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  • Thinking and the I: Hegel and the Critique of Kant by Alfredo Ferrarin
  • W. Clark Wolf
FERRARIN, Alfredo. Thinking and the I: Hegel and the Critique of Kant. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2019. xv + 233 pp. Cloth, $99.95; paper, $34.95

This book is a translation (with combined efforts of the author and Elisa Magri) of the author's Il pensare e l'io: Hegel e la critica di Kant (2016). Ferrarin's theme is a conception of thinking that "cannot be reduced to the subjective thinking of a self-conscious subject." Reading Hegel as a revolutionary or revisionist thinker, he argues that Hegel overturns the modern consensus on the priority of the "I" to thinking.

In the first chapter, Ferrarin provides an exposition of the role of recognition in Hegel's concept of self-consciousness. He disputes the centrality of social recognition in Hegel's thought, arguing that [End Page 608] recognition cannot constitute self-consciousness, nor should it be looked to as the foundation of ethical intersubjectivity. On first issue, the basic argument is that recognition depends on the relata of multiple I's, so that it cannot constitute those I's in the first place. Ferrarin then offers his own reading of the master–slave dialectic. He tries to show that the master– slave chapter does not result in true recognition, so it cannot play a foundational role for ethical intersubjectivity. He sees the chapter as contributing to the general theme of the Phenomenology that individual subjectivity cannot play the role of a philosophical starting point, epitomized in the theme that thought is substance-subject.

The second chapter considers the possibility of "nonhuman" thinking: thinking that is independent and potentially "alien" to individual human authors. Ferrarin begins with an explication of Hegel's notion of objective thought. For Ferrarin, thought can be objective, most basically, when it is true of an object but does not depend on the particularity of an I who thinks. But objective thought also relates to Hegel's view of thought as the logos and "life pulse" within things, akin to the Anaxogorean nous. Ferrarin contends that this dimension should not be read in a "realist" manner, especially in terms of divine creation. Ferrarin offers instead a nonrealist view of objective thought in that no present act of thought is required for the rationality of something, but the measure of the rationality of things is still "the concept," or the activity of thinking. Though the concept is the activity of thinking, it is not such that it is the product of an individual subject. Instead, the thinking I itself is a product of the self-reference of the concept.

Chapter 3 explores how the active concept is related to objective content through a constant movement between spontaneous self-determination and fixed reification. Thinking always "externalizes" itself in something concrete, but always through a power that is fluid. However, this requires thought to be "productive," a notoriously difficult notion. Distinguishing his interpretation of productive thought both from what he calls metaphysical realism and transcendentalism, Ferrarin contends that Hegel's view is that thinking always transforms what is given. Production is not altogether ex nihilo (as "transcendentalism" may contend) but still subjectively active (as "realism" must deny).

The next chapter is an illustration of the previous chapter's thesis with a discussion of "representation" (Vorstellung). Representation is an instance of thought's activity leading to an externalization. Representation is an intermediary step between sensory intuition and thought proper; it is the idealized "recollection" of intuition. While representation is the fixed side of thought, thinking is not reducible to representation. This is illustrated through a discussion of thinking and language. Ferrarin uses Hegel's discussion of the "speculative proposition" to show that thinking remains fluid and cannot be reduced to the fixity of language.

In the final chapter, Ferrarin turns to an extensive comparison with Kant, more sympathetic than Hegel's own. Ferrarin documents how Hegel reads Kant entirely in his own Hegelian terms and does not substantially [End Page 609] alter his critique of Kant from the premature assessment in Faith and Knowledge (1802). On Ferrarin's account, Hegel's lack...


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