Marina Bykova, Kenneth Westphal (Eds.): The Palgrave Hegel Handbook

The Palgrave Hegel Handbook Book Cover The Palgrave Hegel Handbook
Palgrave Handbooks in German Idealism
Marina Bykova, Kenneth Westphal (Eds.)
Palgrave Macmillan
Hardback 160,49 €
LII, 602

Reviewed by:  Robb Dunphy (Maimonides Center for Advanced Studies / University of Hamburg)

This volume continues Palgrave’s impressive Handbooks in German Idealism series, already comprising significant collections of essays on the topics of German Idealism in general, Kant, Fichte, and German Romanticism. At the time of writing, volumes on Schelling and on the relation between German Idealism and Existentialism are also on the way.

A book of this kind, collecting up-to-date critical contributions across all of the major areas addressed in Hegel’s systematic philosophy, might be thought to stand in competition with a number of similar recent volumes, perhaps most obviously Baur and Houlgate’s A Companion to Hegel (2011) from Blackwell, de Laurentiis and Edwards’ Bloomsbury Companion to Hegel (2013), and Moyar’s The Oxford Handbook of Hegel (2017). The reality of the situation, however, in the light of the richness of Hegel’s work, is that these collections complement one another. They do so by assembling investigations of Hegel’s work on phenomenology, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of religion, philosophy of history, and so on, that are frequently interestingly different in emphasis, evaluation, or interpretation. The essays included in such volumes can be read in isolation, so that somebody interested in, say, topics in Hegel’s philosophy of religion, would benefit from consulting the relevant essays in all four works, without having to engage with each in its entirety. At the same time, due to their scope and size, all four share the virtue of offering readers the opportunity to consider the various topics addressed within them in a systematic context (valuable in the case of Hegel).

The fact that such “competitors” exist also has consequences for how one evaluates the coverage of this volume. The Palgrave Hegel Handbook, to provide one example, has comparatively little in the way of entries which focus upon engagement with Hegel’s work in the twentieth century. Notably, it has no entries which focus upon the reception of Hegel among phenomenologists, critical theorists, or twentieth century French philosophers. This is a particular strength of the Blackwell Companion. It also has comparatively less to say about specific metaphysical topics treated in the Science of Logic; the Oxford Handbook is stronger here. To provide one more example, however, The Palgrave Hegel Handbook clearly offers more than the other collections when it comes to topics in Hegel’s epistemology and philosophy of mind. All four of the volumes that I have mentioned address all of the major aspects of Hegel’s systematic philosophy, but differences in focus such as those in the examples just provided demonstrate another way in which a reader with access to all of them will find that they complement one another. From this point on I will focus this review upon The Palgrave Hegel Handbook alone.

Before discussing the content of the volume, I will make one further remark concerning coverage. It would be unreasonable to expect such a volume to be truly exhaustive in term of the material with which it engages, and the editors make no such claim. Given, however, that the final section of the volume comprises entries on “Hegelianism and Post-Hegelian Thought”, and the editors’ commitment to assessing ‘contemporary controversies concerning his philosophy’ (l), one might think that this would be a good opportunity to include a substantive entry engaging with the already-sizeable and growing body of work concerning Hegel’s colonialism, sexism, and racism, not only in terms of the nature of the implications of his prejudices for the evaluation of his philosophical work, but also in terms of the positive uses made of the resources of Hegel’s thought over the last seventy or so years by those seeking to oppose and overcome such prejudices. Unfortunately, such topics are not treated here. In light of recent collections such as Monahan’s Creolizing Hegel (2017), some engagement with work of this kind would have made a valuable addition to the volume.

Editorial Materials

The volume opens with a helpful analytical table of contents which roughly indicates the content of each essay. Interesting material is also included in the form of appendices; I particularly enjoyed the schematic presentation of Hegel’s major works as they correspond to the various parts of his mature philosophical system. Importantly, the editors have included Hegel’s various lecture courses in Jena, Heidelberg, and Berlin in this context. Given the richness of many of the transcripts from these lectures, this amounts to a very useful pointer for further reading on the various topics covered in the volume. I was less sure of the editors’ “Agenda for Future Research”. Although the suggestions are certainly valid (and, in my opinion, interesting), and the editors note that this material is ‘suggestive, not exhaustive’ (581), there is no clear criterion according to which some possible projects have been included and others excluded. Why emphasise, for example, the possibility of distinctively Hegelian contributions to contemporary cognitive science (583), but say nothing of the possibility of introducing Hegel to contemporary metaphysical discussions of natural kinds, or of monism, as suggested by Kreines (2015), or of the possible value of Hegelian insights in considering contemporary social pathologies, as explored by Bunyard (2019)? Certainly, there is a multitude of avenues for further research available to those interested in Hegel’s philosophy, but I am not sure how valuable it is for the editors to pick just some and list them.

I also think that the short editors’ introduction to the volume is perhaps not as helpful as it could have been. It aims to provide a sketch of contents and significant goals of the various parts of Hegel’s system, but while this breadth of scope is appropriate here, the brevity of the introduction means that the key claims being singled out are often not explained in sufficient detail. Instead, one gets the impression that the introduction is rather hurriedly emphasizing those elements of Hegel’s philosophy which the editors, perhaps especially Westphal, take to be most significant for contemporary thought (the majority of the references to chapters in the volume are to those by Westphal). I was left feeling that it would have been better simply to indicate the themes of the chapters and let the reader get on with reading them, since there these technical claims receive more adequate and clearer treatment. One valuable addition, however, is a brief run-down of various senses in which Hegel deploys the term “dialectic”. It would have been even better if this account could have been extended with references to analyses of Hegel’s various dialectical arguments, conceptual explications, and the like, as they occur among some of the chapters in the book.

