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Wednesday, May 3, 2017


I have begun the long tedious task of packing to move.  The day before the movers come, the extended family will turn out to help the old folks, but with all this time [we move on June 28th] I decided to start on my books.  I bought a stack of very nice easy to assemble boxes from  Staples and set to work.  I am labeling the boxes, which will be broken down into five sets [maybe 60-70 boxes in all.]  There is the main alphabetical run, all the Marx books [including the complete English translation of the works of Marx and Engels -- the German is in Paris], all the economics books, all the Afro-American Studies book, and everything by me, including books, journals or collections in which I appear [offprints are already in a box in my closet], my doctoral dissertation, extra copies of translations, etc.

This morning, I had gotten as far as I-12, the twelfth box of the first group, which brought me to the letter H, and as I climbed on a little step stool to reach the top shelf, I came on the rather small Hegel collection.  There I saw a book I had clearly never opened, by  Willem A. deVries, entitled Hegel's Theory of Mental Activity, published by Cornell in 1988.  I checked and there is no reference to me in the Bibliography or Index.

Now, I mean, how likely  is it that deVreis hit on this title completely independently of my 1963 book, Kant's Theory of Mental Activity?



Tom Cathcart said...

I'm told that he could have called it "Gone With the Wind" if he wanted to. Apparently, titles aren't copyrightable. Still, you'd think he'd reference your book.

levinebar said...

I don't imagine that scholars of Hegel read broadly. Somewhere in Hegel, they can find an argument or phrase that can be interpreted to mean anything they're looking for.

Danny said...

I'm curious about the history of the phrase 'mental activity', which sounds like it is part of a project of inquiring what reasons there may be for saying that 'mental activity' is real, although it never confronts us as an object. So, for example, there could be a biological account of mental activity -- which analyzes it into an awareness of bodily processes. All the 'activity' centers in the organisc processes. Or maybe we reject this notion of a bare awareness of physical objects or processes, in order to consider whether mental activity may be analyzed into a complex of mental objects, -- sensations, feelings and images. These mental elements belong to a sort of objective and describable world, and are 'contents'. And are objects, if you will, but this is not Positivism, is not Neo-Realism, is it? They are subjective objects. Maybe we distinguish the mental activity of combining, from that which is reliably there to be combined. Consider that mental acts transpire in time: they begin and end, and they can be repeated and individually counted. Numbers, in contrast, are timeless. There is a notion which I associate with Husserl, off the cuff, that what is psychological (or empirical) comes on in discrete individual instances--ones--and you can examine their edges. Interesting stuff, sure, but I'm confident that Kant never presented a 'theory of mental activity' in so many words. I'm interested in what were his words? I perhaps quibble, but what if I were to see this: 'Kant's theory on unconscious spontaneous mental activity'. --and, actually, I *have* seen this.

One can be agreeable, and speculate that the idea is that unconscious mental activity is arguably central for any theory of the mind. Though what are we talking about? Something that perhaps is rarely studied directly, I suppose. But maybe the unconscious is fundamental to Kant's theory of knowledge. Though he didn't call it the unconscious. And though he didn't call it his theory of knowledge. I'm being satirical, I personally am impatient when I read about the 'so-called Copernican revolution', which I find out can be paraphrased as the insight that the epistemological subject does not etc. etc. but rather etc. etc. And this epistemological construction, I'm paraphrasing Kant of course, trust me, is not conscious but unconscious. And this is...Kant's view, which is central to the critical way to put it..

Shall we just say that I don't think 'Hegel's Theory of Mental Activity' is a good title for a book, and nevermind why I don't think so.

Danny said...

A Hegel quote:
'The logic is the *most difficult* science, inasmuch as it has to do, not with intuitions nor even, like geometry, with abstract sense-representations, but with pure abstractions, and inasmuch as it requires a trained ability at withdrawing into pure thought, holding onto it and moving within it. It could, on the other hand, be viewed as the *easiest* science, because its content is nothing but our own thinking and its ordinary determinations, and because these are both the *simplest* and *what is elementary*. They are also what we are *most familiar* with: being, nothing, etc.; determinacy, magnitude, etc.,; being-in-itself, being-for-itself, one, many, and so on.'

Now, I don't insist on putting in terms of what Hegel 'defines mental activity as'. Surely, he treats something as being, put it this way, an activity of the human mind, on a level quite separate from physical life. Can we say that he thinks there are these determinations of thought, that are implicit in all our mental activity? Sure. And he wants to isolate them, to consider them abstractly, and he says that magnitude and one and many are elementary, and they operate in our thinking even when we are not conscious of their doing so. My problem here is the phrase 'mental activity'. One can say that 'thought' is one of several mental activities. I think that would be a common understanding. But what is his conception of thinking? Using the phrase 'mental activity' doesn't help, from my perspective, and I don't know that it helps with expounding Kant either. Anyways, here is a Hegel quote:

'But we can say, too, that it has been the conviction of every age that what is substantial is only reached through the reworking of the immediate by our thinking about it. It has most notably been only in modern times, on the other hand, that doubts have been raised and the distinction between the products of our thinking and what things are in themselves has been insisted on.'


'It has been said that the in-itself of things is quite different from what we make of them. This separateness is the standpoint that has been maintained especially by the critical philosophy, against the conviction of the whole world previously in which the agreement between the matter and thought was taken for granted. The central concern of modern philosophy turns on this antithesis.'

So that is what we know versus some 'thing in itself', which could be tortuously called Kant's theory of mental activity, though I wouldn't insist on putting it that way.

Aardvark said...

Just don't do what we did on our last move (although we had professional help packing) and forget to keep the cookbooks together.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Sheesh. It is hard enough keeping the Kant books together.

Anonymous said...

"Now, I mean, how likely is it that deVreis hit on this title completely independently of my 1963 book, Kant's Theory of Mental Activity?"

If we assume that Professor deVreis's book treated Hegel's theory of mental activity, the likelihood seems rather high.