Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Nietzsche's morality is not "artistic"

People often (I can vouch for two or three professors in my philosophical experience alone that have done this) teach Nietzsche as if he advocated an "aesthetic morality," meaning a type of morality that is not based on absolute, universal principles (principles that are true everywhere and always) like in the systems of Kant and Hegel. Instead of this, what grounds an "aesthetic morality" are relative, historically determined principles that hold as right or good or just only in particular instances.
So far these teachers are correct. But they have not yet asserted why this relative, changable morality is "aesthetic." They assert this at the moment when they try to explain the idea of this "relativist" morality, when they try to give a rough sense of it, because thinking of a morality without absolutes is, even to us now, almost impossible to really grasp and think.
What would a morality be if it were based on something that held true only within a particular instance? Well, they say, it would be a lot like if morals were (here the "aesthetic" comes in) works of art before you: what you judge as "good" art would be a lot like sitting in judgement on, say, a killing. The killing of a person can be either tasteful or not, necessary or not. If it isn't tasteful or necessary, just like an extraneous bit of paint on a canvas, it is then judged as "bad" or "evil," and should be done away with--i.e. the person who killed should be put in jail.
Why do they make this comparison? Because judgements based on "relativist" principles are judgements that only hit at the appearance of a particular issue. That is, because a particular moral judgement cannot hold true in all cases according to Nietzsche, the only judgement you can make would be one on the immediate event as it comes before you--the appearance as opposed to what endures, an "essence." At the same time, you could only refer yourself in your judgement to something that also only appears as the right. Since art is the realm of this immediately apparent, and judgements on art only refer themselves to artistic standards as well as the matter to be judged in this immediate way, the term "aesthetic" is used and Nietzsche's morality is elaborated with examples from the art gallery.
But is this really what Nietzsche claims morality is? Let's see what these teachers would cite within Nietzsche's corpus to support this. A passage from Beyond Good and Evil says the following:

People should at least concede this much: there would be no life at all if it were not based on appearances and assessments based on perspectives. And if people, with the virtuous enthusiasm and foolishness of some philosophers, wanted to do away with the entire "apparent world," assuming, of course, you could do that, well then at least nothing would remain any more of your "truth" either! In fact, what compels us generally to the assumption that there is an essential opposition between "true" and "false"? Is it not enough to assume degrees of appearance and, as it were, lighter and darker shadows and tones for the way things appear--different values, to use the language of painters?

The teachers seem vindicated. Nietzsche here says that instead of determining morality like Kant and Hegel using the realm of the absolute, enduring truth of essence as the true and what appears or changes as what is false, we should just assume that truth and falsity both possess "degrees of appearance," or--and here is the crucial phrase, "values, to use the language of painters." Nietzsche, then, is supposedly saying that truth and falsity are simply to be judged like a painter would judge the value of a color--aesthetically, in accordance with appearance and what is immediately at hand, i.e. with reference to the relative adequateness of the color with regard to the rest of a painting. Thus Nietzsche's morality is an aesthetic morality opposed to an unconditional and absolute morality.
No! Nothing could be further from what Nietzsche believes and even says in this passage! This is what usually happens with his teachers--a coherent view of Nietzsche's philosophy is constructed by an effort to inculcate and explain Nietzsche and the profundity of his work, and reads Nietzsche in conformity with this coherent view, overlooking the words themselves!
But--here's the rub--this is the only way Nietzsche can be taught! Nietzsche's statements contradict themselves constantly, because they constantly refer to particular examples, particular instances, and never allow abstraction away from these instances without distortion. Most philosophers (cf. Kant) usually strain to come up with practical examples of the general principles they expound: like Marx, Nietzsche is a thinker in the language of examples and only suffers from a deficiency of general, systematic statements. In order to teach him, you just have to get the sense of his words right--that only comes by being and remaining open to the possibility of his correctness on certain points (as disturbing as that might be). And many do not do this--Nietzsche asks too much of them. And that's okay, but at that point a judgement is not made about the nature of Niezsche's philosophy, but about the nature of philosophy in general--i.e. that it should exclude the possibility that a discourse without universal and systematic pronouncements could be certain of something.
Nietzsche himself is, however, very certain about truth and about morality. He argues always for a highly determined and determinable sphere of the Right--never for what is indeterminate and relative. For evidence of this, let us look again at the passage. Nietzsche never even says that morality is like an aesthetic judgement: does he not say that he is using the "language of painters?" That is, does he not say that he is using the language of someone for whom judging is never an issue but for whom creating is always an issue? The person who goes around judging art has no place in determining what shade or value something should appear to be--Nietzsche would agree with those teachers who lament the relativism of "aesthetic" morality! For judging is just a displacement of that type of evaluation that relies on absolutes into the sphere of the aesthetic: indeed, philosophers are right when they say that an artistic judgement is relative with regard to the part of the piece judged. But the artist, the painter, makes none of these judgements, and engages in none of this relativism. Artists rely on their drives, on their unreason, on their lack of capacity to judge and their excellence in making something appear and manifest itself.
