Sunday, 7 December 2008

Doubting Hegel #1

Hegel doesn't have to worry about the pineal gland because consciousness is, from the beginning, embodied. Is this not, though, just the idea of embodiment? "What else could it be?" you might reply. "Hegel is an ideas man and could not possibly paste the body itself into his text." No, the probem is otherwise: Hegel seems to do the sort of thing we see in Kant and try to rely on a super-thin notion of embodiment that might encompass all self-conscious historical agents – thin enough to capture merely the conditions for the possibility of self-consciousness. But does the particularity of the body not make some very important differences? Can Hegel really hold apart the ideal from the empirical?

For the married man the doubts might be prompted by the realisation that his domestic relationship bears so little resemblance to the master-slave dialectic. "Why is my wife not interested in the sort of struggle for recognition that Hegel describes? Why does she show no inclination to risk her life in a battle of wills, or just show an interest in doing something exciting like skydiving?" he might wonder. Is Hegel not describing a dynamic that is peculiarly patriarchal and ascribing it (falsely) to the eternal structure of self-consciousness?

Our hunch is that psychology does make a difference, and that Hegel errs in assuming he can write the phenomenology of spirit without relying on the empirical stuff that psychology tries to fathom.

Which is why – to be honest – we are more tempted to read Nietzsche now than Hegel. The strength of Nietzsche was to put the psyche – with all its abysmal opacity – at the centre.

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