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Then, how can human beings approach such an absolute being? Thomas Aquinas was fully aware of these difficulties in knowing, describing, and approaching the Absolute. Aquinas argues that we can affirmatively predicate God by such words as good and wise. Human knowledge is finite, limited, relative, and imperfect. Thus, those finite human knowledge must be qualified or denied Negative Way in order to properly apply to God. The question is how can the limited knowledge that human beings acquired from the world be applied to God, who transcends all forms of limitation.

Aquinas suggests that by analogy, we finite human beings can apply our limited and imperfect human knowledge to a transcendent God. When the term absolute is applied to existence , the absolute can be understood as a being whose essence is existence. If the existence of a being is dependent on others, it cannot be absolute. Hence, God was characterized as a unique being whose essence is existence. Anselm of Canterbury used this argument for his Ontological argument for the existence of God.

Questions regarding the absolute carried over into modern philosophy. Kant reformulated the unknowability of God, discussed by Thomas Aquinas, in his Critique of Pure Reason , one of the best known epistemological treatises in the history of philosophy. Kant tried to present the conditions of human knowledge and reveal the limit of what is knowable. Kant argued that the content of human knowledge is provided by an object and a priori forms the way contents are organized in the mind. People have always spoken of the absolutely necessary absolutnotwendigen being, and have taken pains, not so much to understand whether and how a thing of this kind can even be thought, but rather to prove its existence.

Human reason, however, tends to posit the unconditioned in relation to objects the conditioned of human experiences. Due to this inherent tendency of reason, human beings posit the unconditioned such as God, the soul, and the world. For Kant, the unconditioned is in principle unknowable. While Kant excluded the unconditioned God, the soul, and the world from the realm of the knowable, he argued for the necessity of God, immortality of the soul, and freedom in the sphere of morality.

German philosophers after Kant such as Fichte , Schelling , and Hegel , known as the German idealists , returned to speculative metaphysics and developed various theories based upon their understanding of the absolute. The concept of absoluteness was then adopted into a neo-Hegelian British idealism though without Hegel's complex logical and dialectical apparatus , where it received an almost mystical exposition at the hands of F.

Bradley followed by others including Timothy L. Sprigge conceived the absolute as a single all-encompassing experience, along the lines of Shankara and Advaita Vedanta. Likewise, Josiah Royce in the United States conceived the absolute as a unitary Knower whose experience constitutes what we know as the "external" world. In various religious traditions, the term absolute is also ascribed to various values and natures of God, or the Ultimate being, and to human beings. Absolute love is characterized as unconditional love, which constitutes unconditional forgiveness, unconditional giving without expectation of reward or benefits, and service for the sake of others.

A few examples of absolute love in religious traditions include Agape love in Christianity, Mercy or compassion in Buddhism, etc. Platonic metaphysics was built upon the eternal existence of the Good. Goodness of the Good absolute goodness is established by itself without recourse to any other condition. But what could the argument be for this claim against modest PCM, who takes no interest in and does without any account of this topic at all?

As far as I can see, there can be an argument here, but only on the basis of strong metaphilosophical claim that the consideration of our cognition and the problem of accounting for the possibility of knowledge is fundamental to philosophy in a way that makes it inescapable. SF, for example, might defend herself as follows:. SF: Claims about any rocks or trees or any X presume the possibility of knowledge of X. So such claims always raise philosophical problems about the explanation of the possibility of this knowledge.

If PCM thinks he can ignore those issues, he is mistaken. For he is implicitly committed to some explanation of knowledge of X. Further, such explanations can either be realist or anti-realist. So he cannot account for the possibility of knowledge in an anti-realist manner, in terms of the features of our cognition, such as its spontaneity. So he is committed, know it or not, to the realist view that the objects of knowledge, X, explain the possibility of our having knowledge of them.

But an explanans must be distinct from an explanandum, or there is no real explanation. So PCM implicitly takes X to be something independent of our cognition. And SF will eventually turn this general line of argument against Kant as well. We could just as well imagine a modest Kantian, who claims ignorance of things in themselves. SF will have to argue that any such claim is committed to an account in semantics of the possibility of meaningful thought about things in themselves. And that any such semantics must be either realist or anti-realist.

