Thought and Reality In Hegel’s System. Gustavus Watts Cunningham 1910
In the preceding chapters of this study we have been concerned exclusively with Hegel’s doctrine of the nature of thought. We have learned that, according to his doctrine, thought is co-extensive with experience and consequently with reality itself: it has no datum opposed to and independent of it. Thus an investigation of the nature of thought was necessary before we could arrive at a just appreciation of Hegel’s teaching concerning the nature of the ultimately real. Having now completed this investigation and having learned what Hegel has to say concerning the thought-process, we turn to the other aspect of our general problem and inquire about the details of Hegel’s doctrine of reality.
As we have already seen, Hegel insists that reality is the result of a process of mediation; it is not a first principle, but a last result. This is a contention upon which Hegel is constantly insisting. “If knowledge is to grasp the truth,” he tells us, “it must not remain at the standpoint of the immediately given and its determinations. On the contrary, it must penetrate this immediate being, assuming that behind it there is something other than itself, which hidden somewhat constitutes its truth.” “Every immediate unity is only abstract potential truth, not real truth.” “Concerning the Absolute, it is to be said that it is first as a result what it is in truth.” The real is not to be found in sense-perception: it is only the result of the process of thought. This emphasis of the mediated aspect of reality is one of the fundamental doctrines of the Hegelian philosophy, and the author never tires of reminding us of it. The ultimately real is not shot out of a pistol at us; truth is not given, as it were, a coin from the mint. On the contrary, the real must be defined, and its definition comes only with developing experience and the growth of knowledge. It is only the labors of thought that can lead us to the land of reality.
This being true, it follows at once that the form of universality is, as Hegel views the matter, an essential aspect of the real. For, on this hypothesis, reality lies exclusively within the domain of thought; and thinking ipso facto necessitates the form of universality. This implication of his system Hegel does not overlook. In the Naturphilosophie, for example, he urges that the universal aspect of objects is not to be considered as something foreign to them, a form which belongs to them only when they happen to be thought about; rather, the universal is absolutely essential to their reality, it is the noumenon, as it were, behind the transitory and fleeting phenomenon. Reason, he tells us elsewhere, “is the certitude that its determinations are just as much objective, e.g., determinations of the essence of things, as they are subjective thoughts.” Again, in opposition to the atomistic view of Locke and the empiricists to the effect that the universal does not in reality belong to objects, Hegel asserts: “To say ... that the universal is not the essential reality of nature ... is tantamount to saying that we do not know real existence.” And an unknowable reality is, for Hegel, a contradiction in terms. Reality, then, does assume the form of universality; this is essential to its very being.
From this we may pass at once to the conclusion that the real, as Hegel conceives of it, cannot be the abstract particular. After what has just been said it is hardly necessary to argue this point further. Hegel would unhesitatingly assert that the particular, qua particular, is never found in experience at all. This is exactly what his doctrines of the inseparability of immediacy and mediation amounts to. The immediacy of reality is a mediated immediacy; and since the mediating process is that of thought which can advance only by means of universals, the immediacy of the real must transcend bare particularity. In a word, we may put the matter so: if knowledge is coextensive with experience, then the possibility that a mere particular may appear within experience is eliminated; whatever appears in knowledge must be more than a mere particular, for the universals of thought can lay hold only of that which somehow itself is universal. The abstract particular plays no part in reality. Against the idea that particularity is a form adequate to the real Hegel has some cogent objections to urge. And perhaps it would not be too much to say that those objections are rather obvious. In the first place, the particular seems to be absolutely nothing so far as experience is concerned. In order that it may be a part of experience it must, as Kant has shown us in his famous Transcendental Deduction of the categories, become universalized, must lose its abstract particularity. For the particular which is to be experienced must remain identical with itself through a period of time; and self-identity is universality. So the abstract particular has no part to play in experience, is impossible, indeed, within experience. But, in the second place, if we should grant the possibility of the abstract particular within experience, we should find ourselves in the midst of some puzzling problems. And not the least confusing is the question, What is an unrelated particular? Absolutely nothing can be said about it, because anything can be defined only in terms of its relations and a particular has no relations. Indeed, an abstract particular is simply an indefinable absolute. Hegel puts the difficulty thus: “The form of immediacy invests the particular with the character of independent or self-centered being. But such predicates contradict the very essence of the particular, – which is to be referred to something else outside. They thus invest the finite with the character of an absolute.” And of course it is not easy to see how experience could possibly be composed of a number of unrelated absolutes. But it seems useless to stress this point further. It is plain, as Professor Pringle-Pattison has urged, that the mere particular finds a place to exist nowhere outside a logic which is not wholly clear about its own procedure. But, granting that Hegel is not guilty of hypostatizing the abstract particular, what are we to say about his assertions concerning the universal? Are we so sure that he does not go to the other extreme and urge that experience consists in blank universality? Have we not seen that he maintains that to think the world is to cast it in the form of the universal, and is it not true that he reduces experience to terms of thought? Is he not always insisting that the universal, the Notion, is the very quintessence of the object? It is true, as we have all along seen, that Hegel has been generally accused of reducing the real to the form of abstract universality. This is the view of Haym, of Trendelenburg, of Lotze, indeed of all the critics of the Hegelian philosophy in general Even the sympathetic critics of the system are all practically agreed in making the same assumption. It is the very nerve of Professor Pringle-Pattison’s criticism, which we reviewed in some detail in the preceding chapter; and it is the nerve also of the criticisms of Professor Baillie and Mr. McTaggart, which we shall presently consider. Is Hegel really guilty of this accusation that has been brought against him by so many students of his philosophy, or is he not? If he is, then there can be no question that his system is as far from concrete experience as any system well can be. If he is not, then with the assumption fall the criticisms based upon it.
Our answer to the question is already determined, and our reasons for it already set forth. The answer must be an unequivocal and emphatic negative, its justification being found in the entire first part of this study. There it was the aim to let Hegel speak for himself; and if we are to believe what he has said, then we are forced to admit at least that it was not his intention to champion the position that reality is simply an aggregate of blank universals, a ‘ballet of bloodless categories.’ He does grant that thought is conterminous with experience, and, consequently, with reality itself; the real for him exists only in the form of the Notion.
About this there need be no dispute. Again, he as frankly admits that this position forces him to assume the further position that reality can be found only in universality; for “thinking means the bringing of something into the form of universality.” Upon this all may agree. But the all-important point here, the point upon which there is difference of opinion, is the determination of Hegel’s doctrine of universality. This is really the bone of contention. What does Hegel mean by the form of universality which reality assumes? Does he mean by the universal of the Notion merely formal universality? If we dare maintain our position against the cloud of witnesses on the other side, we must hold that by his doctrine of the universality of the Notion Hegel means, not abstract generality, but concrete universality. This was the central thesis of our discussion of Hegel’s doctrine of the nature of thought, which we saw Hegel define, not as mere cognition, but as the very life of mind itself. In this Hegelian thought are included all the categories of the mind, from the barest, most empty sensation which only points dimly to the factual existence of an objective world, to the fullest, most concrete expression of the essential constitution of the world. As Hegel conceives the matter, experience is not reduced to the bare universals of cognition: cognition is only one aspect of the mental life, which includes within itself the categories of feeling and volition as well. To accuse him of reducing reality to blank universality, therefore, is to misapprehend what he means by the form of the Notion. Both Professor Baillie and Mr. McTaggart give their opinion against the conclusion here advanced. These two professedly close and sympathetic students of Hegel maintain that he conceives reality to be nothing more than a process of discursive knowledge, that he reduces experience to blank universality. An examination in some detail of the grounds upon which these critics base their opinions will perhaps serve to clear up the problem before us.
