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Abstract

My dissertation offers an innovative reading of Hegel’s mature philosophy that presents the first systematic study of the role of perception and perceptual themes across all three volumes (logic, nature, and spirit) of Hegel’s mature Encyclopedia project. I argue that Hegel’s Encyclopedic texts offer a robust and nuanced account of the conceptuality of perceptual content that has been largely overlooked or misunderstood by previous interpreters. On my reading, Hegel rejects the empirical realism of Immanuel Kant, according to which view our phenomenal experience of objects yields knowledge of their reality. He also rejects a “conceptual realist” picture according to which our knowledge of reality inheres merely in knowledge of the reality of a universal or some set of universals. Instead, I propose that Hegel endorses a “rational realism” according to which sensory knowledge of concrete singulars is achieved by means of conceptual thought. On a first look the potential coherence of such a view appears dubious: it seems to either fundamentally conflate the cognitive acts of thinking and perceiving, or else to reduce perceiving to thinking in a way that yields an infelicitous solipsism. In this context, the goal of the first two chapters of my project is to motivate the idea that Hegel’s rational realism avoids these pitfalls by giving an exegesis of the philosophical considerations that lead him to his view. Towards this end, I offer readings of Hegel’s respective engagements with two of his primary historical interlocutors, Kant and Schelling, on the topic of the proper role of perception in a philosophical account of cognition. In Chapter 1, I examine Hegel’s critique of Kant’s theoretical philosophy. One of the central innovations of the Critique of Pure Reason is Kant’s proposal that space and time serve as a priori “forms of intuition” that condition all of the deliverances of sense perception. Although Hegel is strongly influenced by Kant’s transcendental idealism, his own philosophy lacks an analogue to these Kantian forms of intuition. I argue that Hegel’s rejection of Kant’s forms of intuition forms the backbone of his self-professed post-Kantianism. I demonstrate that Hegel finds resources in Kant’s own system, specifically in the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment, that allow him to offer an alternative account of the formal character of perception. In Chapter 2, I expand on this account by breaking down Hegel’s critique of Friedrich Schelling’s theory of intellectual intuition. This chapter fills a pressing gap in the literature. I argue that Hegel and Schelling share a commitment to offering an account of perception that is centered on the way in which the concrete individual objects of sense perception can demonstrate the physical existence of universals. Both thinkers propose that works of fine art are paradigmatic sense objects of this kind. Contra Schelling, however, Hegel believes that logic itself should also perform this function. In Chapters 3 and 4, I turn to Hegel’s positive account of the way in which the forms belonging to logic demonstrate the way in which universals appear to the senses in particular objects. Against recent interpretations that have sought to understand Hegel’s logic as offering only a “theory of explanation” (Kreines, Pippin) I show that Hegel’s logic also offers a “theory of exhibition”: that is, a theory of the way in which sensible particulars exhibit the existence of universals. I claim that Hegel achieves this by emphasizing the logical primacy of the function of the copula in the activities of judgment and inference. On Hegel’s view as I articulate it, perception is conceptual, and this conceptuality consists in the way in which our reasoning about sense objects exhibits the necessary existence of universal terms. Chapter 5 takes this reading from the abstract context of the Logic into the concrete realms of nature and spirit, the topics of the other two volumes of Hegel’s tripartite Encyclopedia project. I discuss the fate of Kant’s forms of intuition, space and time, as the opening moments of Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature. I also discuss the role of sense-affection in the Philosophy of Spirit.

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