical theories, it required, if it was to be made plausible, some distortion of facts and considerable ignorance."

5. The idea of history following a pattern is not unique. I am sure this concept was present among the Greeks too. First of all, it is subject to debate whether it is so. Even if there are such laws, then they should be discovered by the scientific method rather than being derived theoretically from a metaphysical philosophy. And furthermore, if any such 'laws' are discovered, then they would be subject to the same risk of being disproved by future historical events, just like any scientific theory is at the risk of being disapproved by future observations. Then there is the issue of history's objectivity. If history can never be objective, then how are any grand historical laws to be derived from it?

6. And as far as Hegel surviving in PoMo is concerned, let us consider Foucault. Foucault was highly critical of all philosophies which proposed that history can be neatly mapped out based on some law with a God's eye view. "Foucault's archeologies tend to identify discontinuities in history, and he insists that his cultural analyses are specifically directed against all notions of teleology or assumptions of transcendental vantage points." [Stuart Sim, One Hundred 20th century philosophers] This is a clear cut denial of Hegel's concept of history, and i cannot see any way in which it can be distorted so as to be in conformity with Hegelian view of history.


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Salman Latif said…
I've not read Hegel directly as of yet - but I've certainly observed the fact that his philosophy has been quite influential, even on many well-known recent philosophers.
Wonder if there are any more Hegelians out there.
Qasim Aziz said…
Rejecting the very basis of telelogical approach towards history is a knock out argument for all Hegelians.
Salman Latif said…
A question: Can evolutionary development be contained within the definition of teleology? Or would it be invalid to include it within the teleological model?
Awais said…
Evolution by means of natural selection cannot be considered a teleological process, because evolution is "blind", it has no ultimate end result or purpose that it is trying to achieve. It works in the moment. It fits in the naturalistic model.
Salman Latif said…
What about it's apparent 'purpose' of eventually selecting the best one of all through gradual progression?
And well....I didn't get it from your 'it works in the moment.' It can be traced backwards, no? And well...it depends on it's past progression too I believe.
Awais said…
No, you must not see natural selection as some "metaphysical force" directed towards a direction. What is natural selection? It is selection of those organisms which are best fit to survive in the current environment. What is required to be fit in the current moment is not the same criteria that existed 10,000 years back, nor will it be the same 10,000 years in the future. Natural selection is not heading towards "the ultimate fittest species". It is simply selecting organisms which are fittest at that moment. It has no idea what will happen in the future, or what will be the requirement of being the fittest in the future. That's why i said it is "blind" and works "in the moment". The definition of "best one" is linked to its specific contexual environment.
Salman Latif said…
I am not considering it to be some sort of metaphysical force that'd result in a final conclusion. No, not at all!
What I believe is that there is an underlying design to evolution - it is wholly, or partly, casual, defined in the light of the events preceding the present chain of events. Say, the evolution of mankind into a specie well progressing at the field of technology may well define the possibilities for it's evolution in the coming years. External factors granted, but the biological, genetic predeterminism (thought I don't agree to it's absoluteness) can make things casual for the humans' evolution in the coming days. (the other part, of course, may be played by factors external to us.)
You cited the term 'contextual environment' and that is the same of factors 'external' to us - the genetic predeterminism still has a significant role to play. What do you think?
Awais said…
As far as the science of evolution is concerned, there is no element of pre-determined design in it.

I am not really sure what you mean by genetic predeterminism. I am not familiar with any such notion with regard to evolution.

Evolutionary process works on
i) variations in the natural gene pool
ii) mutations
iii) genetic drifts

none of which is actually "predetermined" and involve highly random events, especially mutations.

Technology is sure to alter the evolutionary trend of humans because technology does and will affect which individuals get to survive. But introduction of technology doesn't necessarily make us better as a species. We are disrupting the natural elimination of "less fit" genes. For instance, without medical technology, many of the people with genetic diseases would die v early, but with medical treatment they can live long lives, and hence those defective genes continue to circulate in the gene pool of humans, which would otherwise have been weeded out by natural selection.

And here we must note that evolution is not as successful as it is often imagined. Thousands of species have become extinct over the years and many continue to become extinct everyday because the change in environment is too rapid for evolutionary processes to work on. Over 97% of all species that ever lived have become extinct. There have been 5 major mass extinctions in the history of life on planet earth. This is the fragility of evolution. Man is not at the "top" of evolution. For evolution, there is no difference between a man and a cockroach, as long as both are surviving well in their environment.

How can evolution be "predetermined" when a sudden mutation in a virus at any moment may create a deadly strain which can wipe out majority of humanity?