It remains to provide an assessment of Hegel’s doctrine of circular epistemology for philosophy in general. General evaluation of this doctrine must go beyond the genesis, mature form, and aim of Hegel’s position to a comparison with other views.
An inquiry into the general philosophical significance of one or another idea cannot itself be wholly general. There is no possibility of an inquiry into the absolute importance of one or another concept in isolation from the philosophical tradition. And merely because a study of that kind, a historical evaluation of a given perspective, is undertaken so frequently is no reason to believe that it can be carried out successfully. No view is absolutely relevant, and none is absolutely true; at best, an idea is relevant to a given goal, in terms of which its significance can be measured, in comparison with others which share that end in view. To deny this point would not only be to deny a central Hegelian thesis and to choose a non-Hegelian standard for the evaluation of his position; it would further be to misunderstand the nature of philosophy and of philosophical argument.
If Hegel’s own view must be judged against its conceptual competitors, the end in view is easily ascertained. It is the concern with objective knowledge that is as old as, if not older than, philosophy itself, in particular its modern form. Hegel’s claim that if philosophy is presuppositionless it must be circular is a form of what recently has come to be known as the “antifoundationalist theory of knowledge.” The concept of an epistemological foundation is specifically modern. It was neither formulated nor necessary in Greek thought, at least not in the modern sense of the term foundation. In Greek philosophy, the claim to know, however formulated, did not require further justification than an appeal to an intuitive grasp of being, as distinguished from appearance. This view, which presupposes for its validity the presence of a subjacent ontological plane, effectively was untouched by the ancient skeptical tropes, which concerned not being as such but mere appearance.
For Greek philosophy, knowledge in the full sense meant “presuppositionless science.” But the decline of the naive Greek ontology transformed the problem of knowledge in general into that of knowledge derived from experience, and raised anew the question as to how philosophy could maintain its claim to presuppositionless status. The novelty of the modern portion of the philosophical tradition lies not in the particular claim for knowledge, which itself is not new, but in the need to make out that claim from the perspective of the subject. For the claim to know in any absolute sense no longer can be justified in terms of the object alone in the absence of the underlying ancient ontology.
From this perspective, recent developments in phenomenology and analytic philosophy, although arguably novel with respect to those phases of the discussion in which they emerge, are merely the latest forms of the belief that knowledge can in fact be had by carefully attending either to the contents of consciousness or to the object as given in experience.
Certainly, the strategy of what recently has become known as the foundationalist approach in analytic epistemology is intended to show how a theory of knowledge is possible which admits no presuppositions in terms of a ground, or foundation, which escapes that designation. The central point of the foundationalist approach to knowledge, understood here in a closely Cartesian sense, is to advance a proposition whose truth is demonstrable without assumptions of any kind and from which the remainder of the theory can be strictly derived. In different ways, this goal is common to the Cartesian view and to all later forms of foundationalist epistemology, whether or not it employs this recent term.
If we take as the focus of this phase of the discussion the problem of whether knowledge can have foundations, it cannot be doubted that Hegel’s position is fundamentally antifoundationalist. For Hegel does not defend, in fact explicitly eschews, the approach to epistemology in terms of an initial principle from which the justification for all claims to know can be said to follow. To evaluate the present significance of the Hegelian position, it will be appropriate, then, to review it against the background provided by the post-Hegelian phase of the continuing dispute between those who hold that knowledge must have foundations and those who deny this view.
Such comparison obviously is rendered difficult by numerous factors, including our chronological proximity to the post-Hegelian moment and the sheer proliferation of contemporary philosophy as an academic cottage industry. It is doubtful that there is more philosophy today, although at no time in history have there been more philosophers. And we lack the historical perspective necessary to select those views which have enduring significance from those which eventually will recede into the historical past. Nor is the ability to transcend a historical moment a guarantee of intrinsic worth. Indeed, neither prominence nor the lack thereof is sufficient warrant for inherent value. For philosophy as for history, the significance of the past is constantly subject to reevaluation as a result of further occurrence.
