Studies in the Hegelian Dialectic. John McTaggart & Ellis McTaggart 1896
67. THE question now arises, whether the dialectic as sketched in the last two chapters, is a valid system of philosophy. The consideration of this question here must necessarily be extremely incomplete. Some seventy or eighty transitions from one category to another may be found in the Logic, and we should have to consider the correctness of each one of these, before we could pronounce the dialectic, in its present form at least, to be correct. For a chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and if a single transition is inconclusive, it must render all that comes beyond it uncertain. All we can do here is to consider whether the starting point and the general method of the dialectic are valid, without enquiring into its details.
We shall have in the first place to justify the dialectical procedure – so different from that which the understanding uses in the affairs of every-day life. To do this we must show, first, that the ordinary use of the Understanding implies a demand for the complete explanation of the universe, and then that such an explanation cannot be given by the Understanding, and can be given by the Reason in its dialectical use, so that the Understanding itself postulates in this way the validity of dialectic thought. In the second place we must prove that the point from which the dialectic starts is one which it may legitimately take for granted, and that the nature of the advance and its relation to experience are such as will render the dialectic a valid theory of knowledge. In this connection the relation of the idea of Movement to the dialectic process must also be considered. And finally the question will arise whether we are justified in applying this theory of knowledge as also a theory of being, and in deducing the worlds of Nature and Spirit from the world of Logic.
68. It is to be noticed that both the first and second arguments are of a transcendental nature. We start respectively from the common thought of the Understanding, and from the idea of Being, and we endeavour to prove the validity of the speculative method and of the Absolute Idea, because they are assumed in, and postulated by, the propositions from which we started. Before going further, therefore, we ought to consider some general objections which have been made against transcendental arguments as such.
They have been stated with great clearness by Mr Arthur Balfour in his Defence of Philosophic Doubt. “When a man,” he says, “is convinced by a transcendental argument, it must be . . . because he perceives that a certain relation or principle is necessary to constitute his admitted experience. This is to him a fact, the truth of which he is obliged to recognise. But another fact, which he may also find it hard to dispute, is that he himself, and, as it would appear, the majority of mankind, have habitually had this experience without ever thinking it under this relation; and this second fact is one which it does not seem easy to interpret in a manner which shall harmonise with the general theory. The transcendentalist would, no doubt, say at once that the relation in question had always been thought implicitly, even if it had not always come into clear consciousness; and having enunciated this dictum he would trouble himself no further about a matter which belonged merely to the ‘history of the individual.’ But if an implicit thought means in this connection what it means everywhere else, it is simply a thought which is logically bound up in some other thought, and which for that reason may always be called into existence by it. Now from this very definition, it is plain that so long as a thought is implicit it does not exist. It is a mere possibility, which may indeed at any moment become an actuality, and which, when once an actuality, may be indestructible; but which so long as it is a possibility can be said to have existence only by a figure of speech.
“If, therefore, this meaning of the word ‘implicit’ be accepted, we find ourselves in a difficulty. Either an object can exist and be a reality to an intelligence which does not think of it under relations which, as I now see, are involved in it, i.e. without which I cannot now think of it as an object; or else I am in error, when I suppose myself and other people to have ignored these relations in past times.” <Note: Defence of Philosophic Doubt, p. 94.>
The second of these alternatives, as Mr Balfour points out, cannot be adopted. It is certain that a large part of mankind have never embraced the transcendental philosophy, and that even those who accept it did not do so from their earliest childhood. It follows, he continues, that we must accept the first alternative, in which case the whole transcendental system “vanishes in smoke.”
69. The dilemma, however, as it seems to me, rests upon a confusion of the two different senses in which we may be said to be conscious of thought. We may be said, in the first place, to be conscious of it whenever we are conscious of a whole experience in which it is an element. In this sense we must be conscious of all thought which exists at all. We must agree with Mr Balfour that “if the consciousness vanishes, the thought must vanish too, since, except on some crude materialistic hypothesis, they are the same thing.” <Note: op. cit. p. 100.> But in the second sense we are only conscious of a particular thought when we have singled it out from the mass of sensations and thoughts, into which experience may be analysed, when we have distinguished it from the other constituents of experience, and know it to be a thought, and know what thought it is. In this sense we may have thought without being conscious of it. And indeed we must always have it, before we can be conscious of it in this sense. For thought first comes before us as an element in the whole of experience, and it is not till we have analysed that whole, and separated thought from sensation, and one thought from another, that we know we have a particular thought. Till then we have the thought without being explicitly conscious that we have it. Now I submit that Mr Balfour’s argument depends on a paralogism. When he asserts that we must always be conscious of any relation which is necessary to constitute experience, he is using “to be conscious of” in the first sense. When he asserts that all people are not always conscious of all the ideas of the dialectic as necessary elements in experience, he is using “to be conscious of” in the second sense. And if we remove this ambiguity the difficulty vanishes.
We are only conscious of thought as an element in experience. Of thought outside experience we could not be conscious in any sense of the word, for thought except as relating and mediating data cannot even be conceived. But thought of which we are not conscious at all is, as Mr Balfour remarks, a non- entity. And no thought does exist outside experience. Both thought and the immediate data which it mediates exist only as combined in the whole of experience, which is what comes first into consciousness. In this lie the various threads of thought and sensation, of which we may be said to be conscious, in so far as we are conscious of the whole of which they are indispensable elements. But we do not know how many, nor of what nature, the threads are, until we have analysed the whole in which they are first presented to us, nor, till then, do we clearly see that the whole is made up of separate elements. Even to know this involves some thinking about thought. There is no contradiction between declaring that certain relations must enter into all conscious thought, and admitting that those relations are known as such only to those who have endeavoured to divide the whole of experience into its constituent parts, and have succeeded in the attempt.
The use of the word “implicit” to which Mr Balfour objects, can be explained in the same way. If it means only what he supposes, so that an implicit thought is nothing but one “which is logically bound up in some other thought, and which for that reason may always be called into existence by it” – then indeed to say that a thought is implicit is equivalent to saying that it does not exist. But if we use the word – and there seems no reason why we should not – in the sense suggested by its derivation, in which it means that which is wrapped up in something else, then it is clear that a thing may be implicit, and so not distinctly seen to be itself, while it nevertheless exists and is perceived as part of the whole in which it is involved.
70. In speaking of such an answer to his criticisms, Mr Balfour objects that it concedes more than transcendentalism can afford to allow. “If relations can exist otherwise than as they are thought, why should not sensations do the same? Why should not the ‘perpetual flux’ of unrelated objects – the metaphysical spectre which the modern transcendentalist labours so hard to lay – why, I say, should this not have a real existence? We, indeed, cannot in our reflective moments think of it except under relations which give it a kind of unity; but once allow that an object may exist, but in such a manner as to make it nothing for us as thinking beings, and this incapacity may be simply due to the fact that thought is powerless to grasp the reality of things.” <Note: op. cit. p. 101.>
This, however, is not a fair statement of the position. The transcendentalist does not assert that an object can exist in such a manner as to be nothing for us as thinking beings, but only that it may exist, and be something for us as thinking beings, although we do not recognise the conditions on which its existence for us depends. Thus we are able to admit that thought exists even for those people who have never made the slightest reflection on its nature. And, in the same way, no doubt, we can be conscious of related sensations without seeing that they are related, for we may never have analysed experience as presented to us into its mutually dependent elements of sensation and thought. But it does not follow that sensations could exist unrelated. That would mean that something existed in consciousness (for sensations exist nowhere else), which not only is not perceived to comply with the laws of consciousness, but which actually does not comply with them. And this is quite a different proposition, and an impossible one.
71. Passing now to the peculiarities of the dialectic method, their justification must be one which will commend itself to the Understanding – that is to thought, when, as happens in ordinary life, it acts according to the laws of formal logic, and treats the various categories as stable and independent entities, which have no relation to one another, but that of exclusion. For if speculative thought, or Reason, cannot be justified before the Understanding, there will be an essential dualism in the nature of thought, incompatible with any satisfactory philosophy. And since mankind naturally, and until cause is shown to the contrary, takes up the position of the Understanding, it will be impossible that we can have any logical right to enter on the dialectic, unless we can justify it from that standpoint, from which we must set out when we first begin to investigate metaphysical questions.
The first step towards this proof is the recognition that the Understanding necessarily demands an absolute and complete explanation of the universe. In dealing with this point, Hartmann <Note: Ueber die dialektische Methode, B. II. 4.> identifies the longing for the Absolute, on which Hegel here relies, with the longing to “smuggle back” into our beliefs the God whom Kant had rejected from metaphysics. God, however, is an ideal whose reality may be demanded on the part either of theoretical or of practical reason. It is therefore not very easy to see whether Hartmann meant that the longing, as he calls it, after the Absolute, is indulged only in the interest of religion and ethics, or whether he admits that it is demanded, whether justifiably or not, by the nature of knowledge. The use of the term “longing,” (Sehnsucht), however, and the expressions “mystisch-religiöses Bedürfnis,” and “unverständliche Gefühle,” which he applies to it, seem rather to suggest the former alternative.
