On Hegel’s Critique of the Noumenal in Kant

Por • 17 nov, 2018 • Sección: Ambiente

By Jack Robert Edmunds-Coopey  ·  Wednesday, October 3, 2018

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Jack Robert Edmunds-Coopey looks at Damien Booth’s “Hegel’s Philosophy of Physics and Kant’s Noumena” from Telos 179 (Summer 2017).

Damien Booth’s article “Hegel’s Philosophy of Physics and Kant’s Noumena” addresses Hegel’s critique of Kant concerning the positing of the noumena, the realm beyond the sensible, which for Hegel results in entanglements and contradiction, Kantian antinomies that the dialectic could resolve. While the article appears to be an exposition of the contradiction of Kant’s noumena and its critique in Hegel, Booth turns to Adorno and Heidegger to accentuate the relevance of Kant’s modern project of philosophy and Hegel’s critique. The steps of the argument run as follows:

Opening Remarks Hegel and the Thing-in-itself Perception, Understanding, and the Supersensible World     i. Perception     ii. Force     iii. Laws     iv. The Supersensible “Verkehrtewelt”     v. Implications for Transcendental Idealism Closing Remarks     i.

Epistemology     ii. Freedom

Within this structure, the purpose of the article is, first of all, to clarify Kant’s position regarding the necessity of maintaining the possibility of human freedom and the existence of an autonomous self in philosophy as a means by which to preserve the fundamentals of human existence and philosophy itself. The sections on “Perception” and “Force” specifically involve Kant’s and Hegel’s analyses of the Newtonian notion of force and its relation to the human faculty of perception and the metaphysics of social order. The ideas of nature, freedom, and the self are the three axes in which Kant’s normative system operates; although the noumena, and reality in and of itself, exists, the phenomena of human understanding is only partial insomuch as it structures reality itself. Thus, a dichotomy is set up between the appearance and the essence of reality, which will turn out to be one of Hegel’s critiques of Kant. While Booth focuses on Kant and Hegel, he cites Adorno and Heidegger in order to emphasize the Kantian dilemma in contemporary continental philosophy and to show the problems of modern philosophy in Kant as a result. Booth correctly turns to Adorno’s Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason as one of the more lucid texts by Adorno to elucidate Hegel’s critique using the Newtonian notion of force in physics to dissolve the contradiction. For example, Booth writes:

[T]his duality in the concept of things inevitably leads to certain difficulties, huge difficulties, in fact, for the theory of cognition. The effect is that the world can be said to be doubled, in the paradoxical sense that true existence at the same time becomes something wholly undefined, abstract and ethereal, while conversely what we definitely know, positive existence, is turned into the mere delusion of appearances, the mere interconnection of the phenomena at our disposition. And at the same time we are denied the right to reach compelling conclusions about the true nature of existence.[1]

Thus, the categories of understanding that Kant uses to structure empirical reality, on the one hand, and the phenomenal self, on the other, seem naturalized to Kant. Yet, if one steps outside these parameters of Kant’s transcendental idealism, then it can be seen to mystify a great deal of reality. Adorno correctly states that Kant pushes us to believe there is in fact a moral reality as a fact of the phenomenal experience of the noumenal, which is implausible. It is at this point in Booth’s argument that he turns to Hegel’s critique by looking at the section entitled “Force and the Understanding: Appearance and the Supersensible World” in The Phenomenology of Spirit. Booth quotes Hegel to clarify how Kant’s form of transcendental idealism is misguided in its assumptions about cognitions, that is to say, the assumption that there is a phenomenal self and a noumenal world. As Hegel argues:

It is a natural assumption that in philosophy, before we start to deal with its proper subject-matter, i.e. the actual cognition of what truly is, one must first of all come to an understanding about cognition, which is regarded either as the instrument to get hold of the Absolute, or as the medium through which one discovers it.[2]

For Hegel, the creation of this dichotomy between the “myriad of matter” and the “autonomous self” is where epistemology has hitherto made a grave error. Booth claims that while Kant sets up his understanding of cognition as a falsely metaphysical account of two separate realms of entities—cognition on one side and the world on the other—Hegel wishes to understand cognition as it is working, the processes by which cognition itself takes place, not as some static Kantian account that locks all objects of the world frozen in time. Booth claims that Kant, by conceiving of cognition in this way, remains within the Cartesian categories of understanding perceptions inasmuch as he still posits an “I” that can stand back from the acts of cognition themselves. Another aspect of Hegel’s critique in this regard is that consciousness and the processes of cognition for Hegel precede the I of the apperception. Booth weaves in Heidegger to explain how the acts of cognition and the human subject and the world it inhabits are not distinct realms, but inevitably bound together. Booth quotes Heidegger in that the “‘[W]orld’ is not a way of characterizing those entities which Dasein [human existence] essentially is not; it is rather a characteristic of Dasein itself.”[3] Booth then turns to Hegel’s account of force in understanding individual objects and their properties as a proponent of the Hegelian faculty of understanding. In essence, the Newtonian usage of force in Hegel is the unseen expression of force as expressed in the appearances of objects. Booth quotes Hyppolite in his exposition of Hegel as a means by which to explain how Hegel’s force overcomes the Kantian antinomy of the phenomenal and noumenal reality, and therefore sublates a potentiality for a real human freedom and expression of spirit in a more concrete system of right.

When we envisage the fall of a body in space, we posit the same being twice: as reality, the motion is a juxtaposition that can be broken down into parts . . . but we can consider the “whole of the motion,” the integral of which it is the realization. We then have force, the content of which is identical to its manifestation, but which formally differs from that manifestation.[4]


  1. Theodor W. Adorno, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2001), pp. 108–9.
  2. G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1977), p. 46.
  3. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (Oxford: Blackwell, 2009), p. 92.
  4. Jean Hyppolite, Genesis and Structure of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. Samuel Cherniak and John Heckman (Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 1974), p. 122.


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