Consider the quietist, Q, who argues for this view:. True, this view gives priority to neither realism nor anti-realism. But the view is still driven by a priority claim at the meta-level: issues about knowledge and meaning are supposedly so fundamental that entanglement in one or another position on just those issues becomes inescapable for any constructive philosophy.

Or consider the defender of a seemingly balanced semantics, BS, who will say this:. BS: Hegel argues that, in order to account in semantics for the possibility of meaningful thought, we must recognize certain ontological commitments about what there is. So Hegel takes such ontology to be just as legitimate, for this reason, as semantics. But even if this results in a balance between semantics and ontology at the object-level, what is distinctive about the philosophy here is the way it is shaped by a priority-claim at the meta-level: ontology is legitimate only because and insofar as a kind of ontology can avoid conflict with an account in semantics of the possibility of meaning, and only because and insofar ontology shaped in this way can contribute to semantics.


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The most minimal understanding would take metaphysics to be inquiry into what exists —or what is privileged merely insofar as it exists rather than not. Some atomists will take the opposite view: atomic parts are the reason why there is a whole of everything, and why that the whole is as it is and does what it does. Further, the question here has nothing to do with whether the whole or the parts is more independent of our perspective.

It is open to the monist, for example, to say that they are precisely equal in perspective-independence; the point is that the former is prior in a different sense: the whole is the reason why there are parts, and why they are as they are.

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So this inquiry need not presuppose any special conception of perspective-independence. This is a dispute within the metaphysics of reason. Further, this sort of debate can be of interest to almost anyone. The metaphysics of reason in itself is not built on any of these specific notions of truth, but by what it seeks the truth about : about what is a reason for what. If you hold that view, then it will make sense to ask you questions about the objective world you recognize, including the question: what is the reason for what in this objective world?

So even the sort of anti-realism some see in Hegel would not preclude engagement with the metaphysics of reason. Perhaps that assumption is explained by a tendency to think of the metaphysics of perspective-independence, and thus to assume that any metaphysics must privilege something independent of us. But being free of such an assumption is an advantage of thinking instead in terms of reasons. Consider this sort of question: is there anything beyond us finite persons that is a reason why we exist and are as we are?

I would take this as a recognizably metaphysical question —a question about what sorts of reasons there are. And then we can more naturally say that different answers equally state positions within metaphysics. Returning to Hegel, then, when I say that I prefer a metaphysical interpretation, I mean that Hegel most fundamentally pursues inquiry into what is a reason for what. Rather, his basic aim is to construct a metaphysics of reason.


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  • The natural sciences seek knowledge of what is and what is not a law of nature. But there is a philosophical question here too: what is it to be a law of nature? For if laws are just regularities, then they more summarize than govern events. Hegel clearly holds that the laws of nature are the reason for the events that fall under them, or that laws govern. Anaxagoras was the first to enunciate the doctrine that understanding generally, or reason, governs the world… The movement of the solar system is governed by unalterable laws; these laws are its reason.

    But neither the sun nor the planets which revolve around it are conscious of them. It is man who abstracts the laws from empirical reality and acquires knowledge of them. And Hegel notes how philosophy builds on the basic idea about reason or governing. For both sides in this debate are equally addressing an issue within the metaphysics of reason: both sides have a position on what is a reason for what. The humeans accept one form of reason in the world—they hold that what actually happens is the reason why there are laws if there are, because laws are just patterns or regularities in what happens.

    An anti-humean, like Hegel, simply holds the reverse: in cases where there are laws, like the rotation of the planets, the laws are the reason for those happenings.

    So both sides are talking about reason, but they see different sorts of reason-relation moving in opposite directions. Since both sides are talking about different forms of the same general notion, humeans cannot object that their opponents are too obscure. But this objection too is weak, because it assumes that causality itself is unproblematic, or something not in need of more basic philosophical comprehension.