In this case grave injustice is done to the Hegelian position. The philosopher does not believe in the Absolute merely because he desires it should exist. The postulate is not only an emotional or ethical one, nor is the Absolute itself by any means primarily a religious ideal, whatever it may subsequently become. If, for example, we take the definition given in the Smaller Logic, “der Begriff der Idee, dem die Idee als solche der Gegenstand, dem das Objekt sie ist,” <Note: Enc. Section 236.> it is manifest that what is here chiefly regarded is not a need of religion, but of cognition. Indeed the whole course of the Logic shows us that it is the desire for complete knowledge, and the impatience of knowledge which is seen to be unsatisfactory, which act as the motive power of the system. It is possible, no doubt, that Hegel’s object in devoting himself to philosophy at all was, as has often been the case with philosophers, mainly practical, and that his interest in the absolute was excited from the side of ethics and religion rather than of pure thought. But so long as he did not use this interest as an argument, it does not weaken his position. The ultimate aim which a philosopher has in his studies is irrelevant to our criticism of his results, if the latter are valid in themselves.
72. The need of the Absolute is thus a need of cognition. We must ask, then, whether the Understanding, in its attempts to solve particular problems, demands a complete explanation of the universe, and the attainment of the ideal of knowledge? This question must be answered in the affirmative. For although we start with particular problems, the answer to each of these will raise fresh questions, which must be solved before the original difficulty can be held to be really answered, and this process goes on indefinitely, till we find that the whole universe is involved in a complete answer to even the slightest question. As was pointed out above <Note: Section 13.> any explanation of anything by means of the surrounding circumstances, of an antecedent cause, or of its constituent parts, must necessarily raise fresh questions as to the surroundings of those surroundings, the causes of those causes, or the parts of those parts, and such series of questions, if once started, cannot stop until they reach the knowledge of the whole surrounding universe, of the whole of past time, or of the ultimate atoms, which it is impossible to subdivide further.
In fact, to state the matter generally, any question which the Understanding puts to itself must be either, What is the meaning of the universe? or, What is the meaning of some part of the universe? The first is obviously only to be answered by attaining the absolute ideal of knowledge. The second again can only be answered by answering the first. For if a thing is part of a whole it must stand in some relation to the other parts. The other parts must therefore have some influence on it, and part of the explanation of its nature must lie in these other parts. From the mere fact that they are parts of the same universe, they must all be connected, directly or indirectly.
73. The Understanding, then, demands the ideal of knowledge, and postulates it whenever it asks a question. Can it, we must now enquire, attain, by its own exertions, to the ideal which it postulates? It has before it the same categories as the Reason, but it differs from the Reason in not seeing that the higher categories are the inevitable result of the lower, and in believing that the lower are stable and independent. “Thought, as Understanding, sticks to fixity of characters, and their distinctness from one another: every such limited abstract it treats as having a subsistence and being of its own.” <Note: Enc. Section 80.> It can use the higher categories, then, but it has no proof of their validity, which can only be demonstrated, as was explained in Chap. I., by showing that they are involved in the lower ones, and finally in the simplest of all. Nor does it see that an explanation by a higher category relieves us from the necessity of finding a consistent explanation by a lower one. For it does not know, as the Reason does, that the lower categories are abstractions from the higher, and are unfit to be used for the ultimate explanation of anything, except in so far as they are moments in a higher unity.
It is this last defect which prevents the Understanding from ever attaining a complete explanation of the universe. There is, as we have said, nothing to prevent the Understanding from using the highest category, that of the Absolute Idea. It contains indeed a synthesis of contradictions, which the Understanding is bound to regard as a mark of error, but so does every category above Being and Not-Being, and the Understanding nevertheless uses these categories, not perceiving that they violate the law of contradiction, as conceived by formal logic. It might therefore use the Absolute Idea as a means of explaining the universe, if it happened to come across it (for the perception of the necessary development of that idea from the lower categories belongs only to the Reason) but it would not see that it summed up all other categories.
And this would prevent the explanation from being completely satisfactory. For the only way in which contradictions caused by the use of the lower categories can be removed by the employment of the Absolute Idea lies in the synthesis, by the Absolute Idea, of those lower categories. They must be seen to be abstractions from it, to have truth only in so far as they are moments in it, and to have no right to claim existence or validity as independent. This can only be known by means of the Reason. For the Understanding each category is independent and ultimate. And therefore any contradictions in which the Understanding may be involved through the use of the lower categories can have no solution for the Understanding itself. Till we can rise above the lower categories, by seeing that they express only inadequate and imperfect points of view, the contradictions into which they lead us must remain to deface our system of knowledge. And for this deliverance we must wait for the Reason.
74. If the lower categories do produce contradictions, then, we can only extricate ourselves from our difficulty by aid of the Reason. But are such contradictions produced, in fact, when we treat those categories as ultimate and endeavour to completely explain anything by them? This question would be most fitly answered by pointing out the actual contradictions in each case, which is what Hegel undertakes throughout the Logic. To examine the correctness of his argument in each separate case would be beyond the scope of this work. We may however point out that this doctrine did not originate with Hegel. In the early Greek philosophy we have demonstrations of the contradictions inherent in the idea of Motion, and traces of a dialectic process are found by Hegel in Plato. Kant, also, has shown in his Antinomies that the attempt to use the lower categories as complete explanations of existence leads with equal necessity to directly contradictory conclusions.
And we may say on general grounds that any category which involves an infinite regress must lead to contradictions. Such are, for example, the category of Force, which explains things as manifestations of a force, the nature of which must be determined by previous manifestations, and the category of Causality, which traces things to their causes, which causes again are effects and must have other causes found for them. Such an infinite regress can never be finished. And an unfinished regress, which we admit ought to be continued, explains nothing, while to impose an arbitrary limit on it is clearly unjustifiable.
Again, all categories having no ground of self-differentiation in themselves may be pronounced to be in the long run unsatisfactory. For thought demands an explanation which shall unify the data to be explained, and these data are in themselves various. If the explanation, therefore, is to be complete, and not to leave something unaccounted for, it must show that there is a necessary connection between the unity of the principle and the plurality of the manifestation.
Now many of the lower categories do involve an infinite regress, and are wanting in any principle of self-differentiation. They cannot, therefore, escape falling into contradictions, and as the Understanding cannot, as the Reason can, remove the difficulties by regarding these categories as sides of a higher truth in which the contradiction vanishes, the contradictions remain permanent, and prevent the Understanding from reaching that ideal of knowledge at which it aims.
75. On this subject Hartmann <Note: op. cit. B. II. 4.> reminds us that Hegel confesses that the Understanding cannot think a contradiction – in the sense of unifying it and explaining it. All, as he rightly points out, that the Understanding can do is to be conscious of the existence of contradictions. This, he contends, will not serve Hegel’s purpose of justifying the Reason. For, since the recognition of the existence of contradictions can never change the incapacity of the Understanding to think them, the only result would be “a heterogeneity or inconsequence” of being, which presents these contradictions, and thought, which is unable to think them. This inconsequence might end, if Hegel’s assertion be correct that contradictions are everywhere, in a total separation between thought and being, but could have no tendency to make thought dissatisfied with the procedure of the Understanding, and willing to embrace that of the Reason.
This, however, misrepresents Hegel’s position. The contradictions are not in being, as opposed to thought. They are in all finite thought, whenever it attempts to work at all. The contradiction on which the dialectic relies is, that, if we use one finite category of any subject-matter, we find ourselves compelled, if we examine what is implied in using, to use also, of the same subject-matter, its contrary. The Understanding recognises this contradiction, while at the same time it cannot think it, – cannot, that is, look at it from any point of view from which the contradiction should disappear. It cannot therefore take refuge in the theory that there is a heterogeneity between itself and being, for it is in its own working that it finds something wrong. If the law of contradiction holds, thought must be wrong when it is inevitably led to ascribe contrary predicates to the same subject, while if the law of contradiction did not hold, no thought would be possible at all. And if, as the dialectic maintains, such contradictions occur with every finite category – that is, whenever the Understanding is used, the Understanding must itself confess that there is always a contradiction in its operations, discoverable when they are scrutinised with sufficient keenness. Either, then, there is no valid thought at all – a supposition which contradicts itself, – or there must be some form of thought which can harmonise the contradictions which the Understanding can only recognise.
76. But if the Understanding is reduced to a confession of its own insufficiency, is the Reason any better off? Does the solution offered by the Reason supply that complete ideal of knowledge which all thought demands? The answer to this question will depend in part on the actual success which the Absolute Idea may have in explaining the problems before us so as to give satisfaction to our own minds. But the difference between the indication in general terms of the true explanation, and the working out of that explanation in detail is so enormous, that we shall find but little guidance here. It may be true that “the best proof that the universe is rational lies in rationalising it,” but, if so, it is a proof which is practically unattainable. <Note: Cp. Chap. VII.>
The only general proof open to us is a negative one. The dialectic comes to the conclusion that each of the lower categories cannot be regarded as ultimate, because in each, on examination, it finds an inherent contradiction. In proportion as careful consideration and scrutiny fail to reveal any corresponding contradiction in the Absolute Idea, we may rely on the conclusion of the dialectic that it is the ultimate and only really adequate category.
