J. B. Baillie. The Origin and Significance of Hegel’s Logic 1901

Chapter XI: Retrospective – The Historical Setting of Hegel’s Logic

We are now in a position, after the perspective we have gained from the preceding historical inquiry, to appreciate more completely the influences which have moulded the form of Hegel’s final Logic; and when all these are taken into account the Logic is seen to be, not a unique intellectual abnormality due to some extravagant pretension to omniscience, but the natural, even the inevitable, outcome of the spiritual environment and attitude of its author.

Hegel was himself, what he said of every one else, the child of his age, and his work only in part his own. Every fibre of his being had thrilled in sympathy with the wild hurricane of spiritual energy which had broken over Europe, scattering the dust-laden conventionalities from which life had long fled, clearing the moral atmosphere, and snapping for ever the bonds of groundless authority. The storm passed; but the word which had gone forth from the throat of the tempest was yet borne in the sound of the still small voice, which carried encouragement and wisdom to the troubled spirits of an awakening world. That word was Freedom, which henceforth became the rallying-cry of the new epoch.

Every grade of society felt the shock, for the popular imagination was roused by seeing the new forces take shape in that form, which great ideas must ever assume if they are to be believed by the people – social revolution. And what first appeared as a political upheaval gradually spread till it swamped every sphere of moment to mankind – moral, religious, intellectual. In all cases the course of the movement was the same. Man’s life was pulverised into its elements, cut loose from the past, and left in the naked simplicity of nature, and to the efforts of his individual reason. The primary instincts and demands of his spirit were admitted and honoured, and with these he was sufficient for all things.

Alone and face to face with the appalling activity of the universe, he must, from the singleness and solitude of his individual life, weave the seamless robe of his own destiny.

This attitude of splendid audacity, which the first realisation of the idea of Freedom assumed, had its defenders and interpreters. On the basis of this conception of the principle Rousseau and Kant deliberately sought to reorganise man’s elementary beliefs into a new spiritual world, to compel the individual to admit a new necessity in the changed spiritual order by building afresh the fabric of his life. By the former the principle was employed as the foundation of a practical working system of social duties and political rights, inculcated with all the clearness and effectiveness of passionate conviction. With Kant it was made the groundidea of a philosophical reconstruction of man’s place in the world. And with unwavering confidence the principle was carried out to its issues by the incisive precision of intensity of belief on the one side, and by a strenuously logical intellect on the other. God was banished beyond the world, while the individual reason ordered all within it. Of so slight significance was God to the world that the very existence of such a Being was at best a “postulate” of human reason. “Social and political life have their end and purpose in the individual from whom they themselves arise,” said the one who was spiritually incapable of any social life whatsoever. “Man is a law unto himself and legislates for nature,” was the cardinal contention of the Prussian iconoclast.

The principle enunciated by Kant was, in the same sense, still further elaborated by Fichte, who was perhaps the first to realise the essential philosophical significance of the new conception. At the same time he was so convinced of the practical value of the “new way of ideas,” that he sought with all the impetuosity of the propagandist to inspire the “meanest intelligence” with its truth.[1] Fichte did not shrink from the essential implications of abstract individual freedom. God was no longer outside the world, but identified with it. So far was God from being independent of man that the very notion of God was a production of man’s self. Cutting himself loose with easy assurance from traditional belief, to which, in spite of his principle, Kant was still unconsciously in bondage, Fichte did not swerve till the position of the Copernican metaphysics was firmly established, and man was made in very truth the centre of the universe. The Ego was the Absolute without qualification.

No longer was there to be a sacrifice of “things in themselves” made on the altar of the Unknown God; for the altar itself was removed, and nothing was allowed a place in the temple of man’s experience but what embodied a form of his self-conscious life. The social order, the object of religion, nature itself, found their fons et origo in the individual Ego, and could be “reflectively deduced” from it.

But a new movement now set in. Other forms of the free expression of human activity began to claim attention, and these powerfully modified the conception of individual freedom. On the one side the dignity and value of natural piety with its effective strength and unpretentious wisdom roused the attention of those whose interest in freedom lay not in its abstract possibilities but its actual attainments; on the other the new Hellenism kindled the delight in natural life merely for its own sake, with all its wealth of detail, and drew the finer spirits of the time to find the ideal of living in an ideal of beauty, and to seek this ideal in the pulsing activity of actual experience. The former turned men’s eyes to the past (a necessary result of any appreciation of religion), and reawakened an interest in history. The latter expressed itself in that glorification of human deeds and human beings which was the chief theme of the newer poetry, and in the worship of the types of artistic beauty inherited from antiquity.

To give expression to the inner meaning in all this wealth of fact, fancy, and experience was what gave ostensible unity of aim and purpose to the philosophic poetry and poetic philosophy of the Romantic School, whose philosophical spokesmen were primarily Jacobi and Schelling. Once again the Ego is placed at the heart of the world, and nature and experience interpreted in the light of free self-consciousness.

But against the severe logic of the Reflexions-philosophie of Kant and Fichte is set the insight and intuition of the poet; for strenuous analysis is substituted the free play of imagination; in place of the necessity of a careful construction is found the immediacy of feeling. Nature is transformed by fancy and emotion into the living embodiment of personality.

For science we have mysticism; for logic, emotion; for reflexion, Anschauung; for philosophy love of wisdom; for realisation of truth, Schwärmerei. Such in result was the attempt of the Romantic School to satisfy its two fundamental principles – that experience was a living whole, and that its meaning was found in the unity of self-consciousness.

Such an exchange of the wisdom and understanding of science for the feeling and fancy of poetry, the abandonment of the patient scrutiny of the one for the impromptu insight of the other, in the delusive belief that thereby the life of reality was more fully revealed, was certain to bring its Nemesis – confusion instead of distinction, incoherence for system, vagueness and indefiniteness for accuracy and precision. Now it is at this point that Hegel comes to the front to lead philosophy out of the inevitable impasse at which it had arrived in the hands of Romanticism.