The Essays

There are twenty-eight essays in this volume. It is impossible within the confines of even a reasonably long review to adequately address even the majority of them. I shall endeavour to say something about seven chapters, composing two of the volume’s eight parts. I will focus my attention on the material concerning Hegel’s engagement with his immediate forbears, his epistemology, and his Science of Logic. This emphasis reflects the interests and expertise of the reviewer and I acknowledge that a case could be made for arguing that some of the most noteworthy essays in the volume are not those which fall into these categories. I will briefly draw attention to what I considered to be some of the most worthwhile essays addressing other topics in the volume at the end of the review.

Part I considers Hegel’s intellectual background and the nature of his philosophical project. There is a short sketch of Hegel’s intellectual life by Bykova which covers more or less what one would expect it to. Particularly good is Bykova’s treatment of the evolution of Hegel’s philosophical aspirations, from an early enthusiasm for popular philosophy and the moral education of the people to his later, considered belief that the practical benefits of philosophy would be better accomplished on the back of a more thorough-going revision of its more abstract, theoretical underpinnings.

Also featured here is an essay by Baur which carries out the task, crucial in a volume which treats the key themes of Hegel’s epistemology and metaphysics, of reconstructing the major philosophical developments which took place in Germany between the publication of Kant’s first Critique and Hegel’s Phenomenology. This is important because many of the major disputes in the interpretation of Hegel’s work (especially his metaphysics) since at least as far back as the 1970s have turned on how to understand his relation to his forbears, especially Kant. This is a lot to address in one essay and there are elements of the account that could have been made clearer: Baur spends some time, quite properly, explaining Kant’s rejection of the possibility of intellectual intuition for human cognition, but then does not explicitly mention intellectual intuition in his treatment of Fichte or Schelling, despite its crucial importance for their projects. More problematically, he suggests that Schelling and Hegel’s idealisms move away from the more subjective idealisms of Kant and Fichte because the former two come endorse the Spinozistic claim that ‘mind and world are fully co-extensive’ (37), but provides no clear argument as to why they might have been justified in endorsing such a claim. This risks giving the impression that Schelling’s and Hegel’s projects amount to a reversion to pre-critical dogmatism, despite the fact that Baur wants to claim that they do not (23). Still, it is necessary to paint with broad brushstrokes in an essay of this kind, and I think that Baur largely succeeds in characterising the idea of Hegel’s project in the Phenomenology as a series of determinate negations intended to persuade his opponents of the validity of metaphysics which can ‘combine the pre-Kantian thought of Spinoza with the post-Kantian thought of Fichte’ (23).

Westphal also includes an article of his own here which distils some of the key points of the interpretation of Hegel’s epistemology that he has been developing for some decades, most recently and thoroughly presented in his (2018). Westphal’s impressive scholarship is on display here as he relates the project of Hegel’s Phenomenology to key philosophical developments both before and after its publication. I shall not discuss the contents of the essay here: a critical engagement with Westphal’s account of Hegel’s project demands more space than a book review of this kind can accommodate. I will say, however, that although Westphal’s writing is clear, this article is something of a whirlwind of references to various works and topics, and at times demands a not insignificant amount of relevant knowledge on behalf of the reader (although, to be fair, it also provides plenty of references for further reading). While there are articles in this volume that would be useful for students with an interest in Hegel’s work, I would not be quick to direct a student towards this one.

Somewhat oddly also placed here is a piece by Varnier on Hegel’s epistemology. The immediate value of this essay is that it encourages those looking to identify Hegel’s epistemological positions to direct their gaze beyond the 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit, and particularly towards the section of Hegel’s Logic on cognition and the material on theoretical spirit in the Philosophy of Spirit. In fact, Varnier does not go far enough concerning this crucial point; it should be remembered that the primary function of Hegel’s argument in the Phenomenology is to provide (immanent) criticism of the various positions of “natural consciousness” opposed in various ways to Hegel’s own idealist position. Identifying distinctive Hegelian epistemological positions in the arguments of the Phenomenology, therefore, is at the very least a rather murky procedure, as what is identified as an internal problem for a particular shape of consciousness in that work need not automatically imply clear positions that we can take Hegel to endorse. It seems to me that Westphal, in the previous essay in this volume, does not do enough to address concerns of this kind.

Varnier’s article concerns itself principally with two topics. Firstly, he seems to accept something like the metaphysics-first metaphilosophy attributed to Hegel in (Kreines 2015) when he suggests that relevance to epistemology of Hegel’s Logic is that it provides a ‘theory of all ontological structures of science and of common knowledge, which make knowledge possible and certain’ (67). In this context, by asking about how Hegel defends this metaphysical project itself against scepticism Varnier seems to be engaging with important questions about Hegel’s views on the epistemology of metaphysics. Secondly, Varnier also treats Hegel’s views on traditional epistemological matters such as the justification of everyday beliefs and the definition of knowledge. Regarding the first topic – the epistemology of Hegel’s metaphysics – Varnier appeals to various “introductions” Hegel provided to his systematic philosophy, the arguments of which are presumably intended to go some way towards securing the metaphysical claims made in the latter (67). This is not an unusual view, and nor is Varnier’s suggestion that the various determinate negations of natural consciousness carried out in the Phenomenology vindicate thought’s claims about the nature of objective reality (71). Given that this essay is preceded by two others which also address the introductory function of Hegel’s Phenomenology, I would suggest that less time could have been spent on this aspect of the epistemology of Hegel’s metaphysics, in favour of topics that have received less attention, perhaps concerning the matter of how to evaluate the claims to knowledge made in the context of Hegel’s Logic itself, or in his Realphilosophie, for example.

