Hegel's Theory of Intelligibility

Hegel's Theory of Intelligibility

by Rocio Zambrana


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ISBN-13: 9780226280110
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 12/03/2015
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Rocío Zambrana is assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Oregon. 

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Hegel's Theory of Intelligibility

By Rocío Zambrana

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2015 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-28011-0


Synthesis: Kant

Hegel inherits the Kantian problem of synthesis, as noted in the introduction to part 1, yet he argues that Kant's emphasis on epistemic objectivity misconstrues the status of determinacy. Hegel transforms Kant's focus on a single epistemic or moral subject by arguing that synthesis, determinacy, and ultimately intelligibility are a matter of Geist. In order to accomplish this transformation, Hegel calls into question two crucial aspects of Kant's transcendental idealism. Although Hegel agrees that determinacy and intelligibility are a matter of unity, first, he inverts the logical priority of division and unity within Kant's critical epistemology. This inversion, second, allows Hegel to call into question the assumption that unity requires a condition or principle that is not itself a synthesis, thereby developing a more consistent account of mediation than Kant's Copernican Turn elaborates. In order to reconstruct and assess Hegel's transformation, we must first sketch the problem of synthesis in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.

Kant's critical epistemology is grounded on the claim that knowledge is a matter of experience, which involves the receptivity of impressions and the spontaneity of concepts. Cognition accordingly involves sensibility, the capacity to be "affected in some way," and the understanding, the capacity to "bring[] forth representations itself." Through sensibility an object is given (gegeben); through the understanding the object is "thought in relation to that representation (as a mere determination of the mind)."Experience accordingly involves two heterogeneous elements: the sensible given and nonempirical constraints (rules for determinacy: concepts, principles, postulates). Sensibility and understanding are heterogeneous, thus irreducible to each other. Although they "cannot exchange their function," they refer us to elements whose joint contribution makes experience possible. Kant's strategy for establishing the objectivity of cognition in the first Critique is hence to account for the activity of receptivity and spontaneity, rather than the structure of the sensible and the intelligible. Accounting for the capacity to be affected and to cognize an object by way of judgment establishes that what is given in sensation is subject to nonempirical constraints on experience and, vice versa, that nonempirical constraints yield objective determinations of what is given in sensation.

Division is thus the starting point in Kant's critical epistemology. It follows from the claim that cognition involves two heterogeneous capacities that provide unity to an undetermined manifold given in sensation in distinctive ways. Division, therefore, follows from the duality of the sources of cognition and from the indeterminacy of the given matter of cognition. Heterogeneity and indeterminacy suggest that unity is a matter of combination ("conjunctio"), and that synthesis is the key to the unity of any object of experience and any experience in general. Determinacy thus depends on the relation between receptivity and spontaneity of the mind, which will in turn account for the relation between intuition and concept (a singular representation of sensation and a rule for universal determination of manifold representations into an objective representation). Kant is thus immediately confronted with accounting for unity on two registers. First, he must establish the work of gathering distinctive of sensibility and of unifying distinctive of the understanding, since it is what makes possible taking what is given in sensation as something given and what is determined by concepts as an object of experience (or an event). Second, Kant must establish unity as a matter of the relation between concept and intuition, and must therefore show that the categories apply to appearances and that appearances are subject to the categories. While the transcendental deduction addresses the second problem, the distinction between a transcendental aesthetic and a transcendental analytic addresses the first.


In the Transcendental Aesthetic, Kant sets out to give an account of the capacity for receptivity, which involves establishing the conditions of possibility for being affected. Kant is clear that sensibility is a "passive faculty," that it is preconceptual, and that therefore it does not combine the manifold given in sensation. However, his discussion of space and time shows that sensibility involves an uptake that makes possible taking an undetermined manifold given in sensation as an appearance, as some undetermined thing given somewhere and somewhen. While Kant's discussion of sensibility has to do with givenness itself and hence with passivity in sensation, his argument concerns the very possibility of reception, of taking something as given. Sensibility can therefore also be said to provide minimal order albeit preconceptually. The properly unifying activity of the understanding, to be sure, makes possible taking a manifold of representations as an object of experience, as some determinate thing or event. Yet taking what is given as given requires a form of gathering that, although preconceptual and hence pre-objective, is synthetic nonetheless.

Within the Aesthetic, the problem of division and synthesis arises in ways specific to Kant's understating of space as the form of outer sense and time as the form of inner sense. Division is a matter of externality and succession, while synthesis is a matter of an intuition of the totality of space and the duration of experience in time. As the form of outer sense, space establishes exteriority as irreducible to interiority. Synthesis accordingly concerns space as itself an intuition of a whole that makes possible distinguishing myself from other things as well as the relation between things outside of me. Because space is nothing but sense of the outer as outer, it establishes the very possibility of givenness, of being affected by something that is not me. This is a crucial point for Kant's discursive model of the mind. It helps Kant contrast between a mind like ours that depends on independently given sense content and a nondiscursive mind that can know objects that are merely thinkable, which is to say, that can intuit objects that are merely logically possible. A mind that can create rather than be affected by an object is no longer discursive, but rather intuitive — a god's mind. Although Kant's notion of affection leads to deep inconsistencies in the basic tenet of his transcendental idealism (to wit: it implies causality, when what is affecting the mind are purportedly things in themselves and hence not subject to the categories), the point here is that the very possibility of receptivity requires more than sensation, than the alteration of sensory organs. Taking something as affecting me rather than being created by me requires the distinction between the inner and the outer and determinate relations between things outside of me in the first place.