    It is however obvious that there is philosophical debate about what causality is. And the debate is similar to the debate about laws. And there are anti-humeans about causality. And this is again a dispute about reason: humeans hold that what happens is the reason why there is causality; anti-humeans hold that, where there are causes, these are the reasons why things happen as they do. What we are discovering, as we step through these debates, is the fundamentality of the question of what is a reason for what.

    We need the basic and general notion of one thing being a reason for another in order to engage any of these debates. And so we should accept that notion as basic, and proceed to consider what specific forms of reason there really are, which directions they run in different cases, and how they relate to one another. Further, the philosophical debates in question cannot be directly resolved by the natural sciences. No matter which specific laws natural science might uncover, doing so will not itself answer the underlying question about what it is to be a law, or the form and direction of reason in terms of which lawhood is best understood.

    And part of what is at issue here is how different natural sciences relate to one another: are they all seeking reasons in a similar sense, or in divergent senses? If divergent, then how do these different reasons relate? So part of the aim of answering these questions within the metaphysics of reasons is to rationally and systematically comprehend the natural sciences themselves, the specific sorts of reasons they seek, and their relations.

    So although the sciences seek forms of reason in the world, the metaphysics of reason is distinguished from them in that it seeks to understand those forms of reason and how they relate. Those who prefer a semantics-first metaphilosophy might see all such issues about laws, monism, causes, etc. But my point here is just that there is an alternative way to look at it. When we think in terms of the metaphysics of reason, we see rather a surprising thread linking issues throughout metaphysics.

    Take the example of the humean views above: they all stem from a wonderfully clear and incredibly comprehensive humean metaphysics— all there is to reality, says the humean, is a series of disconnected events arranged in space and time; this arrangement is the reason for everything there is —for laws, causality, necessity, etc. The rotation of the solar system as an example of something governed by laws of nature. But this does not mean that Hegel sees everything as so governed.

    Hegel will argue that the behavior of living beings, for example, is teleological, and not governed by exceptionless laws. And we will see that the term Vernunft establishes an important connection to Kant. But these are in any case different ways of thinking about reasons. The basic idea here is that truth is too profligate to serve as any kind of guiding goal for theoretical or rational inquiry. For there are innumerable truths about any number of things, many of them trivial or of no special theoretical interest—such as the exact number of cookies in each box of cookies, the exact distance in miles between the box and the Golden gate bridge, and which of these numbers is higher.

    But Kant exposes difficulties by arguing that this last idea about conditions is not yet an adequate characterization of a guiding aim of the faculty of reason. In a way, conditions threaten to be still too profligate to guide. I magine for example that we know of some X that is conditioned; if so, the faculty of reason will leave us unsatisfied and interested in the underlying condition. But what if the underlying condition, Y, is also something merely conditioned?

    Then the same dissatisfaction of reason will persist. Another way of putting this point is to say that reason seeks complete unity, or a unified underlying complete explanation. Note that this is not the question of the epistemic reason how we know that or whether the object is extended. The question about underlying conditions Bedingungen here is a question about the reason—in the sense which the metaphysics of reasons is interested in reasons—why the object fills that space. It is the idea of a complete reason why—for example, the complete reason why something extended fills that region of space.

    But Kant is aiming to further argue that we cannot ever attain knowledge of anything unconditioned in this last sense. But it turns out, Kant will argue, that what we seek under the former description is in fact unknowable for us. Human reason has the peculiar fate in one species of its cognitions that it is burdened with questions which it cannot dismiss, since they are given to it as problems by the nature of reason itself, but which it also cannot answer, since they transcend every capacity of human reason…. Our attempts to answer these questions cannot be conclusive, and so we fall into endless controversies.

    It is only on grounds of a further argument that our form of cognition cannot achieve knowledge of anything unconditioned that the derivative result will follow: metaphysics amounts to an interest in something the unconditioned that is unknowable from our point of view. The resulting problem will be this: We seek insofar as we are rational or reasonable to reach conclusions concerning the unconditioned. But, on the face of it, our choices with respect to the existence of unconditioned grounds are that they exist or that they do not.