What's more, they are incredibly precise in this creativity: this is the sense in which the word "values" is used here: for the creator, the painter, the value of a particular blotch of color on the canvas is a thoroughly determined, specific thing, an index to its worth and its import that it confers upon all the rest of the painting. Something appears--definitely--on the canvas, in a particular way. It has a value based on what it is, on how it interprets and forms the rest of the painting by its sudden existence within the painting--its emergence creates the painting itself as it is, and its appearance can be commensurate even with a mathematics of color (a numerical index of color values or hues) that calculates what it is, what color it is. This is the sense in which Nietzsche speaks of values--and it is not an "aesthetic" sense. And this is what truth and right would look like if it were historically determined.
In the end, I think it would be better taught as fitting in with a scientific tradition--the tradition of Freud and Comte and more exactly Badiou--someone who believes philosophy as ontology is mathematics, its object being that determinate. Everything for Nietzsche revolves around this: something can be incredibly determinate without reason effectuating this determination. That said, we are left with a striking counterthrust to these teachers: something cannot even appear true or good for Nietzsche if it is as indeterminate as an aesthetic judgement.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Merleau-Ponty at the dentist

The best argument that the body is not something merely biological--in the sense that Merleau-Ponty argues in his Structure of Comportment and Phenomenology of Perception--comes from everyone's experience at the dentist. I feel guilt, sitting in that chair there, the dentist frowning as he picks and pokes. Or else I feel immense pride at the surprisingly quick exam, the dentist moving on to other things and other patients briskly, telling you simply to come back in a half a year, you're teeth are great. The teeth he just examined were not merely physical agglomerations of atoms and chemical reactions. They were a lifestyle, a choice: if I have too much to do than worry about my teeth, these teeth simply become less invested with significance, and decay. As an extention of my subjectivity, which is merely a sphere of significance and a power to bring things into that sphere, they fall away, fade into the background. This is what causes them to decay, not any biology or physics that articulates a significance and keeps its significance articulated in an area beyond my concerns, beyond my subjective experience. Similarly, if they are pristine, it is because they occupy almost the center of my subjectivity--I obsess over them, transforming them not into flawless chemical structures but into something on which my fortunes as I see them in the world hang, desperately.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Evidence that spontaneous metaphysical reflection is caused by an intellectual atmosphere

From https://jobs.princeton.edu/ :

We have automated our administrative and staff application process so that you can now apply on-line for 'Jobs at Princeton'.

Indeed, what is a "job?" What do we signify when we employ the term "job?" And what is exactly a "job at Princeton?"

Why Ray Kelly is hilarious

From The Village Voice:

Another [NYPD] document [in the 600+ pages of information on "security threats" to the Republican National Convention held in New York City] marked "secret" warns: "Flashing to be utilized as protest tactic."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Hegel and time

Hegel’s conception of time constitutes the thrust of his entire philosophy. This is a well-known assertion, its own force and apparent self-evidence responsible for constituting the thrust of much twentieth century European philosophy. More will be said regarding this later, but it is clear that insofar as our philosophical moment is deeply determined by this assertion (it is either explicitly subscribed to or repudiated by nearly every French philosopher of note, Heidegger—who is often called, along with Wittgenstein, the most influential philosopher of the twentieth century,—nearly all “existentialists” like Kierkegaard and Sartre, as well as many Marxists), we cannot escape thinking through it and the conception of time that provokes it.
In order to outline the Hegelian conception of time, then, we will undertake a lengthy and extremely thorough explication of the most concentrated and direct passages of Hegel on the structure of time: his remarks in §801 (and shortly thereafter) of the famous section entitled “Absolute Knowledge” in his Phenomenology of Spirit (1807). This passage is at first extremely cryptic, but—we hope to prove—clearly hits at the core of what Hegel thought. Let us read over it attentively, then, getting a rough feel for the landscape of the thoughts, knowing not only that what is cryptic will soon become familiar but also that we shall indeed slowly extract out of it this incredibly profound conception:

In the Notion that knows itself as Notion, the moments … appear earlier than the filled [or fulfilled] whole whose coming-to-be is the movement of those moments. In consciousness, on the other hand, the whole, though uncomprehended, is prior to the moments. Time is the Notion itself that is there [die Zeit is der Begriff selbst, der da ist] and which presents itself to consciousness as empty intuition; for this reason, Spirit necessarily appears in Time, and it appears in Time just so long as it has not grasped its pure Notion, i.e. has not annulled Time … Time appears as the destiny and necessity of spirit that is not yet complete within itself … For this reason it must be said that nothing is known that is not in experience, or, as it is also expressed, that it is not felt to be true (§801-2).

