The Young Hegel Georg Lukács 1938
Part III. Rationale and Defence of Objective Idealism (Jena 1801-1803)

3.1 Hegel’s role in Schelling’s breakaway from Fichte

Despite these events Hegel’s arrival in Jena coincided with an important development in German classical philosophy: the split between Schelling and Fichte and the founding of objective idealism. In this event Hegel played an important, indeed one may say the decisive part, making at the same time his own first public appearance (since the anonymous translation and annotation of the Cart pamphlet does not merit the title of public appearance). It was the young Engels who first perceived and drew attention to the significance of Hegel’s role.

‘Only this is certain, that it was Hegel who made Schelling aware of how far he had, without realizing it, gone beyond Fichte’.

Hegel himself puts the same view in the Preface to his first published work: The Difference between the Fichtean and Schellingian Systems of Philosophy.

‘Neither the immediate appearance of the two systems as they present themselves to the public, nor, for example, Schelling’s reply to Eschenmayer’s idealist objections to the Philosophy of Nature, gave expression to this difference.’

At around this time German Idealism underwent a series of extraordinarily rapid changes. Scarcely two years earlier Kant had published his well-known declaration against Fichte’s Theory of Science (Wissenschaftslehre). Up to that point Fichte could and undoubtedly did believe that he was simply providing a logical interpretation of Kantianism, that he was merely defending what he called the ‘spirit’ of Kant against the ‘letter’, i.e. the vulgarizations of other Kantians. Kant’s declaration put an end to this confused state of affairs.

A detailed analysis of the differences between Kant and Fichte is clearly beyond the scope of this work and we must content ourselves with two observations. Firstly, Kant protested vigorously against the separation of spirit from letter. Although his statement is not notable for its sympathetic understanding, he obviously realized that Fichte’s philosophy was an independent system and not just an interpretation of his own. This is not unimportant because it repeats itself mutatis mutandis in the breach between Fichte and Schelling. At the same time it says something about Hegel’s position in classical German philosophy that when he comes into conflict with Schelling he simply opposes his own new philosophy to Schelling’s old (and obsolete) one: the problem of whether his new position represents a re-interpretation just does not arise for him.

Secondly, it is of importance for the later development of German Idealism that Kant objected to Fichte’s introduction of problems of content into his form of ‘transcendental philosophy’, i.e. into the Theory of Science. In line with his general views (although in unconscious contradiction to the dialectical implications of his own ‘transcendental philosophy’), he maintains that pure logic must abstract from content of every kind. We shall see that the inclusion of problems of content in logic is a very essential part of Hegel’s dialectical logic. But he is the first person to take this step consciously and make it part of his programme. Kant, Fichte and Schelling allow the old formal logic to go its own way alongside the newly emerging dialectical logic. This produces all sorts of contradictions which are intensified as the unconsciously incorporated elements of content, the general growth of the dialectic and its application to ever new areas, become more and more prominent.

Schelling and Fichte met Kant’s declaration with a united front. They both believed that open dissociation from Kant had become inevitable and was essential for the further development of philosophy. At the same time, it is noteworthy that neither Fichte nor Schelling regarded the new philosophy as complete in itself., on the contrary, both of them knew it to be in a state of flux and that the philosophical revolution still had far to go. This mood is very obvious in a letter written by Fichte to Schelling in 1799, after Kant had issued his statement. Fichte refers to what he regards as Kant’s inability even to understand the latest developments in philosophy and in the course of the letter he makes an interesting remark which points almost prophetically to Hegel:

‘Who knows whether or not some young fire-eater isn’t already at work, who will be able to go beyond the Theory of Science and attempt to expose its failings and inadequacies. May Heaven spare us then from contenting ourselves with the confident assurance that such criticism consists of sterile quibbling – something we should certainly not permit ourselves – [a reference to some slighting remarks in Kant’s declaration – G.L.] Let us rather hope that one if us would stand his ground like a man either able to prove the nullity of these new discoveries, or else, if we cannot do this, willing to accept them gratefully in both our names.’

The next few years were to show that Fichte found it impossible to live up to these good intentions.

At around this time differences of opinion between Fichte and Schelling began to emerge, initially in personal and technical disagreements to do with various common projects for journals and internal realignments with the Romantic movement. But they only came out into the open with the appearance of Schelling’s first comprehensive, systematic work, the System of Transcendental Idealism of 1800. It is true that this work was conceived as an elaboration and complement of Fichte’s Theory of Science, and not as a criticism or refutation of it. But in substance and notwithstanding Schelling’s intention, it was already an attempt to systematize a philosophy of objective idealism. It is easy to understand, then, that Fichte felt unable to approve of the work, even though he did not in the least distrust Schelling or suspect, for a long time to come, that they were not in complete agreement about the fundamental principles of philosophy. The book gave rise to a protracted and detailed exchange of letters to clear up any ‘misunderstandings’ and to re-establish their former harmony.