The Phenomenology of Spirit forms the point of departure for Professor Baillie’s criticism. According to the critic, Hegel arrives at his fundamental position in the following manner: “All experience involves the relation of subject to object, and all Experience is fundamentally the life of mind; it finds its meaning and explanation in self-consciousness.
Now in the Phenomenology it was further shown that self-consciousness finds its most perfect expression in Absolute Science. In other words, that while all Experience is the realization of self-consciousness, Science is its truest form: it is ‘the crown of the life of mind.’ Therefore ... the immediacy of Experience is the immediacy of Science; the mediation constituting and constructing Experience is the mediation of Science.
What is immediate to life in indissoluble union with environment (in the widest sense of the term) is the same as what is ‘given’ or ‘immediate’ in Knowledge. In other words, Reality in its essence is a process of Knowledge.” In the paragraph immediately following this statement of Hegel’s supposed procedure, the critic continues: “Now it is safe to say that such an identification is absolutely groundless. To assert that the whole teeming life of the world, with its boundless activity, its inexhaustible wealth of content, is for knowledge literally ‘giver’ in its entirety, and only exists as so ‘given’ – this is surely the mere perversion of Experience in the interests of a speculative preconception.” Later he gives the following as the gist of his objection: “The process of science must not for a moment be taken to be equivalent to the fullness of the life of Experience itself.” The central part of this accusation, we notice, is that Hegel identifies the immediacy of experience, that immediacy which is the real, with the immediacy of science. He is made to maintain that the richness of reality, “the whole teeming life of the world, with its boundless activity its inexhaustible wealth of content,” may legitimately be forced into the abstract framework of scientific formulae. The wealth of the factual world and the glory of it, he is supposed to have transformed into the poverty of general principles and universal laws. Under his hands, it is said, the flesh and blood of living reality become so attenuated that only the skeleton is left us; and such a skeleton, we are asked to believe Hegel would have us accept for the pulsing life of concrete experience.
Now I venture to think that Hegel cannot fairly be accused of any such absurd contention. He must have known, as well as everybody else knows, that there is more to reality than mere thoughts about it. And he did. This is quite evident from the emphasis that he places from time to time upon the factual aspect of experience. Over and over again he urges that thought is true only in so far as it sinks itself in the facts, which certainly are more than the thoughts about them. With the reader’s permission I shall quote some other passages bearing on this point, in order to show that Hegel not only is not afraid of, but insists upon, the ‘logic of the fact.’ In the sixth section of the Introduction to the smaller Logic we read: “The actuality of the rational stands opposed by the popular fancy that Ideas and ideals are nothing but chimeras, and philosophy a mere system of such phantasms. It is also opposed by the very different fancy that Ideas and ideals are something far too excellent to have actuality, or something too impotent to procure it for themselves.
This divorce between idea and reality is especially dear to the analytic understanding which looks upon its own abstractions, dreams though they are, as something true and real, and prides itself on the imperative ‘ought,’ which it takes especial pleasure in prescribing even on the field of politics.... The object of philosophy is the Idea: and the Idea is not so impotent as merely to have a right or obligation to exist without actually existing.” In the twenty-fourth section we read: “If thought tries to form a notion of things, this notion (as well as its proximate phases the judgment and syllogism) cannot be composed of articles and relations which are alien and irrelevant to the things.” And in the second lecture note: “When we think, we renounce our selfish and particular being, sink ourselves in the thing, allow thought to follow its own course, and, if we add anything of our own, we think ill.” If these passages (and others of similar import) do not mean that thought and the science of thought have to do with factual existence, then I fail to see what they do mean.
Thought always has an objective reference, they tell us, apart from which thought is nothing more than an abstraction; if the object is neglected, if the thing is left out of account. thought is useless. Indeed, if the object is neglected, thought is nothing; for it is just the expression of the essence of the object. This would seem to be Hegel’s meaning in these passages, and it certainly is in harmony with the spirit of his system.
The above accusation of Professor Baillie, one seems forced to say, is based upon a complete misinterpretation of Hegel’s actual procedure.
In the preface to the Phenomenology Hegel does, indeed, identify the ‘element of science’ with the standpoint of absolute knowledge; and this category, as we saw in the first chapter of this study, is the truth of experience. Thus it is true, in a sense, that the ‘element of science’ is the truth of experience. But – this is the vital point – Hegel does not mean by science here what Professor Baillie seems to think he means by it, namely, a system of abstract and general laws. On the contrary, he means by it just that concrete point of view of the category of absolute knowledge, whose nature and whose necessity as a presupposition of all experience it was the province of the Phenomenology to work out and elaborate.
Therefore, when Hegel maintains that we arrive at the truth of experience only when we enter the realm of science and that in this realm we seize reality in its essence, he certainly does not argue that reality is nothing more than scientific laws and universal principles, nor does he assume that the content of abstract science is ‘equivalent to the fullness of life itself.’ Such abstract principles, he would say, have their part to play in experience; but their part, though unquestionably important and extremely significant for any theory of ultimate reality, is not to assume the role of absolute and exhaustive formulae or principles. That science which is exhaustive of reality is only ‘absolute science’; it is on the plane not of the Understanding, but of Reason, where all ‘finite’ categories are viewed in their true light and where mere generality is seen to be what it really is – a blank abstraction.
Hegel’s real position or. this point may perhaps be set forth by the following considerations. The only immediacy which he would think of equating with reality is the immediacy of what he calls ‘absolute science.’ Now what is this immediacy? The immediacy of ‘absolute science’ is completely mediated immediacy, or thoroughly rationalized experience.
There are various forms of immediacy, such as that of common sense, of science, of religion, of philosophy, each of which, according to Hegel, has a degree of reality attaching to it proportional to the exhaustiveness of the mediation which it involves; the immediacy of ‘absolute science’ is the highest of these forms of immediacy, and is absolutely concrete because it involves absolutely exhaustive mediation.
Furthermore, each more exhaustively mediated form of immediacy does not simply negate the lower; it negates and affirms it, and affirms by negating. This, as we have seen, is the unique aspect of Hegel’s doctrine of the negative function of thought. The various stages of immediacy, therefore, are not opposed to, and more or less independent of each other; on the contrary, each is involved in all and all in each. And from this it follows that the immediacy of ‘absolute science,’ which is the only completely mediated immediacy, ipso facto includes within itself all the other forms of immediacy; the truth of all finds its expression in this form of immediacy. Thus that immediacy with which Hegel identifies reality is an immediacy which includes within itself the entire realm of experience, in its most trivial as well as in its most momentous and sublime reaches. For such is the immediacy of ‘absolute science.’ So much for Professor Baillie’s misinterpretation of Hegel. I think we have shown that his criticism is beside the mark, and that is all we are concerned to do at present. The criticism itself implies a position the tenability of which we shall have to call in question later on in this chapter. We turn now to a consideration of Mr. McTaggart’s objection.
