DENNIS SCHULTING | On Hegel’s Critique of Kant’s Subjectivism in the Transcendental Deduction‘, in Kant’s Radical Subjectivism. Perspectives on the Transcendental Deduction | Palgrave Macmillan 2017



By Dennis Schulting

I thank Paul Giladi for his generous commentary on a chapter of my book Kant’s Radical Subjectivism that deals with Hegel’s critique of Kant and for suggesting a way forward for reading the notoriously controversial relation between the two greatest philosophers of modern times. I also apologise for having him wait so long, too long, for a response to his piece. But—to cut to the chase—for all his acuity in succinctly enumerating the criticisms that Hegel raises against Kant as they are standardly conceived, it seems to me that in his commentary, Giladi keeps perpetuating the Hegelian myth—a myth that originates in Hegel himself, in his less felicitous statements on Kant (Giladi appropriately quotes Encyclopædia, §§ 41z and 42z)[1]—that Kant’s transcendental or formal idealism fatally suffers from a psychological subjectivism, a charge that I explicitly sought to counter in my book. This is the myth that—and this is how Giladi himself puts it—“the structure, order, and unity of empirical reality are all derived from us and that thought and being are fundamentally separate from one another”, and that apparently because the objectively structuring categories are applied by us, they are not, or at least not ipso facto, really instantiated by the things themselves, in being itself so to speak, and thus not truly objectivating, but in the end merely subjective.

Giladi says that “[f]or Hegel, what Kant should not have argued was that the necessity and universality provided by conceptual form that constitutes the formal unity and order of empirical reality is not inherent to the world itself”, that “on Kant’s account, the objectivity of representation provided by the pure concepts is not a full-blooded objectivity, i.e. the objectivity is in some sense artificial and contingent”, that “the categories confer on objects the formal characteristics of objectivity (such as causality, substantiality, etc.), but leave us cut off from things in themselves”, and that “it is because the formal characteristics of ordinary objects and the formal structure of empirical reality are derived from us that the Kantian account of the objectivity of representation, for Hegel, is not a full-blooded one”. In other words, the objectivity of our categorially structuring, on Kant’s account, is “not genuinely objective”.

This seems, at first blush, a correct picture of how Hegel portrays Kant’s idealism—not, to be sure, of Kant’s own view of his idealism, as I pointed out in some detail in my book. But even with respect to Hegel’s portrayal of Kant’s idealism there are a couple of assumptions here that persist among Hegelians discussing Kant’s philosophy, and that create the continuing misunderstanding of the core of Kant’s Copernican thought; and I am also not so sure if this way of framing Hegel’s criticisms captures what Hegel has in mind with his own brand of idealism (and an idealism is certainly what Hegel has in mind). Most conspicuously, their criticism of Kant in this regard trades on an ambiguity about the notion of ‘objectivity’. The language that Giladi employs is emblematic of this misrepresentation: we are supposedly “subjecting the world to our filtering” and it is in this way that we claim to acquire knowledge about the world, which comes at an “epistemological cost”. Worse, our discursive cognition of reality is “some kind of viol cognitif, where reality is forced to conform to concepts”, wrongly suggesting—a brilliant trouvaille though that turn of phrase is!—that our discursive way of knowing perverts reality, rather than that it accurately captures it. If the objectivity were indeed established in virtue of such ‘subjecting’ or ‘filtering’ or ‘cognitive violating’, the alleged objectivity would not amount to real knowledge of the world as it is, objectively, and the charge of subjectivism would be most apt.

Most remarkably, Giladi even suggests that the knowledge established by the categories, on account of Kant’s theory, is nothing but ‘self-knowledge’, suggesting that Kant’s account of knowledge reveals a form of ‘solipsism’. This is a most radical critique of Kant’s thought about what constitutes objectivity, one that I think goes much further than Hegel’s own critique. Giladi differentiates the form of solipsism he attributes to Kant from ‘metaphysical’, ‘epistemological’ and ‘methodological’ solipsism, but given how damaging the charge of solipsism is, I don’t see how it could be differentiated from ‘epistemological’ solipsism, namely that “we can only know the contents or our mental states”, basically saddling Kant with a form of Berkeleianism (i.e. a bad phenomenalism, in contrast to the phenomenalism that I attribute to Kant, which is specifically not an ontological phenomenalism that says that the objects of our cognition are just the sensations that we have).