If we are to compare Hegel’s view to other, later ones, then these candidates for comparison must be selected from a large and diverse field in terms of some principle. There is no obvious way in which this selection must be carried out, since there is no evident principle of selection. Even were we to confine our attention to those views, or more generally even tendencies or movements, of arguably greatest importance, there is no unambiguous manner in which to identify them. There is no reason to believe that what counts as important for a philosophical position conceivably could be agreed upon by all, or even most, observers. Nor would such agreement be of significance if what we seek is the truth, and not merely what appears to be true. But the lack of agreement is noteworthy. There is a wide and apparently irreducible sweep of opinion as to whether figures in the history of philosophy that some hold to be pivotal are worthy of study at all, much less worthy of careful inquiry into aspects of their respective views.
An appropriate procedure is suggested by Hegel’s own practice. Despite his enormous knowledge of the prior history of philosophy, in his account of the “Attitudes of Thought to Objectivity” Hegel properly studied not individual positions, with the important exception of Kant’s view, which he considered in detail. Rather, he undertook to canvass general epistemological strategies, which he regarded as a series of dialectical contraries, each of which advanced the claim of thought to know objectivity.
A similar strategy will be followed here in order to assess the continued relevance of Hegel’s own strategy. But it should be noted immediately that the present discussion will differ from Hegel’s in several ways. On the one hand, whereas Hegel’s discussion was prospective, prior to the elaboration of his own position, this discussion is necessarily retrospective; its aim is to contribute not to an understanding of what still needs to be accomplished but to an evaluation of what already has been done.
On the other hand, Hegel could omit without embarassment specific reference to particular theories which he considered in general form, since for the most part these positions were well known to his readers. Although not strictly necessary, it seems useful to provide some direct reference to particular examples of the general strategies to be canvassed here. But it should be stressed that the present review, like Hegel’s, does not depend upon its precise relation to particular views; that is not its objective, which is, rather, the general study of typical post-Hegelian epistemological strategies.
The discussion differs in another way from Hegel’s. He desired to take into account all preceding thought; but if that was ever possible, it is certainly more difficult at this late date in view of the post-Hegelian proliferation of philosophical views. With that in mind, it seems useful here to forego any attempt at completeness and to confine this phase of the discussion to consideration of some major forms of phenomenological and analytic epistemological strategies. Three reasons can be cited in favor of this kind of limitation.
To begin with, by any comparative standard, phenomenology and analytic thought are two of the most significant tendencies to emerge in this century; and they are widely regarded, whatever the final judgment to be rendered by history, as intrinsically significant. Second, in different ways consistent with their specific approaches, both these tendencies are centrally concerned with the problem of the justification of claims to know, which is the focus of the present inquiry into Hegel’s position. The depth of concern with this issue separates these two movements from American pragmatism, another obvious candidate for this kind of review. Third, as will become clear, both phenomenology and analytic thought exhibit, although not in the same way, major alternative approaches to the problem of the justification of claims to know.
Despite their differences, which should be neither overlooked nor minimized, there are important similarities between phenomenology and analytic thought. These similarities can be expressed in different ways and from different perspectives. From a historical perspective, there is a similarity: both tendencies arose as part of the ongoing effort to be scientific in a manner which constitutes a viable alternative to the idealist concern with speculation, on the one hand, and natural science, on the other. The revolt against speculation shows itself in a common concern with scientific rigor, in new beginnings, in a preoccupation with incorrigible knowledge, and in attention to the justification of claims to know.
It is, of course, easier to distinguish between phenomenology and analytic philosophy than it is to characterize either movement. Speaking generally, phenomenology is continuous with the continental philosophical tradition from which it arose and to which it owes many basic insights. In fact, there are many fundamental points of agreement between Hegel’s position and post-Hegelian phenomenology, a point which is recognized more widely in French circles than in either the German or American discussions. In particular, post-Hegelian forms of phenomenology tend to conserve the emphasis on consciousness characteristic of Hegel’s thought and the post-Kantian German philosophical tradition in general.