Fichte purified Kantian philosophy of its ‘materialist deviations’. He created a pure subjective idealism which, however, has a quite definite character of its own. Obviously, since he is perfectly consistent he must end up objectively in a completely agnostic position. But this is not his intention as a philosopher. On the contrary, his plan is to eliminate Kant’s own agnosticism, his belief that we can know nothing about things-in-themselves. His method of doing this is the radically subjective one of disputing, not that things are knowable, but that they exist. He regards the universe as something ‘posited’ by the Ego (a concept which for him is not identical with the empirical consciousness of particular human beings) and consequently it is something that can be known perfectly by this imagined, mystificatory subject. According to Fichte, the Ego created the universe and for that reason can have knowledge of it, since – according to Fichte – apart from the universe as ‘posited’ by the Ego, nothing either can or does exist at all.

With this iridescent, contradictory conception of the Ego which replaces Kant’s ‘consciousness’ but which is not counterpoised to any alien, independent, unknowable world of things-in-themselves, Fichte paves the way for the birth of objective idealism, even though his own project is the most extreme formulation of subjective idealism imaginable. All that is required for the change is that the concept of the Ego should be clarified and concretized (admittedly in an even more idealistic, mystificatory sense) and that Fichte’s merely epistemological ‘positing’ of the world should be transformed into real creation – and objective idealism will be complete. This, is, what happens in Schelling’s System of Transcendental Idealism, and later also in Hegel.

Fichte’s philosophy, however, paves the way for Schelling and Hegel in yet another important sense: in connection with the systematic deduction of the categories. In Kant as in Fichte, the categories are subjective-idealist in character. But in Kant’s case they have been assembled empirically, rather than deduced. Kant took the categories over from the traditional school-logic and then gave them fresh interpretations, but without raising the question of their deduction from each other. The typical Kantian approach is: There are synthetic judgments a priori – how are they possible? This shows the extent to which Kant simply accepted the categories and their interrelations as something pre-existing. (And here too we see Kant wavering between materialism and idealism.) For Fichte, however, the categories spring from the positing activity of the Ego: they result from the interaction of Ego and Non-Ego – which means that the dialectical triad of thesis, antithesis and synthesis can be found already in Fichte.

This leads in Fichte to that strengthening of the ‘active side’ of classical German philosophy to which Marx refers in his First Thesis on Feuerbach, although even this remains within the framework of pure idealism. In Kant it is only through his moral activity that man can break through the realm of appearances and take part in the world of reality, the world of essence. Thus the structure of Kantian ethics has implications for Fichte’s theory of knowledge: the Ego’s positing of the world is, according to Fichte, an ‘action’ [Tathandlung].

Even this crude outline makes it perfectly clear that disagreement between Kant and Fichte was inevitable. At the start Fichte could imagine that he was just spelling out Kant’s philosophy more consistently even than Kant himself, defending the spirit against the letter. But in fact he had created a different philosophy which Kant could not possibly have accepted as his own.

The relation between Fichte and Schelling has a certain similarity with this, but it should not be exaggerated. Schelling’s point of departure is in fact very different. Fichte’s philosophy is the revolutionary activism of the age translated into philosophy. It is no accident that his first works were written in defence of the French Revolution and of the right to embark on revolutionary activity. Moreover, Fichte remained true to these sentiments for a relatively long period. We shall have occasion to look at his views when we come to consider Hegel’s polemics against his moral theory and philosophy of law. In 1800 Fichte published his Geschlossener Handelsstaat [The Closed Commercial State] which Benjamin Constant, for example, considered to be a belated echo of Robespierre’s economic policy. Fichte’s subjectivism gives expression to a revolutionary faith in man’s ability to transform and revitalize everything, but in a typically German, excessively idealist form. Beyond man – who is equated by Fichte with moral man, Kant’s phantom ‘homo noumenon’ – Fichte sees no reality at all. The world, and above all nature, is merely a passive arena for man’s activity.

Schelling’s philosophy, by contrast, grows out of the contemporary crisis in scientific knowledge. He belongs in the ranks of those ‘nature enthusiasts’ whom Marx talks about (with reference to Feuerbach) in a letter to Ruge.

At first Schelling was just as unconscious of the divergence between his views and Fichte’s as the latter had been of the growing differences between himself and Kant. He too imagined that his thought had grasped the ‘spirit’ of the Theory of Science – and he even believed this more whole-heartedly than Fichte had in his own dealings with Kantianism. In consequence, it was a long time before either of them began to free himself from the Kantian matrix. Indeed, we shall see later that on many important points Schelling never overcame certain limitations of Kantian philosophy. However, in accordance with their different inner development, each thinker attached himself to a different aspect of Kant. The Critique of Practical Reason supplied Fichte with the model for his entire philosophical system, whereas Schelling began by re-interpreting the Critique of Judgment in the spirit of objective idealism. Thus both thinkers resemble each other in the way in which they go about cleansing the Kantian system of its logical impurities, but as far as the content of their own thought is concerned they are diametrically opposed. The similarity between them is based on their adoption of Kant’s own problematic. But Schelling moves in the direction of objective idealism from what in Kant had been a subjective agnosticism. The real point of departure for Schelling’s philosophy is Kant’s new approach to questions about teleology (which we shall discuss in detail later on) and what he does is to apply these in a novel and highly characteristic fashion to organic life, nature and art.