Mr. McTaggart’s criticism, though essentially the same as that of Professor Baillie, is presented from a different point of view and so demands separate notice. The conclusion of the Philosophy of Mind is made the basis for this attack. There, it is asserted, Hegel explicitly maintains that philosophy is the highest expression of Spirit, and thus is guilty of equating reality with philosophical knowledge. But, the critic objects, the position that in philosophy one finds the complete exposition of ultimate reality is untenable. “Philosophy itself is knowledge, it is neither action nor feeling. And there seems nothing in Hegel’s account of it to induce us to change the meaning of the word in this respect.... We are thus, it would seem, bound down to the view that Hegel considered the supreme nature of Spirit to be expressed as knowledge, and as knowledge only.” “But knowledge,” we are further informed, “does not exhaust the nature of Spirit. The simplest introspection will show us that, besides knowledge, we have also volition, and the feeling of pleasure and pain. These are prima facie different from knowledge, and it does not seem possible that they should ever be reduced to it.” Therefore, the critic concludes, in the final standpoint of the Encyclopaedia Hegel tried “to ignore volition, and to ignore pleasure and pain.” And, of course, “a view of Spirit which does this is fatally one-sided.” The assumption involved in this criticism is quite evident. It is that Philosophy, as Hegel defines it, has to do with purely discursive knowledge, that is, with cognition as opposed to feeling and volition, and with this alone. As the critic himself puts it: ‘Philosophy itself is knowledge, it is neither action nor feeling. And there seems nothing in Hegel’s account of it to induce us to change the meaning of the word in this respect.” Now it is just this assertion that I challenge. In the first place, as I have already argued in the somewhat detailed discussion of Hegel’s doctrine of immediacy and mediation, the account which Hegel gives us of philosophical knowledge not only ‘induces’ us, but forces us, to define philosophy as a science of more than mere cognition. In point of fact, philosophy, as Hegel uses the term, is the science of experience, since it has to do with that life of mind, reason, which is nothing more nor less than experience itself. In the second place, the assumption here is the same as the assumption above, and all we have said in answer to the latter applies equally well to the former.
The realm of philosophy Hegel identifies with the realm of ‘absolute science’; and it must never be forgotten that the standpoint of ‘absolute science’ is to be found in the category of absolute knowledge. Philosophical knowledge, therefore, always means more than mere abstract cognition: it is an immediacy which includes within itself the whole life of Spirit.
Mr. McTaggart is willing to admit that the conclusion which he sees in the last division of the Philosophy of Mind is palpably inconsistent with the outcome of the Logic. In the Absolute Idea, he grants, volition as well as cognition is present. Hence the Absolute Idea “must be an idea richer and fuller than that of Cognition – richer and fuller by the content of the idea of volition.... The Absolute Idea then contains within itself the idea of knowledge as a transcended moment.” Thus “in giving the abstract framework of absolute reality in the Logic,” Hegel has at the same time given “a framework for something which, whatever it is, is more than any form of mere cognition.” Now I submit that the actual result of the Philosophy of Mind is not in the least inconsistent with this result of the Logic. Hegel always and everywhere maintains that philosophical knowledge includes within itself feeling, volition, cognition, in short all the action and passion of the human mind; and that, therefore, philosophy is the science of the real, if the realm of experience be the real. This position is the presupposition of the entire Encyclopaedia, and it is just as much involved in the last part as it is in the first. The proof of this contention has already been given in our attempt to state Hegel’s doctrine of thought and to determine the position of the Logic in the system.
It is suggestive and instructive to notice that, in criticising Hegel’s contention that philosophical knowledge is conterminous with the real, Mr. McTaggart attacks the very contention which he himself immediately afterwards champions. To see that this is true, one need only compare with Hegel’s thought the critic’s ultimate synthesis of the real. In stating the characteristics of the form of unity which he thinks would be an adequate expression of reality, Mr. McTaggart says: “It must be some state of conscious spirit in which the opposition of cognition and volition is overcome – in which we neither judge our ideas by the world, nor the world by our ideas, but are aware that inner and outer are in such close and necessary harmony that even the thought of possible discord has become impossible. In its unity not only cognition and volition, but feeling also, must be blended and united. In some way or other it must have overcome the rift in discursive knowledge, and the immediate must for it be no longer the alien. It must be as direct as art, as certain and universal as philosophy.” It matters not that these lines are supposed by their author to express an idea essentially different from what Hegel means by thought; one could not want a better summary of Hegel’s doctrine. Must feeling, volition, and cognition all be blended in the expression of ultimate reality? This, Hegel says, is accomplished in that state of conscious spirit which he calls thought: “It is present in every sensation, in cognition and knowledge, in the instincts, and in volition in so far as these are attributes of the human mind.” For “in the human being there is only one reason in feeling, volition, and thought or cognition. Must the rift in discursive knowledge have been removed in this unity? This, Hegel tells us, is the characteristic peculiar to philosophical knowledge: the sciences “are finite because their mode of thought, as a merely formal act, derives its content from without.
Their content therefore is not known as moulded from within through the thoughts which lie at the ground of it, and form and content do not thoroughly interpenetrate each other. This partition disappears in philosophy, and thus justifies its title of infinite knowledge.” Must the immediate be no longer alien for the expression of the ultimately real? Our demand, Hegel assures us, is satisfied in Spirit: “As Adam said to Eve, ‘Thou art flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone,’ so says the Spirit, ‘This object is spirit of my spirit, and all alienation has disappeared.’” Should that form of expression which exhausts the real be as direct as art and as universal as philosophy? Such a combination Hegel thinks he has found in philosophy itself: “The multifarious whole is reflected in it as in a single focus, in the Notion which knows itself.” In short, philosophical knowledge, as Hegel has defined it for us, meets all the requirements which Mr. McTaggart sees fit to make of the medium through which reality may receive adequate expression. And it does seem rather hard that an author should be criticized for upholding exactly the same position (barring terminology) as his critic champions.
Further detailed discussion of this point seems superfluous. Enough has already been said to show us not only that we are justified in concluding, but that we are forced to conclude, that Hegel does not equate reality with any process of formal knowledge. Such a position would be contrary to his own frequent explicit assertions, as well as to the presuppositions and actual procedure of his system. For his fundamental contention, both by word and deed, is that thought is the unifying principle of experience which includes within its diamond net the entire sphere of the activities and interests of the human soul. It subsumes within itself sensuous experience, moral and religious experience, scientific experience, all experience of which man is capable; it is the all-pervading harmonizer that illumines every phase of experience and makes it what it is. Only such thought as this, that is to say, experience, is what Hegel claims to be an adequate expression of the ultimately real. And with this we leave these misunderstandings and pass on to ask what form reality does actually assume in Hegel’s system.