I think Giladi’s reading of Kant’s theory of the conceptual constraints of objectivity, i.e. the categories, and his own reading of what Hegel’s critique of Kant in this respect is supposed to be about, are both mistaken. To show this, I shall rehearse some lines of argument from my book, and in particular from the chapter that is under discussion here, but I can only sketch the outlines here.

First, I reiterate, in response to Giladi’s standard charges, that Kant’s category theory is not at all subjective in the bad sense (which I differentiated in the book from subjective in the good, Critical, sense, namely the ‘radically’ subjectivist variant), and so least of all ‘solipsist’ in whatever sense—there is a way though in which Kant’s idealism might still be seen as unnecessarily restrictive, seen from a more Hegelian perspective (see the comments on John McDowell’s reading below).

Secondly, I respond to Giladi’s point that I did not elaborate on the claim I made that, for Hegel at least, Kant’s “metaphilosophical stance smacks of an at heart anti-philosophical philosophy” (p. 350). This response has two components:

(i) I think Giladi does not appear to have grasped how I did in fact, and in some detail, flesh out this idea of Hegel’s metaphilosophical critique of Kant, by looking at the way in which Hegel considers Kant to be a typical ‘philosopher of reflection’, who is not aware of his own reflective methodology, that is, of the metaphilosophical consequences of his own theory; Hegel sees Kant’s philosophy as a typical representative of a reflection theory of cognition (just like Locke’s in fact).

(ii) Giladi’s own proposal for reading Hegel’s metaphilosophical critique strikes me as thoroughly anti-Copernican, suggesting that Hegel harks back to a pre-Kantian metaphysics, which sees our forms of thought as conforming to the objects, rather than the objects as a priori conforming to our thought forms as it is on the Copernican hypothesis. To believe that Hegel does hark back to a pre-Kantian metaphysics is of course an interpretative option, but I do not think that Giladi means it that way. Often there is a lot of hedging, among so-called ontological or metaphysical interpretations of Hegel’s philosophy, about what it really means to say that Hegel is a post-Kantian philosopher. Often it is mere lip service to say that Hegel builds on Kant, or is as much a critical philosopher as Kant is. My impression is that it is not really understood why Hegel himself alludes so often to, and frequently explicitly mentions, the importance of Kant’s revolution in thought for his own system of thought; numerous attempts are made to play down the importance of passages in e.g. the Science of Logic that clearly indicate the influence of Kant, even in its most ‘subjectivist’ form (and, as may be clear, I take these subjectivist-sounding passages in the positive, radical sense), on Hegel’s own thought. This is a long story of course, which I cannot even begin to address in the short space of a response piece. 


First, concerning Kant’s category theory and the scepticism or epistemological relativism that it supposedly entails, I think Giladi, like so many Hegelians, is mistaken to think that on account of Kant’s theory that knowledge (in Kant’s sense of Erkenntnis) is established in virtue of category application we must remain sceptical about whether, if the categories are applied by us to our experience of objects, the categories are actually instantiated in the objects themselves, that is, that the objects themselves exemplify the categories that we need to apply in order for us to be able to experience objects. An oft-heard Hegelian complaint—a criticism too frequently also shared by many Kant scholars—is that Kant’s absolutisation of subjectivity—seeing subjective form as external to content—does not reach nature as such, that is, it does not reach objective or common reality, the “absolute”, or the “really real” (Hegel, Glauben und Wissen, 4:325), committing Kant to a kind of scepticism or at least some form of relativist epistemology. Hegel might be taken here to mean by objects things in themselves (in Kant’s sense) and not objects of experience, but this is not always clear, neither with Hegel nor with Hegelians. Sometimes, Hegelians—but also Hegel himself, to be fair—seem to think that Kant just means that the categories apply to how we experience objects or nature, and not to nature or the objects in nature qua their existence as nature or objects. But, clearly, without the categories there would not be nature or objects, in Kant’s view (cf. A126f.). This indicates that the categories are not just the necessary conditions of experience of nature and object, but are equally and at the same time constitutive of them. Sally Sedgwick, for one, appears to deny, in her important recent book Hegel’s Critique of Kant, that the categories are sufficient for the objectivity of the content of our cognition. She writes:

