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Knowledge and the World: The Functional Role of the World in Speculative Reason


In specifying his solution to the problem of experiential opposition Hegel makes use of the notion of a conceptual movement by and in which the object-to-be-known resolves the opposition among its appearing determinate contents by immanently subsuming them under epistemic relations of sublation. These relations of sublation take the form of a relational structure of consciousness, that is, an epistemic movement in which the knowing subject arrives at knowledge by examining the relations amongst forms of consciousness. The idea is that by showing themselves to be false or simply inadequate, particular forms of consciousness will both (a) lead to forms of consciousness which are more and more conducive to knowledge of the object-to-be-known, and finally to that form of consciousness which will fully provide us with that knowledge, and (b) justify the truth of the final form of consciousness.

In this paper I discuss the problem of whether the claim for the existence of an epistemically significant relational structure of consciousness is compatible with the claim for the existence of a justificatory relational structure of consciousness. I show that given the functional role played by the notion of the world in the very act of constructing the relationality amongst forms of consciousness – one, by the way, could see in this role the empirical side of speculative epistemology – the very idea of a justificatory relational structure of consciousness cannot be possibly realized. But if this is true, there are gross ramifications for the whole project of an epistemology which is based on a relational structure of consciousness: It seems to be unable to provide a good reason why such a structure is in any way preferable to a non-relational structure when it comes down to choosing among competing epistemological theories.