Schelling’s use of Kant made it even more imperative than it had been for Fichte to establish the categories on a deductive basis. Kant’s thought about contradiction had not progressed beyond the discovery of necessary antinomies. Contradiction signified only the dialectical self-dissolution of the phenomenal world. Beyond that there could be no synthesis, no knowledge based on the contradictory nature of the world. The only point at which man comes into contact with reality, namely the world of ethics, lay beyond all contradiction. We have already seen how Fichte made use of contradiction as a sort of methodological springboard with the help of which he strove to construct the system of categories. Schelling now took over the Fichtean triad and transformed it into an objective element in the structure of the universe.

One question that arises from this approach is: how, with the aid of what organ, can this knowledge of the universe be obtained? For Kant and Fichte such knowledge had been founded on the experiences of pure morality (conscience, etc.). Extending this principle Fichte arrived at his concept of ‘action’, the master-concept of his theory of knowledge. In line with the moral basis of his system Fichte denied the existence of any object independent of human consciousness. That it is possible to have knowledge of a self-created world (posited by the Ego) was self-evident to Fichte: it is the self-knowledge of the positing Ego.

Schelling’s approach is the very opposite of this: he directly confronts the problem of how we can have objective knowledge of the external world and especially of nature. In the process he wholeheartedly embraces all those agnostic arguments which Kant puts forward in The Critique of Pure Reason with regard to our knowledge of what he calls the phenomenal world. Thus Schelling sets out to appropriate an epistemological theory which leads to a series of antinomies about our knowledge of the world of phenomena but his goal is to use it in order to reach a higher mode of cognition, one which will ground and guarantee an adequate knowledge of objective reality. In a celebrated section of The Critique of Judgment (§76) Kant himself postulates such knowledge, though in a purely hypothetical manner. He says there that in ordinary knowledge which subsumes the particular beneath the general the particular always remains random. Such knowledge can never give us an adequate grasp either of life as a whole or of organic life. He therefore postulates another kind of intelligence (intellectus archetypus) which would eliminate the disharmony between general and particular.

This hypothesis had an incalculable effect on the entire course of German philosophy. In particular it became of crucial importance for Goethe, who of course interpreted it quite differently from Schelling. Schelling adapts Kant’s philosophy here in a very simple way which asserts rather than argues. He simply converts Kant’s hypothetical postulate into an existing reality which he calls intellectual intuition. This intuition is the faculty by means of which man arrives at a true understanding of objective reality; it reveals that objective reality (nature) and human knowledge are but two arms of the same river and man becomes conscious of their identity through the act of intuition. In The System of Transcendental Idealism Schelling defines intellectual intuition in this way:

‘This knowledge must (a) be absolutely free simply because all other knowledge is not free; hence it must be knowledge not attainable by way of proof, deduction or the mediation of concepts of whatever sort, i.e. it must be a pure intuition. And (b) it must be knowledge whose object is not something independent of the process of knowing, i.e. knowledge which both knows and produces its own object an intuition which produces freely and in which the producer is one and the same thing as the product. We call such intuitions intellectual to distinguish them from sensuous intuitions which do not become manifest as the producers of their own objects, i.e. the intuition is distinct from what is intuited.

In this statement the identical subject-object, the foundation of objective idealism is already fully developed.

We shall discuss the internal contradictions in Schelling’s position in full detail when we come to consider the disagreements between him and Hegel. All we need say here is that as far as Schelling is concerned the objectivity of nature is adequately demonstrated and guaranteed. Contradictions within human knowledge and between human knowledge and the external world (such as we find in Kant) do not exist for Schelling but are viewed instead as contradictions within objective reality itself. Thus Schelling, like Fichte, does away with contradictions within human knowledge and so in this respect his thought is in sharp disagreement with Kant. But since these contradictions are objective in nature they also entail a rejection of Fichte’s position. It is this fact that securely establishes contradictions and their dialectical supersession in the centre of philosophy as a whole.

We should perhaps round off our account by mentioning that Schelling looks to aesthetic contemplation to provide a ‘proof’ that intellectual intuition is both possible and actual. This too is already anticipated in The Critique of Judgment where Kant’s formulation of the problem of teleology is closely connected to aesthetics. This had already had the effect of leading Schiller in the direction of objective idealism within aesthetics itself. Schelling now continues this process with the result that for a time aesthetics is assigned a central position in his philosophical system. (I have discussed these problems at length in my studies of Schiller’s aesthetics.)

