Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

J. Murray Murdoch, Jr.

J. Murray Murdoch, Jr.

Alterity in Hegel

Dissertation directed by Merold Westphal, Ph.D.

Current philosophy of alterity raises the other as a political and oppressed instance to primacy as a fundamental philosophical category.  This may be  the most crucial issue in philosophy today and perhaps likewise the most heated and political.  The philosophical importance of “the other” raises a direct challenge, most notably in the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, to the univocity which on Levinas’ reading is characteristic of our entire philosophical tradition.  The philosophy of alterity challenges our entire tradition directly and does so with a maximum of political force.  The other to philosophical systems or totalities links with the oppressed other outside of mainstream political structures, bringing philosophical significance to historical injustices perpetrated in the name of colonialism, neo-colonialism, race and gender.  The blood of the martyrs who have suffered under America, Europe, or the Christian tradition, cries out against western philosophy in the name of the other.

            Alterity carries all the political and rhetorical force of these injustices; it will not be assuaged by a modification of western philosophical systems to admit the injustice of former ways or to limit the claims to totality.  The other raises a challenge, a serious and utterly philosophical difficulty, to systematic thinking as such and to the concept of totality which plays such a prominent role in western philosophy, “from Parmenides to Spinoza and Hegel” (Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 102; hereafter as TI).  It is within this fundamentally disruptive moment laden with political force (a force which doubles into the fear of totality and the opposing but linked fear of anarchy as an utter lack of judgment criteria) that the question of this thesis occurs.  The question I pose in this text is the question of Glas, “what, after all, of the remain(s), today, for us, here, now, of a Hegel?” (Derrida, Glas, 1; hereafter as Gl).

            In the figure of Hegel the superlative political force of alterity unites with the philosophical objection.  Hegel as the greatest systematic thinker of the enlightenment, Hegel as the philosopher of “The State” par excellence, Hegel as the synthesizer of an entire Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, and finally Hegel as the consummate rationalist who achieves the final culmination of “Absolute Knowledge,” evokes our ire, outrage, and hatred on both accounts.  Our (we western academicians) fear of the totalitarian, our scoffing at the absolute, and our own guilt over our collective “white man’s burden” all coalesce into our reaction to the Hegel who instantiates both philosophical and nationalistic hubris.  This reaction is all the more emotional in our wishful, adolescent denial of the fact that we are all, today, so substantively shaped in Hegel’s image; Hegel Our Father encompasses all that we are and we chafe at the reconciliation by which he would welcome us back into his household.  Yet Hegel’s Aufhebung is a persistent and tenacious embrace from which we have difficulty escaping, and to follow Derrida, we could succeed least in this escape by outright flight.

            This emotionally incendiary context makes it most difficult to pose the question of Hegel’s relevance for us today.  The question of alterity does carry all of this political and philosophical force; it poses as the voice of liberation, and seeks to commit the patricide which would free us of our responsibility to bury our own dead.  While this thesis in no way purports to rescue Hegel from all of these problems, it does purport to be as patiently fair as possible.  The question of alterity requires specification, first of all, and, secondly, it is highly problematic if not utterly indefensible to characterize Hegel in a few broad strokes.  Upon completion of an investigation into this question, I can state my conclusion to be the following:

Specification of the alterity problem reveals that many versions thereof are either incoherent or inapplicable to the case of Hegel.  “Many versions thereof” does not mean all versions thereof and does not entail that Hegel has been rescued from the force of the alterity critique in every way.  But versions which are to persist as responsible critiques must guard against numerous failings which have not yet been recognized.  This includes many of Levinas’ attacks, though again not all the possible angles which Levinas raises against Hegel.  Furthermore, careful consideration of Hegel with specific attention directed towards the problems raised by the alterity critique has revealed that Hegel remain(s) much more thoroughly post-modern than our readings of him have heretofore suspected, and as such is more relevant today than we have typically been wont to think, even the we of the last couple decades, the we after the “Hegel Renaissance.”  Our Hegel of the absolute culmination is a misreading bordering at times on caricature; in fact, Hegel demolishes the philosophical legitimacy of fixed determinicities of knowledge in a way that makes most contemporary philosophical suggestions, even most (again, most, not all) post-Derridean ones, seem comfortable and conservative by comparison.




