Until Immanuel Kant –with the possible exception of Aristotle in antiquity– art was mostly described as an awe-inspiring product of imagination that bypasses the reason, and treated this way in the literature. After Kant, however, Hegel in particular said –along with his criticism of Kant– “No, art is not merely a product of our imagination.” Imagination can create certain products by taking inputs from the objects in the outside world and processing them in a cinematographic manner –as in dreams– but we also use our reason, the faculty said to be bypassed in this whole process, to make judgments about these works of art. So, art is not merely a product of imagination, a purely sensory form of knowledge, or an act of bringing together what was gathered from the outside world in the form of a design or a description, it also involves an intellectual judgment about the product. Intellectual judgment involves an assessment. It involves our ideas about that art object, that product of art, and about its methods.
Aristotle is a logician who ruled the world of philosophy until Descartes. The change of time in Descartes, how he carried the perception of time to the laboratory, and the related birth of science or scientific methodology have shaken the foundations of Aristotle’s logic and his formulation based on synchrony, on the here and now. Let’s remember this now. What was Aristotle’s logical syllogism? Rational comparisons “now in time and here in space.” Think of this as a pair of scales: making a logical comparison as if weighing things by putting things on each of the scales… Because Aristotle emphasized his ideas on the substance of solid objects, his logic becomes an ontology; it involves ontology and approximates physics, because thinking over solid objects leads to the world of physics. What is the problem, then?
The problem that escaped notice for a long time, until Descartes, is that synchrony also implies timelessness. Logical deductions on the basis of snapshots of “here and now” do not create a process. They do not produce knowledge of past, present, and the future; they simply provide snapshots of this moment. Thus, immutability becomes a principle. Self-identity of an object that occupies space, that is to say the substance, is self-identical without surpassing time and without motion, subject to “here and now.” Even though weighing time and space creates a comparative syllogism, Descartes has developed a logic that surpasses time by moving it into the context of cause and effect. If we were to call Aristotle’s logic synchronous logic, then we would call Descartes’s logic time-surpassing logic. Descartes says, “Same causes create or determine same effects under the same conditions.” As this determination shows, causes are in the past, conditions are about now, and effects are in the future. This surpasses time.
If were to use a horizontal line to represent Aristotle’s logic, we would do the following: Let’s draw a horizontal line on an empty piece of paper, and add two endpoints, ‘a’ and ‘b’ on both ends. If we were to add a point ‘c’ in the middle, it would look like a pair of scales. If this represents the horizontal nature of the logic of “here and now,” how it is horizontal in time, then Descartes’s logic can be represented by drawing a vertical line intersecting the horizontal previous line in the middle; we would have a time flowing from the past to the future… One is a static conception of time; it treats space as static too, and its logic is founded on the identity of the substantial unity of the object, describing this as the “principle of noncontradiction.” If we were to call an object ‘a,’ this object ‘a’ occupies its own space, and no other object can occupy its space. In this sense, it is unique. The same applies to object ‘b’ as well. It also occupies a space, is identical to itself, and no other object can occupy the same space. ‘A’ cannot be ‘b,’ and ‘b’ cannot be ‘a’. They exclude one another, and their existence is infinite. This is why, in Aristotelian thought, the universe is eternal. It was not created, so it has no end, either; whatever has always existed will always continue to do so. However, this can be perceived as the eternity of being here and now, instead of eternity of being. When Descartes provided this logic with a methodology, supported it with analysis and syntheses, and made it time-surpassing, the possibility of engaging in science was born. This means that we can engage in observation according to Aristotle.
Assume we collected our perceptions of an object at different times, say in the morning, in the afternoon, a month later, during the winter, and during the summer; this is called observation. So, in Aristotelian science, observation is passive. This passive object, told through the lens of the Aristotelian logic of solid objects, becomes active in Descartes. Descartes observes objects by changing them (it is still observation, because we are engaging in science, after all). The method we call science consists of the steps of applying certain practical methods of confirmation and falsification to that observation, making measurements to be able to judge from the perspective of a cluster of theoretical statements, and trying to make sense of it in the context of those theoretical statements.
