Why should one want to 'stay with' the concrete? | by T.R.

I presuppose a connection and interaction between our understanding of things (abstract concepts) and our   living  in  the world or  experiencing  the world (the concrete).  So  the world we  live our everyday  lives  in  is always  the world of  the concrete mixed with the abstract and  the world we ‘think in’ is the world of the concept mixed with the concrete.

On no level can those worlds truly be separated,   they always  interact  and  influence each other.  Therefore  there  is no  truly  immediate perception  or   an  absolutely   abstract   concept.  Every  perception  has   at   least   some  element  of   mediation through the logos (language, concepts, knowledege, Vernunft) and every concept has at  least some element of  experience it is based on or derived from (this is the idea of the concrete within the universal or sublation). Western thought now has the tendency to emphasize and analyze just one of those levels. It tends to look at the universal and sees the concrete as secondary in respect to knowledge. We have seen that abstraction can lead us to amazing discoveries and is a very powerful tool to understand the world.

Therefore  there has  been an ever   increasing  tendency  to  look  just  at   the concept  and  treat   the concept as if the world we live in was no different from the concepts that describe it. We say that the  important  parts of   the concrete are sublated  in  those concepts  and  therefore  looking at   the  concrete won’t give us any more useful information than we already have, if we have understood the  concept fully. So why do I bother with the concrete at all? Because, as we all know, there is a difference between understanding and doing something, there is a difference between the theoretical and the practical.  We make theories about things and expect those things in the world to behave according to that theory, but that only works in theory. If you talk to construction workers or people working in applied physics, they will tell you that there is a difference  between  the  way  things  work  in concepts   and  the  workings  of   the  world.  By only focussing on  the  level  of   theory we  tend  to  forget  about   this  difference.

This way of   thinking Whitehead calls the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. There is an aspect of the concrete world (and our experience of it) theory cannot grasp, precisely because theory is abstract. Think about a concrete experience, lets say you see an apple on a table. In one glance you can grasp the relation of one to the other, whether the colors match, if it is the same apple as yesterday, the style and so on. (notice here that I am not saying that you do not need any knowledge to be able to do this, I am just saying that applying your knowledge in this way gets you  more   data   than   just   the   concepts   ‘apple’   and   ‘table’   and   their   relation   ‘on’)  The   concrete  experience has given you an awful lot of information that can not adequately be put in words. (By  that I mean that I need an awful lot of words to explain what we see in one glance). Why is that? Because of the way abstraction and therefore language works.

Abstraction has to leave something out. Usually in abstracting we try to leave the irrelevant bits of information out. But who can tell what is going to be relevant in the future? How can we decide a priori what is necessary in one occurrence (the essence) and what is just accidental? Doesn’t that depend on the question I ask? So if we just stick with the abstract then we might miss something relevant for our question, just because  those data didn’t  seem  important   to  the people  that  defined  the object  we are  inquiring  about. So if we want to know whether the shade of red of the apple matches the table, we can not   use the classical definitions of ‘apple’ and ‘table’ because they don’t tell us anything about colours.

Where does that leave us? Should we leave the realm of language and thought behind in favor of an unutterable experience? I think not. But we should take into consideration that there is more to life, than we can put in words. And therefore it is always interesting to start anew from the concrete.



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7 responses to “Why should one want to 'stay with' the concrete? | by T.R.

  1. Andrew Woods

    TO say a few words here, from a person thats studied hegel a long time, and notices immediately the analytic and empirical influence of your comments, do not try and fit hegel into some framework of empiricism, or try to update that old idea with hegel that is much newer and more emcompassing; he already himself deals with these topics.

    Now in particular, you first make the presumption of the identity of your understanding and the world, as some preamble for the certainty of what your about to say – this is obviously superfluous, any presumptions you make, and you make them here freely that is hypothetically have to be in turn justified and proven in the conclusion of what is proven; in other words if they are the ground of your argument they must be used to vindiate themselves and anull the character of presumptiveness in which they were first positited, elsewise they remain a still merely just a conjecture. The problem though, and reason you cannot do this is you assume thought to be ipso facto a abstraction from the real, hence you presume the real/material/whatever world, and any thought therefore must be the form whose content is that world, elsewise they are merely abstract – that is in more specific terms a loss of the object, and hence a loss of truth and concreteness.