The typical alterity critique as a critique of Hegel arises initially as an outcry:  “There’s no room left for alterity in Hegel; everything is encompassed and swallowed up in the totalizing system!”  Of course the first specification required here is a clarification of “no room,” which if left as it stands is clearly false, if not utterly meaningless.  Hence, “no room for alterity” really means “no room for alterity',” where alterity' indicates a certain conception of alterity which would be requisite for a philosophical suggestion to be legitimate.  So alterity' has to be defined and worked into a better philosophical prospectus, one which shows us why alterity' is more adequate than Hegel’s negativity.

Alterity' is perhaps most forcefully worked out in the philosophy of alterity offered by Levinas and his critique through this alterity of totality, including the systematic totality of Hegel (handled in section 3).  (Chapter 7):  My treatment of Levinas focuses almost exclusively on his broad articulation of alterity and infinity in opposition to the thinking of totality which has characterized western thinking; this prospectival description is articulated in TI and more specifically in the first section of that text.   There the other as absolutely other functions as a sort of a surd, which would shatter the univocal conception of a systematic totality.  Levinas’ argument exceeds the finitist critique of Hegel’s absolute totality which would be exemplified in Gadamer or in other more modest, finite, perspectival descriptions of provisional totalities which would furnish the horizons wherein thought can arise.  However, his critique is not that such totalities are inherently impossible or absurd, but that they are misplaced if taken (as they typically are in the western tradition) to be fundamental or basic.  Totality is derivative and is grounded upon a prior relation to the other as absolutely other.

Levinas’ critique of Hegel is the one I call the Ulysses critique, which links a critique of hegemony and of an overarching impersonal reason into one succinct classical metaphor:  “For the transcendence of thought remains closed in itself despite all its adventures – which in the last analysis are purely imaginary, or are adventures traversed as by Ulysses: on the way home” (TI, 27).  While this critique carries great force, it remains rather unspecified, unless it posits merely that Hegel is a thinker of the Aufhebung.  As Levinas develops the content of this objection more specifically, he displays (chapter 9:) that he understands Hegel only in the broadest superficialities.  The critique of totality is developed more properly against Husserl and Heidegger than against Hegel.  Hegel functions as a marker for the bad thinking of totality more than as a serious discussant, and Levinas’ text reveals only snapshots and postcards of Hegel in these poses.  Levinas offers no serious discussion of Hegel’s text.  Secondly, the more specifically developed critiques are often thoroughly inapplicable if carefully examined against Hegel’s philosophy.  For example, Levinas criticizes the bad faith immediacy of the theoretical gaze for an interesting coupling of violations: the disinterested objectivity implicit in the objectives of the theoretical gaze carries an erotic desire for possession of an unclouded mediation, the presence of the object before my gaze in all of its voluptuous nudity.  But to suggest that Hegel’s objective is possession of the object in an unclouded presence before our gaze which feasts on the object’s nudity “without marking it in any way” (TI, 42) reveals an utter disregard for or misacquaintance with the entire purpose of Hegel’s project, which is defined in the Introduction to the Phenomenology as the supersession of this very Kantian, instrumental ruse.

A further problem arises for the Levinasian claim, specifically insofar as it is posed as a critique of Hegel, in that Levinas’ own philosophy is so heavily determined by its location as a critique of the thinking of totality (Chapters 8 and 10).  In other words, insofar as Levinas’ own position is determined by that which he purports to critique, he leaves the door to his domicile wide open to that most infuriating and inescapable, infuriating because so persistently inescapable, of Hegelian moves; Levinas would be in danger of being Aufgehoben.  If we take section 1 of TI as it stands, Levinas defines his position there over and against totality and would thus be defined against totality as its antithesis.  There are two directions Levinas could take to escape this critique.  The first is articulated by Derrida in his essay, “From Restricted to General Economy: A Hegelianism without Reserve” (in Writing and Difference, hereafter as WD).  Derrida claims there that as soon as we speak, we have admitted enough to inscribe ourselves within the Hegelian operations.  The only escape of the Aufhebung would be to laugh (Bataille’s laughter) and to refuse to speak.