Schelling’s concern in the sphere of dialectics is to appropriate for philosophy the great scientific discoveries of the day. He wished to systematize them and integrate them in his complete system of natural philosophy. It is not possible to examine these problems in the present study. Engels has described the great effect of these discoveries on a number of occasions: the transformation of chemistry as a result of Lavoisier’s work, the new discoveries in electricity (thanks to the work of Volta and Galvani) and the beginnings of scientific biology and the theory of evolution. The effect of these new ideas can already be seen in the kind of problems Kant poses in The Critique of Judgment. Goethe’s life-long preoccupation with science played an important role here too and exerted an influence on Schelling’s philosophy. Throughout this entire scientific revolution the limits, the failings of metaphysical thought became increasingly clear. Nor was the old form of materialism immune. The German nature philosophy of the day then makes the attempt to save the situation by regarding the emerging contradictions as the objective contradictions of reality itself and by making these into the foundation on which to construct its own system of philosophy. We referred above to Marx’s epithet ‘nature enthusiast’ which he applied to Feuerbach and we in our turn used it to describe the young Schelling. Our justification for this is to be found in a letter from Marx in which he asked Feuerbach to contribute a critical essay on Schelling to the Deutsch-Französische-Jahrbücher. Marx referred to Feuerbach as a ‘Schelling in reverse’ and went on to say:

‘Schelling’s genuine youthful insight – to be charitable to our enemy – was one for the realization of which he had no tools but the imagination, no energy other than vanity, no stimulus other than opium, no mental faculty but the irritability of a feminine receptivity – this genuine youthful insight became nothing more than a youthful fantasy for him. But in you it has become truth, reality, with a really masculine seriousness. Hence we may say that Schelling is a distorted prefiguration of yourself ...’

During the period with which we are concerned Schelling’s ‘genuine youthful insight’ was very much to the fore. Needless to say, the seeds of his later reactionary views were also in evidence but for a brief period they were largely overshadowed by his enthusiastic efforts to found a new philosophy of nature, a unified dialectical system of all the phenomena of nature. His excitement was such that for a time his ideas even verged on materialism and on a number of occasions he passionately attacked the rarefied spiritualism of the same Romantics with whom he had had such close affinities in other respects. Since we have no room here for a full discussion of this issue we must content ourselves with a single illustration. In 1799 in opposition to Novalis’ spiritualism Schelling experienced what Friedrich Schlegel has called ‘a new access of his old passion for irreligiosity’ and wrote his tract Heinz Widerporst’s Epicurean Confession of Faith, from which we quote the following very characteristic lines:

Seit ich gekommen bin ins Klare,
Die Materie sei das einzig Wahre,
Unser aller Schutz und Rater,
Aller Dinge rechter Vater,
Alles Wissens Anfang und End’.
Halte nichts vom Unsichtbaren,
Halte mich allein am Offenbaren,
Was ich kann riechen, schmecken, fühlen,
Mit allen Sinnen drinnen wuhlen,
Glaub’, die Welt ist seit jeher gewesen,
Wird auch nimmer in sich verwesen.

Schelling’s commitment to materialism here is passionate and perfectly explicit, but it is by no means clearly thought out. For almost with the same breath in which he asserts his atheism Heinz Widerporst declares that he is in fact irreligious, but if he had to choose a religion – he would choose catholicism. And in the course of the poem there is a plethora of mystical motifs derived from Bohme’s philosophy of nature.

Even from these bare hints the reader will have been able to gauge the profound differences that distinguish Fichte and Schelling from each other right from the beginning. However, these differences were hidden from them above all by their common struggle against the followers of Kant who wished to freeze philosophy at the point it had reached in Kant himself. In his Difference Hegel pours scorn on Kantians of this type.

Thus he makes this comment about Reinhold and the image he uses is very revealing:

‘Just as la réolution est finie has been frequently decreed in France, so too Reinhold has frequently proclaimed the completion of the philosophical revolution. Now he announces the final completion of all the completions. ...’

If we juxtapose this statement with the letter we quoted above from Fichte after Kant had published his declaration we catch a glimpse of the prevailing warlike mood in which the need to make common cause made it all too easy to gloss over existing differences of opinion. Moreover, Schelling’s vagueness about his own real tendencies, his shifting between fits of materialism and mystical extravaganzas, both of which were bound up with Fichte’s theory of knowledge, helped to conceal these differences for a relatively long time. Schelling’s vagueness extends to the manner in which he presents his own philosophy, a manner which Hegel summed up accurately and perceptively in his History of Philosophy.

Schelling completed his philosophical education in public. The list of his philosophical writings is simultaneously the history of his philosophical education. It represents his gradual emancipation from the Fichtean principles and Kantian contents with which he began. It does not contain an analysis of the different parts of philosophy in logical sequence, but the stages in his education.’

Schelling never systematically worked through the problems of philosophy as a whole. He left large and important areas completely untouched in order to go in search of ever new discoveries. Imperceptibly the Fichtean Ego became transformed into the identical subject-object of objective idealism. He began by writing his philosophy of nature as a mere appendix to the Theory of Science and since Fichte was himself engaged at this time on the application of the theory to morality, law, the state, etc., the illusion could be sustained that they were in basic agreement on fundamental principles but that each had selected specific areas to follow up.

These illusions began to fade soon after the appearance of Schelling’s first systematic work. The publication of his System of Transcendental Idealism was followed by a long correspondence ending with a complete breach. It is true that in his next work, the Presentation of My System of Philosophy (1801), Schelling still thought of transcendental philosophy and the philosophy of nature as two aspects of the same system. And a letter of 19 November 1800 reveals that he still regarded the Theory of Science as complete in itself, to which the philosophy of nature was no more than an adjunct, a supplement. He observed:

‘Firstly, as far as the Theory of Science is concerned, I would separate it off entirely; it is complete in itself, it should not be changed or tampered with; it is perfect and must be by its very nature. But theory of science ... is not itself philosophy.... It involves only logic and has nothing to do with reality.’