Varnier’s treatment of the second topic is briefer that his treatment of the first, which is a shame. He provides a lengthy passage on the nature of knowledge from the Philosophy of Spirit but decides not to ‘dissect’ it (74). Instead he suggests rather briefly, and in a manner that was not clear to me, that Hegel is arguing both for the strong claim that our use of concepts tracks reality in a manner constitutive of knowledge as a matter of ‘necessity’ (74), and for the ‘irreality… of any and every finite standpoint’ (76). In order for these two claims not to be in tension with one another, it seems that the knowing subject in the former case must not be any individual, finite knower, but somehow the historically developing community of interdependent, human, knowing subjects that might be labelled ‘absolute spirit’ in Hegelian language. Indeed, Varnier suggests that, for the collective subject of absolute spirit, ‘the knower and the known are fully adequate to each other’ (75). Peculiarly, however, he then goes on to suggest that absolute spirit itself is also just another finite perspective, adherence to which invites scepticism (76). It is not obvious to me how to reconcile these two claims. Varnier also suggests that the transition from “essence” to “concept” in the Logic might constitute an argument against the sceptical suggestion that our knowledge might be restricted to appearances, and therefore that we might not know how reality really is, but again he refuses to explore that argument (76). He concludes with some highly interesting remarks on the connection between knowledge and practical reason in Hegel’s work, and suggests a possible connection to be drawn with contemporary virtue epistemology (78), but these promising ideas are, frustratingly, left undeveloped here.

I pass over Part II, which focuses on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, to consider Part III, which focuses mostly on Hegel’s Science of Logic. As I mentioned earlier, this volume does not include dedicated contributions on Hegel’s specific treatment of various historically significant logical or metaphysical topics. Instead this section includes helpful and interesting essays by Nuzzo and Burbidge, on the method of Hegel’s logical investigations and on his infamous use of Aufhebung, respectively, followed by a rather informal essay by Southgate which attempts to provide a big-picture overview of an account of metaphysical holism developed in the Doctrine of Essence and to connect it to Hegel’s account of freedom.

Southgate’s piece is a curious addition to this volume. Unlike the other chapters, it does not really represent an intervention either into debates in the secondary literature concerning Hegel’s position or argument on some philosophical issue, or into philosophical work on some topic along Hegelian lines. As such, although its principal topics are metaphysical holism, human freedom, and the connection between the former and the latter in Hegel’s thought, there is no real discussion of debates between those who consider Hegel to be a holist in the relevant sense and those who do not, for example. The major focus of the chapter, instead, seems to be to sketch a way in to Hegel’s thought, aimed at illustrating its importance for those uncertain as to whether or not to spend the time working their way through his famously difficult prose. As such, this chapter, more than any other in the volume, appears to be aimed at students approaching Hegel for the first time, or, possibly, academics considering how to introduce Hegel to such students.

With this goal in mind, I think that Southgate does quite a good job here, although some may find his style a little grating. There is a helpful discussion of Hegel’s account of freedom, aimed at defusing the tendency to suppose that Hegel is arguing naively that it is in fact possible to peacefully view all tragic events as merely the outcome of our own development and to assume responsibility for them (187-88). Southgate redirects the reader towards Hegel’s treatment of those relations which seem to actualise and illuminate freedom in the sense of “being with oneself in the other” and provides a helpful discussion of this vital notion (188-89). One might express the concern, however, that, in his attempt to emphasise to the reader the existential significance of Hegel’s notion of freedom, Southgate’s presentation can come across as rather too heavily focused on the individual’s own attitude towards freedom, at the cost of playing down Hegel’s emphasis on the objective social structures required for such attitudes. I should add that I think that few readers will find his attempt to reverse engineer an account of metaphysical holism from this account of freedom, or to try to provide a sense of it by appeal to the experience of running an ultramarathon to be successful (Southgate seems to think that Hegel’s position is in some important sense ineffable, but I do not know why).

Nuzzo’s chapter on the method of Hegel’s logical science is a valuable addition to this volume, drawing as it does on her sustained work on this topic over several years. Nuzzo helpfully situates the discussion of Hegel’s dialectical logic in relation to both Kant’s transcendental logic and to traditional, Aristotelian logic. Of especial value here is her account of Hegel’s critique of the formality of transcendental logic in terms of what he judges to be a ‘failed relation to the object’ (156) because of Kant’s separation of sensibility and understanding. Here Nuzzo’s account helpfully explains that Hegel is not simply ignoring or conflating Kant’s distinction between general and transcendental logic (as it might appear, at times).

Interestingly, on the basis of Hegel’s claim that Kant’s transcendental logic, dependent as it is on the input of sensibility for its objects, is unable to deliver the truth about those objects, Nuzzo moves to suggest that Hegel’s dialectical logic is in fact closer to general logic, precisely because it does not involve transcendental logic’s necessary reliance upon an object given to it from elsewhere (Incidentally, the claim Hegel’s new logical method is prompted by what he sees as the failure of Kant’s transcendental logical method does not seem to fit with Nuzzo’s stated rejection of readings of Hegel which have him construct an ‘path alternative to the generally accepted Kantian one’ (154), but I think that it is the former claim which is more important to her argument). In the case of general logic, of course, this is simply because it can be carried out completely abstractly, without reference to real objects, while Hegel sets for dialectical logic the ambitious task of a thinking that, like general logic, is pure in that it requires no input from externally given real objects, but at the same time delivers the truth about real objects nevertheless.

Nuzzo’s account of the method of such a dialectical logic accurately captures the Hegelian claim that the content of logic should not be separate from its form, and that logical thinking can generate its own content. Of course, even if one accepts Nuzzo’s characterisation of Hegel’s method in terms of the generation of logical content from the dynamic movement of thought itself, the question remains, particularly after the treatment of Hegel’s criticism of Kant, as to why one should suppose that this immanently generated logical content accurately tracks reality. Nuzzo rightly points out that Hegel takes his logical science to amount to an ‘objective thinking’ (161), but the reader may well wonder why this does not amount to anything more than an interesting new style of pre-critical dogmatism. To be fair to Nuzzo though, her chapter is concerned with the method of Hegel’s logic, and not with the question of how that logic also amounts to a metaphysics. This latter question has received plenty of attention in recent work on Hegel, and I think that Nuzzo’s essay succeeds admirably in shedding some light on its chosen subject-matter.