            Levinas is clearly less conscious of or less focused on the pitfalls to which Derrida so acutely points in this essay.  But he is not blithely unaware of the dangers which would accompany slipping into the role of antithesis to Hegel’s totalism.  He explicitly desires and intends to develop a philosophy which stands on its own apart from its location as a correlation to the totalism of the preceding philosophers.  That is, he does not adopt the strategy of Bataille and merely laugh off the move to incorporation within the Hegelian Aufhebung.  His second alternative is much more complicated, and involves his actual articulation of a positive philosophy which as alterity and as infinity would offer a philosophy grounded in itself and not in the totalism which it opposes.  This “grounded in itself,” however, sounds utterly close to the philosophy of German Idealism and Hegel most directly.  Levinas admits of a formal similarity to German Idealism in his method, and I point out that he and Hegel alike would argue that a formal similarity is never merely formal.  He develops philosophy as critique, in a description thereof which moves perilously close to the critical language of German Idealism from Kant through Marx.

            As offering an antithesis to Hegel, Levinas not only becomes Hegel’s diametrical opposite, in more infuriating language Levinas becomes Hegel’s same.  The opposite of holism reveals itself to be so closely determined by that to which it is antithetical (Derrida: “as anti-Hegelian as it could possibly be,” WD, 92), that we could say they are two sides to the same coin.  First in the process of “critique” and in the demand for a philosophy grounded in itself, but also in the religious emphasis which takes philosophy to be an articulation of human freedom and independence, Levinas seems scarcely distinguishable from the imperatives of Hegel’s early (through 1807) descriptions of his prospectus and his philosophical goals.  Further, Levinas like Hegel claims that his philosophy is metaphysics, a term the two of them share with relatively few post-Kantian thinkers.  Both understand metaphysics to involve serious consideration of themes prior to the fixed determinations which would characterize Verstand, in Hegel’s language.  Levinas calls his primordial metaphysics ethics, and opposes it to logic, whereas Hegel claims that logic is metaphysics.  But the logic which Levinas opposes is closer to Verstand in Hegelian language than to Hegel’s logic.  Hegel’s logic, like Levinas’ ethics, seeks to uncover primordial, pre-“logical,” in the Levinasian formulation, operations of our experience.  Furthermore, both pursue this primordial metaphysics through the same three crucial central topics:  subjectivity, infinity, and ground.  Their interpretations of all three would be considered to be diametrically opposed, yet this type of diametrical opposition is the very relation of sameness which Levinas had set out to avoid.  The same three central topics render the two of them closer to each other than either would be to Kant, Heidegger, Husserl, Pierce, or perhaps anyone else we could name.

            Marx is certainly not a philosopher of alterity in the Levinasian sense, yet his critique of Hegel provides one of the most significant developments to follow in the wake of Hegel’s philosophy.  The most basic point articulated in the Marxian critique is that Hegel’s dialectic remains idealist, that is, that it takes account of nothing other than thought.  Like Levinas, Marx argues that Hegel’s philosophy knows no other, yet he does so neither in the name of alterity as such nor from a standpoint similar to contemporary critiques of rationality or of systematic thinking.  The Marxian critique is further like the contemporary one in linking a thorough-going critique of Hegel’s entire philosophy to matters of ethico-political importance.

            Marx differs from the current critique in that his criticism of Hegel is in no way a critique of holism as such or of systematic thinking.  His rejection of Hegel’s philosophy is rooted in his strengthening of the Hegelian Einheitsprinzip, rather than in a dismissal of it.  The Kantian side of the Einheitsprinzip insisted upon conceptual totality for the possibility of theoretical judgment.  Hegel doubles the Kantian totality to include not only a unity of thought but also a unification of consciousness and being.  Marx de-emphasizes without rejecting the conceptual unity required by Kant, but he does so by serving the second unification, that between consciousness and being, more faithfully than Hegel had or had everbeen able.  In short, Marx accepts the very points of Hegelian philosophy which are most prominent in Levinas’ attack.  This contrast shows the breadth of motivations and criticisms which could be assembled under the language of “alterity.”

            Yet the Marxian critique of Hegel is ill understood in terms of materialism versus idealism.  In the first section, “The Hegelian Marx,” I argue that Marx’ materialism is a fundamentally Hegelian bird and is hence ill described in opposition to idealism.  Marxian materialism is in its inception and remains throughout philosophical, philosophical qua dialectical, philosophical qua Hegelian, and even philosophical qua idealistic.  This would imply that we need to look further to find the locus of Marx’ disagreement with Hegel.  Marx’ claim that Hegel’s philosophy is abstract is not a misreading (chapter 1 and chapter 2.1 ), it is rooted in his discovery of a division, a separation, and a resulting jenseitige reification of an abstract beyond within Hegel’s philosophy (chapters 2 and 3).  Hegel falls into positing a divided world because of his desire to cling to the whole; this prevents him from feasibly giving sufficient attention to certain details.  Marx’ “micrology” is a critique of Hegelian holism because that holism necessitates skimming the surface of historical detail.  Marx is not a Hegelian in the Dissertation and a critic in the 1843-44 texts, he is both Hegelian and critical in all of the above.