An acquaintance with the crucial passage achieved, we can begin looking at what it is getting at. Thus, in the following we will commence our explication by merely anticipating what we will develop in later sections, giving our further efforts of elucidation some basic foundation in some roughly defined ideational terrain. We hit good earth when we pose the most basic question concerning the above passage: what does the formulation “Time is the Concept,” mean?
Now, it is obvious that any answer will have to rely upon our elaboration of what exactly is meant when we say “the Notion”—or, as der Begriff is also commonly translated, “the Concept.” But before we begin sketching out this answer, we should note that this obviousness itself already tells us something very important about Hegel: through his dense and terminologically idiosyncratic language Hegel is provoking a specific mode of inquiry into the question of time. That is, because it was obvious to us to ask “what do we mean when we say ‘the Notion,’” we already obtain a clue as to the mode in which Hegel wishes to be read: he wants us to ask for elaboration in this specific manner. And, if we reflect a little, we can specify this manner precisely: it is the Socratic mode, famous (and infamous, around Athens at the time) for elaborating what something is based on what we mean when we call it by its name. Suddenly, the above passage becomes significantly more approachable. We know, thanks to our knowledge of the tradition in which Hegel moves and wants to move when he writes, that Hegel is not proving anything by his statement that “Time is the Notion” or Concept. Rather, he is only yoking two definitions together to better describe the phenomenon of time as he sees it, and doing this precisely to provoke a response of “what do we mean when we say ‘the Notion?’” We are making significant progress already, then: we know that time is, for Hegel, the type of phenomenon that, because of its nature, can only be approached in this Socratic manner. Time is something that, in its essence, provokes provisional description and the elaboration of that description, or, put differently, is something that possesses a structure of potential-being-actualized—insofar as what is described provisionally is something that has a potential to be actual, and insofar as actualization is what happens when we inquire “what do we mean when we say?” and then indeed elaborate what we mean.
We should return to our question, then, with these reflections at least in the back of our minds, and the definite knowledge that we are getting somewhere when we put the question in this way. What do we mean when we say “the Notion,” or “the Concept?” What is the Concept? Since we are only anticipating here what we will hopefully prove in subsequent chapters, we don’t have to be shy about being definite—the burden of proof in the meantime rests elsewhere. We will find that der Begriff is, quite simply, the totality of history. Applying this back to the statement that engendered our inquiry, this would mean that time is history. It is at this point that we can use the method Hegel’s language provokes us to use: if time were history—if indeed this were the case as we will later prove it to be—what would this mean? What do we mean when we say time is history?
Let us employ an example to sketch out one possible meaning. An event comes before our minds—say, a battle in the Civil War. The troop positioning, the bombardment of artillery fire, the attack, the charge and retreat of various groups of soldiers during the attack, the sustaining of fire and the capture of the enemy—all these typical warlike events would then seem to make up the history of the battle. Now, if Hegel thinks time is Notion or Concept, and the Concept is the history of this battle, then what this means is that time is nothing other than the bombardment of artillery fire, the attack, the casualties, the charge and retreat of various groups of soldiers during the attack, the sustaining of fire and the capture of the enemy, etc.
In what sense can time be these mere historical happenings, these facts?—this is what we realize we are asking. That is, in what sense can time be history without evacuating completely the idea of time—without merely substituting historical happenings like those we described for time itself? Two questions come on the scene, at the moment when it seems as if time and history become equivocated and we lose any grip on what the phrase “time is history” actually means. Our first question is as follows: if time is history, then what exactly is history a history of? We said that history was the bombardment, the attacks, etc., but is this really the case? In other words, in what medium or discourse does history come to announce itself? If it is in the medium of factuality as we claimed—i.e. if history announces itself only as what has happened—the bombardment, attacks, etc. will indeed constitute history. But what if this wasn’t the case? What would, then, actively go about constituting history? Our second question is more basic, but more profound: what is the difference between history and time? Is the battle itself any different than the time that passes during it? We seem to be saying no; that the battle is the time that passes during it—but, as we are beginning to see, this is a very narrow view of the event (and we will find that nothing could actually be further from Hegel’s point). But if we were to say “yes,” what would that entail? Let us address the second question, then, through the first question: if we can positively state what history is a history of, then we might be able to articulate how time is something different from what results from this statement.
