The Concept of Personality

In Hegel’s Social Philosophy the concept of personality is of vital importance. It is defines human subjectivity in the modern era as the foundational idea about humans a social beings as opposed to Roman Antiquity and the tradition of Natural Right. We are both determined by our social being – as in communitarianism – and yet infinitely distinct, which involves the negative capacity our free will. (The exaggeration of that is liberalism.)
Dudley Knowles found a way to make this concept easy to understand. I present his analysis of that concept in his book on Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.
This video is part #2 of an introductory series on the basic concepts the Philosophy of Right, before we start reading the section on Property.

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#2 The Pre-Socratic Philosophy of Thales of Miletus

Introduction to Philosophy #2

1. Background

The first European philosopher that we consider, was born in 625 in the city of Milétus, a prosperous commercial center on the shores of the Mediterranean. That city was the harbor of Sardes, that had trade connections with Babylon and Egypt. The mature religious wisdom of Asia and Egypt is part of the background of the birth of Greek philosophy.

In the ancient world Thales was considered to be one of the seven Sages. Wisdom and science are connected in his thought. Or rather, wisdom begins to develop as a form of knowledge. This emancipation from the fetters of mythology can be considered the birth of philosophy.

In early Greek philosophy this new philosophical knowledge is always connected with a knowledge from experience and bound by the usefulness of its application. Philosophy was the first step in the direction of a purely theoretical science, that transcended this experiential knowledge.

Thales acquainted himself with the geometric knowledge of the Egyptians and the astronomic knowledge of the Babylonians. By making use of this Babylonian insight, Thales was able to predict the eclipse of 585. When it happened, a battle was raging between the Lydians and the Medes. The sudden unexpected darkness, made them end the war. It is important to note that Thales did not understand the cause of the eclipse; in that sense there was no science involved. However it does show that Thales had a keen interest in the regularity of natural phenomena.

There are many other examples of Thales’s understanding of natural science. But he was also interested in politics, and that actually got him the title of Sage and even Lawgiver.

#2. Science and wisdom

The philosophy of Thales has been referred to as cosmology. It is certainly true that transcended the mythological notions of the structure of the visible world. Obviously Thales is most concerned with the phenomena of visible nature. But he also goes beyond any naturalist theory. He is not trying to answer the What? but rather, the Why? He is concerned with the true essence of the world, with the question: what holds the world together?

In trying to deal with this question about the essence of the world, the facts of change and mortality form a basic mystery. Thales finds himself in a world that demonstrates both eternal sameness and changeability in time. The forces of creation and decay continue to amaze him. Especially in the area of natural life this contradiction is intense.

It is interesting to consider that the word fysis, nature in Greek, means something like the “power of growth”, life. It reflects the idea that even the mineral nature has within itself the principle of life. Aristotle tells us that Thales considered magnetism to be evidence of that. The movements of iron particles under the influence of the magnet resemble life. There is some similarity between such phenomena within mineral nature – their various inexplicable movements – and the movements of life-forms.

Now this is in a primitive form a scientific approach. A natural phenomenon, in this case magnetic attraction, is compared to other phenomena; the specific nature of this similarity is expressed as some kind of coherence or connection; and this coherence is then understood as a necessary connection, i.e. a law.

Thales for that reason sees life as the concept that expresses both the changeability of natural phenomena in general and the inner and eternal unity of the world. The basic premise of his philosophy then is to find the order, and eternal unity of the diversity of changeable phenomena. There must be some ground that underlies all change. Thales considered the creative force of life to be this ground.

The phenomenon in nature that most clearly represents and expresses this creative force is water. That is the reason that the philosophy of Thales is most often expressed as this simple statement: everything is (or originates in) water. The force of water is the creative force in nature. There can be no life without water, the life of plants is dependent on moisture, the sperm of animals and human beings is moist, the food of animals and humans is moist, and the blood that sustains life is a moisture. Water evaporates and returns to earth as rain, and in that cycle there is both an eternal order as well as change. There is the invisibility of the evaporation and the visibility of the rain. There is the rain covering the earth, and there is the invisible power that makes plants grow.