His own system took its rise as a deliberate reaction from the philosophical nebulosity of this school, and his effort to save philosophy from its friends is one of the primary factors determining his construction.

In part the same ideas and influences which had given birth to Romanticism set the problem for Hegel also. He acknowledged the completeness and self-sufficiency of the natural religious consciousness, admitted that experience was realised in the direct immediacy of life itself, and reasserted the cardinal contention of the whole movement – that the ultimate principle of experience is the Ego, Spirit. He too was keenly alive to the essential significance of the Greek ideal as the embodiment of free natural activity.

But, on the other hand, Hegel saw that the supreme error of Romanticism was its repudiation of system, which to Hegel was equivalent to renunciation of science; for system and philosophic science were for him synonymous. And this was due to the fact that they had ignored the essential instrument of scientific construction, mediating reflexion, and had laid exclusive emphasis on mere immediacy, mere intuition; that is, they had dispensed with the distinguishing factor of the philosophy of Kant and Fichte – understanding, demonstration, reason. Hegel’s opposition to the school therefore consists essentially in recovering the ground held by the philosophers of individual freedom, Kant and Fichte, in making their position completely his own, and in thoroughly recasting their fundamental principles.

Hence Hegel’s problem. On the one side was the immediate experience of life, of religion, of art, each in their manifold forms, in all of which reality was felt in its richness, its intensity, its sufficiency, and out of which came the natural wisdom of common life, the penetrating insight of the religious consciousness, and the sweetness and light of poetic intuition. On the other side was the equally important experience of reflexion, operative every where, pervading everything, analysing, distinguishing, relating, demonstrating; from which arose science, and for the complete realisation of which comprehensive system was absolutely imperative. And at the root and basis of all experience, of reality in all its forms, was the one supreme principle – the Ego, self-conscious spirit, the exhaustive free expression of which was just experience itself.

Now the question how all this was to be systematised resolved itself for Hegel into the question, what precisely is the absolute method of philosophy? Method and system essentially involved each other. It was the absence of any determinate method which condemned Romanticism and made its attitude impossible,[2] and it was the possession of an accurate method that enabled Hegel to save philosophy from its inevitable ruin. What then must the method be? Hegel’s answer is as simple as it is effective. It is to unite in a single act and process these two opposite sides of experience above named – immediacy with mediation. Intuition shall be one with understanding, “Reflexion” shall be fused with Anschauung. Immediate experience shall breathe the breath of its life into the forms of reality separated by reflexion, and these shall of themselves become the single living soul which is the Absolute. The activity of reflexion shall be endowed with the actual vitality of concrete experience.

Thus, just as in life there are no gaps, its whole process forming so thorough a continuity that even to name a distinct element is in a way to falsify its nature, so the single process which is to systematise experience shall simply reproduce that indissoluble continuity which is its inalienable characteristic. Experience shall not so much be reflected as reflect itself; the system constructed will be self-constructed. And such a method is at once necessary and possible, because self-consciousness is the ground-principle of experience itself. For self-consciousness is in reality precisely that unity of immediateness and mediation. It is consciousness, of self and therefore contains the difference implied in mediate reflexion; it is self of which there is consciousness, and therefore is the unity, the identity of immediate Anschauung.

Only by such a method could Hegel avoid the indefiniteness of Romantic philosophy on the one hand, and the externality, the formality, the lifelessness of mere reflexion on the other. Because of the presence of immediacy the process was that of reality itself. And this is the ground of his condemnation of the “abstract” understanding, which by its very nature can only reproduce in painful detail the isolated members of living beauty. Because it is also a process of reflexion, distinction, relation, the result is not a mere capricious intuition, nor the hazy confusion of an identity which is the mere “night in which all cows are black.” While again because it is the living reality of experience which shapes the construction, we have a system which is at once truth and reality, knowledge and fact.

Hence the Phenomenology, and after this the Logic, in which the same dialectic method operates. The method of truth is dialectic, because History, Nature, and Experience are one and all dialectic to the core.[3] Hence the identification of Logic and Metaphysic which is the absolute system of truth, and the most perfect (i.e., freest) expression of self-consciousness.

Thus, then, does Hegel gather up in himself and his system the guiding aims in the life of his age – its deep ethical fervour, its responsive sympathy with natural faith, its ambitious comprehensiveness, its selfconfidence, its profound idealism. Its root-idea is Freedom, and Hegel’s system is the demonstration of the truth of that notion, and his Logic the flower of free self-consciousness. Every form of human faith, again, was regarded as pro tanto justifiable, and Hegel establishes the right of every faith to be by exhibiting their various forms as modes of the realisation of religious life, while he reconciles religion with philosophy by showing religion to be the expression in the concrete immediacy of Vorstellung of the union with the Absolute which philosophy demonstrates.

It is because the reconciliation takes this form that there is no “Idea” of religion in the Logic; for both Religion and the Logic exhibit the same fact in different ways.[4] Further all the boundless daring of the time found its fitting consummation in a thinker who spelled out the vast meaning of the universe, and knew what were the secrets of the Absolute “before the creation of nature or any finite spirit.” While finally he established its unwavering idealism, not merely by showing that the one Reality is the revelation of a single Self-consciousness, but also by demonstrating that precisely this principle had been the guiding light of philosophy throughout all its history.


1. v. Sonnenklarer Bericht.

2. v. Phän. d. Geistes, Vorrede.

3. “Das Wahre ist so der bachantische Taumel an dem kein Glied nicht trunken ist,” Phän. Vorrede.

4. Log. iii. 318; so too does Art.