The answer to this first question shows how profoundly determinative Hegel is for the rest of philosophy—it provides the basis for the still-prevalent notion that governs our interpretation of what history is: for Hegel, history is nothing other than the various structures of meaning, significance, value, worth, etc. that arise through the action of beings. Put differently, history is what through the actions of these beings goes to justify there being any existence of beings at all; it is the flowing-forth of events within the medium or discourse of meaning. We begin to see how radical a thought this is when we see that it constitutes history proper as something completely other than what happened: history is not what merely occurred, what resides in the discourse of factuality that we mentioned above, but only that which had and has significance. We can apply this to our example: for the beings within the battle interpreting it as it commences, as well as for later interpreters, whatever gives beings within the moment of the interpretation significance or meaning in it is history. Now, as to this “whatever:” though it is definitely not just anything insofar as it must be something that proffers significance to beings, this “whatever” that gives beings significance still is not just anything significant. What counts as “significance” is strictly delimited by specific criterions of significance, or the values and norms that surround those beings that apprehend the significance. In other words, “whatever gives beings significance” is an incredibly precise factor within this formulation of history, because there are particular (mostly societal or cultural, as Hegel shows extensively in his Philosophy of Right) conditions encompassing any event that act to admit or block its entrance into the category of “that which counts as significant.” This may be obvious to us now—everyone knows what a “social norm” is—but it is Hegel himself who actually articulates this conception in the form we now understand it. Regardless, it is obvious that these conditions or criterions of significance will vary based on the perspective a being has on history—a perspective she or he inherits in part from this environment: they can be very limiting or restrictive, such that what counts as significant is only that a particular force in the battle (to continue using our example) won or lost; they can be vaguely constituted, such that what is significant is what about the battle was most horrific (like the amount of casualties); or they can be very broad in scope, such that what is significant is all the various troop movements within the battle—significance can limit itself in this way to any one of these criteria. Only in this sense, then, were we right in characterizing the history of the battle as the mere facts of the attack, the bombardment, etc.: insofar as the attack, bombardment, etc. were established by various interpreters of the event only as factually significant, do they constitute the history of the event. But this is by no means naturally or even commonly the case.
Now that we have answered our first question, we can see that the significance of the battle itself may be different than how the significance unfolds—and we are thus well on the way to answering our second question. We might imagine that a crucial charge upon the enemy by a small squadron may all of a sudden flounder, for example. It might then recover after its temporary retreat to charge the enemy again successfully. Now, that the charge eventually succeeded may, in itself, have significance for the rest of the attacking forces, spurring them on to fight harder and eventually leading them to their victory. It is clear from this example that this was possible for the rest of the forces precisely because how the event acquired its significance was already split for them away from the ultimate significance of the event itself. How did this occur? More significance was accorded to the second, successful attempt at a charge, despite the first attempt’s failure. This was not arbitrary, though—in fact it is precisely because this was not arbitrary that the significance possessed the character that it did: value was accorded upon the successful attempt because, for the attacking soldiers, success was here the criterion for significance. Thus, the way in which the ultimate significance came about was overlooked in favor of whether or not the significance was, eventually, existent. What happened was looked at (in the sense of whether something happened or not) instead of how. Now, we commonly understand the facts connected to how the significance unfolded as facts caused by time: focusing on the way the charge within the battle played out would be looking at it as it unfolded “in time,” as we say. In fact, we usually purify our conception of this way to contain only the various instants in which whatever happens occurs—this is empirical or scientific time, the time of our clocks. Our second question seems to be answered, then—this seems to be the difference between the two. History is what unfolds meaningfully (as it were), and time is the unfolding itself—the pure movement of moments one after the other, unconnected to the “what” that they (the moments) contain.
But no, we have to take this back. When Hegel says that “Time is the Notion,” or, as we have put it “time is history,” we can see that he obviously is resisting this common interpretation of time as the “how” of events: he is saying that, when we look at the dinner from the right perspective, time is not only this unfolding itself—time is something more than the mere way events can arise, more than the mere movement that counts and contains events within a span. Given our definition of history above, it is also clear what conception of time he might resist this common conception with: time, properly understood (according to Hegel’s statement “die Zeit ist der Begriff”), should be the way the meaning significance came to exist or not—the mere movement of the “how” should spill over into and bring about the “what.” And indeed this is close to what he is getting at. But we should be careful in how we think this new conception of time: what Hegel’s statement means is not that time and history are equivalent and that the distinction we have articulated between them simply drops out—that is, time is not exactly history and history still is not exactly time; the “what” is not identical to the “how” or “way” and vice versa. Rather, what Hegel says really means that time itself is only properly conceived as history: time is only properly time when it also includes, above and beyond the mere movement of unfolding itself (the mere moment stacked upon moment), that which we said belongs to the sphere of history—that is, includes what those events are in terms of significance. In other words, time is not only how events acquire significance, but time is also that significance itself. The “how” has suddenly resonated as significant within the separate field of the “what,” and the first failed attempt at the charge is, from this perspective, not so unmeaning of a phenomenon, even with its eventual success. The significance of what occurs during the battle (and, again, the battle is history)—this significance becomes not only what happens, but also how what occurs actually or concretely unfolds. To be as clear as possible: if we were to record what happened in the time of the battle, we would have to record the failure of the charge as significant to the soldiers—if only in its lack of significance to them (due to their possession of a criterion for significance that determines it as “success eventually and success alone”).
