Thought and Reality In Hegel’s System. Gustavus Watts Cunningham 1910
Hegel’s doctrine of the nature of the Absolute is a problem that is not easy of solution. The fact that the Hegelians of the Left and of the Right, while appealing to the authority of the master in justification of their respective positions, reached antithetical conclusions with reference to this problem is an indication of its difficulty. But the result that we have already attained in the preceding chapter offers us a vantage-point in our discussion of the problem. We have shown that the unity of reality, according to Hegel, is a unity that includes differences, and that the differences are essential to the unity. This point will, however, be of more direct interest to us when we come to ask concerning the relation of the Absolute and its differentiations. The problem immediately before us is to determine how this unity must be conceived, what more specifically the nature of the unity is. The thesis which we shall defend is that the Hegelian doctrine concerning this unity is that it is spiritual, and that it exists as a self-conscious Personality. The point of departure for our discussion we shall find in the Absolute Idea. If we can determine the essential nature of the Idea, then we may claim to have set forth Hegel’s doctrine of the nature of the Absolute, since the two terms are practically synonymous in his system. If Hegel has given any direct proof at all that the Absolute is to be thought of as personal, it must be sought in an investigation of the Idea; and, on the other hand, if it can be shown that the Idea is a self-conscious Individuality, it must be admitted that Hegel teaches the doctrine of a personal Absolute. We ask first, then, Is the category of the Absolute Idea, as defined for us in the Logic, equivalent to a Personality or self-conscious Individuality? We have already pointed out that Hegel teaches that the Idea is individual for it assumes the form of the Notion, and the form of the Notion is individuality. Even a glance at the Logic will indicate this truth: the Idea is the last category in the dialectical definition of the Notion. But this, in itself, proves nothing more than that the Idea is a unity of differences, and that unity and differences are equally essential.
This is a very important result, to be sure; it settles some vexed questions concerning the Absolute and the finite, as we shall see in the discussion of the relation of God to the world. But it still leaves unanswered the problem of the nature of the unity among the differences.
Does Hegel think of this unity as personal and self-conscious? The answer to this question is to be found in the triadic development which Hegel has given in that part of the Doctrine of the Notion called the Idea. The triad which we find here consists of the categories of Life, Cognition (perhaps Consciousness would more nearly adequately convey Hegel’s meaning), and the Absolute Idea. The movement, though considerably hindered by puzzling and bothersome details, is tolerably clear in its main features; and, fortunately, it is only the main features with which we are here concerned. Let us follow this development.
We ask first concerning the standpoint of the thesis. Here, under the category of Life, Hegel tells us that we have the Idea in its immediacy but in an immediacy which is not true. By this is meant, it would seem, that in the category of Life we get the first approximately explicit manifestation of the real nature of the Idea, but in a manner inadequate to that nature. The category is approximately adequate to the Idea, because we have in it the first explicit appearance of a spiritual activity.
Its inadequacy consists in the fact that it presupposes an opposition between subjective and objective which it never succeeds in overcoming.
It is, indeed, true that the dialectical process within this category consists just in transcending this opposition: in the Kind (Gattung) the particular living thing loses part of its immediacy and becomes, to a degree, objective and universal. Nevertheless, its particularity and universality do not completely coincide. “Implicitly it is the universal or Kind, and yet immediately it exists as only.” And just because of this contradiction, which is essential to it, the category of Life cannot furnish us with the ultimate synthesis of reality. In such a synthesis we could have nothing more than blank identity between the particular and the universal; the particular on this plane is not able to withstand the universal. “The animal never gets so far in its Kind as to have a teeing of its own; it succumbs to the power of Kind.” Thus we are forced to look for the unity of the Idea in a category other than that of Life. And this brings us to the category which Hegel calls Cognition in general.
Before passing on to the standpoint of this category, it will be well to pause here, and quote Hegel’s own words bearing on the defect and the dialectical development of the category of Life as we have just attempted to trace it. “The notion [of Life] and [its] reality do not thoroughly correspond to each other. The notion of Life is the soul, and this notion has the body for its reality. The soul is, as it were, infused into its corporeity; and in that way it is at first sentient only, and not yet freely self-conscious. The process of Life consists in getting the better of the immediacy with which it is still beset: and this process, which is itself threefold, results in the idea under the form of judgment, i.e., the idea as Cognition.” In his discussion of the category of Cognition Hegel indulges in numerous digressions, which serve only to obscure the outlines of the dialectical advance. But, if we neglect the confusing details, the goal at which the author is aiming seems pretty clearly to be the category of self-consciousness. And he reaches it in some such way as the following.