Thus a fundamental disagreement was very far from Schelling’s mind.

He considered the Theory of Science to be the immutable foundation of all philosophy, his own included.

For his part Fichte began by conducting the discussion with extreme caution. He too had no desire to break with his greatest and most gifted ally. But right from the start he demurred at the autonomy conferred on nature by Schelling’s system. In a letter dated 15 November 1800 which provoked the answer we quoted above, he described Schelling’s ‘self-construction of nature’ (i.e. his objective-idealist view of the objectivity of the categories of nature) as self-deception. He wrote:

‘The reality of nature is quite another matter. In the transcendental philosophy nature appears as something given and as such it is perfect and complete in itself. Moreover, it is “given” not in terms of its own laws but according to the immanent laws of intelligence.... If, by means of a subtle process of abstraction, science concentrates on nature in isolation, it must of course (precisely because it abstracts from intelligence) do so on the premise that nature is something absolute in order to make room for the fiction that it constructs itself.’

Later, when the split had become irrevocable Fichte gave vent to the same idea in a much blunter and more forceful manner. In his letter of 31 May 1801 he remarks that all that can be known is contained in consciousness and that ‘only there in a small area of the mind do we find a world of the senses: nature.’

The distinction between subjective and objective idealism is clearly stated here. Fichte denies Schelling’s nature philosophy the right even to the relative autonomy of an addendum to the Theory of Science. He reaffirms that every external reality is no more than a moment posited by the sovereign action of the Ego and that accordingly the Theory of Science embraces the whole realm of knowledge.

As we have seen, Schelling’s conduct of the debate was a good deal less incisive than Fichte’s. His uncertainty would emerge much more clearly if we had space to analyse the correspondence in its entirety. However, we are concerned with one point only: Hegel’s role. We may remind the reader of Hegel’s letter to Schelling of 2 November 1800 in which he announced his forthcoming arrival in Jena though indicating his intention to spend a certain amount of time in Bamberg first. On 15 November Fichte wrote the letter we have quoted containing his criticisms of the System of Transcendental Idealism. Schelling’s reply to Hegel has been lost but since Hegel came to Jena in January 1801, much sooner than he had originally intended, Haym is probably right in surmising that Schelling’s letter was instrumental in bringing about his earlier arrival. And the reason for coming sooner could only be connected with the present debate. What follows entirely confirms these suppositions. Hegel who up to then had just produced one fragment after another suddenly became extraordinarily productive and completed one polemical essay after another. By July 1801 the Difference was finished. In August of the same year he defended his doctoral thesis and by the autumn he was giving lectures as a Privatdozent at Jena University. Before the year was out he and Schelling had founded the Kritisches Journal der Philosophie in order to propagate the philosophy of objective idealism. In this periodical Hegel displayed the same energy in elaborating what was a new parting of the ways in philosophy, the birth of a new stage in the development of thought. Although objective idealism had already made its appearance in Schiller’s aesthetic writings and above all in Schelling’s own systematic works, it was only now openly proclaimed as a new philosophy. And it was Hegel who so proclaimed it. Both the Difference and the great essays produced for the periodical (Faith and Knowledge and On the Scientific Modes of Treatment of Natural Law) contain a comprehensive and systematic critique of subjective idealism. That is to say, they deal not just with Fichte but also with Kant, the Kantians and with the chief advocate of a subjectivist ‘philosophy of life’ namely Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi. In a series of reviews of varying length both in the Kritischesjournal and in the Erlanger Zeitung Hegel settles accounts with the large crowd of lesser figures – Schulze, Krug, Bouterwek etc.

At every point Hegel emerges as the chief protagonist of the new direction in philosophy. Up to that time, however, this philosophy had made its public appearance only in the writings of Schelling. This explains why Hegel constantly emphasizes the distinction between the objective idealism of Schelling and the subjective idealism of Kant, Jacobi, Fichte. This is why he sharply contrasts the two tendencies highlighting the failure of subjective idealism, its inability to resolve its own contradictions showing at the same time that only objective idealism is capable of providing a satisfactory solution to all the problems involved. Hegel makes no attempt to subject Schelling’s philosophy to scrutiny and there is not even a hint of criticism. The most that can be claimed is that the modern reader who is already familiar with the differences between Hegel and Schelling can see that in a number of places Hegel imputes to Schelling a view or a tendency which seems to fit in better with his own thought than with that of Schelling.

All this can be readily explained by reference to the exigencies of a philosophical polemic. But setting that aside how are we to define Hegel’s position vis-à-vis Schelling in those first Jena years? The available material does not permit us to provide a fully-documented answer. From the period before Schelling’s departure for Würzburg in 1803 not a single negative or even critical utterance about Schelling by Hegel is known to us. Not until the period 1803-06 does Hegel begin to criticize Schelling’s supporters and disciples and finally Schelling himself. This criticism is formulated systematically in The Phenomenology of Mind: Hegel’s first public disagreement with Schelling’s philosophy is also decisive and conclusive.