As the form of inner sense, time establishes succession as irreducible to duration. Inner sense is a flow of moments that come into being and pass away, which establishes the necessity of synthesis to sustain a temporal continuum. Retention of what is past in the present and possibly the future is the result of synthetic activity. The possibility of continuity in and of experience depends on synthetic activity that makes possible the experience of before and after. The irreversibility of temporal succession depends on time as the form of inner sense — which is a crucial aspect of the argument of the Second Analogy and its defense of causality. Time as the form of inner sense, then, establishes that experience itself is subject to succession, to the structure of an event. The temporal structure of experience is linear, since a moment passes as soon as it comes into being, establishing that an event cannot be returned to without it being another time. Retention of moments past required for the unity of experience over time will therefore require not just memory but also imagination and ultimately self-consciousness. Imagination and self-consciousness, as we will see, are conditions of possibility of experience precisely because they make possible iterability and synthesis.

Kant's understanding of space and time as pure forms of intuition, then, suggests that they provide minimal organizing 'principles' of uptake. Specifically prediscursive, givenness is nonetheless possible thanks to ordering spatial and temporal principles. Kant indeed glosses the aesthetic as the "science of rules of sensibility," and space and time (the "two pure forms of sensible intuition") "as principles of a priori cognition" given the structural role that simultaneity and succession play in experience. Appearances spread themselves around us, which requires the experience of simultaneity, and occur in an ordered series, which requires the experience of succession. It is only on the basis of the inner/outer distinction and as succession/duration that appearances are taken as appearances. Registering an undetermined object of sensation as precisely that, something given in sensation, implies externality and duration. The manifold given in sensation is only given as some indeterminate thing or event somewhere and somewhen. Uptake, then, is here a matter of reception, of being affected. But what is given in sensation (which is by definition empirical, material, a posteriori) is only received as, taken as, an indeterminate object by being some thing somewhere and somewhen. Anything given can be received insofar as it is spatially and temporally located in relation to a perceiving subject. Space and time are therefore forms of sense in the dual sense of sensation and minimal intelligibility. They make possible being affected by giving minimal form to what is an undetermined object of sensation.


Something is a determinate such-and-such, however, when a manifold given in sensation is unified into one "objective representation." To take something as a determinate such-and-such is to give form to an undetermined object (an appearance) given as an indiscriminate sensation. Form-giving is an activity of concept application by a self-conscious subject. The understanding is the capacity to unify a manifold by means of a rule (a concept) by a self-conscious subject. In the Analytic, synthesis is thus a matter of subjecting the manifold of intuition to a rule, while division is a feature of the indeterminateness of the manifold. An appearance, the undetermined 'object' of intuition, is only an objective representation and hence an object of experience thanks to the synthesis of concepts in judgment. The determinacy of the manifold given in sensation therefore depends on nonempirical constraints, on rules for determinacy — which Kant calls pure concepts of the understanding (reinen Verstandesbegriffe). To be sure, the determinacy of any possible object of experience and of any possible experience requires the categories. More significantly, however, it requires the capacity for concept-application, for judging, as well as for self-consciousness, for awareness that any such experience of an object or an event is my own. Ultimately self-ascription, not merely concept-application, makes cognition possible.

Kant's strategy in the metaphysical deduction — the move from general to transcendental logic — is thus crucial. The metaphysical deduction takes general logic to be the "clue" to "finding" functions of unity — rules for combining concepts and representations, the categories — by focusing on function itself. Kant transitions from the forms of judging catalogued by classical Aristotelian logic to the rule implicit in the specific forms of judging, what following Aristotle Kant calls categories (Kategorien). To judge hypothetically, for example, involves conjoining two propositions on the assumption that the truth of the one justifies the inference to the other. The rule involved in such an inference is the relation of ground to consequent. Although the relation of ground and consequent is not equivalent to the causal relation, as Allison notes, it is "arguably a necessary condition of the possession of the latter concept." The point is that, for Kant, form is a matter of rule-governance. It is a matter of normativity — of concepts that function as rules for judgment. The move from general to transcendental logic is thus a move from an account of the combination of concepts in judgments and judgments in syllogisms to the combination of representations and hence the transcendental function of synthesis. Although the metaphysical deduction moves from forms of judgment to the categories, the move is in fact from the logical forms of judgment (e.g., the universal judgment: All S is P) to the transcendental function of judging (synthesizing a manifold, whether pure or empirical). It is a move, in other words, to the capacity to judge. The metaphysical deduction, then, establishes that unity is the result of synthesis, and that judging is the activity sine qua non for the determinacy of an object of experience and for experience itself.

