Ep. 24 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Hegel



my notes

  • Line from Kant to Hegel
  • Kant: reality was the thing in itself. We can’t interact with it we can only interact with our experience.

(although we ARE interacting with it. We can only experience parts of it, but we’re still making contact)

  • The thing in itself is nothing we can come into rational contact with.
  • Romanticism: reestablish contact with reality through irrational states


  • titanic, complex, difficult thinker. Vervaeke trying to cut through the material that is relevant to understanding the gene alogy of meaning crisis
  • Says the thing in itself is completely unknowable. Hegel says that is indistinguishable from it being non-existant
  • If there is nothing that can be known about it, stop thinking about it as something that exists.
  • If remove the thing in itself then we get idealism: reality is found only in the mind.
  • “the real is the rational”
  • Reality is the rational
  • Important derivation from the original insight Parmenides/Plato that there’s a deep connection between our sensing something as real, and how intelligible it is to us, how knowable it is to us.
  • What’s going on is that the mind is making the structure of reality itself.

( This seems so skin deep, there must be more to it. The fact that we can’t know anything about a thing may make it indistinguishable from not-existing, but not ontologically. It just means we can’t tell. And what is his definition of knowing. Must be 100% certainty. Which is unreasonable. It seems fallacious to argue that because we cannot know X, then X does not exist. Now, we may say if we can’t know anything about X then we can act as if X does not exist but then the question is can we actually know things, or at least imperfectly know things to a high confidence level)

  • Hegel understands the irrational aspects of the mind not as us moving toward the contact with the unknowable thing in itself - rather, they are the potential within the mind for rationality
  • Rational, intelligible experience has not be self-actualized
  • Thinking of mind in extended sense. Patterns of intelligibility that are at work in humanity
  • ex: this room, mind structuring this experience, idea that this is all in a deep metaphysical sense are patterns of intelligibility

(but the invisible can still kill us!)

  • Patterns of intelligibility and reality is the mind in an extended sense.
  • Form a living system. They are developing. Irrational elements are constantly being transformed into more rational intelligible elements.
  • Geist : Mind and spirit: the living systems of patterns of intelligibility by which we ultimately makes sense.
  • Given this argument against an unknowable reality being a reality - the patterns by making sense are identical to the patterns by which reality is intelligibly structured
  • Absolute Idealism: system of self-realization not just an individual mind.

(He’s trying to explain this by I think there’s too much missing)

  • How do you study this living system?
  • Study history. (influence of Christianity/Ancient Israel): understand history understanding reality as co-founding together.
  • Looking at patterns of history
    • Patterns systematically made sense
    • Ways in which we’ve made grammars by which we make sense of world and ourselves
    • Patterns we realize : something we experience, but also the way things are made real.

(Ok: yes the pattern of things is what makes the thing “real” because it gives it it’s functional structure. It may be a construct to think of it as a thing, but that’s just our mental grouping. It’s not the thing itself. What is a pattern? A pattern of what?)

  • Look at history to discover the development of this grammar of:
    • Human thinking
    • Human being
    • Human living
    • Human wording - creating worlds of intelligible patterns in which we can act in a meaningful manner
    • Understand ourselves, the world and each other
  • Hegel: look at this history, not static.
  • Two opposing movements or forces:
    • Process of differentiation : when making sense have to grasp the differences between things. Clarify, contrast - articulation
    • Find the division points between things
    • Process of integration: gathering things together so we have systematic connections being realized.
    • Be aware of them but constituting them as participants.
  • Understanding = creation of a system. Systematization.

( yes, I agree. The issue here is our understanding though, not ontology)

  • Analogy: children have ways of making sense of the world, that way of making sense works for them - as go through stages of development, system becomes improved. Things that were confused together get differentiated apart and get reintegrated.

Thesis / antithesis / Synthesis

  • Hegel thought saw internal development of Geist like a living thing
  • See in history that an idea is proposed, gets contrasted, clarified, distinguished from counter idea. The two ideas drawn together in a higher integration
  • Thesis / antithesis / Synthesis
  • This serves as new idea to start whole process over again.
  • Increasing articulation and integration of patterns of intelligibility (which are the patterns of realness) complixification.
  • Dialectic
  • ex: what is reality: Reality is changeless, others, No: the whole capacity for understanding experience of reality, that things are changing, there is no content of experience. Argue the opposite: reality is pure change. Plato integrates together: eternal patterns, structurally organize changing processes.
  • Can see this in science: eternal patterns (Laws), interact with forces: science is a systhesis
  • Patterns science discovers are also the patterns of reality - analogous to how Hegel thinking of Geist
  • Process of self-transcendence on Geist’s part.