Leaving behind us the category of Life, as confessedly inadequate to the unity of the Idea, we turn first to the level of abstract cognition proper, and examine its claims. This category is at once seen to be insufficient, and that for two reasons. In the first place, it presupposes a somewhat as given, upon which it impresses itself in a more or less mechanical fashion; this is the standpoint of the sciences, which busy themselves with the discovery of laws without being able to pass judgment upon their ontological significance. “The assimilation of the matter, therefore, as a datum, presents itself in the light of a reception of it into categories which at the same time remain external to it, and which meet each other in the same style of diversity. Reason is here active, but it is reason in the shape of the understanding. The truth which such Cognition can reach will therefore be only finite.” The second defect of abstract Cognition, which is an inevitable result of its abstractness, is that it fails to do justice to the nature of the knowing mind; mind is regarded from this point of view too much as an empty vessel to be filled from without. “The finitude of Cognition lies in the presupposition of a world already in existence, and in the consequent view of the knowing subject as a tabula rasa.” For these reasons, therefore, we fail to find in Cognition proper release from the dualism in which the category of Life left us bound; we do not get here the unity for which we are seeking. So we turn next to volition. Can Will supply us with a satisfactory synthesis? At first it seems that it might, since from this point of view the objective falls together with the subjective; objectivity is measured in terms of subjective ideals and aims. But this is just the difficulty with the standpoint. Objectivity is too completely reduced to subjective terms, and therefore really opposes itself to subjectivity; the objective never, in point of fact, becomes subjective and the subjective never really loses itself in objectivity. Thus we are reduced to the eternal Sollen of Fichte. “While Intelligence merely proposes to take the world as it is, Will takes steps to make the world what it ought to be. Will looks upon the immediate and given present not as solid being, but as mere semblance without reality. It is here that we meet those contradictions which are so bewildering from the standpoint of abstract morality.
This position in its ‘practical’ bearings is the one taken by the philosophy of Kant, and even by that of Fichte. The Good, say these writers, has to be realized: we have to work in order to produce it: and Will is only the Good actualizing itself. If the world then were as it ought to be, the action of Will would be at an end. The Will itself therefore requires that its end should not be realized. In these words, a correct expression is given to the finitude of Will.” So once again, we are disappointed in our search for unity. “This Volition has, on the one hand, the certitude of the nothingness of the presupposed object; but, on the other, as finite, it at the same time presupposes the purposed End of the Good to be a mere subjective idea, and the object to be independent.” Volition presupposes a discrepancy between what is and what ought to be, a discrepancy which, from the point of view of abstract volition, cannot be eliminated; and so our unity is not yet attained.
But a way to that unity has been suggested. If we could secure a conjunction of what is and what ought to be, if, that is to say, we could combine the standpoints of Cognition proper and Volition in a higher synthesis, then it would seem that we should have reached our goal. For in such a synthesis the subjective would be genuinely objective, and the objective would not stand over against the subjective as something foreign to it but would partake of its very nature. “The reconciliation is achieved, when Will in its result returns to the pre-supposition made by Cognition. In other words, it consists in the unity of the theoretical and practical idea. Will knows the end to be its own, and Intelligence apprehends the world as the Notion actual.” This synthesis, according to Hegel, is found in the Absolute Idea. It is here that we get our ultimate unity of the real. It will be well to let Hegel speak for himself on this very vital point. “The truth of the Good is laid down as the unity of the theoretical and practical idea in the doctrine that the Good is radically and really achieved, that the objective world is in itself and for itself the Idea, just as it at the same time eternally lays itself down as End, and by action brings about its actuality.
This Life which has returned to itself from the bias and finitude of Cognition, and which by the activity of the Notion has become identical with it, is the Speculative or Absolute Idea.” The following passage is perhaps more explicit: “The Absolute Idea is, in the first place, the unity of the theoretical and the practical idea, and thus at the same time the unity of the idea of Life with the idea of Cognition. In Cognition we had the Idea in a biased, one-sided shape. The process of Cognition has issued in the overthrow of this bias and the restoration of that unity, which as unity, and in its immediacy, is in the first instance the Idea of Life. The defect of Life lies in its being the Idea only implicit or natural: whereas Cognition is in an equally one-sided way the merely conscious Idea, or the Idea for itself. The unity and truth of these two is the Absolute Idea which is both in itself and for itself. Hitherto we have had the Idea in development through its various grades as our object, but now the Idea comes to be its own object.” The development that we have just traced seems pretty clearly outlined and the goal to which it has led us appears to be very well defined.