I should point out that there is a slightly misleading slip in the language of this paper. Nuzzo describes the relation between the question of the relation between Hegel’s dialectical logic and his attitude to Kant’s transcendental logic and the question of the relation between the conclusion of the Phenomenology of Spirit and the idea of logic present in the Science of Logic as ‘all but self-explanatory’ (155), where she means “anything but self-explanatory” (She does go on to provide an excellent explanation later in the chapter). Unfortunately, although no one paper in the volume exhibits a high volume of typos, mistakes, or awkward phrasings, there is quite a number of such things spread across the book as a whole. In general, the Palgrave Hegel Handbook would have benefitted from more careful editing on this score.

Burbidge, in his contribution, provides an illuminating discussion of Hegel’s use of the term Aufhebung, which describes the kind of transitions or inferences key to every part of Hegel’s mature philosophy. Burbidge’s chapter compliments Nuzzo’s. Whereas she focused on Hegel’s attempt to present a logical science that generates its own content, his attention is on the nature of the development of that content. In particular, he is concerned to explain how it is that Hegel is able to argue that more complex thought determinations emerge out of simpler and less determinate ones, without surreptitiously assuming those more complex determinations as a goal in advance. Of course, this has always been a common complaint made against Hegel’s procedure, and Burbidge makes quite a good case for thinking that it is unfounded. He shows, particularly by appealing to remarks Hegel makes towards the end of his treatment of quantitative concepts, and in his account of the absolute idea, that the basic parts of a move that can be described as an Aufhebung, the movement, that is, through which more complex determinations are generated from simpler ones, are firstly the immanent negation of some determination, followed in turn by the negation of the determination to which the first negation gave rise. This ‘doubled transition’ (171) amounts to a slippage between the two determinations in question, with each implying but excluding the other. Finally, this slippage between determinations can be grasped as a single unity, in which the one-sided conceptions of the previous determinations have been replaced with a conception that grasps them as belonging to this new determination in such a way that they have been both “annulled” and “preserved”, as the verb aufheben can suggest.

Burbidge’s account of the dialectical transitions which make up the argument of Hegel’s Logic does not require Hegel to assume in advance the outcome of those transitions, but there are other worries that might be expressed about it. It is not obvious what it is that gives rise to the moment at which the continual slippage between opposing thought-determinations is grasped as a whole. Burbidge invokes the unifying function that Kant attributes to the categories in the transcendental deduction, but it is not clear how helpful this is. Burbidge himself acknowledges that Kant’s discussion of how the categories unify sensible intuitions that have been synthesised by the imagination is somewhat removed from Hegel’s focus on the relations between concepts alone. What Burbidge seems to want from Kant is a discussion of the understanding, since it is the unifying activity that Kant attributes to the understanding that Burbidge sees in Hegel’s Aufhebung. But even then it is not clear exactly what or who is responsible for this unifying activity in Hegel’s case. What is more, Burbidge seems to slip rather too quickly between Kant’s account of the understanding as a faculty for unifying the deliverances of sensibility under concepts and Hegel’s insistence that the understanding is (primarily) a kind of thinking that separates and statically opposes thought determinations, risking giving the impression that Kant and Hegel are talking about the same thing. This cannot be right, but Burbidge’s suggestion that it is ‘understanding’s “power of the negative”, which collapses the double transition with its inherent contradiction and infinite progress into a simple, unified concept’ (172) is mystifying because it gives precisely this impression. What this account seems to require is a discussion of the kind of thinking Hegel describes as “reason”, but this is strangely absent.

Burbidge goes on to provide a useful overview of some of dialectical transitions which occur early in the first book of Hegel’s Logic. In fact, I think that it would have been better still if he had spent a little more time spelling some of these out, rather than focusing on the account of the concepts of being, nothing, and becoming as his most detailed example of an instance of a logical Aufhebung. In the case of this first dialectical transition it is uniquely difficult to see how the original, one-sided determinations of being and nothing are opposed at all, and thus to get the transition on the move. Things become much clearer in the case of, for example, the treatment of the (qualitative) finite and infinite, which Burbidge treats only briefly.

Turning from the Logic to the metaphysics of nature, Burbidge proceeds to provide a whistle-stop tour through some notable features of contemporary particle physics, biochemisty, and biology (which I am not competent to assess), suggesting that these provide evidence for thinking that the kind of dialectical transitions that Hegel explores in his Logic may appear in the activity and development of nature in ways that Hegel did not anticipate. Burbidge thinks that this amounts to a challenge to Hegel’s view that ‘the universe is grounded in a rational structure that is prior to, and independent of nature’ (180). It is not clear to me that such developments need push Hegel to abandon the idea that logic can be treated as an a priori science, independent of the study of nature, but one whose metaphysical implications might be expected to govern nature. Certainly, we might concede to Burbidge that if nature does indeed appear to run on Aufhebung-like processes, then a thinking which takes its cue from the presence of such dialectical transitions in nature and reflects upon them in an abstract context might come to resemble Hegel’s Logic, but this does not guarantee his conclusion that ‘there is no a priori logical structure, but human thought is affected by what it discovers in the changes and transformations of nature’ (181). Aside from the challenges mounted by Kant, Hegel, and others to conceiving of logic on such an empirical basis, it remains the case that if (and admittedly it is a big “if”) Hegel can make a case for the development of such a logic a priori and show that it has metaphysical implications, then he should not be too troubled by the discovery of natural processes which conform to the structures of thought. Burbidge is right to draw attention to outdated claims and failings in Hegel’s own philosophy of nature, but I do not think that these need to cause problems for Hegel’s big picture concerning the relation between thought and reality and the way that Burbidge seems to think that they might.

With that, I draw my discussion of just some of the essays assembled in this volume to a close. As additional highlights not addressed here, I would direct the reader’s attention to an essay by Collins which considers the role of Hegel’s account of religion in the context of the argument of the Phenomenology (85-108), an essay by Testa on Hegel’s treatment of embodied cognition and agency (269-95), an essay by Yeomans on the relation between Hegel’s logic and his political thought (373-88), and Motroshilova’s account of the development of Hegel’s treatment of the history of philosophy (485-517). By way of conclusion I shall simply state that there is a great deal in this volume that will be of interest to Hegel scholars and students, and that the Palgrave Hegel Handbook provides a valuable addition to the resources available to anyone engaging seriously with almost any facet of Hegel’s work.