Despite the evident similarities and points of continuity between Hegelian and post-Hegelian phenomenology, phenomenology is frequently, although incorrectly, held to originate in Husserl’s thought.1 But it is clear that Husserl is the central figure in the post-Hegelian development of phenomenology. And central to Husserl’s position is a profound meditation of the problem of methodology, extending from one end to another of his corpus. It often has been pointed out that for Husserl, in an important sense, phenomenology is not a philosophical theory but a method. In virtue of the key role played by Husserl in the post-Hegelian phenomenological movement, one way in which the evolution of post-Hegelian phenomenological epistemological strategy can be considered is as a series of views of methodology.
Anglo-American analytic thought, on the contrary, despite some distant relation to Hegel’s position,2 originally was intended to mark a complete break with its British restatement. Analytic thought arose as a revolt by some British thinkers, especially Moore and Russell, against the coherentist views of Bradley and other British idealists.3 In its initial phase, the revolt against idealism took shape as the claim that there must be foundations for knowledge. With respect to earlier British empiricism, this claim can be regarded as an endeavor to overcome the skepticism with which it had terminated in Hume’s thought through empirical foundations, much as Hume had sought to provide foundations for morality.
The reaction against idealism in a later phase of analytic philosophy took the form of a neoidealist counterrevolution directed against the view that knowledge can have absolute foundations, together with a renewed interest in coherentism. Since the problem of foundationalism is a main theme in analytic thought, it is one way in which the evolution of analytic epistemological strategy can be considered.
I. Presuppositionless Knowledge
The concern with presuppositionless knowledge, in evidence in both the phenomenological and analytic sides of the post-Hegelian epistemological discussion, represents the latest phase of the continuing endeavor, already initiated by Plato, to achieve knowledge in the fullest sense.
a) Presuppositionless Methodology
A basic theme of post-Hegelian phenomenology, as noted, is the concern with the problem of method adequate for knowledge in the traditional sense. From the phenomenological perspective, the attempt to arrive at presuppositionless knowledge is undertaken through the progressive clarification of the presuppositions of theory as a result of their examination within the theory. This strategy rests on the conviction that for normative reasons concerning the nature of philosophy, widely accepted since Plato, nothing merely can be accepted; and on the associated belief that if assumptions are candidly admitted, examined, and accounted for, the result will be a theory which is absolutely bereft of all presuppositions.4
Although the goal of this approach is familiar, the strategy for attaining it is novel. It differs from other quasi-rationalist approaches to philosophy as a science in the full sense, since the presuppositionless status is not held to be an original characteristic of the theory. Unlike rationalist forms of theory, this approach includes no initial proposition which can be known to be true in independence of all presuppositions and from which the remainder of the theory, consisting of indubitably true propositions, can be deduced. Presuppositionlessness rather is understood as a result at which the theory arrives through its internal self-examination.5
The value of this approach lies in the recognition of the point, implicitly denied by classical rationalists, that all thought must begin somewhere, so that presuppositions cannot be avoided at the start of the theory. The strategy, then, is to exclude presuppositions not at the beginning but in the course of the development of the theory. This concern to purify the theory and to attain presuppositionless status through the development of the theory represents progress with respect to the earlier, Cartesian form of presuppositionlessness, in which further clarification is unnecessary, since it already is accomplished through what can be regarded only as philosophizing prior to beginning to philosophize.
Although clarification of the assumptions of a theory is indeed useful, it is insufficient to reach the goal of presuppositionlessness if that goal is interpreted not as a regulative ideal but as constitutive of a fully scientific position, that is, as a method without presuppositions. The limitation of this epistemological strategy lies in the inability to carry out the self-clarification of the theory in a manner which provides total transparency, although that requirement is clearly raised. For the theory itself is necessarily dependent upon the presuppositions which it hopes to clarify as the condition of its claim to fully scientific status. Nor would it be possible to clarify the presuppositions of the theory on a prior theoretical plane, since the resultant, purified theory then would not be self-contained but would necessarily presuppose a prior theory. Although this strategy is correct to suggest that presuppositionless status cannot be obtained for the theory prior to its onset, neither can it result from the development of the theory in the course of its attempt at self-clarification.
b) Analytic Foundationalism
Analytic thought shares with other forms of empiricism the belief that knowledge is possible only on the basis of experience. The traditional goal of absolute knowledge at which phenomenology aims through the strategy of presuppositionless methodology is pursued within analytic thought through the concept of foundationalist theory. According to this strategy, knowledge is understood in a rationalist sense as an edifice or structure having foundations, in terms of which the claim to know can and indeed must be justified. The foundation consists in one or more propositions which can be known to be true in independence of any assumptions and which permit the justification of other propositions following from them.