Is it then fair to say that in his early years in Jena Hegel supported Schelling without any reservations whatever? Or was his collaboration with Schelling no more than ‘diplomacy’, ‘tactics’? The first view is propagated in the usual histories of philosophy; the second is purveyed e.g. by Stirling who discovers a certain ‘cunning’, an element of ‘calculation’ in Hegel’s rapprochement with Schelling at this time. That the first view is false will be evident to the reader of our discussion of Hegel’s Frankfurt period. As we saw there, even before coming to Jena Hegel had already arrived at an objective dialectics which was in advance of Schelling’s on the crucial point (the theory of contradiction). We saw too that in his fragmentary notes Hegel had made more progress than Schelling on a whole series of other problems concerning dialectics. And the most important tendency of Hegel’s philosophy, his creation of a novel dialectical logic, always lay well beyond Schelling’s horizon. Hence when Hegel objected in the Kritisches Journal to being described as a supporter of Schelling, he was undoubtedly justified in doing so.

But this is not to imply that Stirling and his like have correctly interpreted the relations between the two thinkers at this time. Stirling’s attitude to Hegel is much like the attitude revealed by Erich Schmidt in his analysis of the relations between Lessing and Voltaire, an attitude which Franz Mehring has exposed with such irony. Mehring’s scorn was aroused particularly by the way in which ‘scholars’ like Schmidt insinuate that the great poets and thinkers of the past possess the obsequious mentality shown by ambitious lecturers towards powerful professors, a mentality to which they themselves owe their university careers. But a Lessing and a Hegel are humanly as well as intellectually superior to a Professor Schmidt or a Professor Stirling.

The Frankfurt Fragment of a System makes it quite clear that Hegel had succeeded in clarifying his own specific method on a number of the fundamental problems of dialectics before he joined forces with Schelling. But this is far from implying that his own approach to dialectics was fully thought out by the time he arrived in Jena, let alone elaborated in a systematic and concrete manner. I am not thinking here of such important systematic problems as the relation of philosophy to religion. We have seen (p. 212ff.) how in Frankfurt Hegel thought that philosophy should terminate in religion, i.e. that man’s religious position constituted the apex of philosophy. And we shall soon see how he took up another stance on this issue in his very first work in Jena, one which was continually modified and developed right up to the Phenomenology. But if we set aside such major issues and just glance at the first version of his views on logic, the so-called Jena Logic of 1801/2, we cannot help seeing how side by side with the lucid exposition of problems of pivotal importance for his later logic (e.g. the transition from quantity to quality) there remains much that Hegel silently rejected as early as the Phenomenology itself. And above all on the crucial problem of the dialectical deduction of the categories from the movement of their internal contradictions, the Jena Logic is still riddled with confusions, even by comparison with the later Jena period. The precise division into formal and dialectical logic, and the definition of the relationship between them – this is all there in nuce and is clarified to a degree never attained by Schelling – but by the standard of Hegel’s later development it is still rudimentary.

Hence it is no mere accident that in the first part of his stay in Jena Hegel published only polemical tracts – if we ignore his dissertation De orbitis planetarum which is of negligible importance for his life’s work. In these polemical writings he combats the contradictions and inadequacies of subjective idealism and in the process he develops his own views above all in the sphere of social philosophy. At the same time he either refrains entirely from presenting a detailed concrete discussion of the methods and content of objective idealism or else, where there is such a discussion, it remains very general.

Simultaneously with these polemical activities Hegel energetically set about constructing an independent system both in his lectures and in manuscript form. However, he did not get beyond the stage of plans and sketches. Neither at this stage nor later on did he contemplate publishing them. He did indeed draw on them for his later published work but they remained raw material and the systematic framework in which they were cast was constantly subjected to criticism and revision. This continuous process of modification in fundamentals gives some indication of the extent to which his basic thought was still in a state of flux. We have already referred to his description of Schelling as that of a thinker whose development took place in public. It may be that at times this method held some attractions for the young Hegel as he toiled away laboriously at the construction of a system. But we can be quite sure that it was anathema to his deepest philosophical convictions.

The first phase of Hegel’s stay in Jena, then, was a time of philosophical experimentation, though on a far higher plane than in Frankfurt, as a comparison between the products of the two periods makes quite clear. In Frankfurt we find Hegel writing a series of essays in which he struggles with problems of the greatest importance for him, essays which show a definite coherence, but which do not consciously put the problem of a system in the foreground. In Jena, however, the sketches are all sketches for a system so that the progress is quite apparent, even if the methodological foundations of a system are still insecure.

A glance at Hegel’s intimate diary from the later part of Hegel’s stay in Jena furnishes us with interesting insights into his intellectual workshop. This diary was published by Rosenkranz as ‘Hegel’s notebook’. Typically more recent Hegel scholars have ignored both Rosenkranz’s publication and his correct dating of the diary (1803-6). Dilthey discussed its contents but clearly regarded them as general statements valid for the entire Jena period and he neglected even to hint that they had been published by Rosenkranz. Haering went even further: he praised Dilthey for his ‘great achievement’ in having ‘published’ them and he placed them right at the start of the Jena period.