With Descartes, we bring it to the laboratory, that is to say, we amend the object. We build upon Aristotle by applying measurements and mathematical and geometric criteria to repeated perceptions of the change in the object, and ultimately, by 1) surpassing time and space, and 2) changing/affecting the objects. Immanuel Kant, on the other hand, when he treats this perception of logic as reason itself, identifies the possibilities and limitations of reason, and discusses the categories of reason and its substantial unity –this time as timeless– he also describes a timeless, or transcendental reason that is different from Aristotle’s time of here and now, and Descartes’s time-surpassing time. He says, “The categories of reason are universal. They rule as universals at all times and spaces.”
After these three important logicians, Hegel, another logician, comes up with the dialectical logic, also known as the dialectical method. Hegel addresses Kant, in particular, as the most advanced of philosophers. Indeed, Immanuel Kant is the pinnacle of philosophy in the traditional sense, in the Aristotelian tradition. If philosophy is an activity of reason, he was a philosopher that provided the most magnificent narrative on reason. Hegel criticizes him, saying, “This reason, as the timeless, transcendent reason, remains stuck in universals and in the abstract. It cannot show us the reality. Therefore, all products of this reason –whether they are science, art, or philosophy– remain abstract, severed from the reality of life. They remain as rational inferences –also called deduction, reasoning, or discursive reason– they stay this way and are limited to being efforts to gather everything under its own umbrella, to describe all events and facts using reason.” What are we to do, then? He says, “This problem, which arises when these universals are fixed in constant objects, that is to say, in time and space, should be directly observed in history and in objective reality by explaining universals through reality, or as facts emerge and disappear.” So, time exists when it disappears as a fact. That is to say, what determines time is not an abstraction of time but the disappearance of a fact; time comes into being when a fact emerges and disappears. Time is born out of fact; gradually, it encompasses Albert Einstein’s mass too. It emerges not only as an external methodological fact, but also as a reality by which motion of mass determines time. After Hegel, understanding Einstein is easier.
Now, when a fact disappears, it transforms into reality. Or, let me put it this way: “A fact acquires reality when it transforms; otherwise, the process proceeds internally,” says Hegel. When a fact disappears, it becomes an object of history, and thus knowable. For a reality to be known, it must disappear and become an object of history first. If it is in the process of being, as it has not turned to itself, as it has not transformed and moved to another level, we cannot know it because we are in it. As in the famous saying, “Fish don’t know they are in water.” Facts are descriptions of events consistent with laws.
Hegel says thought, the actions of reason, intentional acts of reason, that is to say the observation of reason in history, constitute an ontology, and ontology is historical. Prior to that, ontology was only physis (nature). Nature is substance, nature is real because it is ahistorical; it was even said that nature constituted the stage for history, which was what Aristotle argued. The prevailing opinion was, “All philosophers of nature are like that; ontology is the science of nature, and history is mere nonsense, it is nothing but hearsay, nothing but stories of Herodotus.” Hegel, on the other hand, said, “No. To the contrary, history is the manifestation of the spirit.” Spirit refers to human consciousness, and thought is the substance of spirit. History is the stage on which human actions, progressing toward freedom, embody and transform objects in the outside world; history may even be the only reality there is. This is because nature also acquires reality in the stage of history through human actions. Nature emerges as nature –ding an sich (thing in itself)– and acquires meaning only through human actions. Without human senses, perception, observation, and action, nature would remain in an indefinite state. Thus, history not only gains significance in terms of spirituality, it also acquires a certain existence for reality, it acquires ontology.