    Generally what you fail to understand is how abstraction can be freeing for the content, and is essential to the process of concreteness. for you the content is free because in its form for thought it is in the form of its essentiality, its isness – abstraction only breaks this up ffrom its original unity. If something is merely given though, or merely for thought is, then of course thought is abstract for it immediately

    what you claim thought cannot do it can – that is within its own abstracting anull the form of merely abstracting, and reafirm the concreteness of the objection IN ABSTRACTION. The sun is a hot, radiant, sphere that if i were to relate to in material terms would destroy me. I have to abstract and resolve it into a abstraction beyond its immediate material effect to even want to make it a object of understanding – i have to make it a ideal or in this case pictorial image. for you apparently this is a loss of the object as it is in itself or in its truth, but in fact it is a truer form for it relates only to those universal essetialities in which is exists as a image. we leave stuff out because it is not essential to understanding the thing, ie does not reflect the understanding itself but merely a object of it. I understand though that the sun is not merely a image, that these properties are actualities, and i can anull the process of my own abstraction therewith and understand this. All understanding begins per say with the concrete, but because it is merely the form or the being of being concrete, we have to abstract to see the real concrete through the ideal, since the real concrete does not immediately appear in a form adequate to thought.

  2. Andrew Woods

    Just to say one more thing about abstrating being leaving something out: we leave stuff out why? because we are juxtaposining the totality of the reality of our understanding with that of the object – but the way something exists objectively in being understood and what the understanding is itself are two different things. Spericalness and being a sphere are different, in a way that one is the essence of being a sphere the other the existence, one the generall or universal the other the particular being of a object. what is essential to the object is essential only in its objectivity, ie: the sun is round but it is not itself the essentiality of roundness, ie itself does not reflect the understanding of being round – an image cannot be the being of understanding not its essence. Hence abstraction, in being the merely the application (as you conceive it) of the understanding will always “leave something out” namely because for thought the application of the understanding is merely the resolving of the object into its essentialities, that is merely its form – as you say it cannot actually determine the particulars – but the abstract understanding obviously cannot do this through the object since the object itself dosent reflect its essentiality, it is merely that congerie of particular existences – ie the object exists purely in a particular fashion for thought.

  3. T.R.

    Dear Andrew,
    I appreciate you taking so much time to give such an extensive answere to what I wrote. But I think we misunderstood each other right from the start. I am not trying (or at least I thought I was not trying) to bend Hegel into some shape, I tried to go further. I take what Hegel said as a starting point and from there I tried to move on. And I think that most people would agree that we are currently not living in a free society and, well, the end of History is not here yet (even though it might be close) so there seems to be some need to develope Hegels thoughts further and in other directions. At least it seems to me to be the case.
    I really do hope that I did not say that my understanding is identical to the world, that would be crude ontological Realism, a position last defended in the middle ages as far as I know. Any understanding is always mediated by language, thought, culture and so on, so there never any Identity between the world and my understanding of it.
    Secondly abstraction is never a loss of truth. There can only be truth within the realm of language and since language is, as we now from the sense certainty chapter, always abstract, truth can only be within the abstract. I took care never to use the word ‘true’ (in the sense of propositionally true) in the paper and I would not want to suggest that the concrete is the true, because again, that would be crude ontological Realism.
    The next paragraph I did not understand. Could you explain to me how the concrete or the abstract connect to freedom?
    Then you say: “All understanding begins per say with the concrete, but because it is merely the form or the being of being concrete, we have to abstract to see the real concrete through the ideal, since the real concrete does not immediately appear in a form adequate to thought.” And with that I would totally agree, if you mean by ‘real concrete’ the concrete we can understand, that we can talk about, use in our theories and so on.
    This is the point where I actually intended my argument to go further. We have seen that abstraction, a form of deduction, is not a necessary process. Errors can be made, some properties can be regarded as inconsequencial, that in fact are necessary and so on. So if we have an abstraction that does not work for us anymore, because our culture or our language has changed, how to get a ‘new abstraction’ that can solve the differences we percieve. How are abstractions supposed to evolve with our understanding of the world? I think the only way abstractions can be mediated to fit our current points of view, scientific development is to go back to the concrete and take another look. What did we abstract from the concrete, we might need in this new epistemic situation? Then of course the concrete is again left behind to find the ‘real concrete’ as you called it.
    What I am doing here is an aplication of the Hegelian thought of historic developement to the contents of abstraction. Because in my opinion the contents of abstraction too, like everything else, can and do evolve dialectically. This is just a response to the first comment, the second will follow.
    By the way, I got some of these Ideas from Whitehead in his Process Ontology, my other influences would be more Phenomenological then empirical, if that helps any.