This form of epistemological strategy has obvious historical antecedents. One of them is Reinhold’s introduction of a quasi-rationalist theoretical model for the purpose of reconstructing the critical philosophy in the form of a rigorous system. Analytic foundationalist strategy further shares with Reinhold’s strategy the insistence on the establishment of the absolute truth of the beginning point from an empirical perspective. But within the analytic discussion, the foundationalist strategy most often is associated with two other points of historical reference: resolution of the problem of justified true belief raised by Plato in the Theaetetus, and the concern to evade the consequences of the diallelus argument.
The greatest advantage of the foundationalist approach to epistemology lies in the proposed justification of the foundations of the knowing process. Previous thinkers had studied the question of empirically certain propositions on which to base claims to know. The novelty of the recent analytic strategy for foundationalism lies in the expressed concern to specify criteria for such propositions, instead of relying merely on the dogmatic claim for immediate experiential knowledge of them. Through its attempted justification of the foundations of knowledge, analytic foundationalism advances beyond the familiar claims that propositions can be specified which cannot be denied, or which are indemonstrable but empirically true, through the specification of criteria for such claims.6
The limitation of analytic foundationalist strategy lies in part in the way in which it differs from previous foundationalist strategy, and in part in the strategy of empirical foundationalism as such. For the suggestion that it is necessary to justify the certainty of empirical propositions through an appeal to criteria merely postpones the problem of justification but does not resolve it, since the criteria for such propositions themselves require justification. The problem of the justification of the empirical foundations for knowledge is not resolved through an appeal to criteriology, but merely displaced to another level. And although it has been known at least since Descartes that some observational statements are in fact incorrigible, and hence necessarily true, it so far has not been demonstrated that any such statement is sufficient to permit the deduction of other true statements.
II. Nonpresuppositionless Knowledge
The motivation for the interest in presuppositionless theory, whether in the phenomenological concern with method devoid of presuppositions or in the analytic concern with foundationalism, clearly is related to the influential Platonic belief that presuppositions and knowledge are incompatible. Within the post-Hegelian discussion, the evident difficulty in constructing a theory of justification devoid of presuppositions has led in a further stage of the evolution of epistomological strategy to its dialectical opposite. In this further form of epistemological strategy, the possibility of knowledge is dependent no longer on the exclusion of presuppositions but rather on their inclusion, or at least is consistent with their presence. This second form of post-Hegelian epistemological strategy is the aspect of the later discussion which most closely approximates Hegel’s own form of antifoundationalism.
a) Nonpresuppositionless Phenomenology
It has been noted that in its initial post-Hegelian phase, phenomenology tended to approach the problem of knowledge in terms of a strategy for presuppositionless methodology. In that initial post-Hegelian form of phenomenological epistemological strategy, the claim for knowledge depends on fully rigorous, or scientific, philosophy, understood as the realization of the goal of methodological presuppositionlessness. In a later form of phenomenological strategy, which arose as a reaction to its predecessor, the interest in method is not abandoned. Rather, the concept of method is rethought in a manner which leads to changes in the views of philosophy and knowledge.
In this later form of phenomenological epistemological strategy, the earlier emphasis on presuppositionlessness as the condition of knowledge is transformed into the dialectically opposite view that presuppositions are necessary conditions of knowledge. The concept of a presupposition is not understood here in the Enlightenment sense of an impediment for the correct functioning of the intellect, associated with Francis Bacon, and later with the French sensualists (e.g., Condillac, Destutt de Tracy) or materialists (e.g., Helvétius, Holbach). It is understood as an anticipation of the object to be known as a necessary condition of its interpretation within understanding. According to this approach, an object cannot be grasped directly through an immediate intuition, but is disclosed only as the result of a process of interpretation of a necessary anticipation of what is to be known.