[F]rom the necessity of the categories in unifying the given manifold into a thinkable content, it does not follow that the categories […] conform to the independently given sense content (the matter of experience) itself. It is one thing to claim […] that we need a priori concepts in order to think or judge some sense content; it is quite another to claim […] that our concepts can be demonstrated to reflect the nature of that independently given sense content. To claim the latter, according to Kant, would be to overreach the limits of what we can know. (2012:87n.16; cf. 2012:89, 92, 94, 95n.28)

But to say that the categorial form of cognition cannot “reveal the reality of that content itself” (Sedgwick 2012:87f.), because allegedly form is merely subjective, surely reflects a misunderstanding of the goal of Kant’s deduction of the categories, which is precisely to demonstrate how the categories apply to the sense content given in intuitions which directly refer to actually existing objects that affect our senses, and so apply not just to our experience of, or judgement about, objects, but also to the objects of our experience or judging, to sense content itself. The categories are the necessary and (formally[2]) sufficient conditions for both experience and objects. There is nothing outside of these conditions, cum the givenness of sense content, which could give us more objectivity.

Certainly, there are still things in themselves, which as such are independent of those conditions. Kant’s radical subjectivism constitutes an idealism with respect to the object as being in some sense dependent on our judging, but this is not the idealism of Berkeley, say, which denies the mind-independent existence of things in themselves. Kant’s radical subjectivism ensures that we can explain the intimate correspondence between knowledge and object as a function of our own capacity to judge, namely the objective unity of apperception, and that at the same time things insofar as their existence is concerned are not reduced to being a function of our representations. Whereas Kant’s subjectivism is thus characterised by both a metaphysical and epistemological element—metaphysical because not only the knowledge or experience of an object but also the known object itself is a function of transcendental apperception—the thing in itself retains its existential independence.

This in no way implies that our knowledge of objective reality is only relative because supposedly it would not reach the things in themselves. Such a conclusion ignores the fact that the object determined by the judging subject is the appearance of the thing itself, for that judging subject. Although the judging subject does not know the thing as such, i.e. in itself, he does know the thing in the way in which it appears to him as an object. In point of fact, the fact that the subject does not know the thing as a thing in itself, namely as it is independently of judgement, follows already logically from the fact that knowledge of something is not possible apart from the necessary conditions under which such knowledge is first possible: For how can I judge of something that it is so and so independently of judgment? But what should be clear is that there is no suggestion that the judgement is not about the thing that has an independent in itself existence.

Things are therefore knowable if and only if they are subject to the necessary conditions for knowledge (categories and a priori forms of intuition), and they are subject to those conditions only when they appear to us (are something for us), not as things in themselves. Knowledge of objects is thus possible only if the necessary a priori conditions for knowledge of objects are met; outside of those necessary a priori conditions knowledge is ex hypothesi not possible. This means that things in themselves, that is, things as they are independently of the conditions under which alone they (as objects) can be known, cannot be known as such (as things in themselves) under the conditions under which alone objects can be known. (To be sure, this is the conclusion of the ‘long’ argument for the necessary conditions of knowledge that is provided in the Transcendental Deduction, these necessary conditions being the twelve categories and the pure forms of space and time. Things in themselves do not meet these conditions of knowledge, and this is to be expected from assuming the Copernican hypothesis that says that knowledge of the possibility conditions of objects is possible only on condition that objects conform to our forms of intuition and understanding, rather than that our understanding and intuition conform to the way things are in themselves.)

As already suggested, the criticism raised against the supposed mere subjectivity of Kant’s categories, as external to objective reality, is further ambiguous about whether the objective reality of empirical objects, i.e. the whole of nature, is meant, or the noumenal realm of things in themselves, which is not knowable and exists independently of the determining mind. It is hardly plausible to argue that Hegel thinks that we do know that noumenal realm (in the sense Kant means). But if it is the whole of empirical nature that Hegel believes the Kantian categories are external to (and there are sometimes indications that he thinks this), then it is clear he misconstrues Kant. In that case, the Hegelian critique of Kantian idealism as a merely subjective idealism, which denies us knowledge of reality itself, is misguided. In other words, either Hegel is completely mistaken about Kant or he means something entirely different than either claiming that we do know the noumenal realm after all or believing that on Kant’s account nature cannot be known. Hegelians like Sedgwick, and it seems Giladi, believe that Kant should have argued that the categorial structures are not just subjective form but also the intrinsic form of being itself (of things in themselves). Sedgwick even talks about a ‘two-way determination’, in the sense that not only does the mind, in virtue of the categories, determine nature, being, or reality, but also nature, being or reality themselves in their turn determine the mind, in other words, that “concept and content are reciprocally determining” (2012:68). I think this is much too simple a way of reading Hegel’s critique of Kant, because it fails to capture the reason why Hegel sees himself as an idealist.[3]


