Critiquing Assumptions Between “Manifestation” and “Reality”
What appears, what doesn’t appear, and what cannot appear: on critical differences with ontological significance
Lew and Filip in conversation is a treat. Amazing scholars of Hegel, I’m convinced they could discuss cooking books and unveil profound truth (their talk on “Collingwood, The British Idealists and the Meaning of the Whole” should be viewed widely).
I loved the point that philosophical concepts can “overlap” (they don’t always “freshly-break” between thinkers), and also the idea that we never start at “ground zero” with philosophy: we always come in “always already” with some of its material. Also, philosophy can seem “useless” in the same way that jazz can seem like it isn’t music: to “get it,” we must be willing to enter in and “just do it.” Jazz improvisation isn’t random, though it can seem like “it has no structure,” but really the structure of improvisation can only be readily known and understood in the act of being part of the improvisation. It seems like “any note will do,” but the pianist knows that the F# is needed here and now. How? Well, we’d have to be part of the improvisation to understand “the order,” but “the order” is certainly present.
I think it’s true that philosophers who spill a lot of ink on “method” tend to be sources of unique insight when they switch to “particular subjects,” and I liked the point that universe-ities were originally focused on finding “the single principle behind the universe” (“The Whole,” per se) — suggesting they might “naturally” veer toward A/A-thinking. Universe-ities “study the universe” to determine what makes it “uni” (oh how secrets can be hidden in the plain sight of words). Even if its ultimately impossible to “learn The Whole,” someone will still end up managing (our sense of) “The Whole,” and the question is if we’ll “just hand it” over to them or do something about it ourselves? This point makes me think of AI, the Singularity, and the pressing question of who will control those systems — questions I fear we actually haven’t really started asking, for the magnitude of them is yet to make us tremble.
I personally believe that philosophy is extremely good for helping us live with “big events” (say trauma, identity crises, family breakdowns, etc.), but since we normally just deal with “everydayness,” it becomes easy to think we don’t need philosophy. Also, I liked the point on how philosophy shows us less “how to reach the good life” and more how to realize “we are already in the good life.” Philosophy is in the business of sight more than walking, a point which honors Proust.
Here, I wanted to focus on Filip’s point that Hegel “reverses” Kant’s noumenon to suggest that what is on “this side” of the noumenon is “truest reality” versus on the other, as usually supposed. Hegel makes the point that if x “appears” to us, then there is reason to think there is something “more true about x” than say about y, which doesn’t appear to us. Why should we assume that “hidden things” are more real than “unveiled things?” The very fact something is hidden is easily evidence that the thing doesn’t entail what it needs “in its essence” to manifest to us, which would suggest that it was “weaker” than something that did have what it needed “in its essence” to so manifest. In this way, we seem biased to assume “the hidden” is more important than “the visible,” but this doesn’t necessarily follow: “hiddenness” could suggest a weak essence.
We seem to assume that if x doesn’t “appear,” it must be transcendent of our perceptive capacities, but Hegel wants us to realize that that’s an assumption we don’t have to make. If x doesn’t “appear,” far from transcendent of say the experiential y, x might be “essentially weaker” than y somehow. Then again, perhaps not, but the critical point is that we shouldn’t be so quick to assume that “what doesn’t manifest” is “more real” than “what does manifest.” This assumption is consequential, and Hegel suggests that we may have made the assumption too quickly.
The believer might argue that Heaven doesn’t manifest into finitude, and yet Heaven is “highest reality” — doesn’t that suggest Hegel is wrong? There’s little doubt that Christianity inspired Kant to suggest that “what is across the noumenon” is “highest reality,” but I fear this was a take on Christianity which was “dualistic” and even “Gnostic” (as N.T. Wright has worked hard to correct). If we take Hegel seriously, we don’t necessarily have to assume “Heaven doesn’t exist,” but instead could conclude that finitude “incarnationally participates” in Heaven, meaning that what “manifests” is part of God’s transcendent reality versus completely cut-off from it. Instead of “the finite and the infinite,” we might discuss “the (in)finite.”
In Kant, if x is finitude and y is infinite, then it seems x and y are divided by the noumenon, but Hegel suggests that x and y exist together as x/y (a view which I have been told might be found in Kant, actually, so forgive me if my “popular take” on Kant is mistaken). If y is across the noumenon, y is that which perhaps “lacks enough substance” to manifest, and so easily could have more to do with “the privation of Hell” versus “the fullness of Heaven” (to stick with the theological language) But if x manifests in finitude, its essence might be “strong enough” to bring itself into being, and ultimately the believer thinks that “all strength comes from God.” Thus, x on “this side” of the noumenon could easily have more to do with God than y across it, a logic which could apply just as well to “being” itself.
No, we cannot know “with certainty” that Hegel is right, but the critical point is that we shouldn’t assume that what manifests is “less real” than what doesn’t manifest. We’ve assumed too long that “what doesn’t manifest” is transcendent, and though there can be truth to this, the error comes when we assume “the transcendent” and “the more real” necessarily correlate. They might but not necessarily.
Arguably, God “cannot manifest into finitude,” so does that mean God is “the least real?” Not according to a Christian schema where “incarnational metaphysics” are entertained, and this suggests why we cannot conflate the “nonmanifest” with “the less real” either. Arguably, God does ultimately manifest at “the end of the age,” but that technicality aside, the point stands: we cannot assume various levels of reality and truth relative to levels of manifestation. Ultimately, in my view, we should use Hegel to severe the link between “manifestation” and “reality” — there is no “necessary” link at all. Our situation is much less certain.