chapter  14
15 Pages

Hegel and analytic philosophy


There remains little agreement, despite several decades of increasing self-scrutiny, about what analytic philosophy is.1 Until fairly recently, however, there has been almost universal agreement about what it is not; namely, whatever it is that Hegel and the Hegelians were up to. According to its founding myth, analytic philosophy arose out of Bertrand Russell’s and G. E. Moore’s reactions against British Hegelianism. Hegel was taken to have demonstrated that the only viable approach to traditional categorical logic was dialectical. The dialectical method enabled one to see that all philosophical claims, whether about meanings or things, amounted to partial truths that could be shown to converge upon a single truth concerning the Absolute. Against this approach, Russell and Moore argued that philosophy should take the form of conceptual analysis, guided by a new, quantificational logic that allowed one to see how individuals and referring expressions entered into facts and sentences, respectively. The aim of analysis, so understood, was to resolve propositional complexes into their basic atomic constituents. Russell had initially applauded Hegel for revealing the inherent limitations of categorical logic, and had joined him in embracing contradiction, the engine of dialectic, as the means of overcoming these limitations. Once he began applying the lessons of quantificational logic to solving philosophical problems, however, he came to think that abandoning the law of non-contradiction was a lamentable misstep, in part because it led directly to the conceptual and ontological holism he and Moore so fiercely rejected. As Russell saw it, the new logic suggested that the world consisted of discrete facts and things, an ontology that Hegel’s commitment to the basic framework of traditional logic simply prevented him from seeing. Russell promulgated the view among analytic philosophers that

Hegelian philosophy was either incompatible with the analytic enterprise or, still worse, not a genuine philosophical enterprise at all. Yet

con-of a broadly analytic stripe have recently begun to recognize. Russell’s polemical interpretation obscured the fact that Hegel did not abandon, so much as redirect the use of, the law of non-contradiction. He is best understood as engaged in a variety of conceptual analysis not unlike, indeed arguably more thoroughgoing than, the sort that Russell later embarked upon. Furthermore, Hegel’s logic is more properly regarded as a concept logic than is Gottlob Frege’s Begriffsschrift (Concept Script), the system of quantificational logic whose propositional form became canonical in the analytic tradition. It certainly departs more decisively than either Frege’s or Russell’s logics from the subjectpredicate model that all three sought to free us from. However, appreciation of Hegel’s philosophical ingenuity and significance would not come to analytic philosophy until many years after it began to reflect on problems inherent to its own notion of logical analysis, including various logical paradoxes and the difficulty of accounting for the unity of propositions (including those that are true, which Moore and Russell initially equated with facts). Confronting these problems initially prompted Russell and his fol-

lowers to develop more holistic, but still non-dialectical, approaches to semantics and ontology. By the middle of the twentieth century, Hegel could be begrudgingly credited with recognizing the errors of naïve empiricism and logical atomism, but such piecemeal acknowledgement did little to rehabilitate his reputation as a befuddled logician and an obscurantist metaphysician. With the recent abandonment or questioning of several early analytic orthodoxies, including those of bivalence and the much discussed “dogmas of empiricism”, there have been glimmerings of a rapprochement with Hegel, a trend led by philosophers who believe that the semantic and logical holisms of W. V. Quine, Wilfrid Sellars and Donald Davidson have made Hegelian doctrines more philosophically attractive and relevant. Among these, Robert Brandom, John McDowell, Graham Priest and Robert Pippin are the most prominent. Each has found in Hegel a fruitful approach to a topic of current philosophical concern, such as the nature of meaning, truth, rationality or subjectivity. Their work is generally acknowledged as an important development within analytic philosophy, but it remains at its periphery, an indication of the tradition’s continued suspicion of Hegel and its inescapable connection to him. A significant but neglected aspect of this connection is the link

between Hegel’s and the early Russell’s respective conceptions of logic, namely, that the purpose of logic is to afford access to the ontological

represents and the analytic tradition. What makes current efforts insufficient is the prevailing tendency, following Alfred Tarski, to approach logic as a purely formal system without regard to its metaphysical underpinnings. What Russell objected to in Hegelian logic was not its metaphysical mooring as such, but its intrinsic metaphysical idealism. Whether Hegel’s idealism is best interpreted as a form of metaphysical holism (as Russell took it) or as a form of conceptual realism closer to Platonism (as we might be inclined to take it) is a question we leave to one side. The important point is that in rejecting Hegel’s logic, Russell did not, as might be expected, adopt the view that logic is metaphysically neutral. On the contrary, he agreed with Hegel that the task of logical inquiry was to provide a metaphysically correct picture of the world. Believing at the time that Moore’s “Platonic atomism” (as Peter Hylton calls it) provided such a picture, he applied himself to identifying its corresponding logic (Hylton 1990: 105-275, passim). In our view, the salient features of Hegel’s conception of logic and

truth are his treatment of logical form as an expression of consciousness and concept, and his famous requirement that in grasping a concept we ultimately, if imperfectly, grasp “the True, not only as Substance, but equally as Subject” (PS 10). Part of what this implies is that acts of conceptual articulation are the primary bearers of truth, in the specific sense of actualizing rather than merely representing reality or the world. Such a view is fundamentally at odds with prevailing analytic perspectives which consider propositions, sentences, statements or even beliefs (considered as representations) to be the primary loci of truth. It also represents the most intractable barrier to understanding Hegel (besides the notorious obscurity of his language). A curious indication of this difficulty is to be found in the ill-repute of Frege’s notion of assertion, or rather of assertoric force, which, as we hope to show, constitutes a profitable point of contrast and intersection with Hegel’s notion of the speculative concept as both the form and act of cognitive engagement. We also hope to show that there are good reasons for revisiting the Russell/Hegel debate, not least because the prevailing view of logic tells equally against Hegelian idealism and Platonic atomism. Perhaps it is possible to tease out a viable view of logic that Hegel and Russell both share, one that doesn’t begin by pulling the rug out from underneath their respective conceptions of a logical metaphysics. The story of Hegel’s relationship to analytic philosophy is a more

philosophically and historically rich one than we can do justice to in

the best logical issues that first led to the divergence between Hegelian and analytic philosophy and that continue to keep them apart. In good Hegelian fashion, we divide the history of analytic philosophy’s relationship to Hegel into three stages or dialectical moments:

1 abstract negation, or the simple repudiation of Hegelian philosophy as such;

2 determinate negation, or the implicit incorporation of repudiated Hegelian doctrines; and

3 the negation of negation, or a reconciliation with the Hegelian position as a determining ground of the analytic project properly conceived.