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Notes and Discussions Hegel on Reference and Knowledge Hegel claimed that the object of thought is the universal. Since knowledge involves thought, this seems to imply that knowledge of particulars, or what Hegel called individuals, is impossible. But careful distinctions must be made before this interpretation of Hegel can be endorsed. I would like to look more closely at an argument commonly supposed to support this thesis and show that what is really at issue is the immediacy of our knowledge of individuals, i.e., whether we have any knowledge of individuals that is not mediated by universals. In this argument Hegel denies only that we have any immediate knowledge of individuals. How a denial of the possibility of knowledge of individuals must be interpreted in Hegel's system will be discussed briefly in the final sections of this paper, when the role of reference in knowledge is explored more fully. While the discussion here will focus on such linguistic items as names and demonstratives, there are crucial philosophical questions about the nature of meaning and knowledge which hang in the balance. The argument of Hegel's with which I am primarily concerned occurs in the first chapter of the Phenome~logy of Spirit, ~"Sense-Certainty." Sense-certainty is the attitude that takes true knowledge to be the immediate presence of an object to consciousness, eschewing all categorization. But, Hegel replies, any attempt to express one's knowledge involves categories, even the use of such apparently non-categorial words as 'this', 'here', and 'now'. Since knowledge must be expressed if it is to be preserved or communicated , expressibility is a necessary condition of knowledge, for we could hardly call something knowledge that could neither be remembered nor communicated. Such a categorially impoverished word as 'this' expresses the poorest, rather than the richest and truest, form of cognition. However rich the sensuous manifold may be, it does not itself constitute any kind of knowledge. The above is hut a rough sketch, but my first concern here is with why a certain interpretation and kind of reply to this argument will not work. We can find this interpretation and reply in at least four places in the contemporary literature2 D. W. , References to Hegel's texts have been abbreviated in the body of this paper. The following editions were used: Hegel'sPhenomenologyofSpirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, x977), abbreviated as P/S, and Ph~nomenologiedesGeistes,ed. J. Hoffmeister, 6th ed. (Hamburg : F. Meiner, a952), abbreviated as PAG.Hegel'sScienceof Logic,trans. A. V. Miller (London: Allen and Unwin, 1969), abbreviated as SL; Wissenschaftder Logik, ed. G. Lasson (Hamburg: F. Meiner, 1934), Vol. 2, abbreviated as WdL. ' D. W. Hamlyn, Sensationand Perception:A Historyof thePhilosophyof Perception(New York: Humanities Press, 1961), 14o-46; Ivan SoU,An IntroductiontoHegel'sMetaphysics(Chicago: Univer- [~97] 298 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 26.'2 APRIL 1988 Hamlyn's statement of this interpretation is the earliest of these and is quite lucid. He takes the point of the argument to be that because demonstratives are universals, we cannot use them to refer to particulars, and because they do not successfully refer to particulars, knowledge phrased in terms of them cannot be knowledge of a particular. He then replies to the argument that such demonstratives, and proper names as well, for that matter, do indeed refer, and thus there is no problem about knowledge of particulars. Words like 'red' are normally applied to many things predicatively; we use such words to characterize things. We do not normally use 'this' in that way, but in order to refer to things. The fact that we use the word 'this' to refer to a number of different things on different occasions does not show that it is like 'red' in its use. Words like 'this' were fastened on by Hegelians for the same reason as they were fastened on by their later opponents--e.g., Russell--because they were supposed to be the last ditch in a defence of knowledge of particulars. If these words did not guarantee particularity, what would? But the considerations which make it implausible to treat these words as general words of the same kind...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 297-307
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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