More radically even than Sedgwick’s thesis of the two-way determination of content and form, mind and world, Giladi believes that Hegel’s view is that the structure and unity of the world are intrinsic to it and that it is then our capacity for thinking which can observe this structure and unity. Giladi writes:

Our cognitive activity, according to Hegel, does not consist in being the sources of the unity in objects and does not consist in us being the sources of the unity of the world as a whole. Rather, what this activity consists of is our ability to detect the intrinsic unity of objects themselves and the intrinsic unity of the world as a whole (cf. Encyclopædia, §381 […]). In other words, for Hegel, our discursive cognitive architecture, from the standpoint of dialectical Reason rather than nomothetic Understanding, is constituted in such a way that it enables the determinations of thought to reveal themselves as we refine our cognitive practices through inquiry. The activity of making sense of things through Begriffe does not seize the things they are directed at.

If I understand Giladi correctly, according to Hegel, the structure and unity of things reveal themselves to our capacity to reason—but apparently not to the understanding; it is not clear why not, and what, according to Giladi’s picture of Hegel’s view, makes that our reasoning capacity is superior to the capacity of our understanding. At any rate, to think that we construct the unity of objects is to “misconstrue our own cognitive activity”, says Giladi. For him, “[o]ur cognitive activity, according to Hegel, involves developing insights into how the world incorporates structures that can only be uncovered by thought”. It seems, on this reading, that the world contains dispositional properties that are discoverable by our reasoning capacity, suggesting some similarity between the structure of the world and the structure of our minds, or, reason. This appears to mean that Hegel upturns the very Copernican perspective which stipulates that we regard things as conforming to our forms of intuition and understanding, to reason. Our cognitive activity, on Giladi’s reading of Hegel, merely consists in registering those structures of being that make themselves available for thought. I am not sure if this does not hark back to a problematic pre-Kantian metaphysics, but I am certain that it is not in any way in alignment with the parameters set by the Critical philosophy. It is of course an interpretative possibility to read Hegel in this way,[4] and I’m sure many examples in past literature can be found which propound similar views. But I am also not convinced that it is a good interpretation of Hegel, and in fact I believe such a reading is directly contradicted by numerous passages in the Logic; this comports with my view that Hegel should be read in a way that does align with the parameters of the Critical philosophy.


Giladi mentions my observation that in Hegel’s view Kant’s “metaphilosophical stance smacks of an at heart anti-philosophical philosophy” (p. 350), and is disappointed that I do “not greatly elaborate what exactly this means and involves”. Well, I think I did point out what this means, and in some detail—in fact, the whole chapter is an account of Hegel’s metaphilosophical concerns about Kant’s views in the Deduction, which can’t be seen in separation from the technical details of Hegel’s interpretation; the metaphilosophy drives Hegel’s critique of Kant. The analysis in my chapter was of course restricted, as I made clear, to how the early Hegel saw the problem with Kant. Naturally, one could elaborate—and I think this is what Giladi has actually in mind—on the broader philosophical issues of Hegel’s critique of Kant, both for his own later philosophy in the Phenomenology and both accounts of the Logic (which I had indicated I wasn’t particularly interested in for the particular purpose of the chapter) and for philosophy in general, in particular in relation to contemporary debates in analytic metaphysics and epistemology—the latter an important topic that requires a book length discussion. I’m not so sure though that Hegel’s logic can easily be co-opted by analytic philosophy: it would mean that certain hardwired assumptions of analytic philosophy must be set aside, not because Hegel’s thought conflicts with standard principles of logic (it doesn’t) but because analytic philosophy is not naturally disposed to be reflexively aware of its own suppositions, and to momentarily let go of the analytical reins, as it were.

Whatever the case may be with respect to the broader philosophical issues surrounding the Kant–Hegel relation, in Section 8.2 of the chapter (and see also the concluding Section 8.5) I made it quite clear that Hegel’s chief worry about Kant’s metaphilosophical stance is that it holds on to a type of philosophy that is unphilosophical in the sense that—in Hegel’s view naturally—it is beholden to extra-philosophical constraints, such as in the case of Kant’s theory of cognition the fact that our knowledge is bound by the senses: knowledge is really possible only because our concepts are constrained by sensible input. Hegel’s complaint is that Kant’s procedure is not sufficiently a priori, and hence it is not sufficiently philosophical, speculative, if you will.

