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Why Hegel is coming back into fashion in Western Philosophy : https://aeon.co/essays/how-the-anglophone-world-is-rediscovering-hegels-philosophy


At the moment I'm having a problem with Popper's critique of Historicism :

My understanding of science goes like this :

  • I conjecture that there are certain types of things in the world : eg. massive bodies.
  • I conjecture laws appertaining to them, eg. Force = mass times acceleration

Both of these conjectures are "blind" ie. there is no logic to guide me as to what I should conjecture.

They do have deductive consequences, and if I find observations that are incompatible with them, I'm obliged to revise my original conjectures.

Now this I'm happy with. But suppose instead of conjecturing types and laws such as "massive bodies" I conjecture a "trend" eg. "popular music is getting better all the time" (Contrast ANeverendingDownwardSpiralOfPlummetingQuality)

It also has deductive consequences which can falsify it : bad records.

If the nature of rationality is blind conjecture and willingness to reject beliefs when confronted by contradictory evidence, doesn't the trend case fit just as well as the science case? Shouldn't it be equally rational to structure one's set of beliefs in terms of unfalsified predictions based on conjectured trends, as unfalsified predictions based on conjectured types or laws?

The difference between "trend" and "law" is not due to any particularly inherent "level" of shared subjectivity in either, but rather the specificity of the definition (which may lead to the former). A "trend" is surely, by its (man-defined) nature, an overview of a particular domain, a summarisation of what could be considered to be a series of minute "laws", inasmuch as a law is effectively subjective.

For example, you can conjecture that you do or don't like a particular song. You can also conjecture, or rather define a "genre" that that song fits into. This genre consists of many songs, and as such loses it specificity. You can dislike a song of that genre, yet still like the genre as a whole. Such is the relation between "law" and "trend". If suddenly the majority of songs coming out within that genre you disliked, then either you would tend towards a dislike of the genre (a "trend" being disputed through quantitative opposing "laws"), or you would further specify your "genre" to distance those songs that you do like from those that you don't.

Questions arising...

  1. What about conjectures that change without any basis? To continue the song theme, is there a rational reason why you may dislike a song on first hearing, yet may grow to like it after several days? Should this affect your opinion of other songs? Or is each conjecture its own instance, subject to its own rationality, despite sharing the same domain as another?
  1. If a "trend" can be specified further into distinct "laws", and the former is effectively subjectively similar to the latter, then how can you ascertain the constituent specifics of a "law"? Is a "law" simply something that has no opposing conjecture, while a "trend" takes into account both (or more)?

Apologies if these are obvious answers... it's now 1am and it's been a long day and the fairy cows are singing at me.

[2003-07-16 01:00 - scribe]

Of course, one of the reasons that I, as a Popperian, am questioning the critique of historicism is because I'm also considering the status of sociological theories taking the form FeudalismCapitalismInformationalism

Quora Answer : What do you think of Marx and Engels' claim to have uncovered 'the Laws of History'?

Oct 11, 2015

It's about as scientific as most crude 19th century speculation in political-economy ... "iron law of wages", "supply and demand", "invisible hand" and all that. In other words, it's an absurdly simplistic model laid onto a hugely complex economic reality, that's largely informed by a few cherry-picked anecdotes and easy to find counter-examples to.

That doesn't mean its useless. All these theories have some heuristic value as predictors / explainers. "invisible hand" reaches towards an idea of self-organization. "supply and demand" correctly suggests that prices will go up when a lot of people want something scarce. "class war" correctly predicts that, absent some other factor, like government intervention or very strong unions, the rich owners of "capital" will take an increasingly large share of the value in the economy for themselves.

These are all observations which can be easily corroborated at many times and places. No one should imagine that they have the status of a law in physics. But they're all better predictors than their opposites : eg. that prices drop when demand outstrips supply, that less government intervention leads to more equal distributions of wealth etc. I suspect that "class war" even beats the null-hypothesis that inequality is independent of government regulation. But I may be wrong on that. Anyone got a citation?

Quora Answer : Why has Karl Marx appeared as a poor political prophet?

Oct 16, 2017

Prediction is hard. Especially about the future.

As prophets go he was probably quite a good one.

But, frankly, prophecy isn't really a viable project.

Either you take existing trends and just extrapolate them. Or you have some sort of model of how history works and you apply that. Marx used Hegel's model. Which is elegant and clever.

But, ultimately, history is made of billions of smart and wilful people interacting. Plus weather.

It certainly doesn't follow neat, simplistic models. However clever they are.

Quora Answer : Which era of philosophy changed human morality more: Ancient Greek philosophy or the 19th century Golden German Age of philosophy?

May 20, 2014

The "Greek" answers are probably right. But don't discount how much influence that the 19th century has on our thinking.

One influence that's still felt today is Freud. And Freud was channelling Nietzsche. It's to them we owe the idea that we have an unconscious or conflicting "drives". That one part of us can be working against, and to undermine, another part of us.

The idea that each person is a multitude of sub-persons, and that we have to solve our internal problems by finding ways to bring these parts into harmony or to neutralize or give some aspects alternative ways to express themselves, seems to have been widely embraced by, and at the heart of, the modern understanding of the self; of many therapies and self-help guides etc. (It's even fed into cognitive psychology / AI and "modular" models of mind.

This isn't a Greek or even a Christian idea. (The nearest Christianity gets is the idea that The Devil might be working within us.) It's a 19th century invention.

The 19th century was also a time of intense scholarship of Ancient Greek culture and thinking. Hegel and Nietzsche were steeped in it. And it's BECAUSE they took Greek culture so seriously that they were forced to think about the differences between the Greek thought and modern Christian European thought.