            Further, Marx’ own mature materialism remains both Hegelian and critical; his materialism itself is still a thoroughly, though not uncritically and not unmitigatedly, Hegelian project.  This is most explicitly illustrated in the first of his 1845 Theses on Feuerbach, where Marx criticizes Feuerbach’s materialism for forgetting the idealist, subjective aspect of an adequate philosophical suggestion.  I illustrate the operation of a Hegelian, organic type logic (i.e. a logic of the concept, in Hegelian terminology, book 3 of the Science of Logic) in (chapter 3) the 1843 Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of the State and in (chapter 4) Capital, the Grundrisse, The German Ideology, and The Communist Manifesto.  Marx’ most specifically Hegelian language has frequently been mistranslated, masking the degree to which he uses Hegelian logic even in his later works.  I show this specifically in translations of the 1843 Critique and of the Grundrisse.

            Chapters 5 and 6 consider the 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (EPMss).  I situate the critique of Hegel within the EPMss as a whole in chapter 5, noting that standard editorial practice masks the developmental organization within which Marx framed this critique.  In chapter 6, I exposit that Hegel critique itself.  It is significant that it is at the end of the text, at a juncture where Marx moves beyond atheism and communism and is attempting to work out his own positive conception of an autonomous humanity, that Marx brings Hegel and Feuerbach together alone as significant dialogue partners in this search.  Marx’ own positive philosophy becomes thoroughly Hegelian through this dialogue, though the aspects of it which are Hegelian are all always simultaneously anti-Hegelian.  Marx’ own development of human being, man as man and not as Geist, entails a critique of the a-priorism inherent in the Hegelian order of progression within the Encyclopedia.  Marx finds it impossible to complete the discussion of logic before proceeding to the philosophy of nature and spirit.  “Logik – das Geld des Geistes” becomes an abstract currency according to which all things are measured reductively.  But this claim again can only be properly understood as having developed through Marx’ hyper-Hegelian attention to the micrological instances of connection between consciousness and being.  It is only because Hegel’s logic closes before opening the book of nature, only because these logical analyses of the categories become “fixed mental forms” (CW: 3.344), that Marx finds them to be “abstract” in the Hegelian sense of the term.  As Marx learned in his investigations into history (the Dissertation), it was specifically through Hegel’s “admirably great and bold plan” that “the giant thinker was hindered” (CW: 1.29-30) from recognizing the importance and complexity of certain utterly significant particulars.  Marx ultimately claims that Hegel’s conception of “man” becomes reductive through this great and bold plan.  But the critique is not a critique of Hegel’s rationalism, of his holism, or of his idealism as such; the Hegelian Einheitsprinzip, the organic logic of the concept, and the culminating move thereof, the Hegelian Aufhebung, remain operative, though always revised and simultaneously anti-Hegelian, in Marx’ mature materialism.

            Section 4, “Hegel and the Other.”  After my analyses of these two prominent versions of the alterity criticism of Hegel, I conclude that the contemporary alterity critique is ultimately a critique of Hegelian closure (chapters 11 and 12).  This is likewise true for both Levinas and Marx, though as mentioned the latter remains Hegelian (though always simultaneously at the same junctures anti-Hegelian) in ways which we today cannot but question.  Levinas’ version of the alterity critique would consequently dismiss Hegel and Marx together in the same breath.  Nonetheless Marx’ critique does focus on the broad unification by which Hegel pulls all of history and all of human experience together under one umbrella and describes it according to one currency:  Geist which is ultimately Geist qua logic.

            Contemporary criticism of Hegel in the name of alterity, though perhaps rooted in Levinasian alterity, is not reducible to Levinas’ criticism.  Our criticism today is simultaneously rooted in our guilt and shame with respect to our own western heritage and to Hegel’s alleged location at the pinnacle of modernity’s high-gothic phase; Hegel as the paradigmatic instance of enlightenment arrogance provokes a deep reaction within our post-enlightenment breast which would not be assuaged even if all tomorrow’s theses rendered Levinas himself obsolete.  It is not only closure as such but the grand ambition of Hegel’s project which underlies the roots of our hatred (chapter 12.1).