The category of Life fails as a synthesis of reality, because it is not selfconscious; the categories of Cognition proper and Volition fail, because they are only one-sided representations of self-conscious life; the Absolute Idea succeeds, because it transcends the defects of these lower standpoints.
And from this it seems only logical to conclude that the Idea succeeds because it is the unity of Self-consciousness in its completion.
“This unity is consequently the absolute and all truth, the Idea which thinks itself – and here at least as a thinking or Logical Idea.” One can see no valid reason why we may not believe that Hegel is in earnest when he says, as above, that “the Idea comes to be its own object,” and that “its developed and genuine actuality is to be as a subject and in that way as mind.” On the contrary, the dialectical development- here seems to force us to the conclusion that the category of the Absolute Idea is really a Self-consciousness, a knowing and willing Individual, who ‘comes home’ to Himself from His differentiations in which He sees Himself mirrored as it were in His eternal essence, a Personality who exists in and for Himself and realizes His ends in the phenomenal world. For within the unity of the Idea, Life, Cognition, and Volition are blended harmoniously together, and the life of knowledge and the life of activity are one. And Consciousness is the only category that gives us such a unity.
Mr. McTaggart objects to the conclusion which we have here reached; he denies that it is the logical outcome of Hegel’s system. He readily grants that, according to the system, the unity of the Idea must be construed in terms of spirit; and he is ready not only to admit but to maintain that the author believed it possible for spirit to exist only in the form of personality. But he contends that we have no right to infer from these premises to the conclusion that this unity of the Idea is a personal unity. “It might be said of a College,” he urges, “with as much truth as it has been said of the Absolute, that it is a unity, that it is a unity of spirit, and that none of that spirit exists except as personal.” This objection, however, seems to rest upon a false notion of the nature of the unity that is defined in the Idea. Hegel himself has told us, “The unity of God is always unity, but everything depends upon the particular nature of this unity; this point being disregarded, that upon which everything depends is overlooked.” Now it seems that Mr. McTaggart has misconceived the unity of the Idea; and consequently his criticism of our conclusion which is based upon this misconception is of no significance. Let us see what can be said in justification of this statement.
In the first place, it is important to notice that Mr. McTaggart thinks of the Idea as absolutely identical with its differences: the unity, as he conceives of it, is nothing more than its differentiations, and they are nothing more than it. For instance, he says: “The individual has his entire nature in the manifestation of this whole, as the whole, in turn, is nothing else but its manifestation in individuals.” Again he takes for granted that Hegel “reaches in the category of Life a result from which he never departs in the subsequent categories – that the unity and plurality are in an absolutely reciprocal relation, so that, while the plurality is nothing but the differentiation of the unity, the unity is nothing but the union of the plurality.” And with this supposedly Hegelian position is contrasted at considerable length Lotze’s view, that “the Absolute is to be taken as something more and deeper than the unity of its differentiations.”  Thus Mr. McTaggart’s conception of the unity of the Idea is hardly mistakable; according to him, this unity consists in the relation of abstract identity between the Idea and its differentiations.
A criticism of the tenability of this doctrine of identity will be undertaken later on in this chapter. Our present purpose is to show that it is not, as Mr. McTaggart assumes it is, Hegel’s account of the unity of the Idea. But it will not be amiss, perhaps, to pause here for a moment to point out one or two difficulties involved in this interpretation of the critic. In the first place, if the unity and the differences of the Idea are in exact equilibrium, it is not quite evident that any room is left anywhere for that ‘simple and indivisible element’ which Mr. McTaggart makes the very quintessence of the personality of finite individuals and upon which he bases his argument for their immortality. On this hypothesis it would appear that the finite individual finds himself as sorely pressed as does the Absolute; for the personality of the former is in just as precarious a predicament as is that of the latter. In the second place, it is difficult to see where such a unity as Mr. McTaggart insists upon becomes actual; there certainly is room to question whether it is ever actualized.
If its actualization is possible, it would have to be in a state of society which yet lies in the far distant future; certainly society has not yet attained unto it. So it would appear to be a unity that ought to be but is not – a conception so vigorously criticized by Hegel. In the third place and finally, the problem of the contingent, which on any idealistic theory short of pessimism is a puzzling one, becomes doubly so on Mr.