At crucial points in his account Kant recoils, Hegel believes, from thinking through the consequences of the assumptions that underpin his theory, most importantly the central place of empirical experience. As a result of this, Kant squanders the potential of absolute idealism—of ‘genuine philosophy’ as Hegel sees it, which is oriented towards ‘the Absolute’ rather than towards human experience—that Hegel detects in other central pillars of Kantian thinking, especially in the Deduction: foremost the productive synthesis of the imagination, which he interprets as that which binds concept and representational content at the fundamental level; in other words, a properly philosophical notion that Kant in the end downgrades to being just a function of the understanding, or even equates with the understanding (which, to be sure, is a correct interpretation of Kant).

The problem for Hegel is Kant’s starting point, which issues from the blind assumption of discursive logic (i.e. Aristotelian logic), and the adoption of a representationalist language: “a fixed Ego-point” (Glauben und Wissen, 4:332), a merely formal ‘I’, seeks to combine with material content it cannot provide itself. The problem here is the dualist starting assumption, which once assumed cannot be overcome—the formal and finite understanding becomes “der Pfahl des absoluten Gegensatzes” (Glauben und Wissen, 4:323). This is of course a characteristic of Kant’s way of thinking that in itself seems unproblematic: Kant’s approach is not in principle internally inconsistent, given his basic metaphilosophical assumptions.

Hegel though makes it seem as if Kant’s dualistic viewpoint is internally inconsistent or, more precisely, inconsistent with the essential characteristics of his Copernican thought, more in particular, the notion of the synthetic a priori. Hegel says that if our cognition rests fundamentally on an a priori synthesis, “it surely contains determinateness and differentiation [Unterschied] within itself” (WL, 12:23/SL, 520, emphasis added). Determinateness is not provided by the sensible manifold—which delivers the material that is a necessary condition for real possibility—but is rather a function of thought itself. Hegel’s point here is that even though the material content, empirical intuition or the manifold of sensations, is obviously not provided by thought, the fact that content is needed, and that content is the other of form (of the form of thought) is something that is wholly determinable and determined by thought and thought alone. There is nothing outside thought that is a determining factor in determining the material content. In other words, determinateness is not something outside thought/form nor even between thought/form and matter/content, by way of a ‘two-way’ determination such as Sedgwick and apparently Giladi propose, but is fully and completely internal to thought’s own form, which is the form of the synthetic a priori (matter is just the determinable). This is Kant’s own belief (see e.g. B151–2), so why, Hegel reasons, does Kant persist in being a dualist between idealist form and material content?

In Hegel’s view, Kant’s philosophy shows a “‘reflective’ bias” (p. 348), and as said he chooses a particular type of logic (discursive), resulting in the kind of idealism that he adopts, and a preference for focusing on possible empirical knowledge. Connected with this is the fact that, as McDowell has aptly described it in his paper ‘Hegel’s Idealism as Radicalization of Kant’ (McDowell 2009), in Kant spatiotemporality “remains a sort of brute fact about us” (2009:76), which for Hegel is clearly an assumption that should not be playing a defining role in one’s philosophical “construction”. As McDowell puts it, not without a hint of drama:

Transcendental idealism, which is just this insistence that the apparent spatiality and temporality of our world derive from the way our sensibility is formed, stands revealed as subjective idealism. And the rot spreads. […] 

[I]t appears that in the context of the transcendental ideality of space and time, the very idea of the objects as they are given to our senses has to be seen as reflecting a subjective imposition. […] Kant’s whole construction is dragged down, by the transcendental idealism about space and time that is at its foundation, into being a subjective idealism. (2009:76–8, underlining mine)

Though there is some controversy among Kant scholars about the connection between Kant’s transcendental logic, more particularly the argument in the Deduction, and his doctrine of transcendental idealism, I think McDowell is mistaken about the fact that Kant’s “whole construction is dragged down” by the transcendental idealism about the general spatiotemporality of the objects we can know. For this doctrine is integral to Kant’s discursive logic, which requires input from outside, and is thus in line with the principle of determination by which it is typified, insofar as it prevents us from knowing things as they are in themselves, i.e. as they cannot be further determined (things in themselves namely are fully determined, having all their possible properties) and given the further characteristics of space and time that conflict with the simplicity as well as the complete determinacy of things in themselves (see further Sections 9.6–9.9 in the book).

