In Chapter 1 of A NEW GERMAN IDEALISM Adrian Johnston proposes a very interesting genealogical narrative covering the brief but intensely creative period in the history of German philosophy from the end of the 18th to the beginning of the 19th Century.

This sequence of philosophical history begins with Jacobi’s critique of the inconsistencies in Kant’s philosophy in relation to his distinction between phenomena and noumena and the positing of the thing-in-itself. It continues with the diverse developments proposed by Hölderlin, Fichte, Schelling, and the young Hegel.

The sequence ends with Hegel’s mature system of absolute idealism, which, according to Zizek and Johnston, provides us with a relatively unknown and insufficiently understood ontological thought that remains relevant to the contemporary world. They argue that a return to Hegel is capable of renewing our approach to scientific, artistic, psychoanalytic and political problems.

This idealist genealogy of Zizek’s and Johnston’s contemporary materialism is interesting in itself from the point of view of the history of philosophy, but it is also useful today in the typology of ontologies that it proposes, that can be envisioned independently of this historical sequence. Johnston, following Zizek, distinguishes three types of ontology:

1) monistic substance ontology (historical figure:Spinoza, contemporary figure: Deleuze)

2) two-world ontology (historical figure: Kant, contemporary figures: Harman, Laruelle (note: Harman and Laruelle are not discussed by Johnston, but fit in to his classification)

3) dialectical ontology (historical figure: Hegel, contemporary figures: Zizek, Johnston)

Later in the book Johnston spells out his immanent difference with Zizek concerning the problematic primacy of negativity in Zizek’s dialectical ontology, that Johnston replaces with the positivity of « weak » nature. For both thinkers Being is conceived not as strong positive substance but as antagonistic, incomplete, inconsistent, non-All. However, it is clear that Johnston’s reservation is based on the fear that Zizek’s ontological primacy of negativity is in danger of regressing to a pre-Kantian type ontology based on a principle of « strong » negativity.

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Un commentaire pour A NEW GERMAN IDEALISM (2): THREE ONTOLOGIES (Spinoza, Kant, Hegel)

  1. billrosethorn dit :

    Very helpful. I wonder how Johnston justifies his call for a renewed emphasis on Hegel while taking more of a position closet to #1 and Spinoza. A « weak Naturalism » seems preferable to me as well, but I don’t know how dialectics can get us there.


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