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Fr. 476

January 6, 2014

Finally, we will briefly explore what Hegel’s comprehensive justification for philosophical knowledge brings to the treatment of this question in contemporary epistemology, particularly in its relation to classic foundationalism and coherentism, both of which center on how knowledge is to be grounded.

Although Hegel’s account is, broadly speaking, in line with classical foundationalism in that it supposes an absolute beginning with no further supporting ground itself, it distances itself from the latter in two important respects. First, whereas, in classical foundationalism, the ground is considered to be a self-evident principle, it is unclear if pure being can be considered self-evident after the same fashion. Certainly, it presupposes nothing other than what is already implicit in itself, but the development of this implicit requires lengthy demonstration, mediation and sublation. Such a lengthy development does not seem to be of the same order as a strictly self-evident principle. Second, and more importantly, Hegel gives pride of place to circularity in the relation between ground and result. On the contrary, classic foundationalist accounts seek to avoid circularity of any kind in isolating a single principle or set of principles, immune to skepticism, from which all other beliefs are to be derived. If there is something like this self-grounding principle requiring no further justification present on Hegel’s view, it is nonetheless essential to recall that pure knowing and pure being are not to be derived from one another as fundamentally “other” categories, as in the case of a true, logical derivation. In the end, despite its broadly foundationalist lines, Hegel’s account diverges widely from the standard foundationalist account.

Insofar as Hegel promotes some non-vicious circularity, it seems reasonable to situate his account closer to coherentism, according to which a circular chain of supporting beliefs can justify philosophical knowledge. There are two independent motivations supporting such proximity. On one hand, like standard coherentism, this account constitutes a rejection of first philosophy in the Cartesian fashion in that there is no attempt to establish some ground or viewpoint entirely independent of the scientific scheme that it claims to ground. This ground proves an integral part of the scientific scheme itself. On the other, in standard coherentism, a circular chain can only justify a ground or principle provided that it be sufficiently large, i.e. incorporate a non-negligible number of justifying elements or demonstrations in that chain. Hegel’s view seems to meet this condition in that the process of mediation and sublation would provide ample evidence to this effect. Yet there is also reason to avoid reducing Hegel’s view to mere coherentism. First, coherentism often allows for a more permissive notion of justification in that one’s belief can be justified in virtue of a contingent worldview, without thereby being true. On the contrary, Hegel attempts to isolate merely that system on which necessity and truth inevitably coincidence. Additionally, such a reduction exposes Hegel to the standard criticism addressed to coherentism, namely, that it turns on circularity and no circularity is good circularity. That said, it is not clear that Hegel is in a position to respond to such criticism in light of the above. Unfortunately, further questioning of this kind will have to left to the reader.

In response to the question, “With what must the beginning of science be made?”, we have found that Hegel both sets tasks for future philosophers and proposes his own solution thereto. First, Hegel sets out three challenges to be met: 1.) surpass the mediate/immediate dilemma; 2.) be neither objective principle nor subjective criterion; 3.) establish simultaneously the nature of cognition and beginning. He then provides his own solutions in the form of: pure knowing as immediacy of being, resolving 1.) and 2.); the dialectic of ground and result, resolving 3.). With the foregoing solutions, Hegel thinks to have secured the comprehensive justification of philosophy, demonstrated it to be free from contingency, and isolated it from skeptical doubt and dogmatic assertion. While Hegel’s system of ground and result fits neither of its contemporary counterparts exactly, it shares, without a doubt, certain general concerns and carves out a third way for itself. The question remains whether, in meeting the requirements that he sets himself and others, Hegel and his account are in a position to confront other conditions that the modern reader might address him.

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