If we understand this, we get closer to the sense of Hegelian time—time is something that does not stand outside the significance of its content but rather is present throughout the whole of this content. But this is not enough—we must determine more precisely the way in which time accomplishes this permeation of the domain of significance with its presence. This most crucial aspect of Hegelian time requires two more leaps of our thought: the first is that, above and beyond showing that the “how” can resonate as significant within the “what,” and the “what” in the “how,” and that this resonation is time, Hegel claims that, effectively, there never was any “what” at all. The “what” has always been a “how,” or, in other words, all significance has always been only how it arose. The common empirical idea of time as separate from significance—i.e. time as something that was purely just the unfolding as such of significance apart from any existent significance (a sort of counting of minutes in which all significance took place)—never really existed in the first place, despite our elaboration of it above. The manner of the unfolding of events was always significance itself from the perspective of this more authentic (i.e. not common or empirical but Hegelian) time—and nothing else than this. We should note that an effort was made to correct this empirical view—an effort that was not radical enough in Hegel’s perspective: it is Kant’s idea of time as a form, later employed by Einstein in his theory of relativity. In this view, time is similar to the empirical counter that merely allows things with already existent meanings to develop their meaning by themselves. However, it impresses a form upon them that allows them to develop alone within certain bounds. This form has significance in itself precisely as a form: a sphere of significance running parallel to what happens opens up—a separate sphere Hegel will deny exists just as vehemently as he denies empirical time exists. Thus, if we have shown that, for Hegel, time is not merely a span that ticks off instants in which significance occurs like a counter, neither is time a temporal form in which meaningful things are brought to fruition by having time, as it passes, imbue them with its significance—a significance that remains separate from their own. As we said, the manner of the events themselves was always significance itself apart from their form or their content. Time is this fruition of significance itself, how it is brought about and only this bringing about. If, in our account of empirical time, we saw that meaning arose merely by virtue of time (which had no significance in itself) passing, and if, in the Kantian conception we just rejected, meaning arose insofar as time lent its form (which, again, had some significance of its own as a form) to the meaningful events within it, we can see that Hegel’s conception of time has meaning arise only by virtue of this arising itself. If we use our definitions for history and time that we have elaborated, this all makes sense: Hegel’s statement that “Time is the Notion” or Concept becomes something like, “the way significance (i.e. history) comes about is (itself) that very significance (and nothing other than this constitutes significance).”
Let us return to our example. Given what we have just said, the time of the battle would be, in Hegel’s view, not some type of span filled with the event of the charge or some type of content consisting of the event of the floundering of the charge enclosed within a temporal form. The significance of the battle is not brought out within this span or this form, as if time brought it out only by marching on moment by moment, unaffected by whatever its movement brings about. Instead, time is filled only with the way in which the charge occurs and makes its meaning as a way known; it is filled with (or rather, just concretely is) the way that the charge or the floundering happened. It is thus evident that time itself is something that cannot remain indifferent to what happens within it, and, moreover, that the fact that the charge occurs or that the floundering happened should possess no longer any significance in itself. Thus, as a whole, there was no other meaning to the battle than how it unfolded, and this meaning was and is time.
Now, as we said, there is one more leap our thought must make: now that we know precisely how time is not indifferent to the content of history, we have to reconceive history, and reconceive it (here comes the leap) as what we have delineated (by our first leap of thought) as time. That is, we must take time as the coming about itself of history and rename it “history.” If we do this—why we are doing this will become clear momentarily—history will be even more restricted in scope than when we confined it to the sphere of the significant, and time will only be an empty notion until we specify it again. That is, if we do this, history will not be just the realm of the significant, but the realm of the significant as it comes about—and time will be something still indeterminate (though we hope to be able to pin it down more concretely by this evacuation of our notions of it). This is an unfortunate twist in our presentation of time: we feel as if we went about determining the relation of time to history for nothing. However, we hope to develop out of this new concept of history as coming about itself the true Hegelian notion of time; what Hegel really means by conceiving of “Time as the Notion.” And let us be frank: annihilating our previous understandings of time in this way is precisely Hegel’s aim because it elucidates the presuppositions of those conceptions. Thus, approaching the real kernel of what Hegel means forces us to negate—or erase in order to revise—more and more what we have developed (and this development itself was only a negation) out of our commonsense ideas regarding time and history. Rather than a failure then, we know we are on the right track, for this revision of what we mean by something is nothing other than the Socratic method we specified earlier as the method Hegel is prompting us to employ in reading him.