That led them towards their "historicist" perspective that, fundamental ideas and human mentality aren't fixed but change over time. (In a sense, both Hegel and Nietzsche offered theories of this change, with Hegel offering a rather orderly logic of conflict-driven historical progression in the form of the "dialectic" while Nietzsche saw it as a free-for-all where the stronger imposed their self-interested world-view on the weaker, and the weak creatively reinterpreted their plight as virtue.)

Today, it's fashionable to think that the historicists were wrong and that human nature doesn't change (a view shared by a weird alliance of those who believe that evolutionary psychology is uncovering an eternal "human nature" and Christian Conservatives who attempt to base their lives on values from the Old Testament.) But it was hugely influential in the 20th century, and many echoes of it are still around. Particularly now the Nietzschean version which is in Deleuze and most of the contemporary Continental Philosophy that flows from him.

Transcluded from NietzscheAndPostmodernism

Quora Answer : Can we consider that Nietzsche is a postmodern philosopher? If yes, how and why?

Aug 13, 2020

It's better to think of it like this.

Nietzsche is a 19th century philosopher, responding to all the trends in philosophy and thought of the 19th century. He's part of that 19th century tradition (including Marx, Hegel, Darwin etc.) that takes history seriously and sees it as a productive force. History as a process of change and "improvement" or "creation" is a very 19th century idea.

At the same time, he rejects the attempts to find an impersonal logic or science of history as Hegel, Marx or Darwin do. Instead his idea of history is the history of great thinkers who impose new ideas through sheer creativity and power. Or rather, it's the idea of a kind of creative, productive, disruptive force ... a "will-to-power" which flows through the great thinkers who are mere vehicles for it.

In Nietzsche's view this force, power is everything. It's the only thing that matters in philosophy, science or any intellectual achievement. It would be crude to say his is a philosophy of "might makes true", but that is one reading.

It's important to remember that Nietzsche is not stupid or evil or mad (except maybe at the end of his life). He doesn't come to this position to try to show off or be clever (although he sometimes writes like he does). Nietzsche is very smart and well read, and knows the intellectual history.

This position is the end result of a process in philosophy, that starts with Descartes, of subjecting our beliefs to sceptical enquiry, and trying to justify why we should accept our "truths" as being the truths. And then failing to give justifications. Not through want of trying, but because all the other sources of truth : reason, experience, senses etc. are found wanting when tested to destruction.

And as Sherlock Holmes would put it "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth"

That's basically a Nietzscheian view of philosophy and of values. That all the other ways to ground it have failed. And the only theory that remains is "truth is just what some people manage to persuade everyone else the truth is"

So how did philosophy respond to Nietzsche in the 20th century?

Well, many just tried to dismiss him or thought him mad or evil. (It didn't help that the Nazis adopted him)

Others tried to account for him and slotted him into their world view. But mainly philosophers retreated into talking about logic, or language or analysing the forms of subjective experience. These were areas that were "safe" in that they didn't claim to talk about the world in itself. Just our subjective relations to it. And we could claim we knew about our own experience or language or logic, by definition.

The idea that we can't talk about the world as it really is, and can just talk about our subjective experience of it, has been around since Kant. And the recurring philosophical response to that is "if we can't talk about the world as it is, let's just talk about our experience of it and claim that that is all the world that matters". And that's what most philosophers did in the 20th century. Banned "metaphysics" or any speculation about what the world in itself was "really like".

Of course, most of these 20th century philosophers were not responding directly to Nietzsche. But they were responding to the same general crisis of the failure to justify our knowledge of the world, that Nietzsche was.

But there's another aspect of Nietzsche which is important. He was not a nihilist.

He didn't think that we should believe in nothing. Or in mere physical laws without values or norms. Instead he believed in the process or the will-to-power force. He believed in creativity. And, in a sense, in art and aesthetics. There was an aesthetic virtue in creating new values and ideas to save us from nihilism. A kind beauty in it.

As an aside. These ideas fed, via Heidegger, into existentialism. But in this form, the focus was on the individual person creating their own world. And Nietzsche's aesthetics seems to give rise to "norm" notions or ideals like "authenticity" and "grace" etc. aesthetic qualities of self-production.

Existentialism is NOT "post-modernism" however.

Another current from Nietzsche takes the impersonality of the will-to-power seriously. And it does that partly through Freud.

Freud is a medical doctor, a psychologist, who contemporary with Nietzsche, picks up on the idea of an impersonal force that drives people. He frames these as unconscious drives. And for the rest of the 20th century we get a new picture of the human mind. One which sees our conscious thoughts and decisions as emerging from the interplay of unconscious forces. What's really going on in the mind is these drives.

Now Freud's specific model of the mind is one of the "modernisms" that post-modernism is rejecting. But the idea of impersonal forces "machines" or "desires" survives.

And that's how we get to the "the post-modernists" (tm) : Deleuze and Guattari, Lyotard, Baudrilliard etc. (Derrida does via a digression through language) are the philosophers who simultaneously pick up on a) a model of humanity not as conscious rational agents, but as the space in which unconscious cross-cutting historical forces or drives meet and interact. And b) the notion that philosophy implies an aesthetic response to this. You don't want nihilism or mere collapse into scientistic mechanical world of laws. There is still room for, need for values ... but those values emerge from the interactions of the impersonal forces. And are the result of a test of strength. In fact intellectual history is almost a kind of poetry competition, driven by the most productive, creative, protean forces.

Nietzsche was not, in any sense, a "post-modern" philosopher. He's from a different time and with a different set of concerns. But you can make a case that the most prominent post-modern thinkers take Nietzsche seriously, and try to do philosophy in light of how Nietzsche hints it should be done. As a kind of aesthetic activity, the protean invention of new metaphors and models. Rather than by trying to ignore or reject Nietzsche.