Mythology, Madness and Laughter – The Mythological Being of Reflection 1.0

Guest post from Michael Burns. – APS

In section 1.0 Gabriel sets the stage for the rest of his essay and begins to lay out the stakes of the confrontation between Schelling and Hegel. He begins with a set of reflections on the nature of totality in philosophical thought, an in particular the problem of ‘naïve ontic monism’, in which an attempt to reduce the world to one domain fails precisely ‘because it cannot account for its own theory building process, its own operation of singling out a sub-set of the world and arranging its elements in a particular (and therefore contingent) manner’(15).

In opposition to this ontic monism, Gabriel notes the necessity of accepting some form of ontological monism, which:

draws on the fact that the various forms of representing the world occur within the world such that the world must be capable of ontological doubling: it replicates itself within itself’ (16).

For Hegel, this doubling is always an inner doubling which occurs in reflection, and thus being ‘becomes the proper name of a disjunction into being and appearance’ (16).

Gabriel then goes on to argue that another problem in speaking of a domain of all domains is a linguistic one, as ‘there is no way to refer to the domain of all domains within ordinary (propositional) language (17). While I won’t waste time spelling out an argument we have all read, Gabriel eventually concludes that the nothingness which is the world itself becomes a something in our ‘constant activity of naming the void, and this void is what remains outside of any apophantic environment, and avoids capture by any cosmological model (17).

From here Gabriel goes on to outline the way in which the difference, or gap, between language and the paradoxical domain of all domains generates philosophical discourse as such, and further, that the threat of absolute indeterminacy created by this gap is what leads to ‘mythological narrations of the origin of the world’ (18). Following this Gabriel begins to introduce the way in which this mythological problem opens up a debate between Schelling and Hegel. According to Gabriel (via Manfred Frank):

Whereas Hegel claims that being is an aspect (Moment) of reflection which eventually becomes fully transparent within the root-and-branch self-referential notion, Schelling maintains that reflection depends on and is thus necessarily secondary to what he calls ‘unprethinkable being’ (20).

So while Hegel thinks of being as something accessible, or thinkable, through reflection; Schelling thinks that reflection itself ‘indicates the brute fact of existence, which is per se inexplicable in logical terms (20). This is where mythology becomes crucial for Schelling, as it allows him to denominate this brute fact of existence, which is incapable of being accounted for in logical terms (as Hegel believes it can be). Contra Hegel, Schelling maintains that there is always an unprethinkable remainder to every logical system, and that the mythological allows us to speak of what Hegel falsely identifies as the immediacy of being. From here Gabriel furthers this distinction between Hegel and Schelling by outlining the implications for thinking subjectivity.

Because in these opening pages Gabriel does little more than provide some introductory remarks which help to emphasize the implications of the debate he sets out between Hegel and Schelling in the chapter (and himself and Meillassoux in the final pages); I won’t say much else, as I’m sure much of the debate and discussion will occur in the coming sections where he puts this argument in motion. The only thing I will say is that I was quite resistant to Gabriel’s insistence on mythology as something that could provide intelligibility in a way that reflection, thinking, poetry (or mathematics, which comes up in his brief reference to Badiou and Meillassoux) is incapable of, but on the second read through I’m already finding this position much more enticing, and I will be curious to see which side of the upcoming Hegel v. Schelling debate everyone falls on.

6 thoughts on “Mythology, Madness and Laughter – The Mythological Being of Reflection 1.0

  1. Do you think that Schelling’s position could be linked to the Christian account of creation – viz. does an account of Christian creation mythology say something of the quotidian or brute fact of existence?