This later phenomenological strategy for knowledge conserves the earlier phenomenological interest in method and the concern for things in themselves as revealed directly in consciousness on a prepredicative level. In one prominent form of this strategy, phenomenology is understood as the concern to study the logos of the phenomenon, considered as the appearance of an autonomous entity, independent of the subject, but which discloses itself to us in experience through interpretation.
The result of this approach, which also requires a refusal of transcendental reduction associated as a fundamental methodological requirement with the strategy for presuppositionless methodology, is to shift the emphasis from the transcendental elucidation of general essences to the study of individual objects as given in experience.7 From the perspective of epistemological strategy, the most interesting feature of this approach is the closely Hegelian claim that there is a necessarily circular relation between the object as known and the presupposition, or anticipation of it, which is the basis of the interpretation that constitutes phenomenological knowledge.8
The strategy which consists in the transfer of the study of the problem of knowledge from a transcendental analysis of its necessary conditions to a phenomenological description of how we in fact know the objects given in experience offers the general advantage of a practical solution to a theoretical question. With respect to the strategy for presuppositionless methodology, at the price of an obvious weakening of the permissible strength of the claim to know, two specific comparative advantages are further created by this new phenomenological approach. In the first place, it is possible to avoid the need to make good on the traditional claim for presuppositionlessness, specifically as concerns methodology, since presuppositions are incorporated as a necessary feature of the theory. Second, the question of the transition from a theoretical norm of what theory must be to a description of practical possibility is avoided in the restriction of the discussion to a phenomenological account of epistemological practice.
The basic epistemological claim raised in this strategy is that knowledge can tolerate presuppositions, since knowledge is necessarily the result of a circular relation in the understanding. Fortunately, it is unnecessary here to provide a complete discussion of this complicated epistemological strategy, many of whose details are as yet unclear. Here it will be sufficient to point to its relation to Hegel’s own epistemological analysis. Speaking generally, post-Hegelian phenomenological strategy which tolerates presuppositions in view of the circular relation between thought and being provides a restricted restatement of the Hegelian position, as concerns knowledge of a given object only. This form of post-Hegelian epistemological strategy accordingly does not surpass Hegel’s own view, which it also does not equal in virtue of the lack of a wider account of the relation of thought to objectivity.
b) Analytic Antifoundationalism
The general difficulty in providing a presuppositionless theory of knowledge, which within phenomenology led to the elaboration of nonpresuppositionless epistemological strategy, results within analytic thought in the turn to an antifoundationalist approach to knowledge. This later form of analytic epistemological strategy is similar in general to the nonpresuppositionless form of epistemology, as well as to the antifoundationalist epistemological approach which originates in the German tradition within Fichte’s thought. As relates to phenomenology, a relevant difference is that analytic antifoundationalism is concerned less with knowledge of single objects through a description of how they come to be known than with the wider problem of the relation of thought to objectivity, even if that language is not employed, through a noncorrespondence theory of truth.
It is obvious that analytic antifoundationalism is the dialectical opposite of analytic foundationalism. Analytic antifoundationalism starts from the conviction that since empirical claims for factual truth cannot be established by demonstrating that they are, in fact, satisfied, we must abandon the attempt to justify our criteria for knowledge, which in turn entails the abandonment of empirical foundationalism. In effect, this approach concedes that the diallelus argument is in principle correct, as a result of which any claim for knowledge must dispense with the insistence on an absolute foundation, although it denies the corresponding skeptical conclusion. But this approach is less extreme than the corresponding form of phenomenology, since it eschews the further step of incorporating presuppositions within the theory as a necessary condition of the claim to know.