But he is of course right that Kant just accepts the thesis that Euclidean-based spatiotemporality is a brute fact about our experience of objects—and one may claim that that is not as such a basic philosophical principle that one must accept. In that sense McDowell is somewhat justified in saying that in order to rescue Kant’s insights we should “discard[…] the frame” of transcendental idealism about spatiotemporality if, of course, we want to go along with the Hegelian line of approach—and to be sure nothing internal to Kant’s logic says Kantians must accede to the Hegelian critique, contrary to what Hegel and Hegelians such as McDowell want us to believe. This means that the Kantian insights that Hegel does appraise—such as chiefly the notion of an original-synthetic unity of apperception—will morph into a different philosophical strategy, if that is the proper word, tackling philosophical problems differently, but still from a broadly Kantian perspective. This broadly Kantian perspective comprises the central idea that it is the capacity for thought (or reason) itself that determines what is objectively valid, not sensible input, nor any other exogenous ground or source or properly basic fact, nor reality itself, that provides the justification or warrant for our knowledge.

But it also means to emphasise and supplement the Kantian insight that we cannot, but also need not, go beyond our representations to seek the ground of the real possibility of our concepts. That is to say, in the Hegelian perspective it is no longer needed to rely, as Kant does for his Deduction argument, on pure intuition that provides our concepts with real possibility. Pure intuition does not lend any more warrant to our conceptual claims than is already provided by the determinative capacity of our judgement, given of course sensible input (Hegel does not deny that for some cognitive claims based on empirical evidence sensations are required). The whole ‘second step’ of the B-Deduction is, in the light of this, an artificial add-on that can be relinquished once we give up the idea that our conceptual claims must be seen as necessarily grounded in the intuition of spatiotemporal objects and events for them to be have objective validity, as it unnecessarily restricts the latter to a particular type of object, namely, objects of empirical perception. This does of course not mean that we are given free rein to let our imagination run riot; cognitive or conceptual claims still need to be assessed as to their objective validity, but this should instead happen wholly inter-conceptually, that is, in terms of how well concepts internally cohere—in the Logic itself, Hegel’s version of the Deduction, this is done by showing that objectivity is increasingly determinately articulated in the logic of an array of systematically cohering pure conceptual elements, categories. 

Hegel’s account is not anti-reflective, but is rather focused on an internal reflection of reason on the reflective oppositions the absoluteness of which, according to Hegel, Kant, for all his critical discernment, left unchallenged. This suggests that the conceptual oppositions and their resolution—in terms of a relativisation or Verflüssigung, as it were, of their absoluteness—are something internal to the Concept. And the Concept which is this operation of Verflüssigung is the synthetic a priori itself, or ‘negativity’, as Hegel comes to call it, which holds the opposites in check, as it were, that is, binds them but also first enables their differentiation; the Concept or self-consciousness is not a self-standing principle let alone a method but it is that which first shows, almost phenomenologically, in the course of the Logic, what it means that form and content or any seemingly contrasting concepts are opposites, but also are necessarily combinable for objectively valid cognition to be possible, and importantly, it shows how this proceeds.

This has nothing to do with a two-way determination between reality and the ideal form of the understanding, or reality itself being such that our forms of cognising are receptive to those structures of reality that are somehow amenable to being cognised by us. Hegel is more of an idealist than Kant is, rather than less so; it is not for nothing that Hegel labels his idealism an ‘absolute idealism’, there is no deflationary way around it. There is no reality as such, that is, something that would be outside the Concept, outside what is ideal, which somehow determined concepts or our form of thought in the same way that concepts or our forms of thought determine reality. The ‘real’ is just an element of the conceptual repertoire at our disposal for making intelligible claims about anything, real or imagined, object or event, in virtue of the synthetic a priori, that is, in virtue of ‘negativity’ that is the relation between the pure concepts in our repertoire. There are no application conditions or schematisation requirements for the concepts other than the internal logic of their cohering.