It may, however, be worth while to point out that the Absolute Idea does comply with several requirements which we should be disposed to regard à priori as necessary for an idea which should prove itself adequate to the task of offering a complete explanation of the universe. The explanation afforded by the use of the Absolute Idea is that in all reality the idea, while it finds an independent Other given to it, finally learns that in that Other there is nothing alien to itself, so that it finds itself in everything. The key which is applied is thus the idea of the human mind itself, as engaged in activity, whether theoretical or practical. Such an explanation, if it can be proved to be true, must, it would seem, be satisfactory to us. For we can reach no standing point outside the human mind, from which we could pronounce that an explanation which showed the intelligibility of the whole universe, and its fundamental similarity to that mind, was unsatisfactory. Our object, in pursuit of which we rejected the limitations of the Understanding and took to the use of the Reason, was to explain, that is, to rationalise the universe. And it would be impossible to rationalise it more than this category does, which regards it as the manifestation and incarnation of reason.
77. What then should be the attitude of the Understanding towards the Reason? We have shown that the Understanding at once postulates, and cannot attain, a complete and harmonious ideal of knowledge. Supposing that the Reason can, as it asserts, attain this ideal, is the Understanding therefore bound to admit its validity?
It is no doubt perfectly true, as Hartmann points out, <Note: op. cit. II. B. 4.> that our power of seeking for anything, or even the necessity we may be under of seeking it, is not in itself the least proof that we shall succeed in our search. It does not then directly follow that, because there is no other way than the Reason by which we could attain that which the Understanding postulates, we can therefore attain it by means of the Reason. And this might have been a decisive consideration if Hegel had attempted to prove the validity of the Reason to the Understanding in a positive manner. But to do this would have been unnecessary, and, indeed, self-destructive. For such a proof would have gone too far. It would have proved that there was nothing in the Reason which was not also in the Understanding – in other words, that there was no difference between them. If there are two varieties of thought, of which one is higher and more comprehensive than the other, it will be impossible from the nature of the case for the lower and narrower to be directly aware that the higher is valid. From the very fact that the higher will have canons of thought not accepted by the lower, it must appear invalid to the latter, which can only be forced to accept it by external and indirect proof of its truth. And of this sort is the justification which the Reason does offer to the Understanding. It proves that we have a need which the Understanding must recognise, but cannot satisfy. This leaves the hearer with two alternatives. He may admit the need and deny that it can be satisfied in any way, which, in the case of a fundamental postulate of thought, would involve complete scepticism. If he does not do this, he must accept the validity of the Reason, as the only source by which the demand can be satisfied.
The first alternative, however, in a case like this, is only nominal. If we have to choose between a particular theory and complete scepticism, we have, in fact, no choice at all. For complete scepticism is impossible, contradicted as it would be by the very speech or thought which asserted it. If Hegel’s demonstrations are correct, there is to be found in every thought something which for the Understanding is a contradiction. But to reject all thought as incorrect is impossible. There must therefore be some mode of thought, higher than the Understanding, and supplementary to it, by which we may be justified in doing continually that which the Understanding will not allow us to do at all. And this is the Reason.
78. We are thus enabled to reject Hartmann’s criticism that the dialectic violates all the tendencies of modern thought, by sundering the mind into two parts, which have nothing in common with one another. <Note: op. cit. II. B. 3.> The Understanding and the Reason have this in common, that the Reason is the only method of solving the problems which are raised by the Understanding, and therefore can justify its existence on the principles which the Understanding recognises. For the distinctive mark of the Reason is, as Hegel says, that “it apprehends the unity of the categories in their opposition,” that it perceives that all concrete categories are made up of reconciled contradictions, and that it is only in these syntheses that the contradictory categories find their true meaning. Now this apprehension is not needed in order to detect the contradictions which the finite categories involve. This can be done by the Understanding. And when the Understanding has done this, it has at any rate proved its own impotence, and therefore can scarcely be said to be essentially opposed to Reason, since it has forfeited its claim to any thorough or consistent use at all.
The whole justification of the Reason, as the necessary complement of the Understanding, is repeated in each triad of the Logic. The fact that the thesis leads of necessity to the antithesis, which is its contrary, is one of the contradictions which prove the impotence of the Understanding. We are forced either to admit the synthesis offered by the Reason, or to deny the possibility of reconciling the thesis and antithesis. The thesis itself, again, was a modified form of the synthesis of a lower thesis and antithesis. To deny it will therefore involve the denial of them also, since it offers the only means of removing their contradiction. And thus we should be driven lower and lower, till we reach at last an impossible scepticism, the only escape from which is to accept the union of opposites which we find in the Reason.
Thus the Reason, though it does something which the Understanding cannot do, does not really do anything which the Understanding denies. What the Understanding denies is the possibility of combining two contrary notions as they stand, each independent and apparently self-complete. What the Reason does, is to merge these ideas in a higher one, in which their opposition, while in one sense preserved, is also transcended. This is not what is denied by the Understanding, for the Understanding is incapable of realising the position. Reason is not contrary to, but beyond the Understanding. It is true that whatever is beyond the Understanding may be said to be in one sense contrary to it, since a fresh principle is introduced. But as the Understanding has proved that its employment by itself would result in chaos, it has given up its assertion of independence and leads the way naturally to Reason. Thus there are not two faculties in the mind with different laws, but two methods of working, the lower of which, though it does not of course contain the higher, yet leads up to it, postulates it, and is seen, in the light of the higher method, only to exist as leading up to it, and to be false in so far as it claims independence. The second appears as the completion of the first; it is not merely an escape from the difficulties of the lower method, but it explains and removes those difficulties; it does not merely succeed, where the Understanding had failed, in rationalising the universe, but it rationalises the Understanding itself. Taking all this into consideration the two methods cannot properly be called two separate faculties, however great may be the difference in their working.
79. We must now pass to the second of the three questions proposed at the beginning of this chapter – namely, the internal consistency of the system. And it will be necessary to consider in the first place what foundation is assumed, upon which to base our argument, and whether we are entitled to this assumption.
Now the idea from which the dialectic sets out, and in which it professes to show that all the other categories are involved, is the idea of Being. Are we justified in assuming the validity of this idea? The ground on which we can answer this question in the affirmative is that the rejection of the idea as invalid would be self-contradictory, as was pointed out above. <Note: Chap. I. Section 18.> For it would be equivalent to a denial that anything whatever existed. And in that case the denial itself could not exist, and the validity of the idea of Being has not been denied. But, on the other hand, if the denial does exist, then there is something whose existence we cannot deny. And the same dilemma applies to doubt, as well as to positive denial. If the doubt exists, then there is something of whose existence we are certain; if the doubt does not exist, then we do not doubt the validity of the category. And both denial and doubt involve the existence of the thinking subject.
We have thus as firm a base as possible for our transcendental argument. It is not only a proposition which none of our opponents do in fact doubt, but one which they cannot by any possibility doubt, one which is involved and postulated in all thought and in all action. Whatever may be the nature of the superstructure, the foundation is strong enough to carry it.
80. The next consideration must be the validity of the process by which we conclude that further categories are involved in the one from which we start. In this process there are three steps. We go from thesis to antithesis, from thesis and antithesis to synthesis, and from synthesis again to a fresh thesis. The distinctness of the separate steps becomes somewhat obscured towards the end of the Logic, when the importance of negation, as the means by which the imperfect truth advances towards perfection, is considerably diminished. It will perhaps be most convenient to take the steps here in the form in which they exist at the beginning of the Logic. The effect produced on the validity of the process by the subsequent development of the method will be discussed in the next chapter.
It is not necessary to say much of the transition from the synthesis to the fresh thesis. It is, in fact, scarcely a transition at all. It is, as can be seen when Becoming passes into Being Determinate, rather a contemplation of the same truth from a fresh point of view – immediacy in the place of reconciling mediation – than an advance to a fresh truth. Whether in fact this new category is always the same as the previous synthesis, looked at from another point of view, is a question of detail which must be examined independently for each triad of the Logic, and which does not concern us here, as we are dealing only with the general principles of the system. But if the old synthesis and the new thesis are really only different expressions of the same truth, the passage from the one to the other is valid even according to formal Logic. Since nothing new is added at all, nothing can be added improperly.
81. Our general question must be put in a negative form to suit the transition between thesis and antithesis. It would be misleading to ask whether we were justified in assuming that, since the thesis is valid, the antithesis is valid too. For the result of the transition from thesis to antithesis is to produce, till the synthesis is perceived, a state of contradiction and scepticism, in which it will be doubted if either category is valid at all, since they lead to contradictions. Our question should rather be, Are we justified in assuming that, unless the antithesis is valid, the thesis cannot be valid?
The ground of this assumption is that the one category implies the other. If we examine attentively what is meant by pure Being, we find that it cannot be discriminated from Nothing. If we examine Being-for-self, we find that the One can only be defined by its negation and repulsion, which involves the category of the Many.