    And Kant argues that holding either view is unacceptable. Consider first the affirmation. Kant argues that we are naturally tempted by it. The idea is that everything not a sufficient ground or reason of itself—everything conditioned—must have an external sufficient or complete ground or reason, or an unconditioned ground. On the one hand, the interest of our faculty of reason leaves us naturally tempted by rationalism. On the other hand, the Transcendental Dialectic argues that we must learn to avoid asserting theoretical knowledge of such rationalist conclusions. The problem with rationalism is supposed to be this: it must either contradict itself, or else come to depend on an untenable combination of epistemological claims.

    The threatened self-contradictions are developed in the first two Antinomies. First, imagine accepting what I will call Assumption A: beginning with an object extended in space, there is an infinite regress to smaller parts. But a rationalist must insist that there is a sufficient reason why there can be any composition here at all. And the only way to find such a reason within the regress would be to hold that there are smallest, simplest parts which explain why there is anything here out of which things could be composed.

    Second, we can try Assumption not-A: there are such smallest parts in space. If they occupy some region of space, then the rationalist must insist that there is a sufficient reason why they occupy that region. Within the regress in space, the only thing that could provide such a reason would be smaller parts which, conjoined, occupy that region.

    So for any simple or indivisible part in space, the rationalist must hold that there are underlying parts—which is a contradiction. But it is important that there is a popular way for the rationalist to escape contradiction. He can say that there is another option—unlike both smallest parts and infinite descent into composition—specifically insofar as the sufficient reasons for things might be comprehensible and knowable only by a divine intellect. What God would be able to comprehend is how there could be an infinite regress of conditions, and then also, outside of the infinite regress, an underlying sufficient condition for all of them.

    Applying this escape strategy specifically to the regress in space, we get this view: insofar as complete reasons might be such as to be comprehended only by God, there could be an infinite regress of smaller parts in space, which also has a ground or reason from outside itself in the form of non-extended monads.

    But Kant will respond that the rationalist escape route requires both affirming and denying oneself the possibility of knowledge of the same thing. But if the rationalist speaks of sufficient reasons knowable only by such an intellect, superior in kind to our own, then Kant argues that the right conclusion is that we cannot know anything about them—not even whether there exists any such thing.

    Of course, there is a difference between knowing that something exists and knowing more about it; but Kant argues that if the latter requires divine knowledge, then there is no principled reason why the former should not as well. The point about rationalists is that they box themselves into an untenable epistemic position: they can escape from the contradictions of the Antinomies only by claiming that reality is such as to be knowable only by a divine mind; but this involves claiming to know something while also claiming it is unknowable.

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    It presents a problem that is supposed to affect everyone, not just the rationalist. We cannot rationally hold that there are no unconditioned grounds while also trying to discover some—which is to say, while still engaging in any theoretical inquiry at all. And Argan responds, famously, that opium has a dormitive virtue or power.

    Of course, we now know better. We know what opium is made of, and why it does what it does. But consider the farthest point to which we have advanced in the regress of powers or dispositions. A contemporary Argan would say: on account of their attractive power. But is it rational to take this answer for any sort of conclusion? Kant would deny it. And he would explain his answer in this way: reason demands that we assume, at least for the sake of inquiry, that there is something more complete to be said in answer to the why-question.

    And reason demands that we inquire into what that more complete explanation might be. We need the basic and general notion of one thing being a reason for another in order to engage any of these debates. And so we should accept that notion as basic, and proceed to consider what specific forms of reason there really are, which directions they run in different cases, and how they relate to one another.

    Further, the philosophical debates in question cannot be directly resolved by the natural sciences. No matter which specific laws natural science might uncover, doing so will not itself answer the underlying question about what it is to be a law, or the form and direction of reason in terms of which lawhood is best understood.

    And part of what is at issue here is how different natural sciences relate to one another: are they all seeking reasons in a similar sense, or in divergent senses? If divergent, then how do these different reasons relate? So part of the aim of answering these questions within the metaphysics of reasons is to rationally and systematically comprehend the natural sciences themselves, the specific sorts of reasons they seek, and their relations. So although the sciences seek forms of reason in the world, the metaphysics of reason is distinguished from them in that it seeks to understand those forms of reason and how they relate.