Therefore, according to Hegel, these processes through which human thought and consciousness assign meaning to the outside world, shape objects of the outside world, and turn them into expressions encompass everything that constitute our culture, the human culture. In terms of spirituality, not only art, but all of science, philosophy, and religion are products of the spirit; in other words, they are forms of thought. People express themselves through these means. We call one form of expression art, another science, and yet another philosophy. They all have the same source: the spirit. “Everything is born and reborn out of the spirit,” says Hegel. Another definition of his has also been accepted by later philosophers: “People can only know their own actions.” Some philosophers went even further: “Contrary to Kant’s claim, we cannot know nature, ding an sich –thing in itself– because we didn’t make it. We can only know about its phenomena/appearances and cause and effect relationships among them to the extent they are reflected in our senses, and this is the limit of our science. Other than that, we cannot know about the essence of the thing in itself.”
Hegel criticizes this discourse of previous philosophers. He says, “Just as objective manifestations of human action contain human thought in their essence, all objects of existence must also externalize and manifest their essences in the form of expressions and actions; all phenomena, then, must manifest their essences.” In other words, nothing can remain in existence without being known by human reason. The concept of phenomenon is an important one. In philosophy, one must approach these things conceptually. Kant’s phenomena… What are we to understand from these phenomena? Let us consider a human being as an example. To know about a human being as an individual, we think about their characteristics. For example, a person may be a housewife cleaning her house; she may also be a wife and a mother; she may also be an employee; she may also practice art, and is an artists at that moment. All these characteristics stem from her internal actions; looking at the intentions and feelings behind them, we could say all of these are phenomena.
What else can we know about the essence of this person, besides these phenomena? If she expressed thoughts about herself, then these are also phenomena. They are appearances manifested as phenomena. Intellectual phenomena, linguistic phenomena, phenomena expressed through gestures and mimics… Phenomena in acts, actions, products… That person is more than the sum of all these phenomena, we cannot unite them. We cannot unite phenomena, but we cannot reduce them to one another, either. That person is both a daughter and a mother; her motherhood cannot be reduced to her being a daughter. All these phenomena are like her words. However, to turn them into a sentence, we would need to discover the real intention behind these words, and the essence and purpose behind these actions; only then would these phenomena, these appearances be united and acquire meaning. According to Hegel, essence, meaning, or intention cannot remain hidden; it is certainly manifested in all actions. This is a quality of both nature and human beings, he says, offering this as a unifier. This is how an ontology is formed and history acquires reality. “In history, human actions take the form of a process, a sequence of developments. Therefore, history is manifested as existential determinations, in the form of necessary stages. Science is the knowledge of this necessity, and thus a science of spirit is possible.” This is big claim, because necessity and freedom cannot coexist. Necessity is the negation of freedom. “Spirit possesses freedom,” he says. If the spirit possesses freedom –not contingently, not arbitrarily, but necessarily– how can it be free?
What is claimed to be difficult to understand is this contradiction offered by Hegel: how can freedom and necessity coexist? When we look at the outside world, when we define it as nature, we find it to be reliable because we view it as necessity, as following laws. Nature is a reliable field; it gives us confidence when same causes create or determine same effects under the same conditions. Once we know that at standard atmospheric pressure, water boils at 100 degrees Celsius, we never doubt nature again. We teach this in classes; we also know how much mercury rises in the tube, in the barometer; they are in the books. We do not attempt to make a thousand trials; nature is reliable, it doesn’t lie. We call this the science of physics. However, how can we say the same thing about spiritual sciences? How can they be so reliable? Don’t we have any funny business going on there? This is his field of expertise. Hegel views being necessarily free as a form of necessity. People are condemned to be free. Being condemned to be free, being necessarily free is the substance of spirit; it is the end goal, the purpose of spirit. People move toward that whether they like it or not. This is why a science of spirit, like the science of nature, is possible. That science is possible, and because art is a form of spiritual expression, a science of art is also possible.
* This excerpt is taken from a talk given by Metin Bobaroğlu on August 3rd, 2015. Translated by Dr. Emre Eren Korkmaz, and revised by the editorial board.