‘Hegel’s Phenomenological Method and Analysis of Consciousness’

In K. R. Westphal (ed.), The Blackwell Guide to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Blackwell. pp. 1--36 (2009)
This chapter argues that Hegel is a major (albeit unrecognized) epistemologist: Hegel’s Introduction provides the key to his phenomenological method by showing that the Pyrrhonian Dilemma of the Criterion refutes traditional coherentist and foundationalist theories of justification. Hegel then solves this Dilemma by analyzing the possibility of constructive self- and mutual criticism. ‘Sense Certainty’ provides a sound internal critique of ‘knowledge by acquaintance’, thus undermining a key tenet of Concept Empiricism, a view Hegel further undermines by showing that a series of non-logical a priori concepts must be used to identify any particular object of experience. Most importantly, Hegel justifies a semantics of singular cognitive reference with important anti-skeptical implications. ‘Perception’ extends Hegel’s criticism Concept Empiricism by exposing the inadequacy of Modern theories of perception (and also sense data theories) which lack a tenable concept of the identity of perceptible things. Hegel demonstrates that this concept is a priori and integrates two counterposed sub-concepts, ‘unity’ and ‘plurality’. Hegel’s examination of this concept reveals his clear awareness of what is now called the ‘binding problem’ in neurophysiology of perception, a problem only very recently noticed by epistemologists. ‘Force and Understanding’ exposes a fatal equivocation in the traditional concept of substance which thwarts our understanding of force and causal interaction. Hegel’s disambiguation of that concept enables us to comprehend how relations can be essential to physical particulars. Hegel contends that Newtonian universal gravitation shows that gravitational relations are essential to physical particulars, and he criticizes a series of attempts—including the infamous ‘inverted world’—to avoid this conclusion. Hegel’s cognitive semantics supports Newton’s Fourth Rule of philosophizing, which rejects mere logical possibilities as counter-examples to empirical hypotheses. This is an important anti-Cartesian, also anti-empiricist, insight. Finally, Hegel’s cognitive semantics reveals a previously unnoticed link between Pyrrhonian and Cartesian skepticism and empiricist anti-realism about causality within philosophy of science: all three appeal to premises, hypotheses, or counter-examples which, as mere logical possibilities, lack in principle fully determinate, cognitively legitimate meaning. ‘Consciousness’ thus establishes basic principles and features of human cognition to which Hegel returns throughout the Phenomenology. The chapter concludes by summarizing Hegel’s over-arching epistemological analysis in the Phenomenology.
Keywords binding problem  singular cognitive reference  anti-Cartesianism
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