Most writers seem to think that Thales came up with this idea of water, simply because the sea was so important for his hometown. Or people try to understand his philosophy as derived from the mythical figure of Oceanus. The sea could be the mother and the cradle of everything that lives. But Thales does not talk about the principle of water like that. Water in a way dies with evaporation, but that is an illusion. Water returns and is suddenly present in a drop of dew on a flower.

The concept of water as used by Thales is not identical to any singular phenomenon, nor is it a concept of natural sciences in any modern sense, but it is also not a “primordial matter”. If we consider water as a phenomenon, it is actually the same as any other phenomenon. Water can be here and not there; it can be now and not before. It is therefore simply a phenomenon.

However, water does have this very peculiar characteristic, that it can be solid as ice, liquid as streaming water and gaseous as vapor. There is some privileged connection between the phenomenon of water in its three modes of being and water as the principle of life.

However, though it seems so self-evident, that is not the way Thales talks about water. If he had considered water to be something like a primordial matter, he would have had to separate matter and mind. But that kind of abstract separation, that sets the material world apart from thought, is not yet present.

Furthermore, Thales is interested in the movement of water, not in the “matter” or substance of water. That makes it unlikely that he considered water to be some kind of primordial matter. Water is to Thales the immediate revelation and visibility of the creative force of life. As a principle it has mystic elements. The creative force lives in water just as life lives in the blood, or the soul in our breath. Water is life in action, it functions as the carrier of life.

As we said before, Thales does not yet distinguish between matter and life. The order of the world’s life is also in the mineral nature, where our senses cannot detect the living nature things. We need to keep in mind that all our modern distinctions between life and the lifeless, matter and thought, phenomenon and essence have not yet been developed in this early stage of philosophy. The changeability of natural phenomena is not an illusion, behind which there is an eternal and unchangeable essence of things. The essence is within the phenomena; the phenomena reveal the essence. And yet they are not different from each other.

3. Creation and destruction

The movement of changeable things is the revelation of the one and single principle that gives order to everything. How can we now understand birth and death, creation and destruction within this order of things?

According to Aristotle, Thales theorized that everything comes into existence out of water and everything is destroyed by turning into water again. The law of nature is this constant change from water into something and from something into water. The beginning and end of this change is what the world truly or essentially is. The forms in between are nothing but the metamorphoses of one and the same element of water.

This means that ultimately nothing comes into being and nothing is destroyed. Everything just changes in appearance.

Therefore Thales also thought that the earth originated out of water, just as fire and stone. Possibly this judgment was supported by a popular view in Egypt, that the Delta of the Nile was formed by the sun, that sucked water out of the river. The dry land then appeared as a consequence of the action of fire.

Why is this way of thinking a formal philosophy? The grandeur of Thales is first of all the fact that the access to the truth of the world is not given by perception and experience, but by thought alone. And secondly, that this truth of the world is one single idea, in which the diversity of phenomena is combined with a single notion of the essence. And thirdly that even though this essence is found in what is unchangeable, this unchangeable is however considered to be a principle of diversity and movement, i.e. life. Thales’s worldview is not static but dynamic.

We must say however that in this philosophy there is a confusion of beginning and principle. Water is to Thales both the essence out of which everything comes to being and it is the principle of metamorphoses, change that involves form and shape. The concept of change has a material content. What can be seen and is therefore created, becomes the creative power. It is Aristotle that within Greek philosophy ultimately made a distinction between matter and form, the indeterminate and the determinant.

The concept of water should have been distinguished from the phenomenon of water. For Thales the flowing water makes itself invisible as vapor and yet becomes fire and stone. And yet all of these are forms of the same life force. The concept of water is an eternal becoming and change; yet this eternal change is nothing but an eternal being. Neither being nor becoming are adequately understood.

