I work in the History of Philosophy, specializing in Kant and Hegel. My research is generally focused on the nature of subjectivity: how an account of subjectivity (or of actual human subjects) can fit into a more general ontology in a non-reductive fashion, and how, at the same time, this account can make sense of our ability to experience the world around us. My research is also informed by the central figures in Early Modern Rationalism (Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza) as well as by 20th Century Phenomenology, especially Merleau-Ponty.
Dissertation: The Idealism of Life: Hegel and Kant on the Ontology of Living Individuals
In my dissertation, I argued, by way of a study of Kant and Hegel, that only insofar as life is grasped as an individual or as a subject—terms that have a precise meaning, which, I argue, is developed over the course of Hegel’s Science of Logic—can it be grasped as truly self-determining, a requirement that both Kant and Hegel are (rightly) committed to. In this way, I demonstrate the significance of one of Hegel’s most radical insights: that the concept of a subject picks out not some mysterious phenomenon that either supervenes on or obtains independently from the natural, physical world, but rather a particular form of ideal relation, of a kind with more familiar ontological concepts like “substance” or “cause,” and that living nature exhibits the most basic form of this ideal relation—and, thus, that just as we can develop a metaphysical account of causation, we can develop a metaphysics of subjectivity.
To say that life is self-determining means, for both Kant and Hegel, that a living organism is an organized totality—that is, not a merely accidental heap—that is not designed by some intelligent creator (as are all artifacts), but that organizes or determines itself. As I argue, though, in order to think of life in this way, that is, as neither mere heap nor product of design, it must be understood in terms of both the ideal relation between a) the member organs and the living organism and b) the living self and its surroundings. How we conceive of these two aspects of living organisms will depend, however, on our understanding of the relationship between such ideal relations and whatever it is that is so related. This relationship is vitally important for two reasons:
First, ideality is usually (and explicitly, in the case of Kant) understood in relation to subjectivity, such that ideal relations are those attributable to some subject or mind. But this tracing back of ideality to a judging subject suggests an ontological picture whereby the ideal is that which is contributed by some subject (the ontology of which remains a conspicuous lacuna) and the real is that which is already there, found by the subject. But this picture would necessarily misconstrue or fail to account for the relationship between real particulars and ideal relations in a living individual, since the ideal relations are necessarily immanent to the individual and at once determined by and determining of the real particulars of which it consists.
Second, if life is necessarily at once objectively present organism and subjective relation to its surroundings, its ideal relation to the world around it (in, for example, sensation) needs to be understood as a real feature of the organism. In other words, the difference between the organism and its environment has to be understood as constitutive of what the organism really is. We therefore have two distinct (though related) reasons to need an account of ideality—an idealism—that treats it as the immanent structure of reality, rather than some extrinsic additive to or fundamentally distinct perspective on reality. But this is precisely the notion of ideality offered, at first explicitly in Hegel’s discussion of the infinite, and then implicitly, in the Science of Logic.
In arguing that the logic of life’s self-determination can only be captured in the Hegelian logic of individuality, I demonstrate that a sufficient understanding of life requires a metaphysical account of subjectivity of the kind developed by Hegel in the Science of Logic, and that we can understand the significance of this account by considering it as responsive to difficulties encountered in Kant’s conception of self-organizing nature.