The strategy of analytic antifoundationalism lies in the attempt to demonstrate the possibility of knowledge in the absence of the foundations required for analytic foundationalism, upon whose indemonstrability it is predicated. In analytic antifoundationalism, the interrelation of items of knowledge to form a systematic interpretation of experience functions as the criterion of presumptive knowledge in place of the indemonstrable correspondence between the idea of a particular object and that object. Analytic antifoundationalism shares this characteristic with nonpresuppositionless forms of phenomenology, differing mainly in the concern to know not a single object but a series of items within the aegis of a single theory (for instance, a scientific theory intended to describe possible future experience).
In practice, one way in which the argument for knowledge without foundations has been made within analytic thought is through a shift from a correspondence to a coherentist view of truth. In accordance with this approach, the claim to know no longer is to be defended in the traditional manner, which depends on a demonstrable correspondence between an idea of the object and the object. Rather, claims to know are to be defended through their systematic interrelation.9 The resultant approach sometimes is characterized misleadingly as a quasi Hegelian inversion, since whereas for Kant system is the criterion of science, in this strategy systematicity has become the criterion of presumptive truth.
As with the nonpresuppositionless form of phenomenology, the parallel is clear between analytic antifoundationalism and Hegel’s own analysis of the relation of thought to objectivity. Analytic antifoundationalist epistemological strategy, as noted, presupposes that the diallelus argument suffices to impeach the possibility of foundationalism, although not of knowledge, as the condition of the turn to a strategy which will provide knowledge without empirical foundations. If we recall that the fourth skeptical trope concerns presuppositions, and the fifth trope raises the question of the diallelus, or wheel, then one way of looking at Hegel’s own form of antifoundationalism is as a view in which the justification of claims to know is provided by the model of the wheel, or circular relation.
The limitation of the parallel between the views of justification is indicative of the limits of the analytic antifoundationalist epistemological strategy. For a proper understanding of Hegel’s view, it is important to note that his strategy combines both coherentist and correspondence features within his concept of circularity. His strategy is coherentist in the relation within the theory of the parts to the whole, and relies on correspondence in the relation of the theory to experience. On the contrary, within analytic antifoundationalism the inability to demonstrate a correspondence between thought and objectivity is taken as the ground for the interest in the coherentist approach.
The one-sided nature of the analytic antifoundationalist strategy for knowledge is evident in the exclusive reliance on the coherentist approach, in terms of which it differs from Hegel’s own strategy, since it is unable to provide for the transition from presumptive truth to truth. A theory can easily be coherent but untrue if it fails to correspond to objectivity. The only manner in which to show that a given view, coherent or otherwise, is correct is through a demonstration of its correspondence to objectivity. At the limit, the coherence theory of truth necessarily presupposes the correspondence view, for knowledge of objectivity cannot be acquired solely on the level of thought.
So far we have considered post-Hegelian epistemological strategies, which differ primarily as to whether presuppositions are excluded from, or admitted by, the respective theories of knowledge. Both of these epistemological strategies are supported by epistemological analyses which permit positive claims to know. We now have to consider a more extreme form of epistemological strategy, in which the claim to know cannot be supported on epistemological grounds.
This approach, which accordingly ventures beyond epistemology, presents itself to us in two forms, yielding widely disparate conclusions: from the phenomenological perspective as the attempt to draw the conclusion of the irrelevance of epistemology, and from the analytic perspective as the conclusion which follows from the failure of epistemology to provide a viable analysis of knowledge. Taken together, these two variations on a common theme represent a novel form of epistemological skepticism, that is, skepticism about the possibility of knowledge based on epistemology, although not necessarily skepticism about the possibility of knowledge.
a) Postepistemological Phenomenology
Both of the phenomenological approaches considered so far respond to the problem of justification of claims to know through methodological considerations, either in the concern to exclude presuppositions from theory as inconsistent with knowledge or in their necessary inclusion as a precondition of it. More recently, a third strategy has arisen on the periphery of post-Hegelian phenomenology, whose defining characteristic is the denial of the need to justify the claim to know other than through itself. This new approach to the problem of knowledge from the phenomenological perspective accordingly abandons method entirely, since it no longer has a role to play in the defense of claims to know. The result is an extreme form of phenomenology, which is opposed by its absence of concern with method to the central epistemological tenet of post-Hegelian phenomenology. That is the negation and decline of the original post-Hegelian phenomenological impulse, which here has been transformed into an entirely different and opposing view.
