Currently Reading: Phenomenology of Spirit


I am currently working through Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. As I do so, I intend to share thoughts, ideas, questions, general responses/ramblings etc. I do not require from myself a certain format for sharing my interaction with the text, so I will simply post snippets I write down.

First bits:

Because empirical knowledge is so immediate, we mistake our understanding of it for the empiricism itself. It is not; our interpretation of the empirical data is an interpretation and occurs on a more basic level than we tend to note. Even in the certainty that the empirical data is true, we show an a priori preference for empiricism. This certainty cannot itself come from empiricism, but from intuition. Intuition cannot come from the object but from ourselves.

So, this calls into question the objective nature of science; if the certainty of the validity of science itself is so thoroughly unscientific, how can science be pure? And if it were, how could it be anything more than an agnostic set of questions about the universe?

Science requires matter to exist, and ultimately for knowledge of matter to exist. But the matter does exist no matter how fully, if at all, the knowledge of it exists. Thus the objects science seeks to understand are themselves entirely objective, but once they become observed they exist as human knowledge, and human knowledge of a thing can (and tends) to fall short of the thing itself. (Oh wow, does that sound like Kant?) In this sense, it seems that knowledge of objective things is always, to a degree, subjective.

2 thoughts on “Currently Reading: Phenomenology of Spirit

  1. I find your mention of empirical knowledge being ‘immediate’ interesting, if not semi-ironic in that, while it is direcly present (rather than, say, authoritative knowledge), experience of it is ‘mediated’ through physical phenomena. The experience of gravity is mediated through the sensors in the ear, through electro-chemical reactions, telling ‘down’ which is then propagated through neurons to the brain. Sound, light, touch, etc., the building blocks of emperical experience are explicitly ‘mediate’ as opposed to ‘immediate’ since they are mediated. I don’t remember the philospher who came up with that. I think Francis Collins talks about it in his book ‘The Language of God’.

    While unintentionally hitting on that topic, I think it brings tremendous challenges to science by how the ‘mediated’ is distinguished from the ‘immediated’. The latter is direct experience of a thing itself without an intermediary. How do we experience ourselves? Is it though mediation of electro-chemical neural reactions or is it deeper. The materialist/reductionist has to assert that there is nothing deeper and thus, nothing ‘immediate’. In this frame of thought, your comment about the underlying intuition of certitude about empricism rings thoroughly true.

    From this point, I cannot see how a reductionist’s mediated only view of reality can hold any truth. Restricting truth to the purview of science seems foolhardy at best, not only because of the inherent contradiction brought about by it’s relience on intuition and the ‘immediate’, but also, perhaps even more importantly, because it explicitly excludes the pursuit of truth as discovered (or revealed) through fundamentally immediate experience.

    We can’t externally, emperically, and in a mediated fashion verify truth claims about immediate experience. That is clearly frightening for those who want to hold onto the seemingly profound stability of science. But that approach to verification assumes in it that mediated verification is the only verification. For Chrisitianity, I believe this point to be an important apologetic. What if we can experience God in an immediate fashion, that is, to experience Him directly? What if we can experience the life and heart change that comes by faith in Christ’s love and sacrifice without anything of the experience being mediated? What if by faithfully following the claims He makes about the world we experience the peace and joy He gives, without and mediation? Empiricism relies on proof for truth. But with this direct experience, there is no room for proof since there is no way to mediate the immediate to demonstrate to another. There is simply faith and the experience that follows. And that is both a satisfying and better than simple proof.

    I love the posting you did. It hits on a lot of things I think about. Things that are crucially important. Accepting the intuitive, the immediate, and the limits of empiricism are needed in a post-modern world that has rejected the latter while faking the former.

    • Yes, perhaps the use of “immediate” wasn’t the best choice; hard to guess all the possible meanings a word has been given in past discussions. What I meant was your definition of ‘directly present’ combined with constancy. I am always taking in information empirically whether I want to or not, and it is the most obvious way I take in information. It is then easy to confuse my sense perception of “I am typing on a laptop” as wholly empirical, when I learned, not through empiricism what each word in the sentence means. We simultaneously intake empirical data and use our intuition to interpret it.

      You are saying that empirical data is mediated through our ability to sense, physically, but it is also mediated by our intuition, our ability to tie meaning to the senses we perceive.

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