Interview on Hegel for *Culture Today* magazine, Iran

In your book Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, you portrayed Hegel as a great force of irrationalism, whose philosophy has contributed immensely to deteriorating rather than improving the human condition.Hegel_portrait_by_Schlesinger_1831

The philosophy of Hegel has been on the rise in Iran in recent years. The idea behind this rising wave has been that understanding Hegel is imperative for a society in transition from tradition to modernity.

So in this interview we would like to learn more about your views on Hegel.

1. The first question we would like to ask is the one that Benedetto Croce has once asked: “What is living and what is dead of the philosophy of Hegel?”

There is a resurgence across the board of interest in the great philosophers. In large part this is driven by the emptiness of much twentieth-century philosophy, as many of its major movements reached skeptical dead ends. So our generation is looking for renewed inspiration by returning to the greats, Hegel included.

2. What, in your opinion, is the reason behind the recent comeback of the Hegel’s ideas, and the efforts to marry them with such schools of philosophy as you, for example, may subscribe to?

Hegel’s philosophy is a halfway house, partly modern and partly pre-modern. And he is a systematic thinker, with argued positions on all major issues. So contemporary thinkers can find elements in Hegel’s writings that fit with almost any overall philosophy they find attractive.

My views are liberal socially, economically, and politically. But Hegel is one of the major authoritarian political philosophers. So it is irritating when I read those who try to give softer readings of Hegel. Typically that occurs by taking a political point he makes out of its fuller philosophical context.

For example, one can read Hegel saying favorable things about finding yourself through freedom. That sounds very modern and liberal politically. But to interpret properly one must connect such statements to his deeper views: that one’s self is but an aspect of the collective, that the Divine works through collective self-realization, and that the State is the manifestation of the Divine.

So, in full context, “finding yourself” ends up meaning “doing what the State tells you” – which is anti-liberal and in keeping with the rest of Hegel’s political philosophy.

3. What’s interesting about Hegel is the fact that his new followers, these days, aren’t necessarily coming from a particular philosophical tradition (e.g., German, continental) but a variety of traditions. What would you say that variety signifies?

That has always been true of Hegel’s followers. In the 1800s, many Russians saw their country’s intellectual traditions as backward and went to the modern West for new approaches. To them, Germany looked like the West. So they went to German universities and brought German philosophy – especially Kantian, Fichtean, Hegelian, and Marxist – back to Russia. We know how that turned out for Russia in the 1900s.

The same is true of many Japanese intellectuals in the late 1800s and early 1900s, as Japan opened to the West and wanted to modernize. Many went to Germany and returned home with Hegelianism and contributed to the militaristic, nationalistic authoritarianism that developed there in the first half of the twentieth century.

In my judgment, all of those thinkers should have looked further West — to English and Scottish Enlightenment philosophy, as well as to some French Enlightenment philosophy, for the healthier form of dynamic modernism.

The pattern also continued in the 1900s, as Americans such as Richard Rorty came out of the Analytic tradition and were seeking alternatives to its failings. Rorty also returned to Hegel and the post-Hegelian traditions that followed. We know that results in American-style postmodernism.

4. Many of Hegel’s proponents and followers would argue that, contrary to your view, Hegel is a radical rationalist, if one would look past some of the so called anti-rationalist rough edges of his ideas. In fact his philosophy may be used as means to achieve one’s rationalist ends. Is that likely, or rather possible?

One should always take great philosophers at their word. They are smart people and they know what they are saying. It is always a mistake to whitewash their published formulations.

That is especially true on a thinker’s fundamental positions in philosophy — and especially when those stated positions are constant theme across the thinker’s many works over the course of many years.

In Hegel’s case, he is explicitly attacking the entire tradition of logic as it had developed from Aristotle to modernity. And he is doing so because he wants to believe in a kind of spiritually-driven, dialectically-evolving metaphysics that cannot be expressed logically.

5. We’re currently facing a new wave of Hegelism in Iran. Scholars and intellectuals alike with different back-grounds and political or academic persuasions, are looking to write and translate new material of and about Hegel. They are convinced that Hegel is one of the keys to properly understand modernity, and that his philosophy can help to find better use of modernity. How much, would you say, this belief has merit, and does Hegel’s philosophy have anything to say about non-European cultures and countries?

I applaud those courageous thinkers who seek far and wide for the best ideas. It is the mark of being a true intellectual when one is open to critically examining one’s own culture’s ideas and accepting only those ones one independently judges to be true. And it is a strong sign of being a real intellectual to be willing to import the best ideas from other cultures.

