- Wirklichkeit. Beiträge zu einem Schlüsselbegriff der Hegelschen Philosophie. Hegel-Tagung in Padua im Juni 2015 ed. by Luca Illetterati and Francesca Menegoni
As dictums go, Hegel’s Doppelsatz—“what is rational is actual [wirklich]; and what is actual is rational”—has a nice ring to it, right up there with “existence precedes essence” and “revenge is a dish best served cold.” Still, it has long befuddled readers: what does it mean, and what does it suggest about Hegel’s worldview?
Anyone looking for answers to these questions would do well to consult the essays in Wirklichkeit. Beiträge zu einem Schlüsselbegriff der Hegelschen Philosophie. The essays are grouped into two sets of six, with the first tending toward theoretical, the second toward practical issues in Hegel. Their gravitational center is the Logic’s technical concept of Wirklichkeit—“the unity of essence and existence” (Hegel, GW 11:369, 3)—which is normally translated as “actuality” to distinguish it from “reality” (Realität), which signifies existence in its immediate, factical contingency (Pirmin Stekeler-Weithofer and Jean-François Kervégan are excellent on this distinction).
But this distinction is no sooner made in individual essays than abandoned as a guiding thread in the collection, whose focus broadens to realism, antirealism, and idealism in Hegel’s system in historical and contemporary philosophical contexts. The latter sense of ‘real’ pertains to mind-independent objectivity, thus introducing a third sense of ‘reality.’ [End Page 561] That is fine, as far as it goes, but it does compromise the collection’s cohesiveness. It would have been nice to see an attempt to unite the disparate conversations in this volume in an editorial introduction.
The perennial issue of the status of Hegel’s metaphysics is treated in the first six essays. Stephen Houlgate argues that Hegel’s logic is “a logic and an ontology or metaphysics in equal measure: it is the study of both thought and being” (104). This conflation of thought and being is justified, for Houlgate, “by the sheer indeterminacy of the thought with which the logic must begin” (101). Defending his reading, Houlgate critiques Robert Pippin’s nonmetaphysical interpretation of Hegel’s Logic in Hegel’s Idealism (1989).
It seems, however, that Pippin has now changed his tune. Pippin charts the Aristotelian heritage of Hegel’s concept of Wirklichkeit and claims that Hegel is engaged in a metaphysics, albeit one that “does not concern a supersensible world of noetic objects knowable only by pure reason,” but rather, “as with Aristotle, [one that] concerns the ordinary world” (51). The gap between Houlgate’s and Pippin’s positions narrows even more when Pippin glosses Hegel’s claim “Reason is in the world” as “to be is to be intelligible” (55).
Pace Houlgate and Pippin, Pirmin Stekeler-Weithofer provides a category-theory account of Hegel’s concept of reality, according to which “the very domain of things . . . is constituted and formed by conceptual criteria of distinctions and identities” (75–76). He thus reads the “Doctrine of Essence” exclusively as a meta-meta-level reflection about the discursive conditions for cognizing objects.
Synthesizing these opposed interpretations, Luca Illetterati proposes that truth, for Hegel, is neither “out there” nor merely the property of language, but rather “the process, through which the subject brings the conceptual structure of the matter itself to expression” (21); consequently, “the world is effectively a product of spirit, that which is penetrated by spirit” (39). While this does synthesize different aspects of Hegel’s system, I worry that Illetterati’s solution may make Hegel’s metaphysics as troublesome as the problems it purports to solve.
The next six essays brilliantly integrate the theoretical and practical dimensions of Hegel’s thinking. Birgit Sandkaulen’s “Modus oder Monade” questions Hegel’s ability to defend “the dignity of the individual” by steering between Spinozistic acosmism and Leibnizian monads (168). Hegel’s solution, in the Logic’s demonstration of the...