It is objected that these transitions cannot be justified, because they profess to be acts of pure thought, and it is impossible to advance by pure thought alone to anything new. To this an answer was indicated in the last chapter, where we found that the motive to the whole advance is the presence in experience, and in our minds as they become conscious of themselves in experience, of the concrete reality, of which all categories are only descriptions, and of which the lower categories are imperfect descriptions. <Note: Section 32.> Since pure thought has a double ground from which it may work – the abstract and imperfect explicit idea from which the advance is to be made, and the concrete and perfect implicit idea towards which the explicit idea gradually advances – real progress is quite compatible with pure thought. Because it has before it a whole which is so far merely implicit, and has not been analysed, it can arrive at propositions which were not contained, according to the rules of formal logic, in the propositions from which it starts, but are an advance upon the latter. On the other hand, the process remains one of pure thought only, because this whole is not empirically given. It is not empirically given, although it could not be given if experience did not exist. For it is necessarily in all experience; and being the essential nature of all reality, it can be deduced from any piece of experience whatever. Our knowledge of it is dependent, not on experience being thus and thus, but only on experience existing at all. And the existence of experience cannot be called an empirical fact. It is the presupposition alike of all empirical knowledge, and of all pure thought. We should not be aware even of the existence of the laws of formal logic without the existence of experience. Yet those laws are not empirical, because, although they have no meaning apart from experience, they are not dependent on any one fact of experience, but are the only conditions under which we can experience anything at all. And for a similar reason, we need not suppose that dialectic thought need be sterile because it claims to be pure.
82. From another point of view, it is sometimes said that the transitions of the dialectic only exist because the connection between the two categories has been demonstrated by means of facts taken from experience. In that case the dialectic, whatever value it might have, could not possess the inherent necessity, which characterises the movements of pure thought, and which its author claimed for it. It could at most be an induction from experience, which could never rise above probability, nor be safely applied beyond the sphere in which it had been verified by experience. I have endeavoured to show above that, since thought can be pure without being sterile, it does not follow that an advance must be empirical because it is real. Whether it is in fact empirical or not, is another matter. If we can conceive any change in the nature of the manifold of sensations, as distinct from the categories by which they are built up, which would invalidate any of the transitions of the dialectic, then no doubt we should have to admit that the system had broken down. It is of course impossible to prove generally and à priori that no such flaw can be found in any part of the system. The question must be settled by an investigation of each category independently, showing that the argument in each depends upon the movement of the pure notion, and not on any particulars of sense. To do this would be beyond the scope of my present essay, but the special importance of the idea of Motion renders it necessary to discuss Trendelenburg’s theory that it has been illegitimately introduced into the dialectic by the observation of empirical facts. <Note: Sections 91-94.>
83. The remaining transition is that from thesis and antithesis to synthesis. We have seen above <Note: Section 78.> that if the synthesis does reconcile the contradictions, we are bound to accept it as valid, unless we can find some other means of reconciling them. For otherwise, since we cannot accept unreconciled contradictions as true, we should have to deny the validity of thesis and antithesis. And since the thesis itself was the only reconciliation possible for a lower thesis and antithesis, we should have also to deny the validity of the latter, and so on until, in the denial of Being, we reached a reductio ad absurdum. All that remains, therefore, is to consider whether the synthesis is a satisfactory reconciliation of contradictions.
With regard to the general possibility of transcending contradictions, we must remember that the essence of the whole dialectic lies in the assertion that the various pairs of contrary categories are only produced by abstraction from the fuller category in which they are synthesised. We have not, therefore, to find some idea which shall be capable of reconciling two ideas which had originally no relation to it. We are merely restoring the unity from which those ideas originally came. It is not, as we might be tempted to think, the reconciliation of the contradiction which is an artificial expedient of our minds in dealing with reality. It is rather the creation of the contradiction which was artificial and subjective. The synthesis is the logical prius of its moments. Bearing this in mind, we shall see that the possibility of transcending contradictions is a simpler question than it appears to be. For all that has to be overcome is a mistake about the nature of reality, due to the incomplete insight of the Understanding. The contradiction has not so much to be conquered as to be disproved.
84. Hartmann objects that the only result of the union of two contraries is a blank, and not a richer truth. <Note: op. cit. II. B. 7.> This is certainly true of the examples Hartmann takes, +y and -y, for these, treated as mathematical terms, do not admit of synthesis, but merely of mechanical combination.
Hegel never maintained that two such terms as these, opposed in this way, could ever produce anything but a blank. Hartmann appears to think that he endeavoured to synthesise them in the passage in the Greater Logic, <Note: Werke, Vol. IV. p. 53.> when he makes +y and -y equal to y and again to 2y. But clearly neither y nor 2y could be a synthesis of +y and -y, for a synthesis must introduce a new and higher idea. All Hegel meant here was that both +y and -y are of the nature of y, and that they are also both quantities, so that from one point of view they are both simply y (as a mile east and a mile west are both a mile) and from another point of view they are 2y (as in going a mile east, and then returning westwards for the same distance, we walk two miles). This gives us no reason to suppose that Hegel did not see that if we oppose +y to -y, taking the opposition of the signs into consideration, the result will be 0.
But this tells us nothing about the possibility of synthesis. For Hegel does not, to obtain a synthesis simply predicate the two opposite categories of the same subject, – a course which he, like everyone else, would admit to be impossible. He passes to another category, in which the two first are contained, yet in such a way that the incompatibility ceases. The result here is by no means an empty zero, because the synthesis is not a mere mechanical junction of two contradictory categories, but is the real unity, of which the thesis and antithesis are two aspects, which do not, however, exhaust its meaning. Whether the attempt to find such syntheses has in fact been successful all through the Logic, is, of course, another question. Such a solution however would meet Hartmann’s difficulty, and he has given no reason why such a solution should be impossible. The nature of his example in itself proves that he has failed to grasp the full meaning of the process. In algebra there is no richer notion than that of quantity, in which +y and -y are directly opposed. No synthesis is therefore possible, and the terms cannot be brought together, except in that external unity which produces a mere blank. But such a case, which can only be dealt with by the most abstract of all sciences, cannot possibly be a fair example of a system whose whole life consists in the gradual removal of abstractions.
85. We have seen that the cogency of the entire process rests mainly on the fact that the system is analytic as well as synthetic, and that it does not evolve an entirely new result, but only renders explicit what was previously implicit in all experience. On the ground of this very characteristic of the dialectic, Trendelenburg denies that it can have any objective validity. It may be convenient to quote his account of the dialectic process, which Professor Seth translates as follows: <Note: Hegelianism and Personality, p. 92.> “The dialectic begins according to its own declaration with abstraction; for if ‘pure being’ is represented as equivalent to ‘nothing’ thought has reduced the fulness of the world to the merest emptiness. But it is the essence of abstraction that the elements of thought which in their original form are intimately united are violently held apart. What is thus isolated by abstraction, however, cannot but strive to escape from this forced position. Inasmuch as it is a part torn from a whole, it cannot but bear upon it the traces that it is only a part; it must crave to be completed. When this completion takes place, there will arise a conception which contains the former in itself. But inasmuch as only one step of the original abstraction has been retraced, the new conception will repeat the process; and this will go on until the full reality of perception has been restored. . . . Plainly a whole world may develop itself in this fashion, and, if we look more narrowly, we have discovered here the secret of the dialectic method. That method is simply the art by which we undo or retrace our original abstraction. The first ideas, because they are the products of abstraction, are recognised on their first appearance as mere parts or elements of a higher conception, and the merit of the dialectic really lies in the comprehensive survey of these parts from every side, and the thereby increased certainty we gain of their necessary connection with one another.” <Note: Logische Untersuchungen, Vol. I. p. 94.> And he immediately continues, “What meanwhile happens in this progress is only a history of subjective knowledge, no development of the reality itself from its elements. For there is nothing corresponding in reality which answers to the first abstraction of pure being. It is a strained image, produced by the analysing mind, and no right appears anywhere to find in pure being the first germ of an objective development.”
In answer to this objection I may quote Mr F. H. Bradley, “you make no answer to the claim of Dialectic, if you establish the fact that external experience has already given it what it professes to evolve, and that no synthesis comes out but what before has gone in. All this may be admitted, for the question at issue is not, What can appear, and How comes it to appear? The question is as to the manner of its appearing, when it is induced to appear, and as to the special mode in which the mind recasts and regards the matter it may have otherwise acquired. To use two technical terms which I confess I regard with some aversion – the point in dispute is not whether the product is à posteriori, but whether, being à posteriori, it is not à priori also and as well.” <Note: Logic, Book III, Part I. Chap. II. Section 20.> And in the previous Section, speaking of the difference between common recognition and the dialectic, he says “The content in one case, itself irrational, seems to come to our reason from a world without, while in the other it appears as that natural outcome of our inmost constitution, which satisfies us because it is our own selves.”
86. The process is more than is expressed by Trendelenburg’s phrase “the art by which we retrace or undo our original abstractions,” (“die Kunst wodurch die ursprüngliche Abstraction zurückgethan wird”). For the abstractions are not passively retraced by us, but insist on retracing themselves on pain of contradiction. Doubtless, as Trendelenburg says, to do this belongs to the nature of abstractions from a concrete whole. But then the significance of the dialectic might not unfairly be said to lie in the fact that it proved that our more abstract thought-categories were abstractions in this sense – a truth which without the dialectic we should not have known. All analysis results, no doubt, in ideas more or less abstract, but not necessarily in abstractions which spontaneously tend to return to the original idea analysed. The idea of a living foot apart from the idea of a body does contain a contradiction. We know that a living foot can only exist in connection with a living body, and if we grant the first to exist at any given time and place we know that we also admit, by implication, the other. Now the idea of a steam flour-mill can in like manner be separated into two parts – that it is moved by steam, and that its object is to grind corn. But to admit that one of these ideas can be applied as a predicate to any given subject is not equivalent to admitting that the other can be applied to it also, and that the subject is a steam flour-mill. For a machine moved by steam can be used to weave cotton, and water-power can be used to grind corn. We have formed from our original idea two which are more abstract – the idea of a machine moved by steam, and the idea of a machine which grinds corn. But neither of them shows the least impulse to “retrace or undo our original abstraction.”