To ask the question “Yes, but how do such concepts in the end apply to independent real things, for surely concepts do not generate reality?” is to misunderstand Hegel’s metaphysical logic. Hegel does not make the metaphysically intemperate claim that the Concept generates reality de re, or in any existential sense, but nor is it necessary to bridge some sort of gap between concept and reality. What he does argue is that there is nothing about reality that we would be precluded in principle from knowing, and any possible object for knowledge is always inside the scope of our conceptual scheme, not outside it in the sense of it being absolutely independent requiring a bridging between it and our conceptuality. Much like Kant, in fact, an object for Hegel has its actuality in virtue of the form by way of which it is intelligible, it is not some existing thing on which properties supervene or that in some second step happens to be known by us, and be conceptually determined by us. Its conceptual determinations fully capture the object’s actuality, what it concretely means for that object to be an object with such and such properties, which should not be conflated with saying that the mind or Geist or Reason generates, in an existential sense, material stuff. For both Hegel and Kant, the central thought is the possibility of an object as an object and how the possibility of it being known is fundamentally informed by this conception of an object as an object. The form of an object is at the same time the form under which it can be known, for its form is nothing but the unity of apperception, or self-consciousness. There is no discrepancy here, a gap between the metaphysical or ontological and the epistemological, that needs bridging.

When Hegel talks about the ‘Absolute’ or, still in Glauben und Wissen, about ‘absolute identity’ he does not mean that the logic is ‘closed’ as if per impossibile it concerned a ‘complete’ system of positive factual claims or empirical truths that is not open to revision. Hegel’s absolute idealism is as much (and not more than) about possible knowledge as Kant’s transcendental idealism, but unlike Kant, Hegel does not tie down knowledge to the need for empirically evidential grounds (i.e. experience). The point on which Hegel disagrees most with Kant is the unnecessarily restrictive scope of transcendental logic. 

What is important is to realise that Hegel did not criticise Kant because he was too much of an idealist and not realist enough, but because he was not enough of an idealist, and in some sense still held onto a finite reality outside concepts for the access to which a separate means is required (i.e. pure intuition), for no good general philosophical reasons. ‘Reality’ is not, according to Hegel’s logic, what we commonly regard as the finite world of knowable objects. It is in fact the Concept which is reality (or more precisely, ‘actuality’), whilst at the same time such common concepts as ‘reality’ are rather concepts that still belong to the “uneducated mind” that has not yet grasped the logic of absolute idealism which has no need for exogenous grounding:

True infinity, thus taken in general as existence posited as affirmative in contrast to abstract negation, is reality in a higher sense than it was earlier as simply determined; it has now obtained a concrete content. It is not the finite which is the real, but rather the infinite. Thus reality is further determined as essence, concept, idea, and so forth. In connection with the more concrete, it is however superfluous to repeat such earlier and more abstract categories as reality, and to use them for determinations more concrete than they are by themselves. Such a repetition, as when it is said that essence, or that the concept, is real, has its origin in the fact that to uneducated thought the most abstract categories such as being, existence, reality, finitude, are the most familiar. (WL 21:136/SL, 119, underlining mine)[5]


To conclude, I think that there are ambiguities in the way that Hegel and Hegelians have traditionally read Kant’s argument in the Deduction, some of them having to do with a (partial) misreading of Kant, by Hegel but mostly by Hegelians, and I have tried to clarify some of those assumptions underlying that partial misreading by Hegel in the chapter of my book under discussion, and by Hegelians in an article on Robert Pippin’s reading of the Deduction (Schulting 2016b). On the other hand, there are more affinities between Kant and Hegel than may at first appear and than I made it out to be in that chapter that Giladi commented on—though I indicated the restricted nature of that account as one from a chiefly critical, Kantian, perspective. I have pointed out in which direction one should take this affinity to go. In an earlier essay on this site, I already made an attempt to outline some of those affinities, in light of the interpretation by Pippin, whose views are close to mine (Schulting 2016a). But the full picture is a complex one, which requires more comprehensive future study.[6]

Acknowledgements: I thank Kees Jan Brons, Christian Onof, and Jacco Verburgt for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this essay.

Received: 9 September 2018.


[1] See also Section 8.3 in my book (Schulting 2017).

[2] The addition of the adverb ‘formally’ is to indicate that we still need a material condition for cognition, which provides it real possibility, this material condition being intuitions.

[3] See further my review of Sedgwick in Schulting (2016c).