McTaggart’s hypothesis. He seems logically bound to assert either that the finite is perfect, or that the imperfections of the finite, qua imperfections, belong to the essential nature of the Absolute; for the Absolute, it is to be remembered, is its differentiations. To sum up the whole matter, Mr. McTaggart seems to be between the Scylla of a fictitious unity and the Charybdis of differences that defy conjunction. His universal is one which, after it has succeeded in unifying the universe, itself finds nowhere to lay its head; and his particulars tend either to vanish entirely into the universal, or – this is the more imminent danger – to fly asunder and become discrete entities. And one is inclined to think that this is exactly the difficulty into which, as Hegel points out, Leibnitz fell – the difficulty, namely, of resolving the contradiction between an absolutely self-centered individual and a completely unifying universal that swamps its differences. But to return from this digression, let us ask concerning the justification of Mr. McTaggart’s interpretation of Hegel’s meaning. The exact balance which the critic supposes between the unity of the Idea and its manifestations is foreign to the author’s conception of the matter. In the first place, the dialectical movement, which we have above outlined, bears out this contention. Contrary to Mr. McTaggart’s assertion that in the category of Life Hegel reaches a result from which he never departs, namely, an ‘absolutely reciprocal relation’ between the unity and its plurality, it may be argued that the development from the category of Life to that of the Absolute Idea consists just in transcending this relation of identity, and in asserting a unity which exists for itself within its differences. It would be hard to say in what respect the Idea is an advance beyond the category of Life, if not in the fact that it unites within itself the theoretical and practical elements of the spiritual life. And such a synthesis, as we have seen, is that of consciousness. If this is the result to which Hegel leads us, then the unity of the Idea is more than its differences, more than ‘the union of the plurality’; for it is inconsistent with the nature of consciousness to be nothing more than its content.
The Idea thus seems to be something deeper than the mere conjunction of its differentiations.
Again, Mr. McTaggart’s position on this point is contrary to the result of our previous chapter, that the real for Hegel is the individual. If that result be true, then the Absolute Idea must be an actual synthesis of concrete differences, the differences existing for the synthesis and the synthesis existing in its differences and for itself – such a synthesis as cannot be found in any society (however closely unified) of self-conscious finite spirits. It belongs to the very nature of the individual that its differences be more than the union of themselves, and that its unity be more than the conjunction of its differentiations; in other words, abstract identity of the particulars and the universal is foreign to the essence of the concrete individual. If therefore we are right in our position that Hegel’s ultimate synthesis, the Absolute Idea, must be individual in its nature, we are also right in insisting that the synthesis is not identical with its differences. And that we are in the right here the whole first Part of our study bears witness.
Mr. McTaggart’s difficulty here is traceable to his failure to appreciate the significance of negation in Hegel’s doctrine of thought. For the unity of the Idea is a negative unity, and as such is different from the unity that either destroys multiplicity or itself fails to exist. I shall let Hegel state the matter: “As the Idea is (a) a process, it follows that such an expression for the Absolute as unity of thought and being, of finite and infinite, etc., is false; for unity expresses an abstract and merely quiescent identity. As the Idea is (b) subjectivity, it follows that the expression is equally false on another account. That unity of which it speaks expresses a merely virtual or underlying presence of the genuine unity. The infinite would thus seem to be merely neutralized by the finite, the subjective by the objective, thought by being. But in the negative unity of the Idea, the infinite overlaps and includes the finite, thought overlaps being, subjectivity overlaps objectivity. The unity of the Idea is thought, infinity, and subjectivity, and is in consequence to be essentially distinguished from the Idea as substance, just as this overlapping subjectivity, thought, or infinity is to be distinguished from the one-sided subjectivity, one-sided thought, one-sided infinity to which it descends in judging and defiling.’ A study of this passage discloses the fact that the unity of the Idea, which is a negative unity, is not the unity of exact equilibrium.