In order to complete our second leap of thought, then, let us recap, all the while erasing and revising, what we have just determined about time, history, and their relationship. History was the significant and meaningful that simply existed if a social criterion determined it as significant. Furthermore, in existent history was present the force that caused this significance and meaning to arise (what we called time—here we begin erasing and revising). The precise way in which the presence of this force took place we specified as permeation—this force was not separate from the significant as the empiricists held, nor did it stamp, bind, or, in a word, form from the outside significant content, as Kant held. By permeation, we meant instead that this force, which was only how significance arose, resonated as significant within the sphere of what actually was significant: that which was proper to the domain of the “how” spilled over into the “what,” such that (as we found) this “how” and only this “how” constituted the “what.” Now we have determined this force to be really what Hegel meant all along by history (which, let us remember, is what we assume der Begriff to mean). Thus, history is no longer what is merely existent as meaningful but the arising of significance itself as what is significant. What, we may ask, happens to the merely existent things that are meaningful? They are obviously no longer history, but rather merely the effects of history. Outside of this resides just the merely existent, i.e. facts, which the criterion of significance either admitted or rejected from being even one of these effects of history—we rejected them as historical when we determined history as the discourse of significance and meaning. Thus, we end up concluding that history is only the bringing about of the effects of history, pure significance itself generating what exists as significant.
With this, our perspective on the battle changes: we have to erase and revise that too. We said that time is filled only with the way in which the charge occurs and makes its meaning as a way known; it is filled with (or rather, just concretely is) the way that the charge or the floundering happened. Now, we must say that history is filled only with the way in which the charge occurs and makes its meaning as a way known; it is filled with (or rather, just concretely is) the way that the charge or the floundering happened. Following the course of our revision, we see that history (and not time) is that something that cannot remain indifferent to what happens within it, what cannot remain indifferent to what effectuates from its unfolding. And, we conclude, there was no other (historical) meaning to the battle than how it unfolded, and this meaning was and is history. To elaborate: what results from the battle is merely an effect that is significant only in its dependence upon the unfolding of the actual significance of history. Pursuing this to its most radical conclusion, which justifies our removal of any determinateness (this will soon be rectified) from our concept of time, we see that history becomes nothing that actually occurs on the battlefield itself! History, as the mere arising of significance onto the battlefield, is, as we determined earlier, most definitely not any fact about the battle: history is not the fact that 12 men died on the failed charge on the enemy. But, if this is so, neither is history any mere significant happening, such as what the soldiers themselves held to be significant: the actual occurrence of the overcoming of the enemy after the failed attempt at vanquishing them. Rather, history, the significant and meaningful, is only the potential for bringing about significant occurrences actually bringing about those occurrences. In other words, the eventual overcoming of the enemy as significant is potentiality in action itself, and potentiality in action only. What we mean by calling the event or action of overcoming the enemy “potentiality (for significance) in action” is that the arising of significance is something that we have found to be (through our various clarifications) neither completely latent (significance, as the arising of significance, is not merely the possible significance of this overcoming, existing outside of the overcoming itself) nor something completely static and factual (the overcoming of the enemy is not something that merely happened nor any thing that is happening devoid of any active permeation of the potential for it to be happening). When the enemy is overcome, Hegel views this event as historical precisely insofar as it was an action bringing itself about as significance when it possessed the potential for significance actually bringing itself about—it has this structure, and only this structure is historical. All other events occurring are not history: history is only this particular event, the only thing worth relating about the battle because significance can only really assume this structure. In other words, because there is a certain potential for significance riding only on this potential action, it is the bringing about of this action itself that brings out significance. Put differently, in order to be as clear as possible, all sorts of actions bring themselves about, but only a few have the potential or possibility of bringing about significance: it is these that produce significance as such in their occurance.
We will elaborate on this momentarily, but something needs to be addressed. If history is potentiality in action, as we said, if it has this structure, it is clear that it is only in this sense that history can be equated with the Concept, der Begriff: the historical event must have this structure (of potential-for-significance added to the realization-of-significance both subsumed within the activity of realization of significance), for it to count as historical or an event that occurs according to the Concept. This link, between the structure of the historical event and the structure of the Concept, is what we have to prove below; it is what we assumed in calling the Concept history—that they have identical structures. Now we understand fully what “the Concept” means.
But another thought occurs to us: we remember that this structure is precisely what we defined as time earlier: we said that time was potential-being-actualized. But how can time be the Concept, be this structure that we have just now defined not as time, but as the Concept?