There occurs a passage in Professor Bosanquet’s Logic which runs as follows: “It is important that we should dismiss the notion that the higher degrees of knowledge are necessarily and in the nature of intelligence framed out of abstractions that omit whatever has interest and peculiarity in the real world. Nothing has been more fatal to the truth and vitality of ideas than this prejudice.” It is certain that no prejudice has been more fatal to an appreciation of Hegel’s philosophy, and that, too, notwithstanding the fact that the author has constantly warned against the danger. And it would seem that the time has come when such a prejudice should be laid aside and an unbiased effort made to see exactly what Hegel has taught concerning the universal aspect which he thinks every unitary experience must have. Is there any other conception of universality possible than that which sets it down to mere abstraction? If there is, may it not be such a universality as will offer us a consistent explanation of experience and a satisfactory account of the ultimately real? May it not also be just the conception of universality that Hegel has in mind when he speaks of the ‘Notion,’ with which he equates reality and which he ever and anon assures us “is not a mere sum of features common to several things"? An honest look at experience forces us, it would seem, to assert that the real universal of actual thought is not that of formal logic. It is a notorious fact that we contradict the rules of the time-honored syllogism in our every-day thinking. Every developing science is an enigma to the formal principles of distributed middle and negative premises; and many of the simplest arguments of common sense cannot be forced into the syllogistic form. We are not surprised, therefore, that man, qua man, exists nowhere outside the texts on formal logic: not man has being in the real world, but only men. Professors Bradley and Bosanquet, following the lead of Hegel, have so clearly and exhaustively exposed these discrepancies in the procedure and presupposition of formal logic that it would be superfluous, if not presumptuous, for me to attempt to enlarge on them here.
It is sufficient for our present purpose simply to point out that the fundamental difficulty with the traditional logic is that it deals with an abstraction. It separates from each other two essentially inseparable aspects of experience, namely, form and content, and then concerns itself with one, namely, form, in isolation. There should be no wonder that its results are not applicable to concrete experience; the wonder perhaps is that, when so applied, they do not land us in more numerous antinomies. Of course, there is no such thing as thinking in the abstract, as if thought were indifferent to its object; and the universals that result from such an imaginary process can be nothing more than mere make-believes.
These universals of formal logic, as such, can have no part in reality. What, then, we ask, is the nature of the universal of concrete thought? I know of no better or clearer definition than that given by Professor Bosanquet in the introductory chapter to his Logic. He there warns us to beware of thinking of the universals as the result of the process of selective omission of differences among phenomena; this is the error which proves so fatal to the significance of formal logic. The true universal, the universal that actually has a place in concrete experience, is rather the result of a synthesis of differences, the constructive analysis of phenomena. That is to say, progression towards true universality is simply the continuous organization and systematization of the data of experience. So far from it being true that thought takes place in vacuity apart from any content, thinking is nothing but the progressive organization of its content; apart from its content thought is absolutely nothing.
Since form and content are thus inseparable, the true form can be realized only when it is viewed in its essential relation to its correlative; and when it is so viewed it is seen to include the content within itself.
The true universal, therefore, is thought-content. It does not have to wait for its filling from without, for it has within it its own filling, and lives only by virtue of the vital significance that it possesses in reference to its content. In a word, the universal of thought is concrete, a synthesis of particulars. It has no meaning whatever, not even the semblance of one, in isolation from the material aspect of experience of which it is the form. This change of attitude towards the syllogistic logic of the Scholastics and this doctrine of the concrete universal are really the fundaments of Hegel’s system. After the first Part of the present study this statement hardly needs further proof. It is true that the change in view-point was more or less unconsciously present in the epistemology of Kant and Jacobi, as Hegel himself points out. But the change comes to full consciousness of itself only in Hegel’s own work. He openly revolts against the traditional tendency to regard the concept, judgment, and syllogism, as if they were sharply differentiated forms of abstract thought and not living manifestations of truth. Naturally this change of view concerning the nature of thought brought with it a change of view concerning the result of thought. Since thought is no longer regarded as a process in abstraction, the universal of thought can no longer be thought of as the result of abstraction. If thought is the vital unity of the mind, the true universal of thought is simply the content of mind thoroughly rationalized and exhaustively explained. If thought is the Notion, the universal of thought is the universal of the Notion. And “the universal of the Notion is not a mere sum of features common to several things, confronted by a particular which enjoys an existence of its own. It is, on the contrary, self-particularizing or self-specifying, and with undimmed clearness finds itself at home in its antithesis.” That this doctrine of thought and universality is peculiarly Hegel’s own, there seems to be no doubt: the doctrine is the burden of his philosophy.
From these considerations we may pass at once to the conclusion that for Hegel the ultimately real must assume the form of concrete individuality. Neither the mere particular nor the blank universal will suffice; the real must be the particularized universal, the universalized particular. “Actuality is always the unity of universality and particularity,” as Hegel himself puts it. “Everything is a Notion, the existence of which is the differentiation of its members or functions, so that the universal nature of the Notion gives itself external reality by means of particularity, and thereby, and as a negative reflection-into-self, makes itself an individual.” The following hypothetical argument seems to sum up the matter: If it be true that thought is conterminous with experience, then certainly experience must somehow assume the form of universality; discrete particulars are excluded from it. If, in the second place, it be true that thought is simply the “indigenous becoming (einheimische Werden) of the concrete content,” then its universality must be concrete, that is to say, the particulars must find their place within the sphere of the universal, which, itself, gets its meaning only by virtue of this relation to the particulars. Therefore the form of universality which experience takes (and it must take some form of universality) can be only that of the particularized universal, or, in a word, that of the individual. Now the chief purpose of this study has been to show that Hegel asserts the premises of this argument. It must be shown that this is erroneous before one may legitimately claim that Hegel equates reality either with the bare particular or with the abstract universal, or deny that he gives to the real the form of individuality.
That this is the correct account of Hegel’s view of reality may be shown in another way. The argument that is to be found in the Logic, under the head of the Notion, is in direct confirmation of the conclusion we have just reached. So we turn to this argument for further evidence on the point. For our present purpose it will be sufficient to state the argument merely in its general outline. The triadic movement Hegel expresses under the following heads: (a) The Subjective Notion; (b) The Object; and (c) The Idea. The development here involved may be put in the following general manner. At the standpoint of the Subjective Notion we have presented to us the Notion as indeterminate and formal, the truth is given only implicitly. In a sense, this may be said to be the point of view of formal logic, from which thought is looked upon as a sort of subjective process whose end is the formation of concepts and the manipulation of those concepts in the higher mental processes of the judgment and the syllogism. But, as Hegel goes on to show, it is impossible to rest at this point of view. It has inherent in it its own deficiency, in that it is an inadequate expression of the real nature of the Notion.
Thought cannot be confined to subjectivity; it is objective as well. Thus we are led on to the consideration of the Object – the second stage of the dialectical development. The Object is the ‘realization’ of the Notion, and the transition is accomplished through the syllogism of necessity, that is, the disjunctive syllogism. But objectivity, like subjectivity, is not an adequate expression of the Notion; the Notion is neither merely subjective nor merely objective. The content, apart from the form, just as the form apart from the content, is an abstraction; the true view of the matter is reached only when we see that the two are one and inseparable. This unity of the two is the Idea, which is truth complete – the ultimately real.