Baur, M. and Houlgate, S. 2011. A Companion to Hegel. Oxford: Blackwell.

Bunyard, T. 2019. “Demagogy and Social Pathology: Wendy Brown and Robert Pippin on the Pathologies of Neoliberal Subjectivity.” Araucaria, Vol 21 Issue 42: 505-527

de Laurentiis, A. and Edwards, J. 2013. The Bloomsbury Companion to Hegel. London: Bloomsbury.

Kreines, J. 2015. Reason in the World: Hegel’s Metaphysics and its Philosophical Appeal. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Moyar, D. 2017. The Oxford Handbook of Hegel. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Monahan, M. 2017. Creolizing Hegel (London: Rowman and Littlefield International.

Westphal, K. 2018. Grounds of Pragmatic Realism: Hegel’s Internal Critique and Reconstruction of Kant’s Critical Philosophy. Leiden: Brill.

Marina Bykova, Kenneth Westphal (Eds.): The Palgrave Hegel Handbook, Palgrave Macmillan, 2020

The Palgrave Hegel Handbook Book Cover The Palgrave Hegel Handbook
Palgrave Handbooks in German Idealism
Marina Bykova, Kenneth Westphal (Eds.)
Palgrave Macmillan
Hardback 160,49 €
LII, 602

Rudolf Carnap: The Collected Works of Rudolf Carnap, Volume 1, Early Writings

The Collected Works of Rudolf Carnap, Volume 1, Early Writings Book Cover The Collected Works of Rudolf Carnap, Volume 1, Early Writings
Rudolf Carnap. Edited by A.W. Carus, Michael Friedman, Wolfgang Kienzler, Alan Richardson, and Sven Schlotter
Oxford University Press
Hardback £70.00

Reviewed by: Flavio Baracco (Institut Wiener Kreis)

After the complete collection of the published works of Rudolf Carnap (1891-1970) was accepted to be published by Oxford University Press in 2016, the long-awaited first volume of the 14-volume edition of the Collected Writings of Rudolf Carnap has been finally published. This volume represents the first ever English translation of Carnap’s early writings published from 1918 through 1926, before Carnap moved to Vienna becoming one of the leading figures of the Vienna Circle. Carnap is rightly considered one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century. He made contributions in many areas, from the philosophy of science to the philosophy of logic, always stressing the need for a critical assessment of the role logic, mathematics and philosophy should play in scientific knowledge. His works played a key role in the development of Logical Empiricism; one of the main sources of what would become analytic philosophy. Although in the present day a fruitful dialogue between analytic philosophy and other philosophical traditions is not always easily achievable, at that time rather different philosophical perspectives were coexisting. The perspectives shared a common cultural framework and, most importantly, they were used to profitably interact with each other in a way that has since become increasingly difficult and Carnap’s early writings are a perfect example of this. Carnap was an eclectic intellectual whose interests embraced different philosophical ways of thinking to such an extent that his multifaceted interests appeared to some as objectionable or even inconsistent, as he recalls in his autobiography. However, he was proud to claim that he acquired valuable insights from philosophers and scientists of ‘a great variety of philosophical creeds’. Carnap’s early writings indeed shows a clear influence of the main philosophers usually regarded as belonging to the analytic tradition, such as Frege and Russell, but Husserl’s phenomenology and many neo-Kantian thinkers such as Natorp and Cassirer play an important role as well. These essays  represent a fundamental resource for both Carnap scholars and historians of analytic philosophy. Firstly, these writings make possible a better understanding of Carnap’s thought and its development since the early years and, secondly, they shed some light on the origins of analytic philosophy and the multi-faceted nature of the cultural framework around  that time.

I wish now to make a few general considerations on the editorial work. First of all, let’s say the present volume represents an outstanding work in Carnap scholarship both for its great attention to detail and for its richness in several in-depth analyses that furnish all the historical and mathematical background needed to understand Carnap’s writings. The volume is the final outcome of the work of many people and the editors present an  overall picture of all those who have  contributed to the  project. The volume begins  with a brief chronology of Carnap’s life followed by an Introduction edited by Carus and Friedman which presents  an exhaustive overview of the essays that  follow. The editors show the original German alongside the English translation and at the end of volume they accurately report any minimal changes they have made with respect to the original text. Each essay is followed by a section giving further information that carefully helps the reader to contextualize and understand the text, and in places,  the editorial notes are impressively accurate. The editors indeed make  extensive use of Carnap’s Nachlass to furnish us with a clear representation of Carnap’s view. Although, reference to an English translation of much of the literature quoted in the final bibliography would have been useful to the reader. The editors accurately report the corrected bibliographic information for all items cited in Carnap’s texts, but they do not indicate whether  an English translation of each item is available . As  the present volume is mainly addressed to an English audience, this would have been useful even though  it would have resulted in a longer bibliographical list. Finally, I would report a misprint at page 189: towards the end of the page the editors refers to note mm (twice), but it should be note ll. In the following I will briefly show the content of the different essays and give a few remarks on the editorial work on these texts whenever appropriate.

