Philosophy of Skepticism; A Childish Devilish State Where One Tries To Shore Up His or Her Identity By Causing Others To Fall

Skepticism negates the domain of alterity by trying to show that nay given determination of logical necessity turns into its opposite and, hence, is not what it is. The skeptic traces and focuses on this constant vanishing of determinate appearance without taking into account the dialectical logic that orchestrates and unifies these various oppositions. Hence, nothing is what it is, and there is no logical or empirical ground accessible to the skeptic on which the domain of alterity might rationally be know. The skeptic’s thinking becomes a frantic effort to make every given determination disappear into some other one, so that the constant appearing and vanishing proceeds according to no order or necessity. The skeptic, like some new historicists among us, ends up producing contradictions for its own sake: significantly, Hegel argues that this production of chaos (understood as ceaseless contraction) is pleasurable inasmuch as the skeptic is always able to undermine the position of his philosophical opponent.

This kind of pleasurable and incessant refutation is still a form of stubbornness or eigensinnigkeit: “it is in fact like the squabbling of self-willed children [eigensinniger Jungen] who by contradicting themselves buy for themselves the pleasure [die Freude] of continually contradicting one another.” The skeptic overrides his own contradictoriness in order to take pleasure in forcing others to witness their contradictions. But this pleasure, a form of sadism, is short-lived, for the stubborn and persistent character of the skeptic encounters another like himself. If another skeptic exposes the first skeptic’s contradictions, then the firs skeptic is forced to take account of his own contradictoriness. This understanding of his own contradictoriness. This understanding of his own contradictoriness will initiate for him a new modality of thought. At this point, the skeptic becomes self-conscious of the constitutive contradiction of his own negating activity and the unhappy consciousness emerges as an explicit form of ethical reflexivity.

In a sense, the childish and stubborn pleasure that the skeptic takes in watching another fall turns into a profound unhappiness when he is, as it were, forced to watch himself fall into endless contradictions. Hence the distance afforded by watching seems essentially linked to the sadism of the pleasure and to the posture of the skeptic as one who exempts himself through visual distance from the scene that he witnesses. The sadistic pleasure involved in watching another becomes, in the mode of unhappiness, a displaceable watching of oneself. Witnessing implies a mimetic reduplication of the self, and its “dispassion” is belied by the passion of mimeticism. The self who shored up its identity by encouraging others to fall into contradiction suddenly sees itself as one of those others; this viewing of oneself at a distance not only initiates the unhappy consciousness but also inverts the skeptic’s pleasure into pain. The sadism directed toward the other is now turned back on consciousness itself (postponing for the moment whether the pleasure in sadism is also rerouted against consciousness.) As a dual structure, the unhappy consciousness takes itself as its own object of scorn.

The philosophical elaboration of this scorn takes the following form: consciousness is now divided into two parts, the “essential” and “unchangeable,” on the one hand, and the “inessential” and “changeable,” on the other. The watching self, defined as a kind of witnessing and scorning, differentiates itself from the self witnessed as perpetually falling into contradiction. This watching becomes a way of reestablishing the visual distance between a subject aloof from the scene and the subject in contradiction. In this case, however, the witnessing and scorning self cannot deny that the contradictory self is its own self; it knows that the contradictory self is itself, but in order to shore up an identity over and against it, it renders this contradictory self into an inessential part of itself. It thus parts with itself in order to purify itself of contradiction.

As a result, the unhappy consciousness berates itself constantly, setting up one part of itself as a pure judge aloof from contradiction and disparaging its changeable part as inessential, although ineluctably tied to it. Significantly, the activity that in skepticism begins as childish sadism becomes reformulated as ethical self-judgment in the context of the unhappy consciousness: as adult to child, then, the unchangeable consciousness “passes judgment” on the changeable. Implicit in this dual structuring of the subject, however, is the relation between thought and corporeality, for the unchangeable will be a kind of non-contradictory domain will be that of alternating qualities, the changeable domain of appearance, what pertains to the subject’s own phenomenal being. The child who “watches” is transfigured into the judge who “passes judgment,” and the aspect of the self on which it passes judgment is steeped in the changeable world of bodily sensations.

Unhappy consciousness seeks to overcome this duality by finding a body which embodies the purity of its unchangeable part; it seeks to come into relation with “the unchangeable in its incarnate or embodied form.” To do this, the subject subordinates its own body in the service of the thought of the unchangeable; this subordinating and purifying effort is that of devotion (Andacht). Yet, predictably, this effort to deploy the body in the service of thinking the unchangeable proves impossible. Devotion turns out to be pure self-feeling, what Hegel disparagingly refers to as “the chaotic jingling of bells, or a mist of warm incense, a musical thinking.” As self-feeling, it is the feeling of the body compelled to signify the transcendent and unchangeable, a feeling which nevertheless remains ensconced in the bodily feeling that it seeks to transcend. Indeed, self-feeling refers only and endlessly to itself ( a transcendentalized form of eigensinnigkeit), and so is unable to furnish knowledge of anything other than itself. Devotion, then, which seeks to instrumentalize the body in the service of the unchangeable, turns out to be an immersion in the body that precludes access to anything else, indeed, an immersion that takes the body to be the unchangeable and so falls into contradiction.

Although devotion appears to be a form of self-immersion, it is also a continuation of self-beratement as self-mortification. This self-feeling precisely because it does not reach the unchangeable, becomes itself the object of derision and judgment, making the continuing inadequacy of the self in relation to its transcendent measure. The transcendent is what is always missed, and so haunts this consciousness as a figure of what is permanently inaccessible, forever lost. In the mode of devotion, the, “unconsciousness . . . can only find as a present reality the grave of life.”

In a transposition of figures, the body survives, and all that is left of the transcendent ideal is a “grave.” Whereas devotion, then, begins as an effort to subordinate the body to a transcendent object, it ends by taking the body, that is, self-feeling, as its object of worship, and letting the unchangeable spirit die.

Here we might conclude that a certain form of self-preoccupation, understood as a reformulation of an insurmountable eigensinnigkeit, constitutes a narcissism of the subject that defeats the self-sacrificial project of devotion. The subject who would subordinate its body to an ideal, compel its body to embody an ideal, finds itself more fully autonomous from that ideal, outliving it altogether. The collapse of devotion into narcissism, if we can call it that, signifies that there can be no final leave-taking of the body within life. …… If there is a world of appearance for which the body is essential, then surely here is a world of noumena in which the body has no place; the world divides up into beings that are for-itself and in-itself.

PERSONAL COMMENT: Did you ever wonder if the stoics become who they are because of the skeptics? I’m not saying that I don’t possess any character defects of my own, but what I’m going through seems a lot like a Black Pot calling a Black Kettle the color black. Magneto’s Team Affiliation, after all is the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. What my religious study has taught me is that we are all flesh and blood, capable of dying, capable of acquiring disease, and what makes me bleed, makes you bleed. We are all really One. Coming up against the skeptic is one of the most challenging positions to posture yourself against. It becomes even harder when you are related. Emotion can blur the lines of understanding and reason.

Eigensinnigkeit is a German word that translates in English to mean stubbornness.
Andacht is a German word that translates in English to mean silent prayer or worship.


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