It should be observed that this whole development is nothing more than the progressive definition of the nature of the Notion itself. As we shall see more fully below, the thesis is simply the expression of the form that the Notion, because of its very nature as form, assumes. The antithesis is the ‘realization’ of the Notion; that is to say, when the Notion has exhaustively differentiated itself in the judgment of necessity, the disjunctive judgment, it is seen to involve the object. The synthesis, finally, as Hegel himself observes, is nothing but the Notion taken in its particularity and universality. “Its ‘ideal’ content is nothing but the Notion in its detailed terms: its ‘real’ content is only the exhibition which the real gives itself in the form of external existence.” In a word, the Idea for Hegel is simply the Notion taken in its complete nature, as, on the one hand, a substantial somewhat, and, on the other hand, a meaning.
Since, now, the Idea is the form which ultimate reality assumes in Hegel’s system, it follows that the real is in the form of the Notion. This conclusion is in exact agreement with what we have been insisting on all along in this study, and it might be supported by numerous passages from various contexts. But this hardly seems necessary: presumably it will not be disputed that the Hegelian philosophy has to do with the unity of the Notion. If, then, we can here establish the claim that the unity of the Notion is that of the individual, our contention above will have been corroborated from another point of departure.
And it would seem that Hegel has left us in no doubt concerning his position on this point. In the first division of his discussion of the Notion, referred to above, he tells us quite plainly that the ultimate form of the Subjective Notion is individuality. The three members of the triad in this division are Universality, Particularity, and Individuality. Individuality is thus made the synthesis of the other two, and consequently must be considered the highest expression of the Subjective Notion. And there seems to be no particular difficulty in understanding what Hegel means by the individual. He means by it “the reflection-into-self of the specific characters of universality and particularity,” or determinate universality (bestimmte Allgemeinheit). In contradistinction to indefinite multiplicity, it is “the particular and the universal in an identity.” In a word, individuality means for Hegel what it means for others, namely, unity within difference, harmony within diversity, a systematic whole.
The Subjective Notion, therefore, is a whole within which differences are found and through which those differences get their significance and reality. This seems to be a legitimate conclusion from the dialectical movement that takes place within the Notion as Notion.
But just here an objection awaits us. This may all be true of the Subjective Notion, but is it true of the Idea? Can we legitimately argue that, because the ultimate expression of the Subjective Notion is individuality, the ultimate expression of the real must be individuality? Have we not already seen that the Subjective Notion is the thesis of a triad of which the Idea is the synthesis, and is it not therefore false reasoning to say that the form of the Subjective Notion is adequate to the Idea? In a word, does the fact that Hegel maintains that individuality is the consummation of the process of thought justify us in the inference that for him the real is individual? We have already answered this objection in what we said above concerning the fact that the Idea is simply the Notion exhaustively analyzed.
It is true that the Idea is the Notion completely differentiated; but it is the Notion nevertheless. The dialectical development by means of which we are led to the Absolute Idea indicates this; for the Absolute Idea is the synthesis of the triadic development of the doctrine of the Notion. Indeed, the whole dialectical development of the third part of the Logic goes to prove that the Idea is the most perfect expression of the Notion. The Idea and individuality thus coincide. It is true, of course, that by passing in the Idea the Notion is enriched and intensified by all the intervening categories; this enrichment is really the significance of the advance. But this does not at all affect the fact that the form of the Notion does not change in the process, and that the Idea is simply the Notion seen in its truest light.
This is perhaps sufficient answer to the objection. But there is involved in it an assumption the error of which it will be worth while to expose. The assumption is that in the treatment of the Subjective Notion Hegel is dealing with the formal concept of the logic of the schools. One or two passages from the smaller Logic bearing on this point will suffice to show the falsity of the assumption. “It is a mistake to imagine that the objects which form the content of our mental ideas come first and that our subjective agency then supervenes, and by the aforesaid operation of abstraction, and by colligating the points possessed in common by the objects, frames notions of them. Rather the Notion is the genuine first; and things are what they are through the action of the Notion, immanent in them, and revealing itself in them.” “No complaint is oftener made against the Notion than that it is abstract. Of course it is abstract, if abstract means that the medium in which the Notion exists is thought in general and not the sensible thing in its empirical concreteness. It is abstract also, because the Notion falls short of the Idea. To this extent the Subjective Notion is still formal. This however does not mean that it ought to have or receive another content than its own. It is itself the absolute form, and so is all specific character, but as that character is in its truth. Although it be abstract therefore, it is the concrete, concrete altogether, the subject as such.... What are called notions, and in fact specific notions, such as man, house, animal, etc., are simply denotations and abstract representations. These abstractions retain out of all the functions of the Notion only that of universality; they leave particularity and individuality out of account and have no development in these directions. By so doing they just miss the Notion.”  These passages are found at the very beginning of the discussion of the Subjective Notion. At the end of this discussion we read: “To say that the Notion is subjective and subjective only, is so far quite correct: for the Notion certainly is subjectivity itself.... But we may go a step further. This subjectivity, with its functions of notion, judgment, and syllogism, is not like a set of empty compartments which has to get filled from without by separately existing objects. It would be truer to say that it is subjectivity itself which, as dialectical, breaks through its own barriers and opens out into objectivity by means of the syllogism.” The Subjective Notion, therefore, is not merely subjective; it is not a bare concept of formal logic that has only a psychological existence in some knowing consciousness. On the contrary, it is the life of the objects themselves, and is implicitly that which, when made explicit, becomes the Idea. If, then, we are right in arguing that the real must conform itself to the Notion, and if the Notion is, when fully expressed, the individual, it seems to follow that the real must assume the form of the individual.
And this appears to be Hegel’s position as we find it expressed in the third part of the Logic. So our conclusion, which we before reached more or less indirectly, is based directly upon the dialectical development of the Logic.
Professor Pringle-Pattison has criticised Hegel for disparaging the individual, and that criticism must be examined here. It is based upon the following passage from the smaller Logic: “Sensible existence has been characterized by the attributes of individuality and mutual exclusion of the members. It is well to remember that these very attributes of sense are thoughts and general terms... . Language is the work of thought: and hence all that is expressed in language must be universal....
And what cannot be uttered, feeling or sensation, far from being the highest truth, is the most unimportant or untrue. If I say ‘the unit,’ ‘this unit,’ ‘here,’ ‘now,’ all these are universal terms. Everything and anything is an individual, a ‘this,’ or if it be sensible, is here and now.