  4. T.R.

    Sorry I did not really unterstand the second comment. Maybe you could help? Are you trying to say that abstraction grasps all the ‘essential’ elements of a concrete and therefore does not leave anything (importand) out? If yes than this is the big point we need to talk about. Because as a nominalist I would say that there are no such things as ‘essences’ in the world, they are just names. The understanding and application of names can change over time, as language as a whole changes over time. So why should what we once called the essence of a thing in the light of other discoveries not turn out to be just an aspect of the essence or not the essence at all?

  5. Joao V

    “Any understanding is always mediated by language, thought, culture and so on, so there never any Identity between the world and my understanding of it.”

    If i may…

    Is it possible to conceive the world outside of our being in it?, meaning, is it possible to recover, in concept or abstraction, the experience of the world as being without us in it? and not “us” as you and me, these concrete particular people, us as mankind, and whatever atributtes we bring as such from our nature as humans and to nature and the world from our humanity.

    What i mean, even if using terms somewhat obscure, is that the world is the world with us in it (understanding, abstracting…) and the apple is the apple and us. What the apple is without us, how are we to know? Why should the apple be a fruit, in it self, why should it be red, why should it have weight? Are these true atributtes of the apple in it self, in a concept that doesn’t bring man in any form or way into the equation? If our sight, naturally, from the “begining”, was one to see things from a quantic perspective, what would we say of an apple? could we even see an apple? (don´t they say matter is mainly empty space?)

    If we fed, from the begining, as it is said some yogis do, from sunlight would and apple still be a fruit?

    Where i want to arrive with this is to the notion of a nature that cannot be thought of independently from man, and in hegelian terms, independently from Spirit insofar as the Spirit is codeppendent with man, and that in this way, where nature cannot be conceived without man, nature cannot be conceived without being intertwined with Spirit, that nature is nature and/with/plus the Spirit.

    What is true, then, of nature? Is the mythological image of nature of ancient men less true than the quantic nature of our time? We would tend to say so, but if mythological nature wasn’t true how come men didn’t extinguish themselves? They (the man of myth) lived, endured, and they brought us here: can we be sure that our current knowladge of nature and with what we make of it we can bring us, in our descendents, to 3000 years from now?

    What is true knowledge of nature, then? Is it abstraction and in language, or is it life and in freedom, freedom, lets say, to extract the Spirit from within it’s own self, from within it’s being until the end of history?
    In this way language and abstraction could be thought as a function of freedom, and if freedom is essencialy selfcreation from within it’s own potential, language in man as a function of freedom stands from freedom looking, aiming to fullfilment within man, as man creates it self from his own potential, and that it is it’s own potential that demands language as a function of freedom, if, of course, we take freedom as the essence of Spirit.

    In this way, science, virtue, politics, culture are close to nothing in themselves, being freedom, the aim to selfcreation, it’s ultimate truth. An apple then is what this aim to freedom makes of it: it´s fruit when we are hungry, it’s an object of admiration when we want to includ it in a paiting, it’s a symbol of sin when we want to be catholics, is an object of physics or biology wen we want to be scientists, it may even be a “stone” wen we lack one at hand and we want to throw one at something or somebody – and, who as a kid, never kicked an apple around as if it were a football: what exactly is an apple, then?