[4] Stephen Houlgate, for one, thinks Hegel does indeed return to pre-Kantian style rationalism: “Hegel certainly reverts to the position of pre-Kantian metaphysics by claiming that pure logic can know being after all” (Houlgate 2018:104). In Houlgate’s view, logic is also “the direct thought, or intellectual intuition, of being and thus a metaphysics in a pre-Kantian rationalist sense.” But note that Houlgate does not mean to say that this constitutes a direct thought of what “lies beyond thought”, but rather of thought as pure being itself (2018:113). There is an identity between thought and being from the word go, even though this identity is still wholly indeterminate at the start of the Logic. Houlgate’s view on this point is quite subtle, but clear is that he wants to differentiate his ontological reading here from Pippin’s conceptualist take on the issue, by claiming that being is in some sense basic and irreducible to thought whilst also identical to it. This explains his view that Hegel is a pre-Kantian rationalist in the sense that thought maps onto being as what is properly basic.

[5] “Die wahrhafte Unendlichkeit so überhaupt als Dasein, das als affirmativ gegen die abstrakte Negation gesetzt ist, ist die Realität in höherem Sinn—als die früher einfach bestimmte; sie hat hier einen konkreten Inhalt erhalten. Das Endliche ist nicht das Reale, sondern das Unendliche. So wird die Realität weiter als das Wesen, der Begriff, die Idee u.s.f bestimmt. Es ist jedoch überflüssig, solche frühere, abstraktere Kategorie wie die Realität bei dem Konkreteren zu wiederholen und sie für die konkretere Bestimmungen, als jene an ihnen selbst sind, zu gebrauchen. Solches Wiederholen, wie zu sagen, daß das Wesen oder daß die Idee das Reale sei, hat seine Veranlassung darin, daß dem ungebildeten Denken die abstraktesten Kategorien wie Sein, Dasein, Realität, Endlichkeit die geläufigsten sind.”

[6] Pippin (2018) and Stekeler-Weithofer (2018) are mandatory new books on the Logic, out later this autumn. I look forward to studying them, while continuing working on my paper on the Greater Logic’s Anfang (Schulting MS).


Houlgate, S. (2018), ‘Thought and Being in Hegel’s Logic. Reflections on Hegel, Kant and Pippin’, in L. Illetterati & F. Menegoni (eds), Wirklichkeit. Beiträge zu einem Schlüsselbegriff der Hegelschen Philosophie (Frankfurt a.M.: Klostermann), pp. 101–18.

McDowell, J. (2009), Having the World in View. Essays on Kant, Hegel, and Sellars (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

Pippin, R. (2018), Hegel’s Realm of Shadows. Logic as Metaphysics in the “Science of Logic” (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

Schulting, D. (2016a), ‘Critical Notice of Robert Pippin’s “Logik und Metaphysik. Hegels ‘Reich der Schatten'”‘, Critique (October).

——— (2016b), ‘On an Older Dispute: Hegel, Pippin and the Separability of Concept and Intuition in Kant‘, in D. Schulting (ed.), Kantian Nonconceptualism (London: Palgrave Macmillan).

——— (2016c), Rezension Sally Sedgwick, Hegel’s Critique of Kant. From Dichotomy to Identity (Oxford UP, 2012), Kant-Studien 107(2): 414–19.

——— (MS), ‘How to Begin Hegel’s Science of Logic. A Transcendental Reading’ (work in progress).

Sedgwick, S. (2012), Hegel’s Critique of Kant. From Dichotomy to Identity (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Stekeler-Weithofer, P. (2018), Hegels Wissenschaft der Logik. Ein dialogischer Kommentar. Band 1: Die objektive Logik. Die Lehre vom Sein (Hamburg: Meiner).

© Dennis Schulting, 2018.

Dennis Schulting is a former Assistant Professor of Philosophy (UD) at the University of Amsterdam. His work concentrates on Kant and German idealism. His most recent journal publications were published in TIJDSCHRIFT VOOR FILOSOFIE, KANTIAN REVIEW, STUDI KANTIANI, KANT YEARBOOK, KANT-STUDIEN, and the PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW. He is the editor of Kantian Nonconceptualism (Palgrave Macmillan 2016). Two new books are forthcoming: Kant’s Deduction from Apperception. An Essay on the Transcendental Deduction of the Categories (Walter de Gruyter, 2018) and Reflexivity and Representation. Essays on Kant and German Idealism (Walter de Gruyter, 2019). An article on the Anfang of Hegel’s “Science of Logic” is in the works, and in the remote future a big book on Kant and Hegel will perhaps see the light of day.