My research specialization is in nineteenth-century philosophy, especially German idealism. Broadly defined, I am interested in German idealism’s metaphysics, its philosophies of nature and self, and German idealism’s critics.
1. Dissertation Research
My dissertation argues for an interpretation of German philosophy as “metaphysics without ontology.” This interpretation is prompted by the question: how should we do metaphysics in a plural world? My dissertation reconstructs 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 one 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, or atoms, they are objects with definable borders. Instead, for 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 can also make statements about nature, the self, and sociality by generating ruled-governed 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 “decaying.” It generates some order out of the deterioration and replenishment of nature, ecosystems, life. A metaphysics without ontology is an approach that safeguards reason’s authority while saying something about the natural conditions, historical time, and creative source out of which views are argued.
2. Current Research
My current research project is the adaptation of my doctoral dissertation into a monograph, Metaphysics Without Ontology: German Idealism’s Non-Dogmatic Metaphysics. It contributes to the recent interest in the English and German literature on revisiting German idealism’s metaphysics. 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 focused on rethinking metaphysics away from what it 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 that metaphysics is not essentially connected to one single ontology of what existence is like emerges from idealism’s interpretation of reason as creative. Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel’s all considered a major mistake of prior metaphysics the assumption that thinking reaches out to grasp general features of the world. For them, rather, reason always conceives the world out of some particular position. It is a creative act not unlike storytelling or creative writing. One of idealism’s key commitments is that it is in principle not possible to give a full and complete picture of the world. I call this the “accountability gap.”
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. In other words, we can never “say it all.” Moreover, Fichte’s insistence on a “regulative” role for the non-delimited self [absolutes Ich] is an example of how we nonetheless cannot but seek to give 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 that reason always thinks 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 our accounts of the world can integrate and grapple with their presuppositions. Hegel’s rethinks metaphysics in such a way that it has more to do with creativity than with “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. Overall, Hegel provides a way to conceive of the world in a plurality of ways without undermining reason’s objectivity.
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 objectivity depends, to some degree, on forgetting creativity. 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 as a theory of metaphysical plurality. It argues 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.