    Those who prefer a semantics-first metaphilosophy might see all such issues about laws, monism, causes, etc. But my point here is just that there is an alternative way to look at it. When we think in terms of the metaphysics of reason, we see rather a surprising thread linking issues throughout metaphysics. Take the example of the humean views above: they all stem from a wonderfully clear and incredibly comprehensive humean metaphysics— all there is to reality, says the humean, is a series of disconnected events arranged in space and time; this arrangement is the reason for everything there is —for laws, causality, necessity, etc.

    The rotation of the solar system as an example of something governed by laws of nature. But this does not mean that Hegel sees everything as so governed. Hegel will argue that the behavior of living beings, for example, is teleological, and not governed by exceptionless laws. And we will see that the term Vernunft establishes an important connection to Kant. But these are in any case different ways of thinking about reasons.

    The basic idea here is that truth is too profligate to serve as any kind of guiding goal for theoretical or rational inquiry. For there are innumerable truths about any number of things, many of them trivial or of no special theoretical interest—such as the exact number of cookies in each box of cookies, the exact distance in miles between the box and the Golden gate bridge, and which of these numbers is higher.

    But Kant exposes difficulties by arguing that this last idea about conditions is not yet an adequate characterization of a guiding aim of the faculty of reason. In a way, conditions threaten to be still too profligate to guide. I magine for example that we know of some X that is conditioned; if so, the faculty of reason will leave us unsatisfied and interested in the underlying condition. But what if the underlying condition, Y, is also something merely conditioned? Then the same dissatisfaction of reason will persist. Another way of putting this point is to say that reason seeks complete unity, or a unified underlying complete explanation.

    Note that this is not the question of the epistemic reason how we know that or whether the object is extended. The question about underlying conditions Bedingungen here is a question about the reason—in the sense which the metaphysics of reasons is interested in reasons—why the object fills that space. It is the idea of a complete reason why—for example, the complete reason why something extended fills that region of space. But Kant is aiming to further argue that we cannot ever attain knowledge of anything unconditioned in this last sense. But it turns out, Kant will argue, that what we seek under the former description is in fact unknowable for us.

    Human reason has the peculiar fate in one species of its cognitions that it is burdened with questions which it cannot dismiss, since they are given to it as problems by the nature of reason itself, but which it also cannot answer, since they transcend every capacity of human reason…. Our attempts to answer these questions cannot be conclusive, and so we fall into endless controversies. It is only on grounds of a further argument that our form of cognition cannot achieve knowledge of anything unconditioned that the derivative result will follow: metaphysics amounts to an interest in something the unconditioned that is unknowable from our point of view.

    The resulting problem will be this: We seek insofar as we are rational or reasonable to reach conclusions concerning the unconditioned. But, on the face of it, our choices with respect to the existence of unconditioned grounds are that they exist or that they do not. And Kant argues that holding either view is unacceptable. Consider first the affirmation. Kant argues that we are naturally tempted by it. The idea is that everything not a sufficient ground or reason of itself—everything conditioned—must have an external sufficient or complete ground or reason, or an unconditioned ground.

    On the one hand, the interest of our faculty of reason leaves us naturally tempted by rationalism. On the other hand, the Transcendental Dialectic argues that we must learn to avoid asserting theoretical knowledge of such rationalist conclusions. The problem with rationalism is supposed to be this: it must either contradict itself, or else come to depend on an untenable combination of epistemological claims. The threatened self-contradictions are developed in the first two Antinomies. First, imagine accepting what I will call Assumption A: beginning with an object extended in space, there is an infinite regress to smaller parts.

    But a rationalist must insist that there is a sufficient reason why there can be any composition here at all. And the only way to find such a reason within the regress would be to hold that there are smallest, simplest parts which explain why there is anything here out of which things could be composed. Second, we can try Assumption not-A: there are such smallest parts in space. If they occupy some region of space, then the rationalist must insist that there is a sufficient reason why they occupy that region.

    Within the regress in space, the only thing that could provide such a reason would be smaller parts which, conjoined, occupy that region. So for any simple or indivisible part in space, the rationalist must hold that there are underlying parts—which is a contradiction. But it is important that there is a popular way for the rationalist to escape contradiction. He can say that there is another option—unlike both smallest parts and infinite descent into composition—specifically insofar as the sufficient reasons for things might be comprehensible and knowable only by a divine intellect.