            There are three possible approaches to this closure which I point out (chapter 12.2).  First, Engels interprets Hegel’s historical closure weakly as one revolution among many more to come.  Second, Merold Westphal interprets the closure in the strongest possible fashion; Westphal’s reading of Hegel’s “realized eschatology” is that it is the “parousia” (“Laughing at Hegel,” 42; hereafter LH), the coming of “The Kingdom of God” (History and Truth, 200; hereafter HT).  Third, several scholars in the interest of sanity wish to pull Hegel back from these grandiose claims (chapter 12.3).  Clearly Westphal’s reading is textually based and Engels’ is a wishful revision.  Ultimately I find the same wishfulness to be operative in the scholarly attempts to mitigate Hegel’s culmination discussed in chapter 12.3.

            Section 5, “Eschatology, Utopia, and Closure.”   This leads to a concluding discussion of Hegel’s closure in the light of Westphal’s reading.  It is (Chapter 13) closure rather than alterity or difference which is the point of contention between us today and Hegel, and specifically the closure of Westphal’s reading.  Further, it is because Westphal’s reading is the most true to Hegel’s text that it is his closure which must be considered.  To consider Hegel’s relevance for us today, the driving force behind my entire project, it is necessary to consider the “utopian dimension of [the Phenomenology’s] culmination” (HT, p.xv).  For Westphal, the implications of this culmination extend to a parallel culmination of Hegel’s broader system and raise difficulties about the plausibility and critical capacity of Hegel’s philosophy as a whole.  Yet there are difficulties in taking Hegel’s culmination to point to the coming of the Kingdom of God both in the culmination of the Philosophy of History (hereafter Phil Hist; chapter 13.1) and in the culmination of the Encyclopedia (chapter 13.2).

            I suggest that if we read right through Westphal’s realized eschatology, rather than pulling Hegel back from it to wishfully render him sane (as in chapter 12.3), that Westphal’s reading forces us to ask anew what the meaning of this eschatological culmination can and can not be for Hegel.  In so doing we are forced to try to reconcile the Hegel who undoubtedly achieved some type of culmination with the Hegel who argued that philosophy can be only descriptive and can not be edifying [Phenomenology (PS), Preface], who argued that philosophy can say nothing about the future (Phil Hist), who described spirit as “the negating of all fixed determinicities of the understanding” [Ency, vol.3, Philosophy of Spirit (PhilS); Sk: 10.12] and who claimed that when philosophy has figured something out, that idea is already past (Pref., Phil Right).  Through these Hegelian claims, I argue that Hegel has to be read as more modest and more deconstructive (specifically in the rejection of fixed determinicities) than we have realized as yet (chapter 13.3).

            While recognizing that I may not yet have “established” this deconstructive Hegel, I read this Hegel against Westphal’s reading in chapter 14.  At issue is what Hegel achieves at the end of the Phenomenology when he comes to the point where “knowledge is no longer compelled to go beyond itself” (HT, 187; quoting PS).  This Hegelian culmination is a secularization of the sacred, but it remains to ask how much of the sacred content perdures once the sacred is transplanted to earth and rewritten as both secular and  fulfilled.  I suggest that Westphal’s reading retains too much sacred content, more specifically Augustinian content, than is justified on Hegelian grounds.  Westphal gives us the key to undermining this Augustinian description of Hegel’s final culmination in his description of Hegel’s concept of time.  Hegel objects to the externality in certain conceptions of temporal relations, specifically those which take events of world significance, such as the incarnation or the parousia, as temporal or historical events.  Westphal highlights this Hegelian reading of the incarnation, but then forgets it when he takes the culmination of the Phenomenology to refer to the parousia as just such an external, event-of-world-changing-significance.  To take Hegel’s culmination as the fulfillment of history in the Augustinian sense is to interpret Hegel’s final synthesis as an external event in a way Hegel would not have allowed.

