Summer 2010

On Experience and Reason

D.C. Schindler

“While the conventional contemporary view of the world conceives of thought as opposed to, or at any rate outside of, the real, the classical worldview understands thought as a deepening of the real, and therefore as a bringing of experience to fruition.”

In an essay written at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the notoriously abstract Hegel wrote what was no doubt a counterattack against his critics. The title of his atypically brief article was “Who thinks abstractly?”1 If to abstract means to take away a part, to focus on only some aspect, of a reality, Hegel suggested that it is the gossip, rather than the philosopher, who is hopelessly abstract. The sensationalism and shocking trivialities that bombard one, for example, in the supermarket aisle are pure abstractions, because they demonstrate no effort to get to the most essential heart of whatever matter it is they happen to address, and therefore cannot be said to present any sort of whole. Indeed, a similar charge might be brought against even our most respected newspapers. One cannot grasp the whole without finding the center of a thing, and that center by definition is not any one of the thing’s parts. Rather, it is “inside” of all the parts, which means it does not, and in fact cannot, appear “on the surface.” It is precisely thought that is capable of penetrating beyond the surface to what Hegel elsewhere calls the “inner pulse,” the “core” of a reality, and at least in principle the more “rarified” or speculative thinking is, the closer it is capable of coming to the center. In that case, there is nothing in the end more concrete than speculative philosophy.

 

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1. Hegel, Texts and Commentary, trans. and ed. Walter Kaufmann (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1977), 113–18.