Similarly, when I say ‘I,’ I mean my single self, to the exclusion of all others; but what I say, viz., ‘I,’ is just every other ‘I,’ which in like manner excludes all others from itself. .. . All other men have it in common with me to be ‘I’” Commenting on this passage, the critic says: “This demonstration of the universal, or, to put it perhaps more plainly, the abstract nature of thought, even in the case of those terms which seem to lay most immediate hold upon reality, is both true and useful in its own place. But the legitimate conclusion from it in the present connection is not Hegel’s insinuated disparagement of the individual, but rather that which Tredelenburg draws from the very same considerations, that the individual, as such, is incommensurable or unapproachable by thought. Or, as Mr. Bradley puts it still more roundly and trenchantly ‘The real is inaccessible by way of ideas.... We escape from ideas, and from mere universals, by a reference to the real which appears in perception.’” Now it seems to me unfair to charge Hegel here with disparagement of the individual. In the passage in question he has in mind discrete parts of experience, unorganized elements of sensuous perception; and it is these abstract sensations and feelings that he calls ‘unimportant and untrue.’ He does, indeed, in the same section speak of individuality as the essential feature of sense-experience; but that he means by this nothing more than that “sensible existence presents a number of mutually exclusive units,” he himself is at pains to tell us. So it would appear that the disparagement is of the isolated particular and not of the individual.
According to Hegel, it is not the individual which is the ‘unutterable’; for the very form of the judgment is the individual, it is essentially ‘a universal which is individualized.’ The isolated, unrelated elements of abstract sense-perception and conception, these it is to which Hegel refuses to give any ultimate significance; for such discrete particulars are essentially unreal. And in this position Hegel differs little from his critic. The real import of the section from which the above quotation is taken seems to be implied at least in a sentence of the passage which Professor Pringle-Pattison fails to quote. The sentence runs thus: “It will be shown in the Logic that thought (and the universal) is not a mere opposite of sense: it lets nothing escape it, but, outflanking its other, is at once that other and itself.” By this I understand Hegel to mean that he is to show in the Logic that thought is involved in sense-perception, that thought is a principle which, as he tells us in the very last sentence of the paragraph from which we have quoted, runs through all “sensations, conceptions, and states of consciousness.” And from this it would follow that even sense-experience is universalized, and to regard this experience as composed of discreet units is really to regard it abstractly.
That, it would seem, is what Hegel points out in the section under discussion.
It is the unrelated which is unutterable, because the universals of thought cannot get hold of it to express it. But the unrelated is not the individual, and one does not see how it could be the real. At all events, Hegel seems free from the charge of disparaging the individual here, meaning by the individual the universalized particular. It is just upon the individual that he is laying the emphasis, as against the doctrine of discrete particularity.
The doctrine of Hegel’s critics that the individual is unapproachable by way of ideas is a position which itself demands examination. In the first place, it seems to rest upon the doctrine that ideas, or categories, can be nothing but principles of cognition, that the assertion of the intelligibility of reality in terms of thought limits us to the mechanical categories (the categories of the sciences which have to do with factual existence) in our efforts to interpret reality. Now this doctrine is not self-evidently true, and should be tested as to its validity. Of course if it be true, we must admit at once that thought is not an adequate expression of reality; for we must all agree with Professor Royce that “individuality ... is a category indefinable in purely theoretical terms.” But is it true? According to Hegel’s doctrine of thought it is not true; Hegel’s thought includes categories of value as well as those of factual existence, and so he insists that the individual is expressible in terms of categories, though not necessarily the categories of pure cognition.
Whether or not Hegel’s doctrine of thought is true to the facts of experience we have tried to determine in the first Part of our study.
In the second place, this position involves a mistaken epistemological principle. Baldly stated, it is that the uniqueness of reality consists in its transcending knowledge. Mr. Bradley puts the position thus: “It is not by its quality, as a temporal event or phenomenon of space, that the given is unique. It is unique, not because it has a certain character, but because it is given.” The question naturally arises whether this statement actually agrees with the facts. One is inclined to dispute that it does. At any rate, the unique in this sense is certainly not synonymous with the term as it is commonly used. Let us take one or two examples.
What is a unique invention? Popularly, it is an invention that has properties and characteristics different from others of its class. But certainly its uniqueness is not thought of as consisting in the fact that the invention is inexplicable; if it were inexplicable, it would be simply a mystery and not anything unique at all. Suppose it were an intricate machine, which none but the man trained in mechanics could understand. Would it then be truly unique for anyone save the mechanician? It would seem that an invention is unique in terms of its peculiar properties and attributes, which must be known and appreciated as such; it is of such a known nature that it differs from all other creations of mechanical genius.
And the more intelligibly one succeeds in differentiating it from other such creations, the more clearly defined does its uniqueness become.
This same fact may be illustrated by the example of a unique personality. A person is unique only in so far as he differs from others, and he differs from others only because of certain positive characteristics that make him different. The assertion, “Ben is a unique character,” is, I dare say, a rather meaningless jumble of words; naturally, we must know more about Ben before we can appreciate his uniqueness. But “O rare Ben Jonson!” is an exclamation of genuine significance. What is the difference in the two cases? Is it not simply that in the latter our knowledge has something to attach to itself to, while in the former knowledge can get no foothold? And is it not permissible to argue that the more one knows of the characteristics of Ben Jonson, the more determinate and impressive grows the uniqueness of his individuality? Doubtless, in the minds of his associates and companions in the Mermaid the eccentricities of his genius were much more marked than they can be to us, assuming, of course, that the man was more fully known by personal contact with him. So it seems that the person, like the invention, is unique only because he possesses positive characteristics that make him unique; and apart from such positive characteristics uniqueness is lacking.
Now from the epistemological point of view, what does this amount to? Simply, I think, to the conclusion that uniqueness, individuality, is to be measured in terms of knowledge, not of ignorance. Before an object can be unique, it certainly must be self-identical; and the more completely self-identical it becomes, the more emphasized does its individuality appear. Now the vaguest self-identity implies reference beyond self; and apart from this reference to others self-identity is impossible.
But reference beyond self is relation, and relations are categories. Thus it would seem that the unique not only does not exclude categories, but, on the contrary, depends upon them for its very existence. It is only when an object is fully known to be itself, that is, when it is seen to differ determinately from others of its class, that it may legitimately be termed unique. Apart from universality individuality is a fiction. Thus the individual gets its uniqueness by being defined. That is unique which is seen to be itself, and only that which possesses attributes and qualities peculiar to itself can be differentiated from others. Of course an object may be negatively defined, that is, as not something else; but in order that such a definition have significance, it must give us positive knowledge of what we are negatively defining. For if the object of interest is not some other object, then the judgment of difference is based upon positive attributes which make its being the other object impossible; otherwise, there would be no sense in asserting the difference. In opposition to Mr. Bradley, therefore, we must argue that the ‘given’ is unique, not because it is given, but just because it possesses a certain character.
No brute fact is, as such, unique; it is a meaning for us, or it is nothing.
The uniqueness of reality is to be found only in its determinate character, not in its indeterminate factual existence. A final objection to the position that reality is unapproachable by thought emerges from the preceding discussion. Is it not logically impossible for those who maintain that the real is inaccessible by way of ideas to assume the position that the real is individual? Are not these two contentions contradictory? The difficulty will be apparent from the following considerations. If the real is given us independently of thought and apart from its activity, then one would think that it must be represented only in the form of particularity. For, as Professor Bosanquet has reminded us, that which is supposed to come to us through abstract sense perception could come only as the unrelated particular; for the essence of sense is isolation. Feeling, uncontaminated by thought, stands on the same level with the senses in this respect. Hegel himself has pointed out that what I feel is only mine, belongs peculiarly and exclusively to me, and, as mere feeling, must forever remain bound down to subjectivity, to bare particularity. But it must not be forgotten that the individual necessarily implies some form of universality. And the question at once arises, Whence does it get this form? If the assertion that has just been made of the senses and the feelings be true, as experience seems to teach that it is true, then universality cannot be produced by them; untouched by thought, they give and can give only the particular.