As formulated by a leading exponent, epistemology is replaced by historical discussion.10 The point seems to be that epistemological considerations are not relevant, since we in effect can surpass epistemology through phenomenology. In particular, we do not require a justification of the beginning point of a theory, which in turn dispenses us from the need to engage in the usual methodological considerations, characteristic of post-Hegelian phenomenology. For at a certain point, presumably when one is confronted with the object as known, it is impossible in good faith to deny that one knows.
This strategy is not entirely unprecedented. It is not a return to the dogmatism of the old metaphysics, but rather a reversion to a form of the concept of direct knowledge studied by Hegel as the third of the “Attitudes of Thought to Objectivity.” With respect to its post-Hegelian phenomenological predecessors, this strategy aims for a strategic advantage through the avoidance of methodological considerations, which are replaced by a moral claim about immediate evidence. The intent, then, is to transfer to the moral plane the epistemological question of the justification of claims for the relation of thought to objectivity.
This approach is one-sided, however, since it lacks any theory of justification. This lack is manifested in two ways. On the one hand, as Hegel notes in his own discussion of immediate knowledge, in this kind of approach it is impossible to exclude any belief whatsoever. On the other hand, it is unjustified merely to dispense with justification, as if the problem could be disposed of through turning away from the means for its solution. For although we can literally believe anything at all, our beliefs require demonstration before they can be admitted as knowledge. We cannot, therefore, go beyond epistemology, as this form of postepistemological phenomenological strategy would suggest. In fact, even the claim that we can dispense with epistemology, or more precisely with methodology, is itself an epistemological assertion which requires demonstration.
b) Analytic Postepistemology
A third analytic alternative recently has been proposed. This alternative both represents an attempted mediation between views of analytic foundationalism and analytic antifoundationalism, and constitutes the dialectical opposite to phenomenological postepistemology. Analytic postepistemology is the result of the denial of the central premise of analytic antifoundationalism, that is, that knowledge without foundations is possible. This new perspective accepts both the original analytic insight that knowledge requires foundations and the analytic antifoundationalist point that no foundations can be provided, in order to draw the skeptical conclusion that knowledge is not possible. Accordingly, this latest analytic attitude represents a strategy whose purpose is to show the validity of the traditional skeptical claim that we can know only that we cannot know within the context of the recent analytic epistemological discussion. More generally, this perspective constitutes the dialectical negation and decline of the analytic search for knowledge in the form of an argument against the possibility of knowing following from the failure of analytic epistemology.
It is obvious that this strategy has important historical roots in classical forms of skeptical argumentation. This new strategy can be regarded as the claim that since the diallelus argument is valid, as can be shown by a review of the failure of analytic attempts to construct a valid form of foundationalism, there can be no knowledge. The difference with respect to the associated phenomenological form is that this particular analytic strategy presupposes not the undemonstrated irrelevance of epistemology but rather the demonstrability of its failure. In at least one formulation of this argument, a review of the recent analytic epistemological discussion is held to show that since knowledge cannot be founded, only continued conversation, but no knowledge, is possible.11
The advantage of this strategy, that the argument for skepticism is made entirely within the confines of the analytic approach to knowledge through foundations, is also its limitation. The presupposition underlying this approach to epistemology is that foundationalism is the only possible manner in which to make out the claim to knowledge, so that the failure of foundationalism permits the skeptical conclusion to be drawn.
This presupposition is unwarranted; the purported insufficiency of prior analytic discussion of foundationalism does not suffice to demonstrate that an argument for foundationalism cannot be formulated satisfactorily. And it must further be shown that no other epistemological strategy could possibly be satisfactory, which is here merely assumed, in order for the failure of analytic foundationalism to yield a skeptical conclusion with regard to the possibility of knowledge. But this point is indemonstrable, since there are other, nonfounded forms of knowledge, as a glance at the history of philosophy will show. These forms of knowledge include that kind advanced by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, which precisely eschews the demand for apodicticity and hence does not require foundations, and the entire later pragmatist tradition following from Aristotle’s view of practical theory.
