On the Distinction Between Erklaeren and Begreifen | Metaphysics | Immanuel Kant

On the distinction between Erklaeren and Begreifen: 1)The problem with empirical sciences does not concern the

impossibility of arguing for the legitimacy of their own existence, nor the claim that the critique of metaphysics gets rid of them by making them into a childish game, to be handled with an accondescendant tone, not to say into gas bags. The problem arises when they fall prey to illusions about what they are, I mean, when they exchange an unexamined metaphysics (in so far, one could also say ‘bad metaphysics’, even if Hegel never uses, not without reasons, this expression, and I will never mention it from now on) with the appeal to experience. The categories through which the empirical sciences explain phenomena (matter, force, one, many, universality, infinity and so on; see Enc. C § 38 A) just seem to be empirical because they are – unconsciously – applied to empirical objects, but in truth they are borrowed from a presupposed metaphysics and used ‘auf eine voellig unkritische und bewusstlose Weise’ (§38 A). With respect to the unconscious metaphysics of finite sciences, Hegel’s logic is neither simply an ontology (metaphysica generalis) nor a simply formal or applied logic, but a new logic comprehensive of both. In other words, the problem does not simply consist in the fatal circumstance that the sciences trespass the limits of experience and step into the open sea of metaphysics, while still believing to do science, that is, explaining phenomena. No scientific enterprise can afford to eliminate, to abstract from, metaphysics, by ‘remaining faithful’ or attached to the given. On one side, the stubborn involvement with the given is not even science, and in a certain sense, not even experience; on the other side, to say it in a famous metaphor, no one can get out of its metaphysical skin, in the sense that the content of metaphysics (not the different form of metaphysics in the history of philosophy) is the ‘adamantinische Netz’ (Enc. § 246 Z) that is active in and makes intellegible both the side of the subject and the side of the object. Yet, the task of empirical sciences (f.i., physics) is to be distinguished from the one of philosophy. An important text about this distinction is the §246, with the extended Zusatz. For Hegel, there is no doubt that the philosophy of nature should agree with the experience of nature and that it presupposes the empirical science named ‘physics’ both for its genesis (Entstehung) and for its formation (Bildung). (See also, from the Introduction (§§1-18) §12 A). Physics is without any doubt a ‘denkende Betrachtung’ of nature; but the process of genesis and formation is different from the inner development followed by the necessity of the concept: ‘Ein anderes ist der Gang des Entstehens und die Vorarbeiten einer Wissenschaft […]seyn soll’ (§246 A). The essential point of the paragraph is that the philosophy of nature, as comprehensive or conceptual (begreifend) consideration, has as its object the same object as the physics, but ‘for itself’, that is, considered according to the own immanent necessity and so to the selfdetermination of the concept. As the Addition states, in a more radical and explicit way, the philosophy of nature does not have experience as criterium of knowledge, not because it is opposed to the physics as metaphysics, but because philosophy has to transform, through a peculiar Nachdenken and Bearbeitung, the metaphysics the physics cannot help but use. Another important passage about the difference between tha tasks of empirical sciences and philosophy is the discussion of the problem of light at §276 A, from which emerges that the job of philosophical sciences is not to confront itself immediately with the concrete empirical objects or states of affairs, by taking the way of the ‘suchende Erkenntnis’ (an expression of the Logic), in order to assure the indication, the showing or exhibition of the categories in the concrete manifold.

The distinction reminds the one between Verstand and Vernunft by Kant. The first is engaged with ordering and explaining what happens within experience (I leave apart the question of the understanding as lawgiver of nature, because it concerns the level of philosophical reflection, where the understanding, as one of the higher faculties of knowledge, belongs to the wide concept of ‘pure reason’; but even so, the understanding is constitutive for the territory of experience), while the reason alone is able to recognize the limits (Grenzen) of experience, to trespass them raising claims of knowledge (if not corrected), or to orient the ‘work’ of understanding, by addressing it toward a growing unity and systematicity of the laws of experience (if corrected by its own self-examination). What is interesting here with respect to our Hegelian topic, is the problem of mediation and immediacy. The understanding stays in relationship with the sensible objects through the mediation of the faculty of sensibility, which is immediately in contact with the objects of experience. Reason is essentially selfrelationship, is interested to its own ends (the problem of the ‘aim’ of reason is very thorny, because Kant distinguishes between wesentliche Zwecke and Endzweck, but here I just say that the chief aim is metaphysics, not as science of transcendent objects anymore, but conceived of as system of all it’s a priori synthetic principles) and refers itself to experience through the double mediation of understanding and sensibility. The distinction between Verstand and Vernunft is present in the Addition at the §467, devoted the the exam of the three moments of the ‘formelle Denken’ in the psychology. I recommend to consider carefully the distinction between ‘erklaeren aus’ and ‘erklaeren fuer’, deepened in the Addition, from which I quote the following passages: ‘Das zweite Moment des reinen Denkens ist das Urteilen. […] Diese Taetigkeit der Intelligenz nennt man haeufig schon Begreifen, aber mit Unrecht. Denn auf diesem Standpunkt wird der Gegenstand noch als ein Gegebenes, als etwas von einem Anderen Abhaengiges, durch dasselbe Bedingtes gefasst. Die Umstaende, welche eine Erscheinung bedingen, … Erst auf der dritten Stufen des reinen Denkens wird der Begriff als solcher erkannt’. 2) To ‘make sense of explanation’ is not just the right or a better explanation, but something more, something belonging to a higher level, that is, Begreifen. In this sense, the claim of philosophy is higher than that of empirical sciences, not necessarily because its objects are ‘higher’ or ‘more elevated’, but because of a way of consideration, that is free in so far as it is presuppositionless and fulfills the aim of a self-knowing reason (cfr. Enc.C §§6, 577). 3) Hegel does not simply ‘contrast’ erklaeren and begreifen, is not interested in despising erklaeren as a mistaken business, nor is meant to ‘reject’ the first on behalf of the second. In settling such rigid alternatives, he would act like the philosophies of reflection, that he criticized since Glauben und Wissen. The point is that the aims of the explanations are not as free and their methods, procedures, are not just as radical as those of philosophy. The §12 of Enziklopaedie shows that Hegel thinks the relationship between experience, and empirical sciences, and philosophy in terms of genesis and ungratefulness (Undankbarkeit). But, again, ungratefulness does not mean a snobistic despise, but the tremendously ambitious act of negating the subsistence, the validity of what one owes its existence to. If we have to strive to get a picture, we may compare the relationship between finite sciences and philosophy to that between parents and certain ‘unprincipled’ or restless children. Theorien are ‘Gedanken des Vorhandenen’ (§7 A), but Denken is ‘Negation des Vorhandenen’ (§12 A).

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