    I believe it is only freedom, as “living freedom”, so to say the union of nature (life) and Spirit (freedom) in us, that stops us from annihilating ourselves. And that it is life without freedom, so to say the separation between nature and spirit, that can bring us to kill ourselves – as we see these days in Libia, where young man are risking their lives and loosing their lives for freedom. And only living freedom can stop that crises, when the factions come to terms, to a status quo were they can perceive a general stand point of freedom for everybody, and it is more then ever a time for concept, a time to sit down and “find” an Idea in wich they can settle their diferences in a renovated world – that they must create from themselves – able to embrace those differences.

    This also to say that nature can be dialectic if we think of nature with us in it, if nature is nature plus Spirit. In this way when, for instance, we discover some law of physics, nature changes it self, because we change ourselves a bit, we aquire new ablilities from this discover, and with this abilities we create new things, even an orginal thought, brought about by a scientifical discovery, is a new thing that came to life, a new thing that came to the world, with the potential for new relations, for a new world, for a renewed nature.

    Are we that far from being able to creat new living beings from genetical experience and knowledge? If a scientist creates a new living being, and that living being can live and reproduce it self, was it nature or man who did it?

    Just this few thoughts.

  6. TR

    Dear Joao V,

    the remark you referred to was intended for Andrew who thought I was in fact identifying the experience of the concrete with the truth (in the sense of crude realism). In this realistic and ontological sense there is no Identity of the world and my understanding of it. But you are right. If you understand identity in the sense that I as the experiencing person am identical to the one who constructs my experience, then of course that is a wholly different matter.

  7. Joao V

    ” In this realistic and ontological sense there is no Identity of the world and my understanding of it.”

    Dear TR

    (i am not trying to play with words…)
    but the thing is we don’t really know if there is an identity of the world and our undestandig of it, unless we knew what the world is – but if we knew then there would be that identity wich for now we tend to refuse. And if we say that there is no identity then in some way we are difining nature as an absolute otherness. This, of course, bring us to the verge of skepticism or at least to an “aporia”, or a paradox, in the sense that stating that there is no identity is in it self, through the use of the verb “to be”, a statement of being, even if in the negative “not being”. And if i understood one of the lectures here on Hegels logic the “not being” is ultimately refered to “being”, as if it is pregnant with “being”, pregnant with positivity. In this way, “there is no identity” says “there is an “iato” betwen us and nature and, therefore, we can say of nature, positively, as being, as to it’s essence, as to our knowing of it, as to it’s truth before us, as being an absolute otherness. It doesn’t say much, it’s true, or it says to much, maybe, but it says something positive, an “is” instead of a “is not”.

    But i don´t really think nature is an absolute otherness, because that would lead into a contradiction: how can i even conceive nature as an absolute otherness, if absolute otherness would demand no concept at all, the impossibility of concept.

    One way to try and resolve this “aporia”, a notion that i already placed in my first comentary, but not in a distinctive way, is to take nature’s essence as “life”. I can not at this point put forward a conceptual definition of life, i am hopping we can share an intuition of it, a minimum denominator like “bio-physic organization able to reproduce it self” or something like that. But if we consider nature’s truth to be “life” then we can say that as long as we are living we have an understanding of nature. I think the day we stop having an understanding of nature and if we don’t get it back quickly will be the day we will end up destroying ourselfs.

    What is distinctive about man is selfconscience, at least to the degree we can find it in us, and what may start to separate us from all other natural beings is freedom, especially when we consider it important enough to risk our lives in it’s demand, meaning we are not satisfied in just being alive and in a way this insatisfaction with “just being alive” is the root of Spirit. Spirit is the breath (pneuma) of freedom into life and so powerfull is this breath that inteligence, science, phylosophy, religion, art, are in a way functions of it, because without freedom, without it’s prospect at least, what is inteligence, what is art, phylosophy, religion, and love, even?

    It is a long comentary already, and it lacks conceptual rigour for a phylosophy site like this, it is more a sketch of a “mundividência” a “world view” that is the shoes as much as the way, a pre-concept maybe.
    I think the key question is what is freedom? How can we expand it without destroying life? I think it is the main political question? The main question of state.


    Joao V.

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