Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Brownlee, Timonthy. Review of David V. Ciavatta, SPIRIT, THE FAMILY AND THE UNCONSCIOUS IN HEGEL'S PHILOSOPHY. NDPR (March 2011).

Ciavatta, David V.  Spirit, the Family, and the Unconscious in Hegel's Philosophy.  Albany: SUNY Press, 2009.

In The Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel famously argues that self-consciousness depends essentially on the recognition of others and that active engagement in practices of recognizing and being recognized by others is a necessary condition for being an agent or a self. In recent years, interpreters have worked to couple Hegel's early treatment of reciprocal recognition with the account of rational institutions that Hegel offers in The Philosophy of Right by arguing that recognition in fact requires institutional mediation. One of the primary virtues of David V. Ciavatta's Spirit, the Family, and the Unconscious in Hegel's Philosophy is that it provides a concrete account of how one particular institution, that of the family, provides an enduring framework for recognition between subjects. Indeed, Ciavatta contends that the family constitutes, for Hegel, the "most foundational, comprehensive . . . form of recognition" structuring and informing our experience of ourselves, others, and the world, and he demonstrates that this recognition is importantly unique, insofar as it is primarily unreflective and unconscious, the product more of affective relations than of reflective endorsement. (2). Ciavatta's book will be of interest to students of Hegel's practical philosophy and German idealism, to phenomenologists (especially those concerned with embodiment, intersubjective relations and sociality, and identity), and to those with interests in the intersections between philosophy and psychoanalysis.

Methodologically, Ciavatta's work falls within a long phenomenological tradition of interpreting Hegel, and he stresses "Hegel's unswerving commitment to describing the concrete, lived experience of human practical existence on its own terms" (2).  Thematically, he demonstrates that Hegel shares the view, common among phenomenologists, that the unreflective and affective dimensions of our experience disclose "certain truths about our relation to the world that can only be appreciated in [an] unreflective, lived way" (10). At the same time, Ciavatta argues that, in place of a transcendental ego, Hegel conceives of the self who experiences as essentially social and, in fact, constituted through concrete relations of recognition. By consequence, he stresses that, for Hegel, intersubjective relations inform not only our identities as selves, but even our most basic perceptual experiences. Drawing on the account of mastery and slavery in the Phenomenology as exemplary, Ciavatta claims that the slave's "very contact with the concrete world is informed and contextualized on all sides by the presence of the master, and, in particular, by his recognition of the master as the only true center of experience." (34) It is in this sense that "spirit," which Ciavatta takes to consist in "the concrete practices of recognition that join selves concretely to one another," indelibly informs and shapes our experiences of ourselves, others, and the world (37).  However, Ciavatta stresses that these enduring patterns of recognition themselves depend essentially on unreflective habits and customs, which are expressed just as much in immediate affects and feelings as they are in explicit and reflected beliefs and convictions. Ciavatta therefore argues that the habitual and customary domain of "ethical life" (Sittlichkeit) informs not merely our practical relations to one another, but also our own sense of self and our relationship to the world we encounter through perception. . . .


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