My research specialization is in German idealism and nineteenth-century European philosophy. Broadly defined, I am interested in German idealism’s metaphysics, their philosophies of nature and self, and German idealism’s critics.
1. Dissertation Research
My dissertation argued for an interpretation of German philosophy’s metaphysics as “metaphysics without ontology.” It reconstructed the views of Hegel, Schelling, and Marx as saying that the world has no single fixed doctrine of what exists and could never have. For them, the problem with metaphysics is its commitment to a single interpretation of the world through which it understands nature, politics, and the self: the “thinking of things.” Whether this be Platonic forms, “clear and distinct” ideas, empirical sensations, or atoms, they are all objects with definable borders. Instead of this, in the case of Hegel, metaphysics can make statements about nature, the self, and sociality, without assuming reality has one single outlook. Hegel interprets objectivity as normative authority and then argues normative authority is essentially historical. For Schelling, metaphysics, too, can make statements about nature, the self, and sociality by generating ruled-govern philosophical systems because thinking is creative and not because reality has one single outlook. For Marx, metaphysics has no single doctrine of existence because philosophy tries to fix in thinking a natural and physical world that is always in a process of “decay.” Metaphysics generates some order out of the fundamental deterioration and replenishment of objects, ecosystems, life. A metaphysics without ontology is a promising approach that safeguards reason’s authority while saying something about thenatural conditions, historical time, and creative source out which views are argued.
2. Current Research
My current research project is the adaptation of my doctoral dissertation into a monograph, entitled Metaphysics Without Ontology: German Idealism’s Non-Dogmatic Metaphysics. It contributes to the recent interest in the English and German literature on rethinking German idealism’s metaphysics and satisfies concerns emerging from both continental and analytic interpretations. It focuses, in particular, on the writings of J. B. Fichte, F. W. J. Schelling, and G. W. F. Hegel. In general, this monograph advances two claims. First, it argues that German idealism was concerned with rethinking metaphysics away from what they saw was modern philosophy’s “thinking of things.” Secondly, it argues that German idealism offers a “non-dogmatic” reading of metaphysics, meaning one that does not confuse subjective presuppositions for objective characteristics of the world. I call this, following Frank Ruda, “Metaphysics Without Ontology.” For German idealism, the world is fundamentally inexhaustible and allows for innumerable interpretations.
The idea of “metaphysics without ontology” emerges primarily from German idealism’s reinterpretation of reason as fundamentally creative, not analytic or synthetic. Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel’s all thought the mistake of prior metaphysics was the idea that thinking reaches out to grasp the world. For them, thinking always function under presuppositions. I call the “accountability gap” German idealism’s belief that our conceptualization of the world will always happen under “such and such” conditions. It is thus not possible, in principle, to give a full and complete picture of the world; to map the world completely.
This monograph will be divided into six major chapters. Two of these focus on Fichte’s idea of a “Wissenschaftslehre,” a “science of knowing,” in its original 1794 and late 1790s manifestations. The first rendition of the “accountability gap” is Fichte’s idea that any knowledge of “what is the case” is also “self-knowing.” Fichte’s arguments for why self-knowing internally develops an account of self-delimitation contributes to the idea that metaphysical thinking always puts forth limited accounts and thus can never say it all. Moreover, Fichte’s insistence on a “regulative” role for the non-delimited or “absolute” self [absolutes Ich] is an example of how metaphysics continually seeks to have an exhaustive picture of the world.
Two further chapters are dedicated to Hegel’s mature philosophy, in particular his Science of Logic and his Encyclopedia. These two chapters focus on how Hegel uses the idea of “thinking under presuppositions” to reinterpret objectivity as normative authority. Recently, scholars such as Terry Pinkard, Robert Pippin, and Rocio Zambrana have argued that for Hegel objectivity is a matter of how well accounts can integrate and grapple with their presuppositions. Hegel’s rethinks metaphysics as the authoritative of “being qua being” in which accounts are more a matter of creativity than of “clear and distinct” ideas. Metaphysics thematizes how ontologies gain authority as accounts of what exists and how they can lose it. There is for Hegel no single ontology whose objectivity would be unquestionable.
The last two chapters develop Schelling’s alternative to the “accountability gap.” Unlike Hegel, who remained committed to the flexibility of reason, Schelling took the idea of reason’s creativity much further. As research from Wolfgram Hogrebe and Markus Gabriel point out, for Schelling reason is disturbingly ungrounded. Metaphysics often hides reason’s creativity to present closed and systematic accounts of existence. Schelling comes to the conclusion that reason’s authority depends, to some degree, on deception. Ultimately, metaphysics is a matter of storytelling, just as the myths of the past and the histories of religious traditions. Metaphysics needs to recognize that it is just one story among many.
The overall aim of my project is to rethink German idealism’s metaphysics in a way that speaks to scholars in the areas of continental philosophy, the history of philosophy, and contemporary philosophy. It shows that “metaphysics without ontology” safeguards reason’s authority while saying something about the historical time, conditions, and creative sources out of which views are argued. In preparation for this, my article “An Accountability Gap in Metaphysics: Hegel and Schelling on Reason’s Authority” has been accepted by the journal Idealistic Studies, pending revisions. I am also in the process of submitting a second journal article, titled I am also in the process of submitting a second journal article that explores the difference between Hegel and Schelling’s philosophy, entitled “Can Schelling Think Hegel’s Concrete Universal?”
3. Future Research
Besides this book project, my other research interest is in the philosophy of nature. In particular, I am interested in the ideas of “natural decay.” I believe this idea underwrites much of Karl Marx’s “materialism” and criticisms of German philosophy’s one-sided focus on nature’s “organization.” Both Schelling and Hegel were fascinated by the idea that thinking itself functions organically, by relating to itself, adapting, even dying. Max, however, places the idea of decay and deterioration of the physical world, ecosystems, and life at the center stage. For him, it is wrong to see nature as autopoietic and purely self-organizing since life remains trapped by the limits of decay and deterioration. I believe Marx’s emphasis on natural decay to be an invaluable contribution to the philosophy of nature today.
In my future research, I am interested in seeing how Marx’s idea of natural decay can help us think about crisis in the natural world, such as extinctions, and the connections between natural decay and the way we organize economic production and reproduction.