The important question is, then, of which sort are the abstractions of which Hegel treats in the dialectic? It would, probably, be generally admitted that those which he ranks as the lower categories are more abstract, that is to say have less content, than those which he considers higher. But they may be, for anything that superficial observation can tell us, the real units, of which the higher categories are mere combinations. No one will deny that the idea of Causality includes the idea of Being. But it might contain it only as the idea of a steam flour-mill contains the idea of steam-power, so that it would not at all follow that the category of Causality is applicable to all being, any more than that all steam-power is used for grinding corn. And we should not be able, from this inclusion of the idea of Being in the idea of Causality, to conclude that the law of Causality was applicable anywhere at all, even if the validity of the idea of Being was admitted. For the particular case in which Being was combined with Causality might be one which never really occurred, just as there might be machines moved by steam-power without any of them being flour-mills.
87. The dialectic, however, puts us in a different position. From that we learn that Being is an abstraction, the truth of which can be found only in Causality, and in the higher categories into which Causality in turn develops. Being, therefore, inevitably leads us on to Causality, so that, to whatever subject-matter we can apply the first as a predicate, to that we must necessarily apply the other.
The same change takes place in the relations of all the other categories. Without the dialectic we might suppose Life to be an effect of certain chemical combinations; with it we find that Chemism is an abstraction from Life, so that, wherever there is Chemism there must be Life also. Without the dialectic, again, we might suppose self-consciousness to be a mere effect of animal life; with it, we are compelled to regard all life as merely relative to some self-consciousness.
The result of the dialectic is thus much more than “the increased certainty we gain of the necessary connection” of parts of thought “with one another.” For it must be remembered that organic wholes are not to be explained by their parts, but the reverse, while on the other hand merely composite wholes can be best explained from the units of which they are made up. We cannot explain a living body by putting together the ideas of the isolated limbs, though we might, if our knowledge was sufficiently complete, explain a limb by the idea of the body as a whole. But we cannot explain the sizes and shapes of stones from the idea of the beach which they make up, while, on the other hand, if we knew the sizes, shapes, and positions of all the stones, we should have complete knowledge of the beach. And the dialectic professes to show that the lower categories are contained in the higher in a manner more resembling that in which a foot is related to a body, than that in which a stone is related to a beach. The success of the dialectic, therefore, means no less than this – that, for purposes of ultimate explanation, we reverse the order of science and the understanding, and, instead of attempting to account for the higher phenomena of nature (i.e. those which primâ facie exhibit the higher categories) by means of the laws of the lower, we account for the lower by means of the laws of the higher. The interest of this for the theoretical reason is obvious, and its importance for the practical reason is no less, since the lower categories are those of matter and the higher those of spirit.
88. So also it is not fair to say that the process is only one of subjective thought. It is doubtless true that the various abstractions which form the steps of the dialectic have no separate existence corresponding to them in the world of reality, where only the concrete notion is to be found. But the result is one which has validity for objective thought. For it is by that result that we learn that the notion is really a concrete unity, and that there is nothing corresponding in the outside world to the separated fragments of the notion which form the stages of finite thought. This is the same conclusion from another point of view as the one mentioned in the preceding paragraph, and it is surely both objective and important.
Moreover the objective significance of the dialectic process is not confined to this negative result. For the different imperfect categories, although they have no separate objective existence, yet have an objective existence, as elements in the concrete whole, which is made up of them. If we ask what is the nature of the Absolute Idea, we must, from one side, answer that “its true content is only the whole system, of which we have been hitherto studying the development.” <Note: Enc. Section 237, lecture note.> Since the one absolute reality may be expressed as the synthesis of these categories, they have reality in it. Besides this, in the sphere of our ordinary finite thought, in which we use the imperfect categories as stable and permanent, the dialectic gives us objective information as to the relative amounts of truth and error which may be expected from the use of various categories, and as to the comparative reality and significance of different ways of regarding the universe, – as, for example, that the idea of Life goes more deeply into the nature of reality than the idea of Mechanism.
89. We are now in a position to meet the dilemma with which Trendelenburg challenges the dialectic. “Either” he says “the dialectic development is independent, and only conditioned by itself, then in fact it must know everything for itself. Or it assumes finite sciences and empirical knowledge, but then the immanent process and the unbroken connection are broken through by what is assumed from outside, and it relates itself to experience quite uncritically. The dialectic can choose. We see no third possibility.” <Note: op. cit. Vol. I. pp. 91, 92.> And just before he gives a further description of the second alternative. “It works then only in the same way and with the same means as the other sciences, only differing from them in its goal, – to unite the parts to the idea of the whole.”
Neither of these two alternatives is valid. The dialectic development is only so far “independent and only conditioned by itself,” that it does not depend on any particular sensuous content of experience, and would develop in the same way, whatever that content might be. But it does not follow that it knows everything for itself. All that part of knowledge which depends upon one content rather than another – the whole, that is, of what is ordinarily called science – certainly cannot be reached from the dialectic alone in the present state of our knowledge, and perhaps never will be. <Note: Cp. Chap. II. Section 59.> Nor does the dialectic, as we have seen, assume finite sciences and empirical knowledge. In one sense, indeed, their subject-matter is the condition of its validity, for it endeavours to analyse the concrete idea which is implicit in all our experience. The dialectic may be said therefore, in a sense, to depend on the fact that we have empirical knowledge, without which we should be conscious of nothing, not even of ourselves (since it is only in experience that we become self-conscious), and in that case there would be no chance of the complete and concrete idea being implicitly in our minds, which is a necessary preliminary to our subsequently making it explicit in the dialectic.
This however does not make it depend upon the finite sciences and empirical knowledge. It is dependent for its existence on the existence of empirical knowledge, but its nature does not at all depend on the nature of our empirical knowledge. And it would only be this latter relation which would “break through the immanent process by what is assumed from outside.” The process can be, and is, one of pure thought, although pure thought is only given as one element in experience.
The dialectic retraces the steps of abstraction till it arrives at the concrete idea. If the concrete idea were different, the dialectic process would be different. The conditions of the dialectic are therefore that the concrete idea should be what it is, and that there should be experience in which we may become conscious of that idea. But it is not a condition of the dialectic that all the contingent facts which are found in experience should be what they are, and not otherwise. So far as we know, the relation of the categories to one another might be the same, even if sugar, for example, was bitter to the taste, and hare-bells had scarlet flowers. And if such particulars ever should be deducible from the pure idea, so that they could not be otherwise than they are without some alteration in the nature of the pure idea, then they would cease to be merely empirical knowledge. In our present state the particulars of sense are only empirically and contingently connected with the idea under which they are brought. And although, if the dialectic is to exist, the idea must be what it is, and must have some sensations to complement it, yet the particular nature of those sensations is entirely indifferent to the dialectic, which is not dependent upon it in any sense of the word.
90. It is no doubt the case that an advanced state of the finite sciences is a considerable help to the discovery of the dialectic process, and this for several reasons. In the first place the labour is easier because it is slighter. To detect the necessary relation between two categories will be easier when both are already explicitly before us in consciousness than when only one is given in this way, and the other has to be constructed. The inadequacy, for example, of the category of Teleology would be by itself logically sufficient ground for discovering the category of Life. But it is much easier to see, when that idea is necessarily before us in biological science, that it is the necessary consequence of the idea of Teleology, than it would be to construct it by the dialectic, although that would be possible for a sufficiently keen observer. In the second place, the more frequently, and the more keenly, the finite categories are used in finite science, the more probable it will be that the contradiction involved in their use will have become evident, on some occasion or the other, to some at least of those who use them, and the easier will it be, therefore, to point out the various inadequacies of each category in succession, which are the stepping stones of the dialectic. But all this only shows that the appearance of the theory of the dialectic in a philosophical system is partly determined by empirical causes, which surely no one ever denied. It is possible that we might have had to wait for the theory of gravitation for some time longer, if it had not been for the traditional apple, and no one could go beyond a certain point in mathematical calculation without the help of pens and paper. But the logical validity of the theory of gravitation, when once discovered, does not come as a deduction from the existence of the apple, or of writing materials. With sufficient power, any of the calculations could have been made without the help of writing. Any other case of gravitation would have done as well as the apple, if it had happened to suggest to Newton the problem which lay in it as much as in the other. And, in the same way, with sufficient mental acuteness the whole dialectic process could have been discovered, by starting from any one piece of experience, and without postulating any other empirical knowledge whatever. For the whole concrete idea lies behind experience, and manifests itself in every part of it. Any fragment of experience, therefore, would be sufficient to present the idea to our minds, and thus give us implicitly the concrete truth, whose presence in this manner is the real source of our discontent with the lower categories, and consequently is the spring of the dialectic process. In any single fact in experience, however trifling and wherever selected, the dialectic could find all the basis of experience that it needs. Doubtless it would have been a task beyond even Hegel’s strength to evolve the dialectic without a far larger basis, and without the aid of specially suggestive portions of experience. But this, while it may have some interest for empirical psychology, can have none for metaphysics.