Now, in the metaphysical deduction and in both the A and B versions of the transcendental deduction, Kant argues that cognition is the result of three — not two — powers of the mind: sensibility, the imagination, and the understanding. In all three discussions, Kant maintains that the synthesizing activity of the three faculties is cumulative and lays out a sequence for the process of cognition. In logical rather than temporal order, cognition is the result of a process of determination that involves gathering, synthesis, and unity. The transcendental function of these faculties is accordingly only "concerned with form." Gathering, synthesis, unity are all forms of form-giving. The discussion of the three faculties, however, specifies the notion of synthetic unity that Kant argues is presupposed in each differentiated synthesizing activity. We have already seen the activity of gathering involved in sensibility. Crucial here is the form of synthesis proper to the imagination and the understanding.

In the metaphysical deduction, Kant argues that the spontaneity of thought "requires that this manifold first be gone through, taken up, and combined in a certain way in order for a cognition to be made out of it." This going through, gathering, combining a manifold requires a faculty whose transcendental function bridges the sensible and intelligible, intuition and concept. This capacity is the imagination. Synthesis in general, Kant proposes, is a function of this "blind though indispensable function of the soul without which we would have no cognition at all, but of which we are seldom even conscious." The unity of the manifold in a concept requires self-consciousness, but the synthesis of the manifold prior to its proper unity is unconscious gathering. The imagination effects preconceptual yet no longer merely sensible synthetic unity of the manifold. Synthesis or combination proper, synthetic unity proper, Kant argues, requires concept-application by a self-conscious subject. Indeed, Kant maintains that "all synthesis, through which even perception itself becomes possible, stands under the categories."

In the B edition deduction Kant calls the imagination figurative synthesis (synthesis speciosa) and distinguishes it from intellectual synthesis (synthesis intellectualis) in order to establish the relation between the imagination and the understanding. Here again the distinction is drawn in terms of self-consciousness and the possibility of self-ascription. The synthetic unity of consciousness is the "objective condition of all cognition," because it is something "under which every intuition must stand in order to become an object for me." The B edition deduction accordingly begins with the crucial definition of synthesis proper, which requires the possibility of self-ascription. "[W]e can represent nothing as combined in the object," Kant famously writes, "without having previously combined it ourselves, and that among all representations combination is the only one that is not given through objects but can be executed only by the subject itself, since it is an act of its self-activity." The understanding brings the manifold of given representations "under the unity of apperception."


Excerpted from Hegel's Theory of Intelligibility by Rocío Zambrana. Copyright © 2015 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Abbreviations ix

Introduction: Hegel's Modernism 1

Part 1 Hegel's Logic of Actualization

1 Synthesis: Kant 19

2 Positing: Fichte 26

3 Actualization: Hegel 36

Part 2 Hegel's Critique of Reflection

4 Ideality 55

5 Actuality 69

Part 3 Hegel's Idealism

6 Form and Content 93

7 Idea 115

Conclusion: Philosophy's Work 134

Notes 141

Index 181

What People are Saying About This

Karin de Boer

“Through a reinvigorating reading of the Science of Logic and other key texts, Zambrana not only convincingly challenges standard accounts of Hegel but also demonstrates the relevance of his most daunting work for contemporary reflections on the precarious nature of any determinate norm or practice”

Dean Moyar

“The greatest virtue of Zambrana’s book is that it weaves together the best elements of interpretations that are often taken to be incompatible. The Hegel presented in these pages is both historicist and metaphysical, a theorist of both intelligibility and ‘normative ambivalence.’ By refocusing attention on Hegel’s modernism and on his conception of determinacy, Zambrana provides a new impetus for the renaissance in research on Hegel’s Science of Logic.”

Angelica Nuzzo

Hegel’s Theory of Intelligibility offers a brilliant and fresh account of Hegel’s doctrine of normativity. Taking as its central text one of Hegel’s most intricate works, the Science of Logic, the book revisits in a new light central concepts such as negativity, determinacy, and intelligibility, and connects Hegel’s dialectic to central issues of the contemporary philosophical debate. This is a successful effort in bringing Hegel’s idea of normative authority to the forefront.”

Rebecca Comay

“This is a powerful book—masterful in its textual command, sharply argued, and well-positioned to intervene in the current revisionist debates regarding Hegel’s status as a ‘non-metaphysical,’ irreversibly post-Kantian, thinker. Zambrana engages Hegel’s modernity precisely at the point where his thought is usually taken to regress most. Far from serving up a sophisticated recycling of some kind of pre-critical rationalist ontology, as is so often assumed, the Science of Logic becomes the site where Hegel’s modernist credentials are most sharply revealed.”

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