    What God would be able to comprehend is how there could be an infinite regress of conditions, and then also, outside of the infinite regress, an underlying sufficient condition for all of them. Applying this escape strategy specifically to the regress in space, we get this view: insofar as complete reasons might be such as to be comprehended only by God, there could be an infinite regress of smaller parts in space, which also has a ground or reason from outside itself in the form of non-extended monads.

    But Kant will respond that the rationalist escape route requires both affirming and denying oneself the possibility of knowledge of the same thing. But if the rationalist speaks of sufficient reasons knowable only by such an intellect, superior in kind to our own, then Kant argues that the right conclusion is that we cannot know anything about them—not even whether there exists any such thing. Of course, there is a difference between knowing that something exists and knowing more about it; but Kant argues that if the latter requires divine knowledge, then there is no principled reason why the former should not as well.

    The point about rationalists is that they box themselves into an untenable epistemic position: they can escape from the contradictions of the Antinomies only by claiming that reality is such as to be knowable only by a divine mind; but this involves claiming to know something while also claiming it is unknowable. It presents a problem that is supposed to affect everyone, not just the rationalist. We cannot rationally hold that there are no unconditioned grounds while also trying to discover some—which is to say, while still engaging in any theoretical inquiry at all.

    And Argan responds, famously, that opium has a dormitive virtue or power. Of course, we now know better. We know what opium is made of, and why it does what it does. But consider the farthest point to which we have advanced in the regress of powers or dispositions. A contemporary Argan would say: on account of their attractive power.

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    But is it rational to take this answer for any sort of conclusion? Kant would deny it. And he would explain his answer in this way: reason demands that we assume, at least for the sake of inquiry, that there is something more complete to be said in answer to the why-question. And reason demands that we inquire into what that more complete explanation might be. True, one could conceivably deny that there is anything more satisfying. And that is skeptical hopelessness. While I think that there is more to say in defense of this last point, this will have to wait for another occasion.

    We can affirm or deny rationalism, but this. Now Kant raises this problem in order to argue that there is one acceptable alternative, and only one—something he thinks is new and radical. We must conclude that our own knowledge is fundamentally limited or restricted. More specifically, we must conclude that there are specific, principled limits of our knowledge—limits that will preclude knowledge of whether or not there is anything unconditioned, so that we can continue to be guided by ideas of the unconditioned without threat of the rationalist conclusion that we can know any such thing thus precluding further theoretical inquiry and without threat of the denial that there is any such thing thus rendering further inquiry without reason of guidance.

    What compelling account of our knowledge would leave it limited in principle, in just this way? This account of our limitations gains support in this way: it provides a principled reason for denying knowledge of anything unconditioned, including knowledge of whether or not there is anything unconditioned, thus explaining why the threat of the Antinomy does not justify complete skeptical hopelessness. Precisely this limitation of knowledge is what will allow Kant to hold that we can and must always assume, for the sake of inquiry, that there are unconditioned grounds—and then seek them in inquiry.

    Kant says:. That which necessarily drives us to go beyond the boundaries of experience and all appearances is the unconditioned , which reason necessarily and with every right demands… Bxx. True, we cannot know that there really is anything unconditioned. So the threat of contradiction concerning the unconditioned forces us to distinguish the objects of our knowledge from things as they are in themselves, and conclude that our knowledge is merely limited or restricted.

    It follows that there is a sense in which metaphysics is impossible for us. If reason is responsible, then these are controversies about the unconditioned. The Dialectic arguments supports the conclusion that such metaphysics is impossible for us: we cannot legitimately assert knowledge of any conclusion about this topic. It stems from a rational, legitimate, an ineliminable interest in the unconditioned or complete reasons; and we must keep in mind that inescapable interest, precisely in order to guard against mistakenly thinking that we can attain theoretical knowledge that would satisfy it.

