Thinking, the In-Itself


There’s been some back and forth and back again between Paul and Graham largely as a result of Paul’s recent interview with Peter Gratton as part of Peter’s course on Realism. See also the exchange between Ben and Graham on Hegel and Zizek.

Paul’s been brining up Hegel for a while now since he’s “in the air” in Dublin. I have to say this makes me more than a little uncomfortable. I’m not friendly to Hegel or Hegelianism and the neo-Hegelianism of the Ljubljiana Lacanians makes me equally as on-guard. The reason I’m so uncomfortable with this is the ease with with they all do away with the very real problem of the in-itself.

The in-itself is of course a long-standing issue for debate in post-Kantian philosophy and is one of the important fault lines that Meillassoux revives in After Finitude where he bases correlationist thought on the principles of correlation and factiality. The strong correlationist is the one who maintains the strength of the principle of correlation and does away with the principle of factiality (doing away with the in-itself, contingency, and freedom ultimately). I shouldn’t have to repeat this, I’m assuming people know this. By aligning yourself with Hegel (especially) you fall immediately into the Fichtean move of rejecting the in-itself (or more accurately for Fichte, making the in-itself a closeted for-us, making things-in-themselves a necessary illusion in order for the performance of the infinite ethics of the Kingdom of Ends; depending on your reading of Hegel, the same move is made though possibly for different reasons).

The same move is made by the Lacanians; the in-itself for Zizek is nothing but the “Imaginary Real,” a fantasy of a non-Symbolic realm prior to language or even humans. There is no world outside of the Symbolic for Zizek meaning there is no in-itself. This is why ultimately he favours Hegel to Schelling. Schelling of course maintains the in-itself in opposition to both Fichte and Hegel (though with the support of Schopenhauer, who is of this Schellingian strain of post-Kantian thought that finds its way into people like Nietzsche, Freud, Bergson, etc.) The significant move of this strain of post-Kantianism is not only that they maintain the in-itself, but that with this school of thought the in-itself is in some sense known. In opposition to both the Fichtean line which does away with the in-itself and the more orthodox Kantian line which maintains the in-itself but also its unknowability, this line of thought (which I refer to as “Vitalist”) says that the in-itself is in some sense grasped through self-analysis (this is the importance of “intuition” for Schelling and Bergson for instance). We have access to our own noumenal existence by which we understand other existents to have their own non-phenomenal (that is, non-for-us) existence. Just as I am not the sum of my phenomenal appearance (I am unconscious, I am will, I am virtual, etc, etc.) neither are objects.

This also gives us clues as to how non-human objects interact with each other, as well as their inner lives. First, it allows for a pre-human and post-human world. Vitalism accepts history as a given, things existed, things happened, before there were human beings to observe them and these things are in no way dependent on our knowing to have existence. In the same way, aspects of my existence go un-actualized, remaining unconscious. This in no way means they do not exist, simply that I don’t know of them.

The importance of this cannot be under-estimated. The road to anti-realism is paved with Hegelian intentions. I don’t see how anyone could read Hegel and take a realism from it without doing some serious work (which even the Marxists have trouble maintaining, what does Nick Land call dialectical materialism? Shoddy idealism, I think). This means ultimately that I’m on the side of Graham and Grant on this one, once the in-itself is ditched, there is no possible realism. For the same reason then that Fichte irreversibly anti-realist, so too is Hegel.



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5 responses to “Thinking, the In-Itself

  1. Pingback: Actants, Ontology, and Epistemology « Larval Subjects .

  2. This also gives us clues as to how non-human objects interact with each other, as well as their inner lives.

    I propose someone writes a book The Inner Life of Objects – sound very nice. “Inhuman Ethics” could be one part of that study. What do you say?

  3. RDM

    Or, a book called, ‘In-Itself -A History’

  4. Michael

    I don’t think late dialectical materialists really considered themselves realists.

  5. Tom

    Hegel was a vitalist and realist neo-Aristotelian, true no matter how hard some of his Marxist interpreters antithetical to vitalism and realism try to interpret it away. Hegel’s philosophy is teaming with purposive, self-differing life, life is reason in-itself, differing-in-itself. Deleuze, despite his rejection of the Marxist characiture of Hegel, is closest of all recent thinkers to Hegel; the in-itself for Hegel is precisely what Deleuze conceives as the in-itself: Difference — the differing-in-itself of life is the movement of spirit (spirit=life) and the multiplicity (multiplicity=differentiation) of reality, true difference is vital difference. Hegel calls the absolute “the identity of identity-in-difference”, thus he explains why the in-itself slips away from Kant and all philosophers bewitched by the question of the location of “true presence” or “true being” — Hegel explains that reality in-itself slips away from them because the slipping away is the very movement of their own thought differing-in-itself, i.e., for Hegel, Kantian anti-realists are merely finite movements within the infinite movement of life as a whole, where the philosophical subject doesn’t recognize the nature of the object it’s after.

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