But if the universal character of the individual is the gift of thought, what justification can there be for the statement that the individual is unapproachable by thought? The contention seems to ignore the very process by which the result has come to be. Thus there seems to be a fundamental difficulty in the position which argues that the real is essentially beyond thought, and yet at the same time insists that the individual, and only the individual, is the real. This difficulty may be accentuated by a somewhat detailed study of the inconsistencies that appear in Professor Baillie’s criticism of Hegel as quoted above. The digression, if it be a digression into which we shall thus be led, will perhaps throw some light on Hegel’s position by utilizing his principles in criticism of a position antagonistic to his own.
It is quite easy to see that Professor Baillie’s criticism is vitally bound up with the assumption that the real immediacy of experience cannot be mediated, and, consequently, lies beyond thought. But it is not easy to see just what is meant by such an immediacy. Sometimes it is spoken of as if it were the immediacy of sense-perception: for example, we are told that “wherever we have an object present to the subject, there we have immediacy.” At other times, however, one is led to believe that the immediacy of reality is the unattainable goal of thought rather than its given point of departure. “Knowledge is not construction but reconstruction of Experience.... Experience again, on the other hand, is the compact and inexhaustible mine of fact to which knowledge ever recurs, which it seeks to fathom, ... the reproduction of which in its immediacy may be said to be its aim.” But in either case, whether the immediacy of reality be the first given from which thought can be only a process of abstraction, or the ideal towards which thought is an endless and essentially futile process of approximation, the conclusion that forces itself upon us is the same. And that conclusion is that the immediacy of experience, that immediacy which is reality, is of such a nature that thought is necessarily excluded from it; it is an immediacy with which the categories of knowledge have absolutely nothing to do. “The immediate in Experience, that immediate which is reality, is absolutely continuous with itself and admits of isolation in no sense whatever; the immediacy is indissoluble, otherwise Experience simply ceases to be.
This single immediacy of Experience we simply cannot have in knowledge; if so knowledge would not be knowledge but Experience.” “The complete realization of the nature of the Absolute must remain for knowledge even at its best an impossible achievement.” Now I venture to submit: (a) that such an immediate experience as Professor Baillie here identifies with reality is not possible; and (b) that, if it were possible, it could at most be but subjective and particular. Let us begin with the first of these contentions.
(a) All that has been said above concerning the impossibility of construing the uniqueness of the ‘given’ in terms of its merely factual aspect is applicable here. For what is this immediate experience but such an indeterminate ‘giver,’ whose individuality consists in the fact that it is so given? And what is such a unique given but a contradictio in adjecto? That which is merely given cannot possibly be unique, for it has no relations in terms of which its uniqueness is to be defined. The given is not in experience until it is at least recognized as a permanent somewhat which is itself and not something else; but when it is so recognized, it is no longer a merely indeterminate given. Experience certainly involves more than bare abstract fact.
To this may be added the following considerations. The only experience about which we know anything seems to possess at least a degree of unity. Life is at any rate livable, society does actually exist, and its many chaotic aspects cannot blind us to the orderly character of its being. Not even the simplest act of sense-perception, not to mention the more complex processes of intellectual and social activity, would be possible were there no unity within experience. But unity implies a unifying principle, and the unitary whole gets its significance only as it is construed in the light of this principle. What makes of experience a unity? Can the organic nature of experience be explained in terms of the senses, or the feelings, or the will? If in terms of the first, how refute the Sophists? If in terms of the second, how refute the mystics? If in terms of the third, how refute Schopenhauer? Is it not true that experience is a unity only by virtue of its principle of rationality; and that if any part of experience transcends or falls without this principle, it, by that very fact, ceases to be aus einem Stücke? The very conception of a unified experience would seem to necessitate the assumption that in its lowest and vaguest stages, as well as in its highest and sublimest reaches, its universal principle is active; and what this universal principle is seems to be a question that hardly admits of debate when once it is clearly put.
Now if such are the implications of experience, it is difficult to see what meaning can be given to Professor Baillie’s immediate experience from which every rational category is excluded. In point of fact, it seems to be too immediate to be experienced and so is essentially meaningless.
Whatever is in experience unquestionably must be experienced; but how anything can be experienced without somehow being known, that is, without at least being recognized as itself and so being subjected to a category, it is not easy to understand. That which by its very nature is incapable of being represented in consciousness cannot enter into the realm of possible experience; and to speak of an immediate experience that cannot be experienced seems to amount to an absurdity. Therefore it would seem that Professor Baillie’s conception of an immediate experience, beyond the categories of knowledge, must be given up; it is Nothing more than a mere phantom, a contradiction in terms. (b) But, for the sake of the argument, let us grant the possibility of this experience in which thought can play no part. What is the predicament in which we find ourselves. Simply, I think, confined within the realm of abstract particularity. For in what does that experience which lies beyond thought consist, if not in an unrelated series of meaningless sense-perceptions, or of incoherent feelings, or of blind volitions? And what can such a series be but a disconnected array of discrete particulars? It is, of course, difficult to speculate concerning the nature of that which does not and cannot exist. But concerning this experience with which we are here attempting to deal, we may be sure of this, that, whatever else may or may not be true of it, it certainly cannot be objective and universal in any intelligible sense of those words. The essence of abstract sense is isolation and particularity, and feeling and volition, qua abstract feeling and volition, are entirely subjective and can be experienced by no one under the sun save the subject who psychologically possesses them. How, then, can these abstractions be called universal, and how could an experience made up exclusively of them be, in any sense whatever, objective? To put the question is to answer it. And the question, candidly faced, would seem to drive us to the conclusion that an experience that lies beyond the categories of rationality must assume the form of unrelated particularity. The prejudice, however, will not easily down. There must be a datum of experience which is just eternally there, and about which nothing more can be said. It forever eludes our grasp when we attempt to seize it by thinking it; but no sane person can deny its existence. Is not this datum given entirely independently of thought’s activity? And yet can it be denied that it comes to us, no matter how, as a part of our experience? Have we not here, then, an immediate experience which is more than an unrelated particular, and which, nevertheless, is entirely beyond the categories of thought? Everybody experiences the given, and yet its immediacy cannot appear in knowledge.
