Completing the System of German Idealism
I have been reading The Sunday of the Negative: Reading Bataille Reading Hegel by Christopher M. Gemerchak and Stronge et al.’s Georges Bataille and Contemporary Thought and so far they are both quite interesting books. This is largely the place where I derive my theoretical inspiration from for this essay. But because I make a differentiation of ‘theoretical inspiration’, what other inspiration is there? Well, inspiration from friends. My friends and I have this joke which is derived from the internet figure Kant Bot’s Youtube video where he trolls Trump supporters by saying that Trump will complete the system of German idealism. But what does that even mean? Completing the system of German idealism? It means that one can take an undeniably true axiomatic statement, set out a complete system of Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Ethics and circle all the way back to that starting axiom. It is a completion of the circle. It is a non-vicious circle if you will. This completed system in this way becomes undeniable. It becomes tautological. Though obviously I cannot set up Georges Bataille’s entire metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics (if he even has a metaphysics, epistemology, or ethics) in this single essay, I can however provide a starting point for possible future discussion: the principle of insufficiency. I concur with Gemerchak that the principle of insufficiency is based upon three notions which I would say are axiomatic: 1. human consciousness is only human (i.e. differentiated from animality), is only discontinuous (i.e. differentiated from continuity), by way of putting itself into question, play, and risk. This first axiom could be restated as ‘human consciousness is only conscious by way of differentiating itself from the ontological whole of the totality’ which could be further simplified as ‘human consciousness is only conscious by way of individuating itself from all other things’. Lastly, it could be further simplified as the formula ‘for men to be, they must act’. This first notion resembles Ficthe’s idea of the I and Not-I in that consciousness arises from differentiating yourself from that which is not yourself. For a final reiteration of this first notion I will say that it could be restated as ‘consciousness is only conscious by way of becoming self-conscious by way of self-consciously differentiating oneself from the other’ which is tautological. Now, the skeptic would ask “how could you prove that differentiation even occurs or that you or I exist as independent entities. This question is not problematic for Bataille and I. This question will be answered by the second notion: because (the) self(-consciousness) is desirous, it always goes forward or is set in motion by the other. This implies that the subject (self) is dependent on the object (the other) for action and therefore also the action of individuation but at the same time the object is dependent on the self for its recognition as the other, for its differentiation. One could then say that insufficiency starts from a desire for the other or is in fact desire. This notion resembles Schelling’s idea (and this is an extreme reduction of Schelling but I do not have the time nor the knowledge to write an essay on Schelling which goes very deep into his philosophy) that subject=object. Now, how does this answer the skeptics question? Well it is quite simple. If the subject and object are equals and one doesn’t precede or dominate one or the other then what is before either of them? Bataille would posit a formless world (by world think the way Wittgenstein uses it i.e., as all there/that is) which is free of consciousness’ attempt at making the world formed into differentiated objects (entities). We could say that to be within this formless existence is to be continuous i.e. not differentiated from the totality. Thus, I don’t have to prove that I exist or you exist for what I said to be axiomatic. I don’t have to prove those latter things because not proving them i.e. not proving the validity of self-consciousness doesn’t disprove any Bataillean metaphysics, rather it proves it, and I am completely content with this, that for something to become self-conscious, it must have the desire to. You could see the first notion as “if” self-consciousness exists then the following is true, and if self-consciousness doesn’t exist then we are formless and one with totality and just have yet to enter into discontinuous self-conscious existence. The third and final notion is that the principle of insufficiency which the latter two axioms have established has insufficiency be within a realm of finitude i.e. a realm with a limit, with an other that constitutes the entire system as a system. In other words, following axiom 1, which says that we differentiate ourselves, and axiom 2, which says we constitute ourselves by way of differentiating ourselves from the other, we can say that things such as knowledge must have a limit (the point of non-knowledge; the other) which is required for it to even exist. And it is this third notion which allows us to “complete” the system of German idealism. Let us look towards Hegel and his idea of absolute knowledge which is knowing all things or knowing the Absolute which is reality itself (which is analogous to all things). As we ascend to the point of absolute knowledge, we are getting closer to completing the system. It is at the point of absolute knowledge that the unknown ceases to exist and non-knowledge constitutes nothing, right? Well, no. Rather, it is at the point of absolute knowledge that we must therefore experience and know what it feels like to know nothing, but we cannot know this feeling for to know nothing one would have to be dead, and one cannot have their own death as an object of experience (much like God). It is at the limit of absolute knowledge that we reach the point of non-knowledge and fall into its abyss. From non-knowledge we differentiate ourselves again and gain knowledge, this is axiom 1! Thus, we have completed the system of German idealism as axiom 1 leads to axiom 2 and then axiom 3 leads back to axiom 1 and then axiom 2 and then axiom 3 leads back to axiom 1 and so on and so on. Now, Hegel’s example of absolute knowledge is just that: an example. I am not claiming its presuppositions to be true. But nonetheless, we have a starting point and our ending leads back to that starting point. Thus, our system is tautological. The system of German idealism is completed!