    When we turn back to Hegel, we now have a choice. We need not read Hegel as if his basic goal were to defend one or another approach to explaining the possibility of knowledge and or meaning. So we need not take the basic orienting question to be whether Hegel is more of a realist or anti-realist about that matter. Does Hegel go for one of these options, or develop some other response to this same set of issues? This orienting question makes it easy to see that traditional metaphysical readings, although not always explicit about it, tend to portray Hegel as holding a version of precisely the metaphysical rationalism targeted by Kant.

    My aim here is to show how the a metaphysics of reason approach makes possible an alternative reading—one which Hegel is not arguing for a return to specific metaphysical view specifically attacked by Kant. Rather, Hegel argues that Kant sees only these options because he views the matter in part from the perspective of the aim—so important to earlier section of the first Critique —of defending the faculty of the understanding. In particular, Hegel will argue that complete or absolute reasons should not be understood as the sort of unconditioned grounds which rationalists think are real, and which Kant thinks are legitimately of interest to reason.

    Once we better understand completeness or absoluteness of reasons, we will be able to legitimately assert knowledge of them, without asserting rationalism. What is it to be some law-governed X? The philosophical pressure towards this kind of metaphysical holism has often been noted in more recent metaphysics, even while holism is often resisted.

    For example, take Russell:.

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    Obviously there must be a limit to this process, or else all the things in the world will merely be each other's washing… , In Chalmers and Russell, the aim of finding more substance in things pushes in the general direction of the view that physical reality is, in itself, mental or somehow akin to the mental. A more monistic form of rationalism would seek to dispel the seeming lack of substance by finding an unconditioned ground in the whole of all such interconnected kinds—we could also take the whole to be a mind or something similar.

    Another way to put the point is to say that, when we look to lawful things, we find only the slightest of reasons for what they do at all. True, the laws are the reason why things do what they do. But the laws are as they are on account of the relational natures of such things. Which is to say that the natures of things are as they are on account of the laws, and the laws on account of the natures, and so on.

    The regress into relationality results in surprisingly insubstantial reasons. Lowest-level law-governed things are weak insofar as they lack a complete or sufficient reason for why they do what they do. They falsify the PSR that is definitive of rationalism. And the point is not that we tend to mistakenly take lawful nature to be weak or unreasonable because we tend to overlook some hidden inner side, like hidden mental grounds in physical particles or in the whole of everything.

    Rather, lawful nature really is this weakness, or really this degree of unreason. For example, the lack of complete reason is a kind of contingency in the law-governed kinds or forms:. In the sphere of nature contingency and determination from without has its right, and this contingency is at its greatest in the realm of concrete individual forms, which however, as products of nature , are concrete only in an immediate manner … T his is the powerlessness of nature.

    Hegel will later argue that in some cases, there is a remedy for this lack of substance and reason. In particular, some of the sum total of all the lawfully interacting stuff finds itself part of different living beings—lions, tigers, trees, and you and I. When we look to these higher-level beings, we find some of the substance that had gone missing in lower-level lawful nature. Take a tiger, for example.

    Why does the tiger have these sharp claws and the corresponding capacities to catch and kill rabbits? The answer is not that rabbits have a disposition to be caught, and so on. For the tiger has these parts and capacities on account of something about the tiger itself: an account of the intrinsic end or goal of self-preservation.

    This is supposed to make life a more complete form of reason, specifically as compared to lawfully governed lower-level things. Or, alternatively, a living being is more substantial—precisely in the sense that lawfully interacting things are strangely insubstantial. What is really surprising here is that a living being will be more substantial, in the above sense, than even the lower-level law-governed stuff of which it is composed.

    This can seem surprising when judged from the perspective of what Kant calls the understanding, from which we expect that if X supports Y, then X had better be more solid than Y in order to hold it up, as it were. But Hegel is arguing that matters are different once judged simply from the perspective of the interest in reasons, or the reasons why things do what they do. A tiger, for example, could not exist without the existence of the underlying stuff of which it is composed. But there is also a sense in which the natures of the underlying stuff are a matter of indifference when it comes to what it does.

    But insofar as this is a conditioning by something indifferent, this is no limitation of its status as a reason for its own behavior.