91. I have thus endeavoured to show that the dialectic process is related to experience in such a way as to avoid sterility, and at the same time not necessarily to fall into empiricism. We have now to consider Trendelenburg’s contention <Note: op. cit. Vol. I. p. 38.> that at one point an idea of great importance, the idea of Motion, has in fact been introduced from experience in a merely empirical manner, thus destroying the value of the Logic as a theory of the nature of pure thought.
He points out that Hegel endeavours to deduce the category of Becoming, which involves the idea of Motion, from the two categories of Being and Not- Being, which are ideas of rest. His inference is that the idea of Motion has been uncritically imported from experience, and breaks the Connection of the Logic. Certainly no flaw could be more fatal than this, for it occurs at the second step in the dialectic, and, if it is really a flaw, must make everything beyond this point useless.
It is certainly true that the category of Becoming involves the idea of Motion, and that neither the category of Being, nor the category of Not-Being, do so. There is something in the synthesis which is in neither the thesis nor the antithesis, if each of these is taken alone and separately. This, however, is the necessary result wherever the dialectic process is applied. That process does not profess to be merely analytic of the premises we start from, but to give us new truth. If it were not so, it could have no philosophical importance whatever, but would be confined to the somewhat sterile occupation of discovering what consequence could be drawn by formal logic from the assertion of the simple notion of pure Being – the only premise from which we start.
92. Whatever Hegel meant by his philosophy, he certainly meant more than this. We must presume then that he had faced the fact that his conclusions contained more than his premises. And there is nothing unjustifiable, – nothing which necessitates the illegitimate introduction of an empirical element – in this. For we must recollect that the dialectic process has not merely as its basis the consciously accepted premises, from which it proceeds synthetically, but also the implicit concrete and complete idea which it analyses and brings into distinct consciousness. There is, therefore, nothing unjustifiable in the synthesis having more in it than both the thesis and antithesis, for this additional element is taken from the concrete idea which is the real motive power of the dialectic advance. As this concrete idea is pure thought, no introduction of an empirical element is necessary.
And, if we examine the process in detail, we shall find that no such empirical element has been introduced. The first point at which Motion is involved in the dialectic is not that at which the category of Becoming is already recognised explicitly as a category, and as the synthesis of the preceding thesis and antithesis. Before we have a category of motion, we perceive a motion of the categories; we are forced into the admission that Becoming is a fundamental idea of the universe because of the tendency we find in the ideas already accepted as fundamental to become one another. There is therefore no illegitimate step in the introduction of the synthesis, for the idea of Motion is already involved in the relation of the two lower categories to each other, and the synthesis only makes this explicit.
The introduction of empirical matter must come then, if it comes at all, in the recognition of the fact that Being is just as much Nothing, and Nothing is just as much Being. If we start by positing the first, we find ourselves also positing the second. The one standpoint cannot be maintained alone, but if we start from it, we find ourselves at the other. To account for this it is not necessary to bring in any empirical element. For although neither of the two categories has the idea of Motion explicitly in it, each of them is, of its own nature, forced into the movement towards the other, by reason of its own incompleteness and inadequacy. Now in this there is nothing that requires any aid from empirical observation. For Trendelenburg remarks himself, in the passage quoted above, that all abstractions “cannot but strive to escape from this false position.” It is thus simply as the result of the nature of pure thought that we arrive at the conclusion that there is a motion of the categories. And, having discovered this, we are only using the data fairly before us when we recognise a category of motion, and so reconcile the contradiction which arises from the fact that two categories, which profess, as all terms must, to have a fixed and constant meaning, are nevertheless themselves in continual motion.
Of course all this can only take place on the supposition that experience does exist. For, in the first place, since pure thought is only an abstraction, and never really exists except as an element in experience, it is impossible to come across the ideas of Being and Not-Being at all, except in experience. And, secondly, it is only in experience that the concrete idea is implicit, which brings about the transition from category to category, and so first introduces the idea of Motion. But this, as was pointed out above, <Note: Chap. I. Section 15.> involves no dependence on empirical data. All that is required for the purpose is that element in experience which is called pure thought, and, although this cannot be present without the empirical element, the argument does not in the least depend on the nature of the latter.
93. We are told also that Becoming involves time and space, which Hegel admits not to be elements of pure thought, but to belong to the world of nature. Now in the first place it does not seem necessary that the Becoming referred to here should be only such as must take place in time or space. It no doubt includes Becoming in time and space. But it would seem to include also a purely logical Becoming – where the transition is not from one event in time to a subsequent event, nor from one part of space to another, but from one idea to another logically connected with it. The movement is here only the movement of logic, such as may be said to take place from the premises to the conclusion of a syllogism. This involves neither space nor time. It is, of course, true that this process can only be perceived by us by means of a process in time. We have first to think the premises and then the conclusion. But this does not make the syllogism itself a process in time. The validity of the argument does not depend upon the fact that we have perceived it; and the movement of attention from one step to another of the process – a movement which is certainly in time – must not be confounded with the logical movement of the argument itself, which is not in time.
It is again, no doubt, true that if we wish to imagine the process of Becoming, we cannot imagine it, except as taking place in time. But this is no objection. Imagination is a sensuous process, and involves sensuous elements. It does not follow that it is impossible to think Becoming except as in time.
If then the Becoming of the Logic includes a species of Becoming which does not take place in time or space, it follows, of course, that the introduction of that category does not involve the introduction of time and space into the dialectic. But even if we leave out this point, and confine ourselves to those species of Becoming which can only take place in time and space, it would not follow that these notions have been introduced into the dialectic. For, even on this hypothesis, Becoming only involves time and space in the sense that it cannot be represented without them. It could still be distinguished from them, and its nature as a pure category observed. If indeed the argument by which we are led on from Becoming to the next category was based on anything in the nature of time and space, Trendelenburg’s objection would doubtless be made good. But it is no more necessary that this should be the case, because time and space are the necessary medium in which we perceive the idea of Becoming, than that every step of the whole dialectic process should be tainted with empiricism, because every category can only be perceived in the whole of experience, in which it is bound up with empirical elements. And the transition which Hegel gives to the category of Being-determinate does not seem in any way to depend upon the nature of time and space, but rather on the nature of Becoming, as a determination of thought.
And, again, is the connection, which pure thought has with time and space, introduced for the first time in the category of Becoming? That category surely does not require both time and space, for we are able to apply it to the passage of our thoughts, when space is out of the question. And, on the other hand, is it possible for pure Being to exist except either in time or space? What sort of reality could be supposed to belong to immediate being apart from both these determinations, I am unable to see. And if it does require at least one of them, it would seem to follow that the transition to Becoming involves no other connection with the matter of intuition than is involved in the categories from which it is deduced. (I do not mean to suggest that no reality can be conceived as existing except in time or space, but only that it must be conceived as existing in time or space unless it is considered under some higher category than pure Being.)
94. Again, it is said that Being and Not-Being are abstractions, while Becoming is a “concrete intuition ruling life and death.” <Note: Trendelenburg, op. cit. Vol. I. p. 38.> It is no doubt true that we never encounter, and cannot imagine, a case of Becoming without sensuous intuition. But the same might be said of any other category. Thought can never exist without sensation. And the quality of Becoming itself is not sensation, but thought. What becomes, indeed, must be told us by sensation, but that it becomes is as much a conception of pure thought as that it is, or is not. And the ideas of Being and Not-Being are scarcely more abstractions than Becoming is. For they also cannot come into consciousness without the presence of intuition. They are doubtless abstractions in the sense that we feel at once their inadequacy to any subject-matter. But this is the case to almost the same extent with Becoming, if we take it strictly. As a general rule, when we talk in ordinary discourse of Becoming, or of any other of the lower categories, we do not take it by itself, but mix it up with higher categories, such as Being-determinate, Substance, and Cause. If we do this, Being and Not-Being may pass as concrete. If we do not do it, but confine ourselves to the strict meaning of the category, Becoming shows itself to be almost as abstract and inadequate as pure Being. The philosophy which corresponds to Becoming is the doctrine of the eternal flux of all things, and it is difficult to see how this represents reality much more adequately than the Eleatic Being, or the Buddhist Nothing. Of course Becoming is to some extent more adequate than the categories that precede it, but this is the natural and inevitable result of the fact that it is a synthesis of them.
95. We must, in conclusion, consider the claims of the Hegelian system to ontological validity. This subject divides itself into two parts. In the first place Hegel denies the Kantian restriction of knowledge to mere phenomena, behind which lie things in themselves which we cannot know, and he asserts that the laws of thought traced in the logic, as applicable to all possible knowledge, are applicable also to all reality. In the second place he deduces from the Logic the philosophies of Nature and Spirit.
Now as to the first of these two points, I have already endeavoured to show that any denial of it involves a contradiction. <Note: Chap. I. Section 25.> We are told by those who attempt this denial that there are or may be things which we cannot know. But to know of the actuality or possibility of such things is to know them – to know that of which knowledge is impossible. Of course to know only that things are possible, or even that they actually exist, and to know nothing else about them, is very imperfect and inadequate knowledge of them. But it is knowledge. It involves a judgment, and a judgment involves a category. It is thus impossible to say that the existence of anything which does not conform to the universal laws of knowledge is either actual or possible. If the supporters of things-in-themselves were asked for a defence of their doctrine, they would be compelled to relate these things with our sensuous intuitions, through which alone data can be given to our minds. And this relation would bring them in connection with the world of knowledge, and destroy their asserted independence.