Mr. McTaggart has another objection to raise against the thesis we are here maintaining. He not only asserts that the position which we have attributed to Hegel is not logically involved in his system, – he does admit that the dialectic itself furnishes no positive disproof of it – but he also contends that the position is one which Hegel himself did not hold. He thinks that Hegel explicitly repudiates the doctrine of a personal Absolute, and he bases his contention on the conclusion of the Philosophy of Religion. “It seems clear from the Philosophy of Religion,” he tells us, “that the truth of God’s nature, according to Hegel, is to be found in the Kingdom of the Holy Ghost.... And the Kingdom of the Holy Ghost appears to be not a person but a community.” Before passing on to examine the basis of this argument, I cannot refrain from quoting a few other passages from various contexts, which seem to be in direct refutation of the contention which the critic is trying to establish. I shall cite only those passages which have explicit reference to the point. In the larger Logic at the beginning of the discussion of the Absolute Idea we read: “The Notion is not only soul but free subjective Notion, which is for itself and, therefore, has personality – the practical objective Notion which is determined in and for itself, and which, as person, is impenetrable atomic subjectivity.” A page or two below, after having spoken of the method as an immanent form of development, the author says: “The Method thus shows itself to be the Notion which knows itself, and which, as the Absolute, both subjective and objective, has itself for its own object.” Again, in the smaller Logic: “It is true that God is necessity, or, as we may also put it, that He is the absolute Thing: He is however no less the absolute Person. That He is the absolute Person, however, is a point which the philosophy of Spinoza never reached; and on that side it falls short of the true notion of God which forms the content of religious consciousness in Christianity.” In the Philosophy of Religion we are told that “God is himself consciousness, He distinguishes Himself from Himself within Himself, and as consciousness He gives Himself as object for what we call the side of consciousness.” And later in the same work occurs a passage which seems to have been written designedly to meet a position like that which Mr. McTaggart attributes to Hegel: “The Divine is not to be conceived of merely as a universal thought, or as something inward and having potential existence only; the objectifying of the Divine is not to be conceived of simply as the objective form it takes in all men, for in that case it would be conceived of simply as representing the manifold forms of the spiritual in general, and the development which the Absolute Spirit has in itself and which has to advance till it reaches the form of what is the form of immediacy, would not be contained in it.” The fourteenth lecture on the ‘Proofs of the Existence of God’ has something to say on the point: “That man knows God implies, in accordance with the essential idea of communion or fellowship, that there is a community of knowledge; that is to say, man knows God only in so far as God Himself knows Himself in man. This knowledge is God’s self-consciousness, but it is at the same time a knowledge of God on the part of man, and this knowledge of God by man is a knowledge of man by God.” Finally, in the Introduction to the Philosophy of History we read: “It is One Individuality which, presented in its essence as God, is honored and enjoyed in Religion; which is exhibited as an object of sensuous contemplation in Art; and is apprehended as an intellectual conception in Philosophy.” To these seemingly quite explicit passages others might be added. But enough have been quoted to establish at least a presumption that, according to Hegel’s own statements on the point, God is not a community of finite spirits but a Personality.
We turn now to an examination of the basis upon which Mr. McTaggart rests his contention. Does the dialectical movement in the Philosophy of Religion, from the Kingdom of the Father, through the Kingdom of the Son, to the Kingdom of the Holy Ghost, justify the conclusion that Hegel conceives of God as nothing more than a community of finite individuals? To this question I think a negative answer must be given. Let us follow this movement in some detail.
There is no reason why we should not agree with Mr. McTaggart that the three stages of the Kingdoms of the Father, of the Son, and of the Spirit form a dialectical triad. And from this, we also agree, it necessarily follows that, “if God is really personal, He must be personal in the Kingdom of Spirit.” But one fails to see how these premises lead to the conclusion that the Spirit which manifests itself in the synthesis here cannot be a Personality, an Individual. To be sure we must admit that God, on this showing, is adequately represented only in a community of spirits, since the Kingdom of the Spirit is conceived of as such a community. And, of course, it would be absurd to contend that a community is, or can possibly be, a person. But it is difficult to see, so much being granted, how we are necessarily committed to the conclusion that in the Kingdom of the Spirit God must be impersonal, or that, when adequately represented, He becomes absolutely identical with the spiritual community in which He finds fullest expression. Such a conclusion is forced upon us only when we assume, with the critic, that God is just His manifestations and nothing more. And on this assumption we could not logically confine the Absolute to any community of self-conscious spirits, – unless, indeed, we are willing to endow all forms of nature with spiritual qualities; for Hegel unquestionably maintains that Nature is God’s manifestation of Himself. But the assumption is arbitrary and groundless, if our position concerning the unity and individuality of the Idea is true.
Furthermore, this triad, as interpreted by Mr. McTaggart, differs essentially from other triads in the Logic and elsewhere. For his argument necessitates the assumption that the movement here consists in an attempt to get away from an entirely erroneous view of God’s nature to a true and fundamentally different view. For example, after insisting that the triad is a genuine dialectical process and that, consequently, we must look for an adequate expression of God’s nature only in the synthesis, he continues: “If [God] were personal as manifested in the first and second Kingdoms, but not in the third, it would mean that He was personal when viewed inadequately, but not when viewed adequately – i.e., that He was not really personal.” This is the critic’s interpretation of the actual movement and result of the triad. This interpretation, however, makes of the triad an exception. For usually in the dialectical triad there is a thread of connection running from thesis to synthesis; the two are never separated by a chasm. But on Mr. McTaggart’s interpretation of the triad before us, thesis and synthesis would seem to be torn completely asunder; in the thesis, God is viewed as a Personality, while, in the synthesis, He is defined only as the abstract unity of the Church, and is personal in no sense whatsoever. Thus there is no connection between thesis and synthesis: the synthesis is a mere negation of the thesis. If the synthesis is right, therefore, the thesis must be completely wrong, absolutely false – a fact which we have been in the habit of thinking is not characteristic of a dialectical triad. Mr. McTaggart’s argument seems thus to make of the present triad an extraordinary exception.