( Is this because we build on past thoughts. We don’t start from scratch, and we don’t stop looking for patterns)

  • Hegel: we can get to a stage where the system of realization becomes aware of itself
  • One of the ideas that emerges this idea itself - the system
  • Absolute Geist: goal in this process.
  • All of history moving to this point - Absolute idealism.
  • Rationality is seen as systematic process in the self-development of Geist
  • Moved from Understanding to Reason
  • Principles of rationally making sense, living system of principles moves from understanding things, to understanding everything systematically, and that systematic understanding is self-reflective. It includes and refers and grasps itself.
  • Rationality has realized itself
  • If this is a process by which rationality realizes itself and the real is the rational this is also a process by which reality realizes itself = God
  • Hegel taken this Hebrew/Christian idea that God is that process by which we make sense and develop and create the world with god, created a philosophical understanding of that. Secularized and rationalized God
  • Hegel understood his project in religious terms, but rationalized them.
  • Must have a new mythology

( I’ve had that thought several times throughout this lecture series)

  • But new mythology must be in the service of the ideas. Must be a mythology of Reason.

  • Enlightened and unenlightened must clasp hands

  • Mythology must become philosophy to make people rational, and philosophy must become mythological to make philosophers sensible

  • Lead to a higher spirit, sent from heaven, found a new religion among: last and greatest work of mankind. Final utopia. Final stage in which Geist generated systematic self-understanding. Grasp all of our previous cultural and intellectual history.

  • ex: understanding → reason, mythology → philosophy. Christianity.

    • Myth: Father and the trinity:
      • Father = undifferentiated understanding, unactualized, undifferentiated
      • Son: incarnation: starts to get differentiated understanding - differentiated into particular things
      • Son is the counter of the father
      • reconciliation: Son sacrificed, reconciles with father. Higher integration, new kind of identify. Realization of identity and difference of father and son
      • Father and son both different and one
      • Understanding is realization of differentiation and integration
      • Holy Spirit: God is Agape. Identical to the process by which we are making each other into persons.
      • Hoy Spirit = Geist, dwelling within its self-awareness
      • God is dwelling within the development of the community.
  • Grand synthesis: Hegel felt his system exemplified what it was talking about Total explanation of mind being, God, religion, philosophy

  • German idealism massively influential

  • Powerful attempt to save the meaning making machinery, salvage axial legacy, still develop increasing contact with reality that is spiritual and rational at the same time

  • Conceptual vocabulary - theoretical principles to structure that vocabulary to respond to meaning crisis

  • Spreads across Europe

  • But many consider it to have collapsed

Response to Hegel

  • Pattern of secularizing religion into systems of ideas that attempt to give total explanation and guide
  • Godfather of totalitarian ideologies
  • Three avenues of response:
    • Schopenhauer : understands the relationship in terms of will/Nietzsche will to power
    • Kirkegard : Hegel made a system then sat down beside it. Impersonalism. Lack of perspectival and participatory knowing. Rendered into a system of ideas.
    • Marx :
  • Kirkegard :
    • Our attempt to make contact with what’s real has been severed from personal transformation and self-transcendence. Don’t have to undergo any radical change. Mystical experience. Socratic challenge. Just rational self-reflection.
    • Lost process by which we become radically different. When we move through those transformative experiences go through leap of faith. Not something can reason your way through
    • Pointing out that this system for all its grandeur: profound truths that have no existential, transformative relevance. No wisdom, just theoretical structure to interpret history
  • Marx :
    • History not driven by reason, by the man, but by the monster. By our socio-economic activity, as we try to provide for our material existence
    • Influenced by Feuerbach:
      • Proposal: religion not the arena in which Geist unfolding itself, it’s the projection an ideal model of my own humanity. Distorts and distracts us. Alienates us from our own role in historic practices
    • Marx: religion noxious projection of how they are the authors of history
    • Once we get rid of religious distortion to the material monster we see the dialectic. Dialectical materialism not idealism
    • Clash is political struggle. Conflict between the classes. But systematically related. Interdependent.
    • Process of political struggle and violence will work out the self-contradictions in our socio-economic activity until we achieve a political state of peace and freedom
    • Always the attempt to find the promised land.
    • Bringing to a logical conclusion the secularization of Hegel
    • Sees himself supplying the missing particpation: this is how you participate: a call to arms! Communists want to change the world
    • Dialectic and participation come together in political socio-economic revolution
    • Violent totalizing ideologies. Promise secular utopia.
    • Deep politicization of the process by which people supposed to try and have faith. The kairos christianity has become the revolution
  • All share a sense that Hegel’s totalizing ideology has not captured the core of human meaning making.