In fact the question whether there is any reality outside the world which we know by experience is unmeaning. There is much reality which we do not know; it is even possible that there is much reality which we never shall know. But it must, if we are to have any right to speak of it at all, belong to the same universe as the facts which we do know – that is, be connected with them by the same fundamental laws as those by which they are connected with one another. Otherwise we can have no justification for supposing that it exists, since all such suppositions must rest on some connection with the world of reality. We are not even entitled to say that it is possible that there may exist a world unconnected with the world of experience. For possibility is a phrase which derives all its meaning to us from its use in the world of experience, and beyond that world we have no right to use it, since anything brought under that, or any other predicate, is brought thereby into the world of the knowable. And a mere empty possibility, not based on the known existence of at least one of the necessary conditions, is too indefinite to possess any significance. Anything, however impossible, may be pronounced possible, if we are only ignorant enough of the subject-matter, for if our ignorance extends to all the circumstances incompatible with the truth of the proposition, all evidence of impossibility is obviously beyond our reach. But the more ignorance is involved in such a conclusion, the less valuable it is, and when it is based on complete ignorance, as any proposition relating to the possibility of a world outside knowledge must inevitably be, the judgment becomes entirely frivolous. It is merely negative and does not, as a real judgment of possibility does, create the slightest expectation of reality, but is devoid of all rational interest. Such a judgment, as Mr Bradley points out “is absurd, because a privative judgment, where the subject is left entirely undetermined in respect of the suggestion, has no kind of meaning. Privation gets a meaning where the subject is determined by a quality or an environment which we have reason to think would give either the acceptance or the rejection of X. But if we keep entirely to the bare universal, we cannot predicate absence, since the space we call empty has no existence.” <Note: Logic, Book I. Chap. VII. Section 30.> And as Hegel’s theory, if valid at all, covers the whole sphere of actual and possible knowledge, any speculations on the nature of reality outside its sphere are meaningless, and the results of the dialectic may be predicated of all reality.
96. The demand that the dialectic shall confine itself to a purely subjective import, and not presume to limit reality by its results, has been made from a fresh point of view by Mr F. C. S. Schiller. He says “It does not follow that because all truth in the narrower sense is abstract, because all philosophy must be couched in abstract terms, therefore the whole truth about the universe in the wider sense, i.e. the ultimate account that can be given of it, can be compressed into a single abstract formula, and that the scheme of things is nothing more than, e.g., the self-development of the Absolute Idea. To draw this inference would be to confuse the thought-symbol, which is, and must be, the instrument of thought, with that which the symbol expresses, often only very imperfectly, viz. the reality which is ‘known’ only in experience and can never be evoked by the incantations of any abstract formula. If we avoid this confusion, we shall no longer be prone to think that we have disposed of the thing symbolized when we have brought home imperfection and contradiction to the formulas whereby we seek to express it . . . to suppose, e.g., that Time and Change cannot really be characteristic of the universe, because our thought, in attempting to represent them by abstract symbols, often contradicts itself. For evidently the contradiction may result as well from the inadequacy of our symbols to express realities of whose existence we are directly assured by other factors in experience, and which consequently are data rather than problems for thought, as from the ‘merely apparent’ character of their reality, and the moral to be drawn may only be the old one, that it is the function of thought to mediate and not to create.” <Note: “The Metaphysics of the Time-Process,” Mind, N.S. Vol. IV. No. 14. p. 40.>
It is no doubt true that there is something else in our experience besides pure thought – namely, the immediate data of sensation. And these are independent of thought in the sense that they cannot be deduced from it, or subordinated to it, but must be recognised as a correlative and indispensable factor in experience. But it is not an independent element in the sense that it can exist or express reality apart from thought. And it would have, it seems to me, to be independent in this sense before we could accept Mr Schiller’s argument.
97. Sensation without thought could assure us of the existence of nothing. Not of any objects outside the sentient being – for these objects are for us clearly ideal constructions. Not of the self who feels sensation – for a self is not itself a sensation, and the assurance of its reality must be an inference. Nay, sensation cannot assure us of its own existence. For the very terms existence, reality, assurance, are all terms of thought. To appeal (as Mr Schiller wishes to do, if I have understood him rightly) from a dialectic which shows, e.g. that Time cannot be real, to an experience which tells us that it is real, is useless. For our assurance of reality is itself an act of thought, and anything which the dialectic has proved about the nature of thought would be applicable to that assurance.
It is difficult to see how sensations could even exist without thought. For sensations certainly only exist for consciousness, and what could a consciousness be which was nothing but a chaotic mass of sensations, with no relations among them, and consequently no unity for itself? But, even if they could exist without thought, they could tell us nothing of reality or existence, for reality and existence are not themselves sensations, and all analysis or inference, by which they might be reached from sensations, must be the work of thought.
By the side of the truth that thought without data can never make us aware of reality, we must place the corresponding truth that nothing can make us aware of reality without thought. Any law therefore which can be laid down for thought, must be a law which imposes itself on all reality which we can either know or imagine – and a reality which we can neither know nor imagine is, as I fancy Mr Schiller would admit, a meaningless abstraction.
To the demand then that we should admit the reality of anything although “we have brought home imperfection and contradiction to the formulas whereby we seek to express it,” I should answer that it is only by the aid of these formulas that we can pronounce it real. If we cannot think it, we have no right to pronounce it real, for to pronounce it real is an act of thought. We should not, therefore, by pronouncing it real, be appealing from thought to some other means of knowledge. We should be thinking it, at the same time, to be real and to be self-contradictory. To say that a thing whose notion is self- contradictory is real, is to say that two or more contradictory propositions are true – that is, to violate the law of contradiction. If we do this we put an end to all possibility of coherent thought anywhere. If a contradiction is not a sign of error it will be impossible to make any inference whatever.
And so it seems to me, in spite of Mr Schiller’s arguments, that if we find contradictions in our notion of a thing, we must give up its reality. This does not mean, of course, that we are to say that there was nothing real behind the contradictory appearance. Behind all appearance there is some reality. But this reality, before we can know it, must be re-thought in terms which are mutually coherent, and although we certainly have not “disposed of the thing symbolized when we have brought home imperfection and contradiction to the formulas whereby we seek to express it,” we can only retain our belief in the thing’s existence by thinking it under some other formula, by which the imperfection and the contradiction are removed.
98. There remains only the transition from Logic to Nature and Spirit. From what has been said in Chapters I and II, it will be seen that the validity of this transition must be determined by the same general considerations as determine the validity of the transitions from one category to another within the Logic. For the motive power of the transition was the same – the impatience of its incompleteness felt by an abstraction, since the whole of thought, even when it has attained the utmost completeness of which it is capable, is only an abstraction from the fuller whole of reality. And the method of the transition is also the same – the discovery of a contradiction arising from the inadequacy of the single term, which leads us on to the opposite extreme, which is also found to be contradictory, and so leaves us no refuge but a synthesis which comprehends and reconciles both extremes. I have endeavoured to show in the last Chapter that this was all that Hegel ever intended to do, and that no other deduction of Nature and Spirit from pure thought can be attributed to him. We have now to consider whether he was justified in proceeding in this manner.
Is thought incomplete as compared with the whole of reality? This can scarcely be denied. To admit it does not involve any scepticism as to the adequacy of knowledge. Thought may be perfectly capable of expressing the whole of reality, all that is real may be rational, but it will nevertheless remain true that all that is real cannot be merely reasoning. For all reasoning as such is merely mediate, and it is obvious that a mediation without something which it mediates is a contradiction. This something must be given immediately. It is true that thought itself, as an event in our consciousness, may be given immediately, and may be perceived by inner sense, in the same way that colours, sounds, and the like, may be perceived by outer sense. But this means that thought, considered as it is in the Logic (i.e. not as a datum, but as an activity), can never be self-subsistent, but must always depend on something (even if that something is other thought), which presents itself immediately. And thus the Logic, which only deals with the forms by which we may mediate what is immediately given, does not by itself contain the whole of reality.
99. This is obviously the case while, as at present, a large amount of experience is concerned with physical data apparently entirely contingent to the idea, and with mental data scarcely less contingent. It is quite clear that the Logic does not as yet express the whole universe, while we still find ultimate and unexplained such facts as that one particular number of vibrations of ether in a second gives us the sensation of blue, and that another particular number gives us the sensation of red. But even if the process of rationalisation was carried as far as it could by any possibility go, if all matter was reduced to spirit, and every quality of spirit was deduced from the Logic, nevertheless to constitute experience something would have to be immediately given, and the Logic contemplates nothing but thought as it deals with something given already. The existence of thought requires the existence of something given. It is undeniable that we think. But we could not think unless there were something to think about. Therefore there must be something. This is all of the world of Nature and Spirit which we can deduce from the Logic. Logic must have its complement and correlative, and the two must be united in one whole. This, as I have tried to show, is all Hegel did attempt to deduce from the Logic. But whether this is so or not, we must admit that it is all that he has a right to deduce from it. The concrete whole towards which we are working is the universalised particular, the mediated immediate, the rationalised datum. Logic is the universal, the mediating, the rationalising element. There must therefore be a particular, immediate, given element, and the two must be reconciled. So much we can deduce by pure thought. But if this other element has any other qualities except those just mentioned which make it correlative to Logic, we cannot deduce them. We must treat them as contingent, and confine ourselves to pointing out the way in which the Logic is incarnate in Nature and Spirit, piercing through these contingent particulars. Philosophy can tell us à priori that Nature and Spirit do exist, and that all the categories of the Logic must be realised in them, but how they are realised in the midst of what seem, at any rate at present, to be contingent particulars, must be a matter for empirical observation, and not for deduction from Logic.