We can only reply that what is happening here is not an inconsistency. Rather, it is a return to our original question, “what does the formulation ‘Time is the Concept,’ mean?” In other words, we now realize precisely what we were asking when we asked this question. Now that we understand history as a particular event with a particular “Conceptual” [Begrifflichkeit] structure, we realize we are asking, when we ask what this formulation means, how time can, as time, be something that has this structure also. How can time have a Conceptual structure?—this is the question Hegel wants to provoke when he says, quite roundly, that “Time is the Concept.” In other words, how can that which is proper to the sphere of the Concept, be true of time? How is time something that is only adequately addressed from the perspective of history, which has this Conceptual structure? We realize that what we were asking when we asked what his formulation meant was really about the formulation, not about time as such. Only when we follow the mode of inquiry that Hegel’s statements wish to provoke will we realize precisely how time can indeed follow from this formulation, at which point we can ask questions about it. For at that point we will have already, in our analysis of a formulation that would supposedly adequately address the nature of time—that is, in our analysis of what it would be to yoke together time and the historical Concept—at that point we will already have the conceptual network with which to interrogate it. Hegel calls this point Absolute Knowledge—but as for that, we will concern ourselves with in later discussions of Hegelian time. Let us reflect on why we might feel calling time what we called history is an inconsistency: we said above, in inquiring about Socratic way in which Hegel thought the idea of time should be addressed, that time is something that provokes provisional description and the elaboration of that description, or, is something that possesses a structure of potential-being-actualized. We now know that we were, in defining the essence of time thus, defining precisely the relationship of time to what we have since defined as history—in essence, our recoil at the supposed inconsistency was a recoil at the very phenomenon of definition: saying that one thing is, in essence, another. Time is that provoking or possessing of history, when we understand history as the “potential-being-actualized”-structure of significance. What is the consequence, then, of all this? We crucially see that by no means have we relegated time to a sphere that is again completely outside history—as we supposed when we redefined history, above. Indeed, just as we found that time permeated history when we believed time was the arising of significance or history, we find that time permeates history when history is only this arising of significance. Thus we find that we are already grasping at this moment the complete answer to our second question that came on the scene earlier, having defined the first question concerning the nature of history: we have grasped that there is indeed a difference between time and history, or time and the Concept, and that this difference is that one (time) provokes or possesses or permeates the other. Along the lines of how we earlier clarified what the permeated sphere actually is determined as—we said that if history is the arising of significance, then what was significant was determined as an effect of significance—we see that history in its final form that we have successfully defined here should be determined as the effect of time, and that this is precisely the difference between the two. Rounding out all these reflections on our “inconsistency” and the formulation of our question fully, we thus know that it is in this sense—the sense that history is the effect of time—that Hegel says, “Time is the Concept.”
Thus, we can figure out what time is in itself by merely asking what could effectuate the arising of significance or meaningfulness. In answering this, we are not on unexplored ground: we only have to return to what we termed the “criterion of significance.” We know that since time has to be something even more restrictive than our idea of history—we have been moving towards something ever more defined and specified, as well as limited in its scope, though we are beginning to see that at the same time it has to be the most primordial, the most determinative and wide ranging of phenomena in its effects—we know that since this is the case, this criterion of significance most definitely cannot be a mere “fact” of society or the atmosphere of in which a particular event occurs. That is, even though we have been comporting ourselves to it as if it were the case, the criterion that allows something to come into the sphere of the historical could not be anything farther in its essence from something that merely exists in pre-existent world prior to history: this criterion is the thing that causes this world to be there in the first place. At the same time, we can see how we could have confused it with this “fact,”—i.e. what we determined as outside of the entire sphere of the effects of significance and significance as arising-of-significance itself—its doppelganger. As what permeates history, it must eventually effectuate the fact that seems to embody or materialize it in its mere existence, because history permeates all of the non-historical spheres below it in the sense that it effectuates them. In a way, then, this fact and the criterion—the determinative principle of history—that we are seeking here are the same. But philosophy for Hegel is nothing other than the task of distinguishing of this most fine, and yet most determinative, of differences: the distinction between what effectuates the Concept, and the Concept itself.
Now, if the criterion of significance or, employing our more pregnant and accurate phrasing of it just now, the criterion that allows something to emerge into the sphere of the historical or Conceptual, is something that must effectuate, permeate, and provoke all of history, it is clear it must be something that is most opposite a mere fact. What could this be? Our immediate answer, as it was above when we first considered the criterion of significance, is a value. But we couldn’t be farther from the way in which we said the criterion of significance was a value or a norm above: above we said that values and norms are that which surround those beings that apprehend significance. This is something that exists, as we just said, as something pre-existent in the world, and not that which brings about the world itself. Now, we understand a value by its other sense: a fact that determines all possible significance by being raised to the position of the standard with which all facts are interpreted. Could this be time? Indeed this is close to what Hegel holds. But again we only hit at the domain of history—and it is fortunate that we do so for we can more clearly define it (and, because of this, will be able to define time with incredible precision): if we defined history as the arising of significance, what is this arising other than that of the establishment of values, of valuation or evaluation, even interpretation—indeed we at first used the term value as synonymous with significance and meaning. History is the interpretation of what occurs and only this act of interpretation, in Hegel’s view. This allows us to sum up what we have already defined quite nicely, and returns us to our original phrasing of what history as significance was, in Hegel’s sense: what through the actions of these beings goes to justify there being any existence of beings at all—the language of justification being at home within the sphere of valuation. It thus becomes clear what we meant when we said what was history was the only thing worth relating about the battle—and this because significance can only really assume a specific, Conceptual structure: history is what is related about what we commonly, vulgarly understand by the name of history (facts and happenings), because it is what embodies the structure of interpretation most essentially (the Concept being this structure).
