University of Sussex
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Scepticism and presuppositionlessness: Hegel and the problem of beginning

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posted on 2023-06-09, 15:59 authored by Robert John Dunphy
This thesis is concerned with what I call “the problem of beginning.” This problem expresses the difficulty involved in getting the type of critical, rational thinking proper to philosophical work underway in a manner that is not problematically arbitrary. This amounts to a dilemma between beginning dogmatically by depending upon unexamined presuppositions, and beginning dogmatically with some fundamentally arbitrary assertion. After motivating the problem and explicating it in some detail in the introduction, I identify a number of possible, but unappealing ways to respond. In Chapter 1 I argue that, motivated by his relationship with Pyrrhonism, Hegel is engaging with this same problem at the start of his Science of Logic. I identify a distinctive form of a solution to the problem in Hegel’s work which amounts to isolating a beginning which is both presuppositionless and non-arbitrary, or, in his terminology, both immediate and mediated. In Hegel’s work I identify two different possible ways in which the form of this solution can be fleshed out. They differ in terms of what they designate as the element of mediation in the beginning. In the first case, this element is stated to be the project of phenomenology, as carried out in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. In the second case, this element is characterised as a project of “consummate scepticism,” but left problematically underdeveloped. In Chapter 2 I present reasons for rejecting the suitability of the former, and in Chapter 3 I attempt to sketch a project of “consummate scepticism” which would be capable of functioning as the element of mediation in a manner capable of producing a working, “Hegelian” solution to the problem of beginning. I draw the thesis to a close by considering both the costs and opportunities which follow from this reconstructed solution, especially concerning the establishment of idealism.


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