But Hegel is a poison. His anthropology is awful and embarrassing.

But more dangerous is his philosophy. Consider that his views are part of an 1800s German philosophical world in which the leading names are Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche. All of them are part of the modern world, but make up a Counter-Enlightenment tradition that ends up being suspicious of science and technology, anti-individualistic (even Nietzsche), and anti-liberal. They all contributed in varying degrees to the authoritarian regimes that developed in the 1900s – the various forms of authoritarian nationalisms, the national and international socialisms, the fascisms – and that were responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people and for the misery of tens of millions more.

What made the modern world a success was its commitment to science, technology, reason, individualism, social and economic liberalism, and democratic-republican politics. And those have their roots in pre-Hegelian and anti-Hegelian philosophy.

So for those intellectuals who want to understand modernity and adapt it to Iran’s context: first look to the English and Scottish philosophers of the 1600s and 1700s, as well as to their followers among the French philosophes of the Enlightenment. Their philosophies were imperfect, and improving and extending them is the current neo-Enlightenment project that our generation is working on. But for all their weaknesses, they did make possible the modern world’s successes. So they are the essential place to start. ep-ed-front-cover-150px

February 2015


More information on editions and translations of Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault.

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Existe discriminação racional?


Discriminação injusta e irracional no ambiente de trabalho merece denúncia e condenação. Mas e o que dizer da discriminação racional? Considere os seguintes casos.

Você é gestor do comitê responsável pela contratação do novo presidente de uma faculdade historicamente composta por estudantes negros. Então, você discrimina em favor de candidatos negros e contra candidatos não negros.

Você é proprietário de uma academia, e deseja contratar uma auxiliar para o vestiário feminino. No processo de seleção, você discrimina com base no sexo: não são considerados homens.

Você é o chefe dos detetives de uma cidade onde ocorreu uma série de crimes sem solução em um bairro latino. Você decide enviar um dos seus detetives disfarçado para investigar. Então, você discrimina com base na etnia, enviando um detetive latino.

A discriminação é uma função cognitiva essencial, e como todas as funções cognitivas, pode ser bem ou mal utilizada. Nós somos uma espécie inteligente, e nossa inteligência funciona pela identificação de similaridades e diferenças, categorização das coisas de acordo com essas similaridades e diferenças, e ação correspondente.discrimination-241x300

Nossos sentidos funcionam pela discriminação de padrões de energia luminosa (visão), ondas sonoras (audição), composição química (olfato e sabor), e densidade e textura (tato). Falamos daqueles com um paladar diferenciado em questões culinárias e daqueles com um ouvido para música, e o objetivo constante dos aprendizes é maior proficiência na discriminação perceptiva.

Nossa faculdade perceptiva funciona pela categorização abstrata baseada na discriminação de similaridades e diferenças. Uma característica de uma pessoa educada é sua habilidade de definir e utilizar um grande repertório de conceitos abstratos, incluindo a habilidade de exercer julgamentos discriminatórios em situações complexas. O que, por exemplo, distingue com precisão democratas de conservadores, eruptivos de sedimentares, invejosos de ciumentos, vírus de bactérias e assim por diante?

E, se não bastasse, nossa inteligência funciona formando e aplicando distinções avaliativo-qualitativas. Necessitamos discriminar o nutritivo do venenoso, amigos de inimigos, competentes de incompetentes, inocentes de culpados.

Então, em nosso esforço para reduzir a discriminação irracional e injusta, é importante não perdermos o que é bom ao eliminar o que é mau. Dizer, por exemplo, que ninguém nunca deveria discriminar no ambiente de trabalho ou pedir a eliminação de todas as discriminações é, na melhor hipótese, desleixo intelectual. Na pior das hipóteses, usar discriminação como um termo puramente negativo mina nossa habilidade de fazer distinções frequentemente necessárias no caso da lei e do ambiente de trabalho. (E no caso do amor, devemos adicionar: no namoro, a maioria de nós discrimina cruelmente com base no sexo). Devemos discriminar; todavia, devemos discriminar da forma correta, e para isso necessitamos de padrões claros que nos auxiliem a distinguir entre discriminação racional e irracional.

Vamos retomar os três exemplos iniciais, focados no ambiente de trabalho — o presidente negro da faculdade, a auxiliar de vestiário, e o detetive latino — e identificar o que os tornam casos de discriminação racional com base na raça, sexo e etnia.