  2. Thanks again Michael for a very useful summary. You asked earlier about the fidelity of Gabriel’s argument to Hegel and Schelling themselves and though I don’t call myself an expert (despite years of reading and teaching this material) I wanted to say just a little here. I think the argument against ‘naive ontic monism’ is to a large degree faithful to the concerns both Schelling and Hegel had in their early work together: both do indeed try to explain reflection as part of, a development of, and thus not wholly distinct from nature, from being. Both recognise how difficult it is going to be to do philosophy in the sense of refuting the sceptic and becoming not just love of wisdom but wisdom itself if knowledge is radically separated from being, or even some remainder of being taken to be as apriori inaccessible to thought. Philosophy thus needs to combine the most fruitful insights of dualism with the strongest insights of monism, to somehow wed Kant and Spinoza as it were. Philosophy needs to account for the sense that we do seem to have knowledge (an identity of subject and object) and yet feel the world to be recalcitrant (a non-identity of subject and object) and it needs to combine both these insights in a coherent explanation. Hegel differs from Schelling though in arguing that philosophy also needs to avoid giving priority to either one of these sides over the other, e.g. saying one is primordial and independent, one derivative and dependent. Schelling does seem to have held to a derivative-dependence argument, and Gabriel’s reading seems to confirm this.

    In these terms it makes sense that Gabriel would see Hegel’s views on reflection as something of a reduction of being to thought (and in such a reading Schelling would hold the best cards). It’s certainly not how I read Hegel, though, nor is it the reading of a lot of Hegel scholars. I think if one looks at Hegel’s thinking at large, as set out not just in the Science of Logic (which does get exaggerated emphasis in this book) but elsewhere, from the Differenzschrift to the Phenomenology to the Encyclopedia then one gets a different view of Hegel, one in which acknowledgment of the breach which reflection represents in being (to this extent Hegel held like Schelling an evolutionary account of reflection) does not entail a ‘reduction’ of being to reflection (of course this would need to be argued for at greater length).

    ThenI have misgivings about the argument Gabriel makes that the “brute fact of existence cannot be accounted for in logical terms”. Firstly, even if we concede the premises of the argument (which we don’t need to), do we need to account for “the brute fact of existence” in solely logical terms anyway? What are we understanding by grounds and by logic when we say this? Could “the brute fact of existence” yet be rational (comprehensible) without being logical? (Alison Stone’s book on Hegel is quite useful on this question). Furthermore, even if true, do all the weighty implications (e.g. about mythology) Schelling and Gabriel think follow from this actually follow?

    A related argument from Gabriel is whether the domain of all domains can be referred to in ordinary propositional language. If I remember correctly he makes parallels between this argument and Wittgenstein’s metaphor of ‘digging’ and ‘reaching rock-bottom’. But there was always something in Wittgenstein’s argument that I found unsatisfactory, an apriorism which presented itself as a superficially appealing empirical analogy. There’s a parallel with the attempt to ground a theory by reference to a higher order theory which is the Gabriel’s other version of this argument. Searching for validity by going to ever higher meta-levels is certainly one implication (or problem) of Kantianism and neo-Kantianism, a Geltungslogik, but it is wrong to lump Hegel in with this form of argument; it is one which Hegel consciously tries to sidestep through phenomenology (again this would need to be discussed at greater length).

    All of which is sketchy, I know, but suffice to say that I agree with a point Bryan made earlier about us having to see German Idealism as a conversation, when Gabriel sometimes gives the impression that because Schelling’s ideas in the Human Freedom essay come chronologically later than some of Hegel’s major insights that Schelling effectively refuted Hegel, which ignores the fact that Hegel also responded explicitly and implicitly to Schelling’s philosophy as well during the early decades of the 19th century.

  3. I don’t read Gabriel as pulling too many punches a propos Hegel in this section.
    Reading this reminded me of something Wittgenstein once said, along the lines that Hegel seems to want everything to be the same, whereas he wants to take things apart and show that they’re different.
    It does strike me that this identification of reflection in the logical fields is perhaps an unnecessary promotion. Surely there are lots of things we do with things when we think them, and reflection is entirely insufficient as a covering word. We desire them, recognise, compare and navigate them. Not all of them are even related to representation.
    But maybe I’m missing Gabriel’s meaning here…

  4. What do you mean by, “I was quite resistant to Gabriel’s insistence on mythology as something that could provide intelligibility in a way that reflection, thinking, poetry (or mathematics, which comes up in his brief reference to Badiou and Meillassoux) is incapable of.”

    I don’t know where you (or Gabriel) are drawing distinction between these forms of intelligibility? Are you basically framing a discussion between religion vs. rationalism?

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