The intent of this selective review of some major post-Hegelian epistemological strategies is to provide a background for the assessment of the continued relevance of Hegel’s own view of the relation of thought to objectivity. Hegel’s basic point is that although this relation cannot be founded, claims to know are justified in practice through the circularity of this relation. This point could be undermined in at least two obvious ways: either through a successful demonstration of foundationalism, or through a demonstration of the impossibility of knowledge without foundations.
Both of these epistemological strategies clearly are represented within the post-Hegelian epistemological discussion surveyed here. But although these arguments are made in new ways in the post-Hegelian period, they are not in themselves new; nor are they fatal to Hegel’s position. On the whole, the post-Hegelian debate tends to restate different forms of the main varieties of the epistemological discussion preceding Hegel’s thought, known to him, and discussed in his writings.
It is unnecessary here to repeat Hegel’s arguments, since they already have been examined. The point that needs to be stressed is that the major post-Hegelian epistemological strategies canvassed here were already in evidence when Hegel wrote. For instance, in the debate concerning the reformulation of the critical philosophy in rigorous form Reinhold stands for foundationalism, Fichte represents antifoundationalism, and Aenesidemus and Maimon advance skeptical views subsequent to the failure of foundationalism. Despite the interest of later variations on these main epistemological themes, there is no reason to believe that the post-Hegelian epistemological discussion, which is elaborated mainly in ignorance of Hegel’s thought, contains strategies basically novel and hence unlike those considered in detail by Hegel. If his arguments against the forms of these strategies which appeared in his predecessors’ views were valid, they are also valid, mutatis mutandis, against the views of his suecessors.
There is a further point to be made about the nature of the post-Hegelian epistemological discussion in comparison to Hegel’s own. A significant difference between the Kantian and the Hegelian approaches lies in Kant’s concern, inconsistent with his own practice, to isolate systematic considerations from any historical contamination as a necessary condition of transcendental argument, whereas Hegel strives to combine them. An extraordinary aspect of Hegel’s position, not duplicated in the later discussion, is the desire to build upon, to carry further, and to complete in this manner the work of previous thinkers concerned with the relation of thought to objectivity.
The tenor of the post-Hegelian epistemological discussion surveyed here unfortunately resembles Kant’s approach more than Hegel’s. It is not the case, despite appearances, that later thought has turned away from knowledge of the historical tradition. Even if a truly Hegelian grasp of historical sources is rarely, if ever again, encountered, there are outstanding counterexamples to the widespread historical ignorance prevalent in the post-Hegelian discussion.
Even more striking is the restricted use made of historical knowledge in this period, in which it is mainly, indeed nearly exclusively, devoted to the identification of the inadequacies of earlier views. There is almost no concern to carry forward previous efforts to justify claims to know in a broadly constructive manner. In this sense, Hegel’s position, as the review of later epistemological strategies indicates not only is unsurpassed but is unique. For the kind of effort he undertook to combine historical and systematic dimensions within a position that is both aware of and builds upon previous efforts in the broadest possible manner seems never again to have been attempted in the later discussion.
The overall insight which emerges from the present selective review of some main post-Hegelian epistemological strategies is that Hegel’s view of knowledge has not been surpassed, or in some ways even equalled by later discussion. As concerns the analysis of the relation of thought to objectivity, there has indeed been change, but the problem remains almost where it was when Hegel wrote. While it is obvious that the later discussion has brought forth different epistemological strategies, there is no reason to hold that they differ in fundamental ways, despite their novelty, from those already considered by Hegel. Accordingly, the development of the post-Hegelian epistemological discussion does not diminish the intrinsic interest of Hegel’s own view. Indeed, as a result, the general post-Hegelian disinterest in Hegel’s desire to build upon other, earlier views tends to increase rather than to decrease the appeal of Hegel’s own endeavor.