Em cada caso, a raça, sexo ou etnia da pessoa é relevante para a execução da tarefa. Então, vamos testar essa afirmação por meio de padrões avaliativos em cada um dos casos:Toilet Sign

  1. O presidente da faculdade cumpre diversas funções executivas — estratégia, administração, angariação de fundos — mas também um papel de autoridade como representante simbólico da missão educacional daquela instituição. Uma faculdade historicamente negra tem, como missão principal, a educação de jovens negros. Assim, considerar a raça do candidato à presidência é relevante, julgando sua habilidade para ser um verdadeiro líder para aquele tipo de faculdade.
  2. No vestiário de uma academia, os clientes trocam de roupa e tomam banho. Para o conforto psicológico da maioria das clientes que usam o vestiário, a auxiliar do sexo feminino é importante. Portanto, o proprietário da academia é racional na contratação de auxiliares com base no sexo.
  3. As características étnicas do detetive latino permitem que ele passe a fazer parte da comunidade latina de forma que seria quase impossível para um não latino. Então, a afiliação étnica é diretamente relevante para o desempenho dessa operação sigilosa, e é aconselhável que o chefe dos detetives respeite tal fato.

Por outro lado, a discriminação no ambiente de trabalho não é correta se a característica utilizada no julgamento não tem nenhuma relevância para a habilidade da pessoa executar determinada tarefa.

Aqui estão outros três casos. Você acha a discriminação nesses casos apropriada ou inapropriada?

Você é diretor em um teatro devotado a performances autenticamente históricas das obras de Shakespeare. Nessa temporada, você apresentará Otelo, então você contrata um ator negro para ser Otelo. Você também está apresentando Romeo e Julieta, e você contrata uma jovem para ser Julieta — não é Romeo e Davi, certo?).

Você é uma empresária que trabalha sozinha em seu home office. Os negócios vão bem e você deseja contratar uma assistente para trabalhar com você. Ter um assistente sozinho com você em sua casa gera riscos a sua segurança (do ponto de vista moral e sexual). Então, no anúncio da vaga de emprego, você indica que somente aceitará currículos de mulheres.chinese-chefs

Você é proprietário de um restaurante de comida chinesa em Nova York. Mas não qualquer restaurante chinês: você quer que os seus clientes tenham uma autêntica experiência cultural chinesa. Então, você gasta milhões de dólares em decoração, tecidos de linho, louças, talheres e obras de arte diretamente da China. Você contrata um chefe de cozinha de Xangai e uma recepcionista de Hong Kong. Agora, você está contratando uma ajudante de cozinha — e um candidato é um homem alto, loiro e de descendência escandinava com um forte sotaque do Bronx. Você não o contrata.

Hoje, nossa questão não é políticaGovernos deveriam proteger os direitos do cidadão à vida, à liberdade e à propriedade independentemente de raça, sexo ou etnia. Um desses direitos é a liberdade de associação, e isso significa que, da perspectiva do governo, ele deve proteger o direito individual de se associar ou não com base na raça, sexo ou etnia.

Nossa questão é moral: quando é apropriada a discriminação por parte dos indivíduos?

Julgamentos relacionados às pessoas com quem nos associamos são frequentemente complexos. Nós precisamos discriminar tendo em vista todos os fatores relevantes aos nossos atuais e potenciais associados, e definir padrões para o julgamento de tais fatores. No ambiente de trabalho, pessoas decentes desejam julgar e serem julgadas pelos seus méritos e qualificações relevantes — isto é, de acordo com sua habilidade de fazer o que tem que ser — e pessoas decentes ficam horrorizadas com a discriminação irracional.

Às vezes, todavia, a discriminação é racional: se raça, sexo ou etnia podem frequentemente ser relevantes para o desempenho laboral, então pessoas decentes também devem se esforçar para exercitar o julgamento discriminatório na determinação de quando os fatores são relevantes, quando não são, e como agir de acordo.

* * *

hicks-stephen-2013“Existe discriminação racional?” Por Stephen Hicks. Tradução de Matheus Pacini. Revisão de Russ Silva. Artigo Original no “The Good Life”. Visite para ler os últimos artigos de Stephen Hicks.

Stephen Hicks é o autor do livro Explicando o Pós Modernismo e Nietzsche and the Nazis.