4. Hegel’s view on Thales

According to Hegel Thales is the beginning of the history of philosophy. In his “Lectures on the History of Philosophy” he tells the anecdote of Thales who was looking at the stars so intently, that he walked right into a pit in the ground. A kitchen help saw what happened and started to mock him. How could a man who understood the things of heaven, be unable to notice what was just before his feet? Hegel wrote this interesting comment:

“People laugh at something like that, but philosophers are unable to affirm their reasoning. People do not understand, that philosophers laugh about them, even though they cannot fall into the pit, because every single one of them is already in there – because they do not look at higher things.”

For Hegel it is important that reality is now being understood as concept. The world is posited as a singular universal, water as a principle of movement. If however water is considered to be something that is effective in reality – and for that reason we call it an element – it is important to consider other such effective universals. Water cannot be the single one. Nevertheless water is to Thales thinking not only a universal of sensory perception, but also a speculative universal. To be a true universal, i.e. to be a true concept, all elements of the immediate experience should be removed. Thales did not accomplish that. 

The movement of water, taken as a concept, is life. And in that sense the realm of our experience is transcended. Thales now entered into this peculiar battle between the perceivable universal of water, and the true universal of the concept of water. The concept of water is itself without form, and just a singular essence. The perceivable universal however is a contradiction to its own concept, because it always has a form – solid or liquid, fire or stone, the various lifeforms. Whereas the concept is form-less. It is an abstract thought. 

The attempt to identify the universal of experience with the universal as concept is the ultimate failure of his philosophy. The history of philosophy begins with the understanding that the truth or the essence of the world can only be one single idea. 

With Thales a movement of thought begins that stretches beyond sensory experience. That is characteristic of all philosophy. It implies the understanding that no particular existence is true in and for itself. It implies the affirmation that the one substance out of which everything comes into being, is not just something accidental or external. The substance that stands at the origin is also the substance that continues to determine the being of everything that it has brought forth. This is true philosophy, Hegel says.

The separation of the absolute and the finite, the insight that only one idea can be the full truth and the notion that the single and simple cause of the universe lends to the world as a whole a particular character – all of that belongs to the nature of philosophy as such. It is, in short, the discovery of the primacy of thought over experience.

But even though Thayles in principle discovered the primacy of thinking, this principle of life-water is still determined by his natural experience and the phenomena of flowing, evaporating and solidifying water. Right at the beginning of the history of philosophy, we nevertheless find several discoveries that will determine philosophy throughout its history and to the present day. Two of them stand out: 

1. The whole of nature should be expressed in the concept of a singular essence

2. We need to understand the idea of a principle – water as the single substance of experience, water as the single concept of thought.

5. Summary

The study of Thales has helped us to understand the nature of philosophy in general somewhat better. We now know why it is important to transcend the world of experience. That gives us a clue as to the nature of metaphysics.

We now know that philosophy ultimately is concerned with the one single principle that does not explain the world theoretically, but conceptualizes or understands the world as a unified order.

We now know that there is a difference between material causality and metaphysical causality, because with Thales the concept of water is considered to be life, which is another word for everything that is, and not just for a single phenomenon.

Thales is not talking about the effective reality of a single perceived object, but the speaks about the inner ground of being. That is also the beauty of the concept of the physis – not yet distinguished from metaphysics – that is implicit in the philosophy of Thales.

We also found that the distinction between the unchangeable and the changeable is a basic problem for Thales, and it is still the same with us. A prime example of this is the attempt by the natural sciences to combine gravity, quantum mechanics and electromagnetism into the so-called unified theory.

It is a basic human instinct to surmise, that the order in the physical world is an indication of a singular causality.