An attentive study of these diaries will show anyone who has even the slightest understanding of Hegel’s development that the statements they contain about his method of work are retrospective in character; Hegel has become clear about his own methods and now looks back self-critically at his earlier efforts. That is to say, if we stick to Rosenkranz’s dating we gain a very useful account of Hegel’s mood and his method of work during his earlier period in Jena. We give a number of typical passages:

The most pernicious vice is to seek to preserve oneself from errors. The fear of actively bringing error upon oneself is complacency and renders absolute passive error inevitable. Thus a stone has no active error, except e.g. for limestone when nitric acid is poured on it. It then gets quite out of hand. It really goes wildly astray, it flares up and enters another world – knowing nothing of this other world it is destroyed. Contrast man. He is substance, maintains himself... This stoniness or stoneness ... this rigidity must be abandoned. Flexibility educability ... is truth. Not until one understands the thing, something which comes after learning about it, does one stand above it.’

This passage is finely elucidated by the entry immediately preceding it. There Hegel says:

‘An essential part of studying a science is that one should not be led astray by its principles. They are general and do not mean much. It appears that you only grasp their meaning if you grasp the particular. Often they are simply bad. They are consciousness of a thing, and the thing is often better than the consciousness. One goes on studying. At first consciousness is unclear. Anything rather than understand and prove everything step by step. Instead one puts the book aside, reads on half asleep, resigned to one’s own consciousness, i.e. one’s singularity, which is painful. ‘

A careful reading of this passage reveals that Hegel is describing his own method of work in this period of transition. The central problem has become clear to him, though not entirely so, but he presses on, undeterred by errors to test the correctness of his views against all the particularities of the real world. And he stubbornly holds fast to the principle of accepting only ideas that withstand this confrontation with the particular. ‘The thing is often better than the consciousness.’ This is the key to his whole mode of philosophy during his youth. He takes over Schelling’s idea of the world as a unified process which embraces nature and history and treats it with total seriousness, much more seriously than Schelling who put the same idea forward in a different system, a different abstract form every year. Hegel wants to grasp the essence of this process, to see just how it comprehends all particulars, and as long as he does not possess a method which will guarantee this comprehensive knowledge he will accept the general principle only with reservations, i.e. he tests it against the facts, the particulars and rejects it at once if he finds it abstract, i.e. if it fails to explain the particulars. This ‘empiricism’ which has gravely embarrassed Hegel’s bourgeois exegetes is a feature of his specific form of the dialectic. We shall see later just where its limits lie for him. Here it was necessary only to point to this feature of his thought, partly to make the difference between him and Schelling absolutely clear, and partly to explain why Hegel did not at once take up a negative stance on a number of the fundamental tenets of objective idealism, but spent some time experimenting with them, testing them, to convince himself of their validity or nullity.

Another passage in the diaries reveals Hegel’s attitude to Schelling even more clearly, though Schelling is not referred to by name.

‘I remember very well how for a long time I drifted around among the sciences, honestly believing that what had become apparent on the surface was not the whole of it. From the way it was all discussed I concluded that the heart of the matter still lay behind the scenes and that everyone knew far more than they admitted, that in fact they knew the spirit and reasons justifying what they were proposing. After I had long sought in vain for the right way and its justification, things they were all talking about and acting as if they were generally known and the normal way of proceeding, I came to the conclusion that there was nothing beyond what I had understood except for the confident tone, wilful argument and arrogance.’

This remark comes at the very end of the notebook. His own tone reveals that he had himself seen through the abstraction, the formalism and the philosophical defects of Schelling’s philosophy. In the form of self-criticism he gives us an idea of the way he had been influenced by Schelling’s philosophical dexterity, and his self-confident and impressive manner. When we come to analyse the differences of substance between Hegel and Schelling the reader will be better able to understand Hegel’s attitude than here where we are concerned merely with sketching in the ‘intellectual physiognomy’ of the two men.

However, we must beware of exaggerating the contrast between them. If we wish to understand the period 1801-3 rightly we must not be prejudiced by what we know today about Schelling’s later career. It is true that the seeds of Schelling’s reactionary tendencies were already to be seen, but they were no more than seeds. And in 1801 no-one could have foreseen that the originator of the philosophical revolution in Germany would end as the philosopher of theological reaction. Even the vapidity of his philosophical constructs looked different then from how they would appear when examined in the light of his later thought. At that time a revolution in philosophy was imminent – we recall Hegel’s biting remarks about people who wanted to bring it to a conclusion – and Schelling’s abstractions had necessarily the appearance of the sort of abstraction that inevitably accompanies the birth of a new philosophy in a new age. (When we come to discuss The Phenomenology of Mind we shall see that this feature was very much in Hegel’s own mind too.)

Marx as a dialectical historian criticized Schelling unsparingly, but he nevertheless singled out his ‘genuine youthful insight’ for special praise and compared him with a thinker of the stature of Feuerbach. It is evident that for the young Hegel, struggling to discover the principles of objective dialectics, this ‘genuine youthful insight’ must have been what attracted him most in Schelling, especially since despite all his later criticism he was never able to see through him as clearly as Marx could from the vantage-point of materialism. For the truth is that the idealist dialectics of objective idealism always remained common ground. There are then definite limits to Schelling’s philosophy which turned out to be limits of the Hegelian dialectic too, while Marx could go further and criticize them with annihilating effect.