Now, if we have only hit at history by determining the criterion of significance as a value, we obviously have not conceived of what is most opposite a mere fact. If we return to this, knowing that a value is only the arising and emergence of significance into the world as such, we know that what would be most opposite is something like the change in values that constitute history. And indeed with a little rephrasing, we happen upon the ultimate definition of Hegelian time: time, properly conceived as what “is the Concept,” is the changing of the valuation that constitutes history. Precise, no? But, for the last time, we must ask what this means.
Let us plunge into our example. If time is what we have defined it to be, if it is no particular value, but the unfolding and arising and erupting of changes in the way evaluation as history (which, we know, is the unfolding, arising, and erupting of significance) itself, we can see that the event of the battle takes on a totally different character, as well as the world more generally. The historical event is nothing other than a field of possible developments of meaning or significance, in the sense that it is a field of possible changes in the criterion that allows something to become historical: only insofar as the ability to develop significance itself changes, is there meaning on this battlefield. And this is the most clear effect of Hegelian time: it is what, as pure change itself, produces the possibility of significance arising and, at the same time, actually effectuates and makes this significance arise. Now we see in what way time “is the Concept:” earlier we said that the Concept had to have a specific structure, which we delineated as the structure of history—a structure of potential-for-significance and the realization-of-significance being contained within and producing the activity of realization of significance. Now we see that the reason why it has this structure is due to time: if time as the change in values/evaluation is the change in the ability of significance to arise, as well as the change in the actual arising of significance itself, it is this structure of the Concept. Using our example, we can see this clearly. As history, the battle is a field of possible actions realizing themselves in actual actions. As time, or as the structure of the Concept and thus the Concept itself, the battle is some of these actions which actually change the way that actions are able to mean—put in the way we expressed it before, only correctly, time is what in the battle is raised to the level not of a value, but what actually changes evaluation; what brings evaluation (which was history) about.
Clarified differently (which is merely phrasing this all differently), we can see that time is the Concept in how the criterion of significance may develop within a particular act—say, the charge. This development itself, for Hegel, is time. To elaborate: if at the beginning of the battle the significance of any act was considered in terms of its ability to lead one side to victory, the charge itself may change these terms. Suppose that the group that charges the enemy sustains such heavy damages that they are almost wiped out, and yet they continue on to regroup and defeat the enemy anyway. Through this action (the way the charge as significant was carried out), the significance of any act on the battlefield might change from the perspective of the rest of the army (and even both armies—and most certainly to those within the charge themselves!): witnessing the apparently fearless act in the face of the most gruesome slaughter, people might consider what happens on the battlefield in terms of the amount of honor and valor and fearlessness that it is conducted with, regardless of how it helps or impedes victory (which was their previous criterion of significance). This revaluation of the criterion of significance itself is time, for Hegel, and this temporal act was made up of history or events which are the generation of significance. Expressed more generally, we can see that events occur within the world temporally insofar as they transform history—i.e. as they transform significance—and that these events themselves are time: the world becomes a historical environment in which changes in the interpretation of that history are considered to be time.
This all should make what Hegel means by “Time is the Notion” somewhat less vague, though it is by no means obvious what the motivations are behind all of this: why, for example, is it so necessary that significance of the world be considered in this way? Nor is it obvious what the ramifications of this view are: it seems, to pick out one issue from a host of possible ramifications, that given this conception of time something can occur and yet not be significant in the way we described—this would relegate it to an area that is, as we said, outside of time and history. What is Hegel’s attitude towards this “outside?” What would it be like to be exiled from the history of the changes in the way we interpret how we justify ourselves to ourselves (i.e. time)? We will find that it can be both good and bad for Hegel, though our saying this now only shows how necessary it is to delve deeper into this crucial passage and be more thorough. Indeed, we can already see that Hegel’s is a fairly odd lens with which to look at the world and how it develops. But the point here was to give some glimpse of that oddness—if only because it takes a little while to get used to it.


Hello! I'll start off with a post (after this one) that is, essentially, a long train of thought I was trying to put together regarding Hegel and his concept of time. However, more random and/or different things will make their way here eventually. This blog is all about whatever I'm working on or learning (and thus knowing) joyfully (this is how I choose to translate Nietzsche's frölich Wissenschaft). So, enjoy--and write a comment or two if something seems interesting.