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  • Cognition: An Introduction to Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit
  • John Russon
Tom Rockmore . Cognition: An Introduction to Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Pp vii + 247. Cloth, $40.00.

Rockmore's book is an argument that Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit is a rigorous and systematic argument about epistemology (2) and it is a commentary designed to introduce students to the details of Hegel's text (1). The epistemological thesis is stated most concisely in Chapter 9. Chapters 1 through 8 comment on the Phenomenology at something close to a paragraph-by-paragraph level, (in the form of Findlay's appendix to the Miller translation of the Phenomenology).

Rockmore's thesis is that Hegel's epistemology is an "anti-foundationalism without [End Page 131] scepticism" (215), or a "tertiary empiricism," (197): following Kant, Hegel holds that all knowledge begins with, but does not arise from, experience, but, against Kant, Hegel maintains that knowledge does not relate to anything beyond experience, but is itself the ultimate or absolute object (3). The "Consciousness" section of the Phenomenology establishes this basic position in three stages: "Sense-Certainty" refutes sense-data empiricism; "Perception" shows that knowing what an object is requires the mind's mediation; "Understanding" shows that no successful theory of the unity of the cognitive object can be accomplished in an epistemology that maintains the independence of the object of cognition, (a "thing-in-itself"), and that epistemology must thus shift its focus from object to subject. The "Self-Consciousness" chapter demonstrates that the subject of knowledge must be self-conscious and free, and therefore social and historical. Hegel's great contribution to epistemology is thus to replace the "minimalist" subject of Early Modern epistemology with the "thick" subjectivity of "social human being" (4, 201, 208). The analysis of this "thick" subject is carried out through the "Reason" chapter, (which shows that abstract reason cannot account for the whole of the human subject), and especially the "Spirit" chapter, (though this latter is "perhaps also the most defective part of the Phenomenology" [204]). The "Religion" chapter shows human religious history to be faulty epistemology, that is, an attempt to know that fails because of religion's non-conceptual formulation of its own significance. "Absolute Knowing" rectifies this problem by putting religion's (Christianity's) own ultimate truth—that God is Spirit—into conceptual form in the recognition that human social experience is the absolute. While Rockmore's overall thesis is reasonable, there is much to argue with in the specifics.

Kant's philosophy is indisputably a central concern in the Phenomenology, but Rockmore sees Kant in every central move of the book. In his treatment of the "Introduction" and "Consciousness" this is more misleading than helpful (37-8). In discussing the "Introduction," Rockmore helpfully shows that consciousness is a self-comparison, but is weak in discussing the "in-itself." The discussion of "Consciousness" is likewise weak in its treatment of textual specifics, but does assert a reasonable interpretation of this section as a refutation of immediate knowledge that demonstrates the problems of reconciling unity and diversity in objects of experience, and the need for a science of subjectivity.

Rockmore portrays the "Independence and Dependence of Self-Consciousness" as establishing that freedom is to be found in equal recognition, a social situation that is not yet established (70-2). "The Freedom of Self-Consciousness" shows the inadequacy of abstract, individualistic conceptions of freedom (76, 202). Here again, Rockmore's claims are more overlain on the text than derived from it. The treatment of the "Freedom of Self-Consciousness" is disappointing in failing to recognize a systematic character to Hegel's study. Indeed, while claiming to defend Hegel against charges of non-rigorous, non-systematic idiosyncracy (195), Rockmore is surprisingly inattentive to the systematic shape of Hegel's argument.

In discussing "Reason," Rockmore again treats Kant as Hegel's major antagonist. His introduction to the "Reason" chapter is helpful, but his treatment of "Observing Reason" suffers from lack of attention to Schelling's philosophy of nature, and lack of historical precision in the discussion of Early Modern science and philosophy. The [End Page 132] discussions of the later...


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