We have already stated that Schelling’s ‘genuine youthful insight’ was his attempt to view nature and history as a single unified dialectical process. This answered to the deepest intellectual aspirations of the young Hegel. Furthermore, if it is true that Hegel’s ideas at this time were much more profound than those of Schelling, particularly in the sphere of social philosophy and the logical problems of dialectics, it remains the case that Hegel was not yet capable of gathering his ideas together into a comprehensive unified system. Yet this is precisely what Schelling achieved and moreover he was able to present his system in an exceptionally brilliant and dazzling literary form. We have already seen that Hegel thought it essential to test Schelling’s views against his own independent work before venturing any criticism and we see from his diary entries that his procedure might be called experimental. Only if we see their relations in this way will we be in a position to interpret correctly the appearance in some of his writings, especially the System of Ethics, of Schellingian terminology, i.e. only then will we be able to do justice to the influence of Schelling on Hegel without feeling the need to describe him either as a simple supporter of Schelling or as an ambitious climber and a hypocrite who failed to disclose differences of opinion for ‘tactical reasons’.

A further factor of importance here is that for all the literary accomplishment of each publication, Schelling’s thought too was in flux. Of course, we know nothing of the personal relations between the two men. They lived in the same place, taught at the same university and published a periodical together. They obviously must have had very detailed discussions about the principles of philosophy. And if it cannot be denied that Hegel’s early Jena writings show the impact of Schellingian language, it is also true that we can sometimes hear the voice of Hegel in certain of Schelling’s writings at this time. Thus for a long time there was a debate about the authorship of the introductory article in the periodical on the Relationship of the Philosophy of Nature to Philosophy in general. It was not possible to say whether it had been written by Schelling or by Hegel. Not until an autobiographical note by Hegel from the year 1804 was discovered could it be shown that Schelling was in fact the author. In circumstances such as these we may easily imagine that on certain contentious points Hegel must have striven to convince Schelling of his errors in the course of conversation over long periods of time and attempted to bring him back to the right path before he finally entered the lists in public.

We must also bear in mind that although in many respects Hegel held profounder and more progressive views than Schelling, he must have been a disciple in the sphere of the philosophy of nature – at least in the early stages. We know that he had made an intensive study of scientific problems while he was still in Frankfurt, but this must be set against the major achievements of Schelling, his disciples and above all, and quite independently of them, Goethe, with whom Hegel became acquainted at around this time. And Hegel had to familiarize himself with these discoveries and assess them critically before constructing an independent system of his own.

This examination of the relations between Schelling and Hegel bears out the contention made earlier on (p. 215ff.): their collaboration in Jena was the point at which the paths of two important minds crossed. Hegel was in the process of working out his specific form of dialectics. From the available documents we can see that he did not discard Schelling’s terminology entirely before the lecture manuscripts of 1805-6 – and of course this is by no means just a matter of terminology. When we come to look at the various drafts of Hegel’s social philosophy we shall have cause to remark the close connection between the clear and concrete evolution of ideas and his emancipation from the language of Schelling.

In 1803 Schelling left Jena and went to Würzburg, thus bringing the period of close personal contact to an end. The Kritisches Journal did not survive the separation; it had fulfilled its historic mission of drawing a dividing line between subjective and objective idealism. The process of distinguishing various strands within objective idealism itself could now begin. It would be an error, however, to see this process entirely in terms of a clarification of Hegel’s ideas. We repeat: Schelling’s thought too was in flux. And the increasingly definite emergence of the reactionary elements in Schelling’s philosophy stands in continuous interaction with the evolution of Hegel’s thought, with his ever more pronounced emancipation from the Schellingian concepts with which he had ‘experimented’ for a time. In Würzburg, as early as 1804, Schelling’s Philosophy and Religion already contained a number of fairly definite reactionary features. His abandonment of his ‘genuine youthful insight’ had already begun to assume philosophical dress: the world was now seen as a ‘defection’ from the Absolute (i.e. from God). The basic tendency of his later openly reactionary position, of his so-called ‘positive’ philosophy appeared here for the first time in a fairly explicit manner. (The later Schelling came to regard his own philosophy of nature and dialectics as ‘negative’ philosophy complementing and preparing the way for his final synthesis.)

It would be absurd to ignore the effect upon Hegel of these changes in Schelling. Hegel’s later view of the matter finds expression in the History of Philosophy. There he makes it plain that Schelling has earned his place in the world history of philosophy exclusively by virtue of his first period in Jena. He does not even bother to attack his later works (there is a parallel here to his attitude towards Fichte’s later works). On the other hand, we must not forget that Hegel who had such intimate knowledge of Schelling’s character as well as his work, did not regard the latter’s new phase as definitive. For a long time he continued to hope that criticism would bring Schelling back to the true path of dialectical philosophy. The correspondence between them, even at the time of The Phenomenology of Mind shows that Hegel still reckoned with the possibility of a philosophical rapprochement. Only after the Phenomenology was published in 1807 did the split become definitive when Schelling broke off relations.