Archive for the 'Hegel' Category

Plato’s Cave and Modern Day Metaphysics

In his new book philosopher Crawford L. Elder argues from a realist Hegelian point of view that objects (“familiar objects”) actually do exist in our world.  This claim actually runs counter to much modern day philosophical thought that familiar objects actually do not exist (i.e. a “dog” is just a bunch of atomic particles that consist of what we perceive to be a “dog,” etc.).  Elder argues that this amounts to a modern day “Plato’s cave” in where philosophers are only arguing for the existence of the “shadows” of objects and not the objects themselves.

In general, contemporary metaphysics is deeply sceptical of the familiar objects in which common sense believes.  It is far more ready to attribute reality to entities that are much smaller – to the particles and wave packtes and strings which microphysics treats as real, or to the “mereoloigical simples” for which philosophical reflection provides some support.  Any such view must find some way of explaining why there appear to be familiar medium-sized objects in the world…The main business of this book is to argue that leading examples of such explanations fail.  For time and again such explanations project downwards, onto the small entities of the preferred ontology, structures and relations and features that properly belong to familiar objects.  Such projections are harmless so long as one allows that there also are, in addition to the small entities, the familiar objects that form the starting point of the projection.  But if – as generally the case – the aim is to expunge familiar objects from ontology, the invocation of such structures and relations and features is illegitimate.  The opponetns of familiar objects are then helping themselves to shadows cast downwards, onto the level of the preferred small entities, while denying that the sources of these shadows exist.

What explains this scepticism?  I shall being…by suggesting that contemporary metaphysics is dominated by the style of thought which Hegel – using the nineteenth-century vocabulary of faculties – called “the Understanding,” and that “the Understanding” is constitutionally antipathetic to familiar objects.  But first a few words about the style of thought that finds familiar objects congenial – the style of thought which Hegel identified under the title “Reason.”

A prime characteristic of “Reason” is that it is willing to recognize what Hegel called “identity in difference.”  “Identify in difference” is a form of sameness which articulates itself in difference…Typically, a familiar object goes on being itself while passing through different phases or properties, that is, while differing from itself.  Indeed in many cases – and especially if we count such properties as age among the relevant ones – a familiar object can go on being numerically the same object only by differing more and more from its earlier self…It is the same composite only because it is differently composed…Common sense is quick to agree that these properties fall into contrary ranges, each contrasting to graded degrees with its own proper rivals.  The Hegelian claim – on which I shall focus at length…is that for any genuine property, its having the intrinsic positive character that it has just is (at least in part) its contrasting as it does with its own proper rivals.  Its being just that property is its differing, in just those ways, from just those other properties (1, 166-7).


Elder, Crawford L.  2011.  Familiar Objects and Their Shadows.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

Fanon on Ontology and Hegel


Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), in Black Skin, White Masks wrote that:

Ontology does not allow us to understand the being of the black man, since it ignores lived experience.  For not only must the black man be black; he must be black in relation to the white man.  Some people will argue that the situation has a double meaning.  Not at all.  The black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man…(Fanon, 90)

Fanon later goes on to explain the situation of Black men and women (in the French colonies and France) in Hegelian and Sartean logic.  He explains how human beings are in constant relation to each other and how each person is in conflict with the other in order to get the other to notice her or him and acknowledge his or her existence:

Only conflict and the risk it implies can, therefore, make human reality, in-itself-for-itself, come true.  The risk implies that I go beyond life toward an ideal which is the transformation of subjective certainty of my worth into a universally valid objective truth.

He who is reluctant to recognize me is against me.  In a fierce struggle I am willing to feel the shudder of death, the irreversible extinction, but also the possibility of impossibility.  (193)

The black man is a slave who was allowed to assume a master’s attitude.

The white man is a master who allowed his slaves to eat at his table.  (194)

When the black man happens to cast a savage look at the white man, the white man says to him: “Brother, there is no difference between us.”  But the black man knows there is a difference.  He wants it.  He would like the white man to suddenly say to him: “Dirty nigger.”  Then he would have that unique occasion-to “show them.”

But usually there is nothing, nothing but indifference or paternalistic curiosity.  (196)

Also, in footnote 10 on page 195 Fanon distinguishes between his master/slave narrative and Hegel’s master/slave narrative:

For Hegel there is reciprocity; here the master scorns the consciousness of the slave…Likewise, the slave here can in no way be equated with the slave who loses himself in the object and finds the source of his liberation in his work.  The black slave wants to be like his master.  Therefore he is less independent than the Hegelian slave.  For Hegel, the slave turns away from the master and turns toward the object.  Here the slave turns toward the master and abandons the object.

Man and Brother


Fanon, Frantz.  Black Skin, White Masks.  Translated by Richard Philcox.  New York: Grove Press, 2008.

Hegel’s “Rational Philosophy”



insisted that it was no part of philosophy’s role to instruct rulers or anyone else on what “ought to be”.  Its role was limited to showing what was resonable in each particular case.  Philosophy had to show that, “What is rational is actual, and what is actual is rational.”

Generations of commentators have castigated Hegel for this formula.  But the nature of Hegel’s “system” means no other idea is feasible.  Hegel’s philosophy is retrospective through and through.  Every aspect of it is historical…(Spencer and Krauze, 112)


Spencer, Lloyd and Andrzej Krauze.  Introducing Hegel.  Lanham, Maryland: Totem Books, 2006.

Hegel’s Master & Slave

G.W.F. HegelGeorge Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831 CE) wrote about a history of self-realization.  Of history progressing closer and closer to a freedom and a self-realization of a better humanity.  In his dialectical way of thinking Hegel tried to show how freedom could unite and divide and lead to a greater synthesis of freedom:

To explain this process, Hegel outlines a mythical encounter between two primeval self-consciousnesses.  This is the famous example of ‘the master and the slave‘.

Each self, deeply absorbed in the business of living, at first confronts the other as an obstruction to its own possession of the world and demands recognition of the other.

The result is a life-and-death struggle for the recognition by the other.  The self who submits, rather than face death, becomes the slave. (Spencer and Krauze, 60)

But because the identity of the master is an identity based on that of a slave and not being a slave:

There is no way for the master, no his own, to escape from his own form of dependency and alienation. (ibid.)

Yet, soon, the slave recognizes this and also recognizes that the entire world she or he is surrounded by is a world created by his or her own hands: the houses they built, the crops they picked, etc.  The slave realizes that the master actually had no part in the actual creation of this world: such as the creation of value from the picking of the crops, etc.

It is no wonder that Hegel’s myth continues to have such resonance to the present.  Marxists, Existentialists, the intellectual architects of Negritude and the Black Consciousness movement, have all been drawn to the sombre richness of Hegel’s tale.  And although Hegel speaks throughout of ‘he’, feminists, too have found inspiration here. (61)


Spencer, Lloyd and Andrzej Krauze.  Introducing Hegel.  Lanham, Maryland: Totem Books, 2006.


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