In point of fact, the movement here is not away from personality to impersonality. The dialectic does force us to say that the Spiritual Community is necessary to an adequate representation of the nature of God; but this is very far from saying that God is the Community or that the Community is God. The critic does not refer to any passages in which Hegel speaks of this very significant, and withal very peculiar, turn in the dialectic advance; and I have been able to find none. I have, however, found one in which the identification in question seems to be denied, and it runs so: “This third sphere” (that is, the sphere of the Kingdom of the Spirit, the Spiritual Community) “represents the Idea in its specific character as individuality; but, to begin with, it exhibits only the one individuality, the divine universal individuality as it is in-and-for-itself .... Individuality as exclusive is for others immediacy, and is the return from the other into self. The individuality of the Divine Idea, the Divine Idea as a person (ein Mensch), first attains to completeness in actuality (Wirklichkeit), since at first it has the many individuals confronting it, and brings these back into the unity of Spirit, into the Church or Spiritual Community (Gemeinde), and exists here as real universal self-consciousness.” If I understand what this means, it indicates that, as Hegel himself views the matter, the third Kingdom, the Kingdom of the Spirit, is the standpoint where God is first viewed in His true Personality; for here it is that He is seen to be in vital and actual touch with men and things. Thus it appears that the triad is not a movement from the conception of a personal to the conception of an impersonal God; but rather from an inadequate to an adequate representation of God as personal. He is not pure thought, existing behind the world as it were in infinite space; this is the conception of the thesis. On the contrary, He is that spiritual unity, that ‘real universal self-consciousness,’ realizing His aims and purposes in the lives of finite self-conscious agents whose aspirations are perfected and consummated in Him. In some such way it seems that the movement here must be understood.
Another fact that militates against Mr. McTaggart’s position on this point – at any rate from the point of view of the present essay – is that the culmination of Hegel’s discussion of the Spiritual Community is the standpoint of the Notion. The three phases within this discussion Hegel designates as follows: (a) The conception of the Spiritual Community; (b) The realization of the Spiritual Community; and (c) The realization of the spiritual in universal reality (Wirklichkeit). So far as our present purpose is concerned, the first two of these divisions may be dismissed without comment. The third, however, is of interest especially when we learn that it “directly involves the transformation and remodelling of the Spiritual Community.” It is divided into a threefold movement, which consists in three different attitudes taken towards objectivity. Hegel states this movement in outline thus: “Objectivity as an external immediate world, is the heart with its interests; another form of objectivity is that of reflection, of abstract thought, of Understanding; and the third and true form of objectivity is the Notion. We have now to consider how Spirit realizes itself in these three elements.” The development here outlined is not easily followed in detail. But it seems to consist in tracing the essential features of the faith of the Spiritual Community concerning the nature of the objective order, and the attitudes assumed towards such an objective order. In the first stage, the Spiritual Community has opposed to it a worldly element, which seems to exist on its own account; there is here an opposition between the religious and the secular.
In the second stage we swing to the other extreme, in which the objective is practically disregarded and the idea of God, being emptied of content, is reduced to an abstraction; this is that “inner self-enclosed life which may indeed co-exist with calm, lofty, and pious aspirations, but may as readily appear as hypocrisy or as vanity in its most extreme form.” The first of these two stages Hegel calls the “servitude of Spirit in the absolute region of freedom”; the second is “abstract subjectivity, subjective freedom without content.” The final stage is, as we would expect, the reconciliation of these two extremes. It discovers that freedom, real intelligible freedom, is to be found only in the objective, that objective and subjective, when they are adequately comprehended, fall together. This is the standpoint of philosophy. “What we have finally to consider is that subjectivity develops the content out of itself, but it does this in accordance with necessity – it knows and recognizes that the content is necessary, and that it is objective and exists in-and-for-itself. This is the standpoint of philosophy, according to which the content takes refuge in the Notion, and by means of thought gets its restoration and justification.” The objective within the Community, therefore, must be known to be in-and-for-itself before the community has attained complete and perfect actualization; and this knowledge is reached only when philosophic comprehension is substituted for intuitive faith. Thus we are once again brought to our former problem concerning the real nature of the Notion and its significance in Hegel’s system. If the form of the Notion is individuality, then it would seem that, on the above showing, the Spiritual Community is perfected only when its unity is actualized.
