Deleuze and Hegel 1
Perspectives on Deleuze: Unity
Idealism is a varied body of thought that in one way or another asserts the primacy of the idea, spirit, mind, consciousness, reason or will over the physical or material.
Idealism can be ontological or epistemological. Ontological idealism is the assertion that the ideal is the foundation of all reality, or in some cases, all there is to reality. Epistemological idealism grants that there may be something to reality that is independent of the mind, but insists that all of the reality available to us as humans is mind-dependent.
In the former sense, the mind is the origin of reality; in the latter, the mind is a prerequisite to having knowledge of reality. In both senses, mind or consciousness is superior to the physical.
This consciousness may be subjective insofar as reality is an idea formed in the mind of someone. Or it may be objective, and exist prior to and beyond human consciousness.
Idealism, broadly considered, is older than western philosophy, and can be traced back to Indian Vedic belief in a unitary consciousness as the true nature of reality (a form of ontological idealism). And idealism can be found in certain schools of Buddhist thought, that believe reality lies behind the world of appearances (a form of epistemological idealism).
German Idealism, and in particular, the philosophy of GWF Hegel (1770–1831) and Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860), has been a highly influential idealist philosophy in the West. Hegel and Schopenhauer provide us with a comprehensive view of what are some of the most widely accepted elements of an idealist vision.
Their philosophies dramatically demonstrate what results if transcendence is taken to its logical limits and conclusions. And their ideas highlight some unexpected similarities with Gilles Deleuze.
German Idealism really begins with Immanuel Kant (1724–1804). Kant’s Transcendental Idealism posits a real world of things in themselves, but asserts that our knowledge of the world is confined to principles of reason.
His philosophy is a combination of ontological realism and epistemological idealism: the world exists in reality and is not based on an idea, objective or subjective; but the world can only be known via the mind’s a priori rules of perception, cognition and understanding (eg., space and time).
Hegel developed a highly complex form of idealism, sometimes referred to as absolute idealism, in which all dualities are overcome: mind and matter, subject and object, thinking and being.
Hegel views reality as an organic unity that is in an ongoing process of development. Reality is historically conditioned, and history is teleological, its purpose being the self-aware one-ness of everything.
Hegel believed the goal of history is the resolution of all oppositions, including mind and non-mind, and accordingly he denies the duality posited by Kant of the phenomenal and the noumenal.
The process of development or change Hegel refers to is not in relation to a mental idea. The process of history relates to what Hegel refers to as Geist.
Geist does not translate well from German into English, but most agree it means something midway between “mind” and “spirit.”
Geist is the stuff of existence, the ultimate essence of being; and the historical process of reality is the development of Geist toward self-awareness and self-knowledge.
Geist is objective and non-material: it is beyond any subjective mind: it is objectified spirit. It is Absolute, including both the subjective and the objective: it is monist. In Kantian terms, it is the thing in itself and it is knowable to reason.
Hegel viewed the march of history as the resolution of oppositions. In what he termed a dialectical process, or the dialectic, there are three main stages: thesis, antithesis and synthesis.
The thesis, whatever there is, always produces its opposite, and the conflict between the two eventually resolves into a new situation which contains elements of both.
This process continues to occur until Geist, the stuff of the universe, comes to know itself as the ultimate reality. Once subject comes to recognize itself as object, that both are Geist, self-determination is complete, history is complete.
In human terms, once the collective mind comes to know it is one and the same as the universe itself, Geist becomes Absolute Geist, absolute spirit.
I hope you enjoyed this article. Thanks for reading!
Excerpt from my forthcoming book, Becoming: A Life of Pure Difference (Gilles Deleuze and the Philosophy of the New) Copyright © 2021 by Tomas Byrne. Learn more here.