            Marx (chapter 15.1 and 15.2) is more helpful in a positive contemporary treatment of Hegelian closure than is Levinas specifically because Marx knows Hegel better than Levinas does and poses his critique at a much later, and hence deeper and less reactive juncture.  Marx’ unconscious strategy is the opposite of that of Derrida’s Bataille.  Far from refusing to speak, Marx speaks and even speaks “Hegelese” far more fluently and naively than we can today.  Marx’ thorough Hegelianism renders his critique an internal critique, hence one much more weighty than Levinas’ quick external opposition.  In the Dissertation, Marx’ objects to the same type of external reading of Hegel’s culmination, while admitting that in Hegel’s philosophy a moment of synthesis has been reached the likes of which we have not seen since Aristotle.  The Hegelian categories took Greek philosophy to move from subjectivity (Socrates) through a dualistic split (Plato) to a synthetic culmination in Aristotle.  Marx’ Dissertation claims that post-Aristotelian philosophy reached back behind the Aristotelian culmination of Greek thought to its inception in Socrates, that it thereby returned anew but in a post-Aristotelian way to subjectivity and will.  Hence, for Marx, Hegel’s end of history is a location from which history can self-consciously begin anew.  This return to the will as self-conscious decision and the suggestion that the further progression of history is philosophy’s task is a wildly anti-Hegelian formulation, yet it is interesting that Marx takes Hegel’s philosophy to be a culmination of epochal significance without any thought that this should mean that Hegel got everything right for all time.  He suggests that the latter claim would be tantamount to denying that humans would continue to walk the earth.

This still leaves us with the question of what it means for Hegel, at the end of the Phenomenology to come to the point where “knowledge is no longer compelled to go beyond itself.”  I certainly cannot answer this question definitively, but I do offer a suggestion.  At the conclusion of the Encyclopedia there is no indication of temporal finality, such as in a culminating “event” to the process of history.  Instead, Hegel stresses knowing and freedom.  “The concept of spirit has its reality in spirit.  That the latter in its identity with the former be the knowing of the absolute idea, here is the necessary aspect, that the in-itself-free intelligence be freed in its actuality to its concept, in order to be the worthy form thereof” (PhilS; Sk:10.366).  Hegel’s culmination means this knowing.  “The absolute spirit is just as much identity eternally being in itself as identity returned into itself and returning into itself; the one and general substance as spiritual, the judgment in-itself and in a knowing, for which it is as such (PhilS; Sk: 10.366).  We today might be as uncomfortable with this term, “knowing,” as we are with Hegel’s totality, though it still remains to pose the question whether we have properly understood either one.  I wish to submit, first of all, that we have not, and secondly, that it is only through this Wissen, and not through the parousia as an external event, that we can come to understand Hegel’s realization.

The essential text remains the conclusion of the Phenomenology in “absolute knowing.”  I suggest considering this culmination to be the fulfillment of the perfect in the grammatical sense.  That is, the Kantian imperative had called for completeness in order to understand the categories of our own awareness.  This completeness is what Hegel fulfills through the investigation into subjectivity in the Phenomenology.  The culmination of the Phenomenology does not institute heaven on earth, it merely has accounted for the fact that we can make synthetic judgments a priori.  Absolute knowing at the end of the Phenomenology has no content, until it moves on from having achieved knowing to the investigations of that knowledge in the Encyclopedia.  In that move, Hegel seeks not knowledge of the Absolute or of any external “thing,” but rather the self-awareness which has understood how it is possible that we do in fact know that we know that now is noon and here is a tree.  It is only in the closure which enables us to view that knowing as having been fulfilled, as grammatically perfect rather than immediate and becoming, that we can know our ability to make such judgments.

This type of knowing might make us today just as uncomfortable as does the Kingdom of God.  Levinas will surely remain unassuaged, as will Marx.  But it is Hegel’s modesty rather than his grand ambition which leaves both of them dissatisfied.  Hegel achieves his own infinity, but he never aspired to the height of Levinas’ Infinite.  Further, he never aspires to change the world or to the practical ambition of Marx’ famed Eleventh Thesis.  The modesty of absolute knowing is that, rather than having achieved that which was formerly beyond its grasp, it has dropped the ambition entirely and become content to “no longer go beyond itself.”  As in Buddhism, renunciation brings much; spirit in becoming content with itself becomes conscious of itself as spirit and as free.  For Marx this freedom means it falls upon us after Hegel to decide where history shall go from here.  But Hegel’s Owl of Minerva remained content to watch – “watch” entailing both that we philosophers merely describe what we cannot control and the duplicity of a watch, which is always both an end and a beginning:  “are we to understand the eve as the guard mounted around the house or as the awakening to the day that is coming, at whose eve we are?  Is there an economy of the eve?  Perhaps we are between these two eves, which are also two ends of man.  But who we?”  (Derrida, “The Ends of Man,” in After Philosophy, p.152).

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