100. In what way does the transition from Logic take place? The suggestion which most naturally occurs to us is that the element which supplements the deficiency of Logic should be its antithesis, and the combination of the two in a concrete whole should form the synthesis. In this case the antithesis would be the mere abstract and unconnected particularity, which is really unnameable, since all names imply that the matter of discourse has been qualified by some judgment. With the very beginnings of Nature, on this view, we pass to the synthesis, for in Nature we have already the idea as immediate, as given, as realised in fact. Spirit and Nature together would thus form the synthesis, Spirit being distinguished from Nature only as being a more complete and closer reconciliation of the two elements. It makes explicit the unity which in Nature is only implicit. But it does not add any aspect or element which is not in Nature, it is more elaborated, but not more comprehensive.
This, however, is not the course of the transition which is actually adopted by Hegel. In this, while the Logic is the thesis, the antithesis is Nature, and the synthesis is Spirit. The bond of connection here is that they are the universal, the particular, and the individual, and that the individual is the synthesis of the universal and the particular. If it should be objected to this that there is more in Nature than mere particularity, since the idea is realised, though imperfectly realised, in Nature, and the idea is the universal, Hegel’s reply, I suppose, would be that this is the case also with every particular thing, since mere particularity is an abstraction. We can never perceive anything without a judgment, and a judgment involves a category. Indeed the very phrase “thing” implies this.
The difference between the two methods is thus very marked, not only because of the different place assigned to Nature in them, but because in the second the antithesis marks a distinct advance upon the thesis, as a concrete reality, though an imperfect one, while in the first the thesis and antithesis are both alike mere abstractions and aspects which require a reconciliation before anything concrete is reached.
Here we have two examples of the dialectic process, each starting from the same point – the Logic – and each arriving at the same point – Absolute Spirit – but reaching that point in different ways. What are we to say about them? Is one wrong and the other right? Or can we argue, from the fact that the principles of the dialectic would seem to justify either of them, to the conclusion that there must be some error in those principles, since they lead to two inconsistent results? Or, finally, can we pronounce them both to be correct? To these questions Hegel, as far as I can find, affords no definite answer, but one may, I think, be found by following up some indications which he gives. This I shall endeavour to do in the next chapter. <Note: Sections 131-138.>
101. Before leaving this part of the subject, we must consider some criticisms which have been passed by Lotze on Idealism, the most important and elaborate of which occurs in the Microcosmus. <Note: Book VIII. Chap. I. towards the end.> In this he considers the assertion, which he attributes to Idealism, that Thought and Being are identical. He does not mention Hegel by name here, but it would seem, from the nature of the criticisms, and from scattered remarks in other parts of his writings, that he held his criticisms to apply to the Hegelian dialectic.
Now in what sense does Hegel say that Thought and Being are identical? In the first place we must carefully distinguish, from such an assertion of identity, another assertion which he does make, – namely, that Being is a category, and therefore a determination of thought, and that, in consequence, even the mere recognition that a thing is, can only be effected by thought. He uses this undeniable truth as an argument against appeals from the results of thought to immediate facts. For it means that we can only know that a thing is a fact by means of thought, and that it is impossible to find any ground, upon which we can base a proposition, which does not involve thought, and which is not subject to all the general laws which we can obtain by analysing what is involved in thinking.
This, however, is not what is meant by Lotze. That the predicate of Being can only be applied by us to a subject by means of thought, is a statement which Lotze could not have doubted, and which he had no reason to wish to deny. He attacks a very different proposition – that everything which is included under the predicate of Being, that is, everything in the universe, is identical with thought.
This, again, may have two very different meanings. If we call the particular reality, of which we are speaking, A, then we may mean, in the first place, that A’s being is identical with B’s thought, when B is thinking about A, – or would be so, if B’s thought was in a state of ideal perfection. Or we may mean, in the second place, that A’s being is identical with his own thought, i.e. that his only nature is to be a thinking being, and his only activity is to think. The first view is that A is identical with what may be thought about him, the second is that A is identical with what he thinks. These are clearly very different.
102. It is the first of these meanings, it seems, which Lotze supposes his Idealist to adopt. This appears from his considering that he has refuted it by showing that there is always in our knowledge of anything an immediate datum, which thought must accept as given, and without which it cannot act at all. “Thought,” he says, “is everywhere but a mediating activity moving hither and thither, bringing into connection the original intuitions of external and internal perception, which are predetermined by fundamental ideas and laws the origin of which cannot be shown; it develops special and properly logical forms peculiar to itself, only in the effort to apply the idea of truth (which it finds in us) to the scattered multiplicity of perceptions, and of the consequences developed from them. Hence nothing seems less justifiable than the assertion that this Thinking is identical with Being, and that Being can be resolved into it without leaving any residuum; on the contrary, everywhere in the flux of thought there remain quite insoluble those individual nuclei which represent the several aspects of that important content which we designate by the name of Being.” <Note: loc. cit. (English Translation, Vol. II. p. 354, 4th ed.)> The fact that there are immediate elements in our knowledge of other things could be no reason for doubting that our nature – and theirs also – lay in thinking, as we shall see later on. But it would doubtless be an excellent reason for denying that our thought of the object could ever be identical with the object itself. And it is this last theory which Lotze must have had in view.
103. No doubt Hegel would have been wrong if he had asserted that Thought and Being were identical in this sense. But, as I have tried to show in the last chapter, <Note: Sections 56, 57.> there is no reason to suppose that he failed to appreciate the fact that there is an element of immediacy in all knowledge, and that thought, without such data, would not only be inadequate, but completely impotent. The passage which I then quoted from the Philosophy of Spirit, <Note: Enc. Section 381, lecture note.> declares that Spirit is the logical prius, not only of Nature but of Logic. Now Spirit differs from Logic by reason of the element of immediacy, introduced in Nature, and completely harmonised with Logic in Spirit. It seems clear then that Hegel can never have imagined that pure thought could dispense with the element of immediacy. And, if so, our pure thought by itself could never have been identical with the content of its object.
104. The necessity of immediacy for thought, however, does not prevent the identity of Thought and Being in the second sense mentioned above. If all reality in the universe consisted simply of thinking beings there would be no lack of immediate data for them to mediate. For thought itself can be observed, and, when observed, forms itself a datum for thought. And a universe of thinking beings, in connection with one another, would find their immediate data, A in B, and B in A.
In this sense it seems that Hegel did hold the identity of Thought and Being – though the phrase is not a very happy one. That is to say, he held that all reality consisted of self-conscious beings; and it appears from the Philosophy of Spirit that he also held that the highest – the only ultimate – activity of Spirit, in which all others are transcended and swallowed up, is that of pure thought.
In doing this, he ignored a fact which is made prominent by Lotze in many parts of his system, though not in the chapter from which I have quoted. This is, that Spirit has two other aspects besides thought – namely, volition and feeling – which are as important as thought, and which cannot be deduced from it, nor explained by it. I shall have to consider this point at greater length in Chapter VI, and shall there endeavour to show that, while Hegel was justified in identifying all Being with Spirit, he was not justified in taking the further step of identifying the true nature of Spirit exclusively with pure thought.
105. Such a conclusion, no doubt, would make a considerable change in the Hegelian system. But it would not involve that Hegel had ignored the immediate aspect of reality, nor would it prove that he was wrong in asserting all being to be Spirit. Nor would it make his philosophy less thoroughly Idealistic. For the essence of Idealism does not lie in the assertion of the identity of Thought and Being, though it does lie very largely in the assertion of a relation between them. That relation may be expressed by saying that Thought is adequate to express Being, and Being adequate to embody Thought. On the one hand, no reality exists beyond the sphere of actual or possible knowledge, and no reality, when known as completely as possible, presents any contradiction or irrationality. On the other hand, there is no postulate which Thought demands in order to construct a harmonious and self-consistent system of knowledge, which is not realised in Being.
Hegel, as we have seen, establishes this by demonstrating that the higher categories are so involved in the lower that, if we say a thing exists at all, we are obliged to bring it under predicates which ensure that it will answer completely to the demands of our reason. In doing this, he arrives at the conclusions that the true nature of all Being is Spirit, and that the true nature of all Spirit is Thought. But important as these results, – true or false – are, they are only subsidiary as compared with the more general result that Thought and Being – whether identical or not – are yet in complete harmony. From the point of view of theory, we thus know that reality is rational. From the point of view of practice, we know that reality is righteous, since the only view of reality which we can consider as completely rational, is shown to be one which involves our own complete self- realization. And it is this assertion that reality is both rational and righteous which is the distinguishing mark of Idealism.