It is to be noted, furthermore, that in philosophy and not in the Spiritual Community, as such, is to be found the true realization of the object of Absolute Religion. The Spiritual Community, “in attaining realization in its spiritual reality,” falls into “a condition of inner disruption”; and so “its realization appears to be at the same time its disappearance.”  “For us,” however, “philosophical knowledge has harmonized this discord,” and we have “rediscovered in revealed religion the truth and the Idea.” And from this it seems evident that the nature of ultimate reality is to be sought, not in the Spiritual Community, but in the Idea. We are thus sent back to the study of the dialectic for an answer to our question concerning the Absolute; and we have already seen what answer the dialectic gives.
The foregoing considerations force us to question the validity of Mr. McTaggart’s contention that, for Hegel, the Absolute is nothing more than a community of self-conscious spirits. But this interpretation of Hegel may be traversed from another point of departure. I think that it can be shown that a community of self-conscious persons – however close the unity that binds them together – is not, in Hegel’s opinion, and cannot be an adequate representation of the unity of the Idea. And it can be shown in some such way as the following.
In one place Hegel tells us that the state is “the divine Idea as it exists on earth.” In another passage he speaks of the state as an ‘actual God,’ and defines it as “the march of God in the world.” In yet another context he says: “It is in the organization of the state that the Divine has passed into the sphere of actuality.” Looked at from the other side, the state is conceived of by Hegel as the highest form of human society. According to the plan which is sketched in the Philosophy of Mind and elaborated at length in the Philosophy of Right, the state is viewed as the choicest product of the moral life, it is “the self-conscious ethical substance.” The very highest point that the Objective Mind can attain unto in its strivings towards divinity is the unity of the state; this is the most truly real form of social union. If now it can be shown that Hegel does not admit that Mr. McTaggart’s doctrine of a community of self-conscious beings is an adequate expression of the essential nature of the state, then we may safely conclude that he would not admit that the total nature of reality is exhausted in such a community.
Concerning the unity of the state, this highest unity of society, Hegel’s position is expressed unequivocally in both the Philosophy of Mind and the Philosophy of Right, and in the latter at some length. Put in a word, his position amounts to an insistence that the function of the prince or monarch is absolutely essential to the ideal state, that no state is complete apart from this personal expression of its unity, and that this conclusion is necessitated by a consideration of the idea or notion of the state apart from accidental circumstances of time or place. The unity of the commonwealth, he urges, must be actualized in a personality before it becomes a real unity, or before the state is perfectly organized: the rational articulation of the state demands this incarnation of its unity.
“We usually speak of the three functions of the state,” says Hegel, “the legislative, executive, and judicial. The legislative corresponds to universality, and the executive to particularity; but the judicial is not the third element of the conception.” This third element, we are immediately told, is to be found in the function of the prince; this is the synthesis of the other two functions of the state, and in this they are brought together in a personal unity. Apart from this expression of the will of the state in the will of the monarch the state is not organized according to the nature of the Notion.
This is not merely an interesting point which Hegel happens to mention incidentally in his theory of the state. It is one upon which he lays special emphasis. I shall quote some of these emphatic passages. “It is easy for one to grasp the notion that the state is the self-determining and completely sovereign will, whose judgment is final. It is more difficult to apprehend this ‘I will’ as a person.... This ‘I will’ constitutes the greatest distinction between the ancient and the modern world, and so must have its peculiar niche in the great building of the state. It is to be deplored that this characteristic should be viewed as something merely external, to be set aside or used at pleasure.” Again: “The conception of monarch offers great difficulty to abstract reasonings and to the reflective methods of the understanding. The understanding never gets beyond isolated determinations, and ascribes merit to mere reasons, or finite points of view and what can be derived from them. Thus the dignity of the monarch is represented as something derivative not only in its form but also in its essential character. But the conception of the monarch is not derivative, but purely self-originated.” Once more: “Personality or subjectivity generally, as infinite and self-referring, has truth only as a person or independent subject. This independent existence must be one, and the truth which it has is of the most direct or immediate kind. The personality of the state is actualized only as person, the monarch. ... A so-called moral person, a society, community (Gemeinde), or family, be it as concrete as it may, possesses personality only as an element and abstractly. It has not reached the truth of its existence. But the state is this very totality in which the moments of the conception gain reality in accordance with their peculiar truth.” Again: “When a people is not a patriarchal tribe, having passed from the primitive condition which made the forms of aristocracy and democracy possible, and is represented not as in a wilful and unorganized condition, but as a self-developed truly organic totality, in such a people sovereignty is the personality of the whole, and exists, too, in a reality which is proportionate to the conception, the person of the monarch.” Finally: “In the government – regarded as organic totality – the sovereign power (principate) is subjectivity as the infinite self-unity of the Notion in its development; – the all-sustaining, all-decreeing will of the state, its highest peak and all-pervasive unity. In the perfect form of the state, in which each and every element of the Notion has reached free existence, this subjectivity is not a so-called ‘moral person,’ or a decree issuing from a majority (forms in which the unity of the decreeing will has not an actual existence), but an actual individual – the will of a decreeing individual monarchy. The monarchical constitution is therefore the constitution of developed reason: all other constitutions belong to lower grades of the development and realization of reason.” Now what do all these passages mean? At least one strain runs through them all; and that is, that the unity of the state, before it can become real and rational, must be embodied in an actual form, must find expression in an actually existent person. The state which has not the power of uttering this ‘I will’ – it matters not how intrinsically insignificant the ‘I will’ may be; it may mean nothing more than the simple signing of the name – is not a completely articulated organization: it lacks an essential function. No merely organic whole is a rational expression of the nature of the state; the unity must be embodied in a personal form which has actual, concrete existence.
