Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
In this dissertation, I seek to explain G.W.F. Hegel’s view that human accessible conceptual content can provide knowledge about the nature or essence of things. I call this view “Conceptual Transparency.” It finds its historical antecedent in the views of eighteenth century German rationalists, which were strongly criticized by Immanuel Kant. I argue that Hegel explains Conceptual Transparency in such a way that preserves many implications of German rationalism, but in a form that is largely compatible with Kant’s criticisms of the original rationalist version. After providing background on Hegel’s relationship to the traditional rationalist theory of concepts and Kant’s challenge to it, I claim that Hegel’s central task is to provide a theory of conceptual content that allows a relationship to the objective world without being dependent on the specifically sensory aspect of the world, which Kant’s theory of concepts required. Since many interpreters deny that Hegel’s use of the term “concept” is comparable to other historical philosophers (or our own), I first show that Hegel’s critique of standard conceptions of concepts presupposes an agreement of subject matter. I then show how Hegel’s account of the “formal concept” provides the skeleton for a view of conceptual content that relies on negative relations between terms, rather than a relation to sensibility, to provide content. Hegel’s account of conceptual content is completed when he shows how a universal term is further specified so that it can determine singular objects. This occurs in its adequate form in a teleological process. I argue that Hegel’s account of teleology in the Science of Logic is an attempt to explain how and where Conceptual Transparency obtains. A teleological process is one in which a concept constitutes an object, and this means that a concept is perfectly adequate to express that thing’s nature and not merely to represent it. However, in the final chapter, I show that Hegel’s concept of teleology is meant paradigmatically to illuminate how human purposive processes have constituted a social world that is conceptually accessible to us. In this way, the primary “province” of Hegel’s rationalism is the human constructed world.