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The first part of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right deals with property and contract. Of course these concepts had already been treated in the tradition of the so-called “natural law” from Hobbes to Kant. In that tradition the foundation of the social order was some kind of natural property in human beings, or the arbitrary decisions of state rulers. Hegel sides with that part of this tradition that tries to find the foundation in the human subjectivity, but his interpretation of that subjectivity was totally different. Especially Hegel criticizes the concept of freedom that is assumed here. It is his goal not to simply discard this tradition, but to take it to another level. The meaning of freedom in this tradition is now considered from the perspective of a concept of freedom that transcends that tradition. Natural law is a valid understanding of human liberty, but only up to a point.

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#1 The Three Elements of Philosophy

Chapter 1

Introduction to Philosophy

#1 The Three Elements of Philosophy

According to both Plato and Aristotle the origin of philosophical thought lies in our ability to be amazed. Plato states that there is no other origin or principle in philosophy than just the pathos of being amazed. And according to Aristotle it is because of their amazement that people began to practice philosophy.

When we consider these statements we will soon find that they imply three elements of philosophy.

First of all, there is this inner experience that accompanies our perception of the world. It is truly a pathos in the sense that it is elicited from the outside. Nature around us, the tides of the sea, the movement of the stars in the sky make us wonder. It is this experience that interrupts our indifference. What seemed to be self evident and natural, turns out to be a miracle, a secret that invites us to investigate. Also according to Aristotle it is our senses, primarily our sight, that give us the urge to understand.

Secondly, we find ourselves in awe of this wondrous world, that appears to us as a secret. Our intuitions tell us that in this miraculous world of our perceptions, there is a cosmic order that hides itself in secrecy and yet reveals itself to our inquiring minds. The experience of awe that is connected to this amazement brings us to the persuasion that the world ultimately is a single coherent whole, in which essence and apparition are to be distinguished. The apparition of the many objects of our perception is somehow connected to the essence of the inner order of all things. That cosmic essence and order is not easily understood. Amazement and awe motivate us to do what is required here, i.e. the activity of reflection, of thought. It is not within our perception that this hidden cosmic order reveals itself, but only within thought.

The distinction between the manifold world of perception and the unified world of thought is also a distinction between the inner and the outer, the internal and the external. The inner essence of the world, the truth of the world, can only be found within the internal mind. The essence of the world corresponds to the inner world of the mind. The apparition of the world, with its almost infinite series of phenomena, corresponds to the external perception. In the history of philosophy the truth of this external world, was the primary objective of philosophy; in its history philosophy ultimately also discovered the inner world of the human mind.

Thirdly, one of the elements of philosophical amazement is the presupposition that the essence of the world is twofold, fixed and determined on the one hand, and moving and changing on the other hand. Change was obvious within the experience of nature, as was the determined character of thought, especially when written down. This basic experience of an opposition between being and becoming led to the third basic question of all philosophy.

So this is how amazement leads to philosophy: the essence of the world beyond mere perception is one coherent whole; the essence of the world is expressed within human rationality; there is some connection between the eternal concepts of the human mind and the diversity and transience of nature. These are the three basic questions that at first Greek philosophy try to answer.

All of this would have led nowhere if the answer to these questions would have been taken from mythology. Philosophy also requires the notion that these questions are to be posed in a critical manner, that is that answers can only be found by applying some rational method. This principle not only refutes and transcends the domain of mythology, but it also represents a basic humility, because the answers that philosophy can give us, can never be considered to be complete and exhaustive, they can never become “divine wisdom.” The method of philosophy is truly a path, a road that is determined in its direction, but never completed by reaching its goal. It is therefore truly philo-sophy, a love for wisdom that can never be fully satisfied.

Philosophy is therefore also different from the sciences. The interest behind the sciences is the urge to explain a particular set of phenomena. It requires a focus on particular objects and events. It poses questions about specific movements. Sciences are always striving for a particular knowledge and are therefore analytic. Philosophy however asks the question what phenomena are in general; it focuses on the objective world as a whole and asks the question about the essence of all events; it poses questions about movement as such. Sciences are focused on the particular; philosophy is focused on the universal. It is Aristotle that defined philosophy as the search for the answer to the question about that which truly is, about being as such, that is, the essence.