The first essay is entitled Völkerbund – Staatenbund and depicts a young Carnap in his twenties engaged in the social-political life of his country towards the end of World War I. At that time Carnap was actively engaged with the German Youth Movement, particularly the parts of the movement politically engaged against the war, and this text represents his contribution to the first issue of the left-wing political newsletter Politische Rundbriefe, published by Karl Bittel in October 1918. This brief text should have been followed by another text where a few critical considerations on the German’s defeat in the war were addressed; however, this second text was never published. However, in the  Introduction the editors sketch the content of both texts and we can then see how they present  an overview of Carnap’s political world view at that time. According to Carnap, politics is not to be understood in a narrow sense, rather  it refers to everything that has ‘some connection with the public social life of people’. As the editors suggest, this view of politics underlies Carnap’s philosophical work for most of his life, especially with respect to the role that reason, and more specifically ‘scientific’ reasoning should play in a society or a community where all the activities should be regulated and so removed ‘from the realm of chaotic whim’ and subordinated ‘to goal-oriented reason’. On the contrary, an excessive contemplative, quietist, or even mystical approach of mental life, not properly balanced by a politically active life is instead suggested to be one of the main reasons for Germany’s guilt for causing the war. This text represents an important resource in order to understand the interconnection between the political and philosophical reflections that were co-existing in Carnap’s philosophy and more generally, in the ambitious and multi-faced cultural phenomenon represented by the Vienna Circle.

In Wer erzwingt die Geltung des Naturgesetzes? Carnap reviews Hugo Dingler’s Physik und Hypothese where the author defends a conventionalist account of the primary laws of nature. Carnap acknowledges Dingler’s philosophical view as one of the most important influences on his own  thought. In 1920 Carnap even considered writing a doctoral dissertation under Dingler’s direction at the physics department in Munich, and a joint publication was also planned till September 1921. Despite several disagreements, Dingler remained an important influence Carnap’s writings in the early 1920s. At the very beginning Carnap asked himself a question: what if someone comes along and claims that laws of nature are matter of free decision? That’s exactly the kind of question  that Dingler’s book seeks to address. Dingler holds that nature can neither impose a particular choice, nor ever contradict our stipulations, but we are free to choose the primary laws of nature; the spatial and causal laws. Carnap admits that a view of this sort appears  odd, and he is reluctant to  agree with Dingler, (especially with respect to Dingler’s rejection of Einstein’s general theory of relativity), but he proudly claims that this book ‘clears the ground on which an examination of the foundations of physics, and in particular the theory of relativity, could rest’. The present essay is an important resource in order to better understand the genesis of  very distinctive Carnapian notion, i.e. Carnap’s conventionalism. This notion is clearly influenced by Dingler’s view on the conventional nature of the laws of nature that Carnap identifies as critical conventionalism, thereby distinguishing it from Poincaré’s notion of conventionalism. According to Carnap, Poincaré’s conventionalism relies on a free choice that is completely arbitrary, whereas Dingler’s view holds that our choices can be uniquely determined by a certain principle of maximal simplicity. Carnap favours Dingler’s conventionalism over Poincaré’s account and  will reformulate Dingler’s criteria of simplicity in later years. Carnap’s early conventionalism then seems to find its roots in a critical reformulation of Dingler’s conventionalism. Moreover, this essay shows us the  extent to which Carnap’s philosophical considerations rely on an in-depth knowledge of physics and scientific practice. This is  evident from his remarks on stipulations that rely on a critical analysis of physical knowledge, conceived not simply as a study of empirical data, but as a stratified and articulated measurement practice of empirical phenomena.

Der Raum is definitely a fundamental text for Carnap scholars. It is a lengthy and substantial book, it was largely written in late 1920, then submitted in 1921 to the philosophy department as a doctoral dissertation, and eventually published in Kant-Studien in 1922. The book aims to make things clear on the  debate taking place at the time regarding  the source of our knowledge of space and, especially, to what extent an objective knowledge of space could depend on experience. Carnap argues that the many different perspectives advocated by philosophers, mathematicians and physicists are contradictory as their differences rely on confusion over the different meanings of space. Der Raum then aims to show that a proper conceptual clarification of the different meanings of space and their interconnections can shed light on this debate and finally dissolve the controversy.

The first three chapters deal respectively with three different meanings of space; formal, intuitive and physical space, whereas the last two chapters focus on their interconnections and how each space is related to experience. The notion of formal space (formale Raum) is defined in terms of ‘relational or structural system’, i.e. a system fully determined by a set of formal axioms whose objects and relations (holding among them) are indeterminate and not related to any specific intuitive meaning. From this formal system we can obtain the spatial system once we substitute spatial elements (point, line, …) for their indeterminate correlation. Carnap refers to this formal system also in terms of “pure theory of relations” (reine Beziehungslehre). He further claims that the construction of formal space can be undertaken in a different way, which is the only path that ‘makes the complete construction of formal space possible, comprising all the special cases’. Starting from formal logic, i.e. the general theory of classes and relations, Carnap then briefly sketches this construction. He introduces the basic notions of ‘judgment’, ‘proposition’, ‘concept’, ‘relation’, and so on, until he defines the notion of ‘(ordered) series’ (natural numbers, real numbers, etc) and finally he arrives at the most general notion of formal space, called n-dimensional topological space and designated by Rnt. By imposing specific conditions on this structure, Carnap obtains the n-dimensional projective space Rnp and the n-dimensional metrical space Rnm. Starting from these formal structures we can obtain the three different intuitive spaces (topological, projective, metrical) by substituting their indeterminate elements with spatial elements. Carnap explicitly claims that ‘a relation of substitution (Einsetzung) holds between the theory of formal and that of intuitive space’, even though the connection between formal space and intuitive space is not so straightforward since postulates and generalizations also play a role in the construction of the order-structure of intuitive space (for any dimension). However, this kind of connection resembles Husserl’s distinction between formal ontology and regional ontology and Carnap is well aware of this and he explicitly refers to it in order to clarify his perspective. Moreover, Husserl’s Wesenserschauung is mentioned to specify the kind of intuitive knowledge involved, making clear that it is not to be confused with ‘intuition (Anschauung) in the narrower sense, focused on the fact itself’ as it pertains to the essential features that can be grasped within phenomena. In agreement with Husserl’s remarks on Kant’s conception of a priori, Carnap claims that the essential features of intuitive space turn out be ‘the synthetic a priori propositions claimed by Kant’. Therefore, the principles governing the formal space are analytic a priori, whereas the ones governing the topological space are synthetic a priori. These two kinds of space, however, are not enough to give a comprehensive picture of scientific knowledge of space. We need to introduce the physical space that represents the domain of synthetic a posteriori knowledge. The knowledge of physical space, however, other than being based on the empirical results of experiments, necessarily relies on conventions that are based on the choice of metric stipulation we decide to adopt. Carnap further claims that, if we wish, we could impose a different metric geometry and still obtain a physical space that is compatible with all our everyday and scientific observations, even though the final outcome might be far from straightforward. Physical space, therefore, relies on conventions but the choice of metric stipulation should be evaluated in terms of some criteria of simplicity that consider the overall description of nature.