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Multi-tasking is multi-stupid, Adam Smith version:

Note to self:

adam-smith-50px“Men are much more likely to discover easier and readier methods of attaining any object, when the whole attention of their minds is directed towards that single object, than when it is dissipated among a great variety of things. But in consequence of the division of labour, the whole of everyman’s attention comes naturally to be directed towards some one very simple object.”

File under “Self-improvement, Productivity.”

Source: On the Wealth of Nations (1776), I.1.8.

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Education’s “Public Choice” Dynamic

Education-Public-Choice-Dynamic Arguments for government involvement in education are many. They include the views that many parents cannot afford to educate their children, that private philanthropy cannot make up the deficit, that too many parents don’t care enough about education, and more.

At the same time, government involvement in education has risks:

* Less parental control over and responsibility for their children.
* The driving out of low-cost private schooling.
* Adding to class-warfare tensions.
* Lobbying by private schools for exemptions and special favors.

Here is a flowchart of a few lines of development. The chart is in Excel spreadsheet and JPEG image versions.

This simplified version does not include the role of bureaucracy, unions, the lessened accountability, or the use of education as a bait-and-switch tactic for tax increases, for example. So please feel welcome to add to the chart and otherwise modify for your own purposes.


Source: The chart is inspired in part by E. G. West’s Education and the State (1965; third edition 1994), a classic early text applying public choice analysis to education.

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Are schools worse than factory jobs for kids?

From a post by Lant Pritchett at the World Bank site:

“In the early 20th century Helen Todd, a factory inspector in Chicago, interviewed 500 children working in factories, often in dangerous and unpleasant conditions. She asked children the question:child-labor-boys-working-factory-machines ‘If your father had a good job and you didn’t have to work, which would you rather do — go to school or work in a factory?’ 412 said they would choose factory work. One fourteen year old girl, who was interviewed lacquering canes in an attic working with both intense heat and the constant smell of turpentine, said ‘School is the fiercest thing you can come up against. Factories ain’t no cinch, but schools is worst.'”

Pritchett goes on to consider the state of affairs one century later in government schools in India. Angry-making stuff.

I recommend highly, one again, James Tooley’s The Beautiful Tree, for anyone interested in education in the poorest parts of the world.

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Can We Blame Keynes for Keynesianism? [new The Good Life column]

The opening of my latest column at EveryJoe:

“In our era of Keynesian economics on steroids, we should ask: How close is current Keynesian practice to original Keynesian theory?

John Maynard Keynes‘s main claim to fame is his advocacy of deficit spending as a tool of economic recovery. In a depressed economy, the argument runs, the government should spend money it doesn’t have. That will stimulate demand, which in term will stimulate supply. Once the economy is back on track, tax revenues will increase, which the government can use to offset its deficits. Thus, in the medium-term its books will happily balance.

“Before Keynes some economists had urged the occasional use of deficit spending to counter downturns. Keynes’s originality was placing that particular political policy tool within the context of a more general economic theory.

“But since Keynes’s 1936 General Theory, we’ve experienced decades of deficits and accelerating government debt. So what went wrong?…” [Read more here.]


Previous column in The Good Life series: Is Free Speech Dead in Universities?

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Descartes’ reaction to Galileo’s conviction

The philosopher René Descartes in 1633:

“I inquired in Leiden and Amsterdam whether Galileo’s World System was available, descartesr-100for I thought I’d heard that it was published in Italy last year. I was told that it had indeed been published but that all the copies had immediately been burnt at Rome, and that Galileo had been convicted and fined. I was so astonished at this that I almost decided to burn all my papers … .”

Source: René Descartes, Letter to Mersenne, November 1633. In Selected Correspondence of Descartes, edited by Jonathan Bennett.

Related: My post, Galileo and the Modern Compromise.”

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Trigger Traumatists versus Paedophiles in Academia

Our polarized academic world, combining weak understandings of sexual bio-psychology with politics.

I juxtapose this piece from The New York Times, “Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm,” with this report from Britain’s The Telegraph, “‘Paedophilia is natural and normal for males’ How some university academics make the case for paedophiles at summer conferences.” gender-symbols

A. One group of academics says: Many are traumatized by awful sexual experiences, so we must forbid environmental triggers. (“Nothing goes.”)

B. Another group of academics says: Desiring sex with children is biologically natural and normal, so we must decriminalize it. (“Anything goes.”)

Imagine if we invited both groups to a conference and locked them in a seminar room together.

Ick. I just triggered some unpleasant emotions in myself.

Posted in Human Nature | 3 Comments