All of these three elements including the critical and rational method, can be found in what we usually accept to be the first true philosopher: Thales of Miletus. And indeed the scarce fragments of his philosophy speak about essence, the external world and the meaning of change. Because he is a true philosopher, our interest in him cannot be just historical interest. Thales discusses the three elements of philosophy that are truly universal. That is why we must say that as a philosopher he is a contemporary while in a historical sense he is separated from us by 2500 years.

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Recap of Hegel’s Teaching on Freedom in the Philosophy of Right

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The Three Moments of Logic

Logic has three different moments:

a) the abstract or intellectual moment
b) the dialectical or negative-reasonable moment
c) the speculative or positive-reasonable moment

I am not talking about three parts of logic, but indeed about moments. Every concept and everything that is true in general has these three sides to it. If we were to speak about the concept of “being”, then it would be possible to discover an abstract, a dialectic and a speculative side.

We can be brief about finite reason, the rational mind. The mind takes every concept as a fixed and in itself resting determination. The mind assesses the difference between this determination and others. In this way it achieves a limited and abstract determination that is conceived as something that exists for itself.

Such finite determinations, however, pass into their opposite, or rather they sublate themselves. That is the dialectical moment in the logical.

When we take the dialectical moment in a rational way, that is to say, as a definite determination, we end up in skepticism. We then see in the dialectical only the negation, as the only result of the thought process. The mind sets a fixed determination: “being” for example. The simple negation of that concept is dialectic in its skeptical form: non-being, nothing. In its most abstract form, this is the reurring negation of every claim to truth, the constant transition between a positive being and denying that positive being.

The true dialectical moment in all logic, however, is to surpass the isolated determination and also the isolated negation. The determination is maintained, but it is also expressed in relation to something else. Not from the outside, but as an immanent movement, so by itself transcending itself. After all, every determination of the mind has a certain one-sidedness and limitation. That one-sidedness and limitation are the definite negation of this isolated determination. But this negation is also exactly what is needed, to give this intellectual determination this content. Instead of opposing being and nothing unilaterally and abstractly, we now learn that the definite nature of the concept of being depends, for example, on pure denial, that is, of nothingness. It is, after all, being because it is not nothing. Being is, or better, means not being nothing. Just as nothing means non-being, that is, the negation of being. In order to be able to think specifically, that is to say concretely, we need the opposite. In that opposite however what was stated at first does not disappear, but it is also confirmed in it. Nothing as the denial of being only has meaning if what is being denied is assumed and remains valid.

The speculative or positive-reasonable moment expresses the unity of the determinations in their opposition. There is something enclosed in the movement between the positive and its opposite that can be confirmed. This affirmation is locked up in the transition from one to the other, is locked up in their contradiction itself. The movement from being to nothing, which is the reversal of the movement from nothing to being, can be expressed as a positive result. The dialectical relationship of both concepts is not the contradiction in which one or the other disappears, but is a certainty that encompasses both movements. Nothing is not empty or abstract, but concrete, because it is the denial of something, namely of being; being is also not empty and abstract, for it is the condition that is negative to its opposite, the nothing, as non-nothing.

The reasonable unity that is expressed in the speculative concept is a unity of these various mutually exclusive determinations. In the speculative concept, the movement of thought between the two contradictory determinations is presented as a definite determination. In this case, we move towards the concept if “becoming”. After all, “becoming” is the movement from being to nothing, and from nothing to being, thus from one determination to its opposite, resulting in a simple and fixed determination. With this concept the result of the dialectical movement is thus established, and something has been achieved that can now become the new starting point of a subsequent dialectical movement.

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Idea, Concept and Reality (2)

The result of our previous considerations and the principle that we constantly have to address here is the idea that reality is determined by the concept. This does not mean that reality is fully experienced by us in accordance with the concept. It is not claimed here that the “reality” can simply be understood as perfect in our experience. Continue reading

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