Carnap’s Der Raum shows an impressive richness both from a philosophical and mathematical point of view. Carnap’s appendix ‘Pointers to the Literature’ contains substantial resources to historically contextualize many of the issues raised in the book. Starting from his adherence to the logistic approach of Frege and Russell, then going through the neo-Kantian perspectives of Natorp and Cassirer, on to Husserl’s phenomenology and Dingler’s conventionalism, Carnap’s Der Raum turns out to be a very interesting re-elaboration and combination of different philosophical perspectives. Moreover, the most important mathematical and physical literature of the time is seriously taken into account and the major works of Hilbert, Poincaré, Weyl, Riemann, and many others, are discussed and their results are assimilated into Carnap’s view. Several issues in Der Raum, therefore, should be enlightened by reference to the rich cultural framework that underlies this book. For instance, further investigation into the interconnections between Der Raum and Weyl’s Raum-Zeit-Materie would prove  very interesting and fruitful. Carnap explicitly makes reference to Weyl’s writings several times, and a comparison between Carnap’s and Weyl’s studies on space – the latter being clearly influenced by Husserl’s phenomenology – might shed light on the nature of Husserl’s influence on Der Raum. Similarly, further investigation into Carnap’s re-elaboration of Russell’s and Husserl’s perspectives on logic to construct formal space could be useful in order to clarify several aspects of Carnap’s later notion of rational reconstruction. Carnap’s notion of metrical stipulation is another example. A detailed analysis of Carnap’s account on stipulations could shed light on the development of his  later conventionalism. The editorial work on Der Raum (edited by Michael Friedman) successfully achieves a great deal of this task. It is extremely accurate and several in-depth analyses furnish the historical and mathematical background that a reader needs to properly understand the many issues contained in this book. The editor further includes Carnap’s marginalia (contained in Carnap’s own copy of Der Raum) in the editorial notes at the corresponding points which gives the reader a clearer picture of Carnap’s view on this specific issue.

However, a few critical remarks can be put forward. Friedman does not seem to capture the exact nature of the Husserlian framework underlying Carnap’s view nor how it relates to the neo-Kantian framework that – as Friedman rightly suggests – underlies Der Raum. In the Introduction (edited also by Carus), for instance, the editors charge Carnap with  confusion in respect to his conception of intuitive topological space, which ‘somewhat confusingly’ shares the status of conditions for the possibility of experience with formal topological space. This remark seems to underlie a misconception of Husserl’s philosophy. The introduction of phenomenology is definitely one major difference between the previous Masters dissertation of 1920 and the published version of Der Raum. The published edition of 1922, indeed, is a revisited version of the previous Masters dissertation that Carnap had written for the philosophy department in 1920. In the revisited version Carnap substitutes his previous conception of ‘pure geometry’ with ‘intuitive space’ and this very change marks a shift from a neo-Kantian notion of ‘condition for the possibility of experience’ to a Husserlian reinterpretation thereof. I do not mean that Carnap adheres completely to Husserl’s perspective, but his major interest in phenomenology relies exactly on the Husserlian reformulation of Kant’s synthetic a priori propositions in terms of regional axioms that belong to a certain regional ontology. It is precisely this notion of regional ontology that shapes Carnap’s notion of intuitive topological space, and more generally it is precisely the Husserlian distinction between regional ontology and formal ontology that shapes the overall Carnapian distinction between intuitive and formal space. Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology is a philosophical account that – by the introduction of the notion of categorial intuition (that later develops into the notion Wesenserschauung) – enables Husserl to speak in terms of essential structures intuitively given in a phenomenal domain and playing the role of regional axioms, i.e. conditions for the possibility of experience of this very domain. These regional axioms, moreover, are connected to their correlated abstract structures – free from any intuitive elements and belonging to the domain of formal ontology – by means of relations of formalization and de-formalization (categorical intuitions come into play again). These abstract structures, moreover, share the status of experience-constituting validity since they represent the categorical form of the essential structures governing the given phenomenal domain. Carnap’s intuitive topological space – shaping Husserl’s notion of regional ontology – does not share ‘confusingly’ the status of conditions for the possibility of experience with formal topological space, rather they both have this experience-constituting validity – even though in a different way – in agreement with Husserl’s perspective. Further remarks can be found in the editorial notes that do not seem to capture adequately the nature of the Husserlian framework underlying Der Raum. The editors rightly point out that Husserl’s phenomenology is essentially a descriptive science based on essential insight (Wesenserschauung), but they do not seem to ascribe the role of essences – grasped by Wesenserschauung – directly to the axioms of intuitive space. They designate these axioms as ‘describing the Wesenserschauung’ of our perceptual experience of objects in space, or as ‘codifying certain attributes of intuition’. These remarks seem to underlie that firstly, they keep distinct essences grasped by Wesenserschauung and the axioms describing them, and secondly, they do not ascribe to the axioms any intuitiveness by essential insight. Although the relation between a phenomenological description of a given phenomenal domain and the regional ontology characterizing the domain itself is a complex, multi-faced, and problematic field of phenomenological research, Husserl clearly states that they both have to investigated by Wesenserschauung. Therefore, the axioms themselves are intuitively given and they do not ‘describe’ or ‘codify’ an intuitive knowledge but, at most, we could say that in-depth phenomenological analysis can clarify their meaning-constitution.