How does this very obvious fact square with the above assertions concerning the inherent absurdity of an immediate experience beyond thought? In the first place, attention should be directed here to a question of fact. One seems forced to point out that, as a matter of fact, there is no fixed ‘datum’ of experience. The so-called ‘given’ differs for different individuals and for the same individual at different times. In a very important sense that which is given depends upon the purposes and intellectual attainments of the one to whom it is given; and no one can doubt that such a basis is relative and is constantly changing. To the hard-pressed Richard on the battlefield the same horse would have been more of a reality by far than to the lazy beggar of Mother Goose renown; and the small boy, bent on mischief, actually sees in the stone at his feet characteristics quite different from what might appear to the eyes of the trained geologist. Other illustrations of this fact will suggest themselves. Of course this contention will not be misconstrued to mean that any phantasm that may chance to run through the mind actually does, for that reason, have a place in existential reality, that the subject creates perceptual experience. I certainly do not wish to minimize the factual aspect of experience. The point upon which emphasis is here intended to be placed is that the ‘giver,’ apart from an experiencing subject, is a blank abstraction, and that in relation to an experiencing subject it is more than a mere ‘given.’ The confusion upon which this doctrine of the ‘given’ rests is this: the object side of experience is taken from its context and then opposed to that experience as something standing over against it and independent of it Berkeley has long since pointed out the fallacy here. In this discussion it is necessary for us to rid our minds of this confusion. As Professor Bosanquet sums up the point: “The given and its extension differ not absolutely but relatively; they are continuous with each other, and the metaphor by which we speak of an extension conceals from us that the so-called ‘given’ is no less artificial than that by which it is extended.” In the second place, this insistence upon the ‘given’ lands us in insurmountable difficulties.. However the position is stated, so long as the immediate experience is too immediate for the categories of thought, it seems open to the above fatal objection that it must forever remain particular and subjective. To say that reality is found in a pure indeterminate datum, an unaccountable residuum of being, is to open the way for an influx of problems similar to those produced by Aristotle’s abstract separation of form from matter, or by Kant’s differentiation between the experienced phenomenon and its reality. It matters not that the datum is thought of as the material out of which the universals of knowledge are manufactured, or in which thought somehow finds the problems that determine its activity; the difficulties still remain. How the universals of thought are manufactured out of that which is confined to discreet particularity is not easily discovered. Nor can one see at a glance how that which lies beyond thought can really set a problem for thought.
If our world were such, one is inclined to think with Professor Royce that it would be “too much of a blind problem for us even to be puzzled by its meaningless presence.” Those who insist upon such an immediate experience should show by what right they appeal to the individual as the real, and by what reasoning they succeed in transcending abstract particularity within this experience. For there is certainly a difficulty here, and one that seems to be sufficiently weighty to cause the position to be, if not entirely abandoned, at least essentially modified.
But Professor Baillie may possibly object that, so far as he is concerned, all this is beside the mark. He may assert that he has no thought of equating reality with an unchangeable datum of experience, or with the abstract particular. His main contention, he may urge, is that reality cannot be exhausted by thought; thought is about reality, but cannot exhaust reality. The notions are not the reality of things, “for these are individual, and a notion, however concrete, is ... always a notion, i.e., a universal.” Reality, then, is not a chaotic state of immediacy, as has been represented in the discussion above; on the contrary, it is a unique whole which, on account of its very uniqueness, lies beyond the possibility of the universals of thought. It is not the starting-point from which thought abstracts, but the goal at which it aims – a goal, however, essentially beyond it. In a word, the objector may say, not abstract unrelatedness but an organic unity that is super-rational – such is the immediacy of that which may be called the real.
This objection, however, does not in the least change the situation. It makes no difference whether the ‘immediate’ is the indeterminate given of sense-perception with which thought works, or the unattainable ideal towards which thought strives; from the logical point of view the two positions are one and the same, and a justifiable criticism of the one holds of the other also. On this point Professor Baillie stands condemned by his own words: “If reality is in any sense beyond knowledge it is of no importance where, in the history of knowledge, the separation is made. To make knowledge bear an essentially asymptotic relation to reality is in principle precisely the same as to separate knowledge and reality absolutely from the start. The only difference is that the former puts the separation far away at infinity – ‘reality cannot be exhausted by thought’; the latter plants it down at our feet – ‘reality is outside knowledge.’ But this is a difference which is unimportant and meaningless: unimportant, since in both cases reality is beyond us, and the question of ‘when’ it becomes so does not concern knowledge: meaningless, since in both cases we can never say when knowledge actually has failed; the beyond is always a beyond in either case. The position referred to” (that is, the position expressed by Lotze, for example, when he asserts that ‘reality is richer than thought’) “is therefore rooted in dualism, in spite of the apparent concession of the worth of knowledge up to a certain point. For it must accept the alternative: either knowledge does give the nature of reality, in which case the question of amount and the time it takes to exhaust it is of no significance, since the nature of reality is explicitly known and implicitly cognizable; or there is at the outset a fundamental cleavage between the two, in which case at no point does knowledge give reality.” And if this be true, we are reduced to the necessity of acknowledging that the separation between knowledge and reality, wherever the separation may appear, leads us into the difficulties of an indeterminate immediacy of experience.
As Hegel views the matter, the way out of these difficulties is exactly the reverse of the way in. We must define reality not as Substance but as Subject. That is to say, the real must be conceived of not as an indefinable somewhat about which nothing more can logically be said than that it just eternally is but as a thoroughly comprehensible system whose nature is expressed in its internal rational organization. Even granting that the categories which are adequate to its nature may be read in terms of sense-perception, or of blind will, or of pure cognition, or of abstract feeling, still we must say, if we are not to talk mere nonsense, that the immediacy of the real is the result of some sort of mediation and is intelligible by means of certain categories which actually do express its essential nature. But sense-perception, blind will, pure cognition, mere feeling, have no categories to offer us for the unification of experience: the true universal runs through them all, and it is the one reason which is the life of experience.
Such is Hegel’s doctrine, and he insists that, if we are in earnest about transcending the standpoint of the Critical Philosophy, that is, if we are really in earnest when we deny the existence of a reality beyond the realm of possible experience, we must admit that no part of experience presents the enigmatic aspect of a mere abstract datum. For if that which is real is an indeterminate immediacy, an indefinable somewhat that lies beyond thought, wherein does it differ from the abstract particular or the thing-in-itself, or what earthly connection has it with actual concrete experience? Those who champion the position ought to take it upon themselves to remove the difficulty, and to point out in what respects their solution differs from Hegel’s own. We may conclude this chapter with a brief summary of its main contentions.
Hegel equates reality with experience, and not with abstract formal knowledge as Professor Baillie and Mr. McTaggart seem to think.
When he asserts that the immediacy of reality is the immediacy of science, or that philosophy exhausts the nature of Spirit, he simply means to say that reality is not an insoluble mystery, but is essentially an ideal construction.
an interpretation and organization of the so-called ‘given.’ The real for him, therefore, is neither the abstract particular nor the blank universal; it is the universal filled, the particular made significant, in a word, the individual.
And the position that the real is individual, as he conceives the matter, necessarily involves the admission that concrete thought is no less extensive than the realm of concrete experience. For if any part of experience lies truly beyond thought, it seems to be devoid of universal characteristics and so differs in no intelligible sense from the abstract particular; and it is the validity of this contention that he would ask the upholders of the ‘pure experience’ theory to challenge. That the essential nature of which cannot be fully expressed in terms of knowledge is an incomprehensible datum which, by virtue of that fact, never appears in concrete experience.
And experience, organized and rationalized experience, and reality are one.