It seems to me that this misconception of Husserl’s philosophy undermines their evaluation of Husserl’s contribution to Der Raum in several instances. However, the editors are right not to over-estimate Husserl’s influence on Der Raum over Carnap’s adherence to Kant’s philosophy or neo-Kantian thinkers. Der Raum is arguably a personal re-elaboration of several philosophical perspectives rather than a complete adherence to one specific account. It is not clearto what extent Carnap is fully accepting Husserl’s phenomenology in Der Raum, especially, with respect to the possibility to explore exhaustively a given phenomenal domain by Wesenserschauung in all its essential and stratified connections. Instead he seems interested in Husserl’s perspective only so far as it represents a philosophical account (with a Kantian flavor) within which it is possible – starting from the domain of empirical reality – to avoid the restrictions imposed by a neo-Kantian approach. This would enable him  to freely explore the ‘characteristic structures’ belonging to this domain as without it implies a contingent knowledge and laying the foundations for a structural objective analysis of experience.

Über die Aufgabe der Physik addresses the question of what should be regarded as a criterion for maximal simplicity within a physical theory. Two different possibilities are examined with the aim of clarifying the relevant aspects that should rule the choice between them, even though no decision between these two possibilities is suggested in the paper. This text is an important resource to better understand Carnap’s view on simplicity and stipulations within a physical theory and how they both are related to Carnap’s conception of scientific rationality.

In Dreidimensionalität des Raumes und Kausalität Carnap explores how we construct reality starting from a world of sense impressions. Carnap draws an important distinction between experience that exhibits only necessary formation – or first-order experience – and experience that is processed further – or second-order experience. This distinction echoes the previous one in Der Raum between the necessary topological form and the various metrical conventions that could be imposed on it. In the paper Carnap explores this specific issue in a wider perspective where his conventional view is elaborated in the light of Vaihinger’s pragmatic view. It is no coincidence that the paper was published in Annalen der Philosophie, regarded as the house journal of Vaihinger and his followers. Vaihinger argues that we are able to access only the ‘chaos’ of our world of sense impressions whereas the reality we construct is not genuine knowledge but is rather based on useful fictions that allow us to get things done and live in the world. Carnap agrees with Vaihinger as far as it concerns the role of fictions in constructing the reality, but he argues that such a construction is not completely arbitrary. Firstly, we face a first-order experience that exhibits a basic form of ordering, and secondly, certain kinds of logical connections can be established among fictions shaping second-order experience. The paper aims to show that the fiction of three-dimensionality of space and the fiction of physical causality ‘stand in a relation of logical dependence with each other’, and the former is conditioned by the latter. This text is especially important because it helps us to shed light on the development of Aufbau. The first draft of Aufbau dates back to early 1922 and it was completed in 1925. During these years we can observe an important shift: in the early phase (1922-24) Carnap distinguishes a fixed ‘primary world’ of immediate experience – in accordance with the text we are discussing – from a ‘secondary world’ (or ‘realities’) that could be constructed by quasi-analysis on this intuitive basis. However, sometime during 1924 the distinction between primary and secondary world was dropped. Further investigation of Carnap’s intellectual encounters during these years is required , but the present text is clearly an important resource to better understand the development of his thought from Der Raum to Aufbau, especially with respect to his changing perspective on the epistemic value of intuitive knowledge.

In Über die Abhängigkeit der Eigenschaften des Raumes von denen der Zeit Carnap argues that statements about the topological structure of physical space can be reduced to statements about temporal or causal order. The paper needs a proper mathematical and physical background to be properly understood and Malament’s appendix satisfies this requirement. Malament gives a detailed reconstruction of Carnap’s account and he further discusses a number of mathematical problems suggesting how they could be fixed. This text is clearly an important resource for understanding Carnap’s efforts during these years not only in logic and philosophy of science, but also in physical and mathematical research of the time.

The last paper, entitled Physikalische Begriffsbildung, is an important paper written shortly before Carnap moved to Vienna in 1926. In the Introduction Carnap outlines what is science: an activity of collecting and organizing items of knowledge with the aim of subjecting the reality ‘to an ever higher degree of control’”. According to this pragmatic view of science, the task of physics is ‘to order perceptions systematically and to draw inferences from perceptions at hand to perceptions to be expected’. Carnap then explores thoroughly the hierarchical structure of physical concept formation, subdividing its formation into three main stages: qualitative stage, quantitative stage, and abstract stage. The present paper gives us an interesting overall picture of Carnap’s conception of rational reconstruction at the very moment when Carnap was on his way to the final version of the Aufbau. The editorial work (edited by Creath and Richardson) is again very accurate and detailed, although a few remarks on the comparison between Carnap’s Begriffsbildung and Weyl’s Begriffsbildung (as well as Weyl’s Konstitution) might have been useful, especially with respect to Carnap’s later conception of Konstitution.

But aside from these last considerations, the editors have done an excellent job firstly, in making all these texts available to English readers for the first time, and secondly, in making them more understandable thanks to their very rich in-depth analysis. This volume enhances the increasing English literature on the early young Carnap, which in turn provides a clearer picture of the development of logical empiricism and early analytic philosophy. The essays provide a fundamental resource to explore the multi-faceted cultural framework of the time where different philosophical movements were used to profitably interact with each other in a way that has become increasingly difficult in the later years. For all these reasons, the present volume is of considerable merit and should be of interest to Carnap scholars, historians of analytic philosophy and to Husserl scholars and researchers working at the intersection between the philosophy of science, logic and phenomenology.

Rudolf Carnap: The Collected Works of Rudolf Carnap, Volume 1, Early Writings, Oxford University Press, 2019

The Collected Works of Rudolf Carnap, Volume 1, Early Writings Book Cover The Collected Works of Rudolf Carnap, Volume 1, Early Writings
Rudolf Carnap. Edited by A.W. Carus, Michael Friedman, Wolfgang Kienzler, Alan Richardson, and Sven Schlotter
Oxford University Press
Hardback £65.00