This being true, we have good reason to deny that Mr. McTaggart’s conception of the unity of the ultimately real – a unity which, as we have pointed out, never really becomes actual – can legitimately be attributed to Hegel. Of course argument from analogy is always dangerous; and no claim is made here that we should be justified in drawing positive conclusions concerning Hegel’s doctrine of the unity of the Idea solely on the basis of his doctrine of the unity of the state – though it is indubitably true that the analogy is much more significant than one is apt to think, apart from a very careful reading of the author’s statements on the point. But it does seem justifiable to conclude that, if an actualized unity is essential to the very idea of the state, the unity of ultimate reality could not be an unrealized, and, one is inclined to say, an unrealizable ideal. If no community of individuals, however organically related they may be, adequately expresses the rational organization of the state – and this thesis Hegel unquestionably maintains – we can be practically certain that the synthesis of ultimate reality cannot be found in any community of self-conscious spirits, however organic or super-organic that community may be and however deep its harmony. The argument is a simple a fortiori one. Hegel emphatically asserts that a group of individuals is not an adequate representation of this ‘actual God’ on earth: surely, he would be the first to deny that it is a perfect representation of the essential nature of the Absolute Idea. At any rate, the burden of proof seems-to be on those who deny the validity of this conclusion. So we seem to have shown the inadequacy of Mr.
McTaggart’s interpretation of Hegel from another point of departure. I am forced to believe, however. that such an objection would be very much mistaken. A careful reading of the relevant portions of the Philosophy of Right will impress one with the fact that Hegel was really in earnest when he contends, as quoted above, that “the monarchical constitution is the constitution of developed reason,” and that “all other constitutions belong to lower grades of the development and realization of reason.” He apparently is firmly convinced that in his theory of the state he is presenting the form that Spirit assumes in its most nearly perfect institutional manifestation (see especially Werke, Bd. VIII, §§258, 272, and 279). His own explicit statements bear witness to his sincerity in the matter. To those quoted above we might add such as these: “When thinking of the idea of the state, we must not have in our mind any particular state, or particular institution, but must rather contemplate the idea, this actual God, by itself.” (Ibid., §258.) “In the organization of the state, that is to say, in constitutional monarchy, we must have before us nothing except the inner necessity of the idea. Every other point of view must disappear. The state must be regarded as a great architectonic building, or the hieroglyph of reason, presenting itself in actuality. Everything referring merely to utility, externality, etc., must be excluded from a philosophical treatment.” (Ibid., §279.) We thus have sufficient evidence, it would seem, to justify us in asserting that Hegel gives us the doctrine of the state which he honestly believes is most nearly the expression of the logical implications of his system.
Even if we grant that he was prejudiced in working out this theory, as he undoubtedly was in details, still we must admit that he bases his theory more or less directly on the doctrine of the Idea; and admitting so much, the above argument from analogy holds.
Let us bring together the results of our discussion. Our conclusion is that Hegel’s Absolute is an infinite Consciousness, a Personality, who synthesizes in His own experience the experiences of all. “An infinite intelligence, an infinite spiritual principle, which is manifested in finite minds though not identical with them” – such, we agree with Professor Adamson, is Hegel’s doctrine of ultimate reality. And this conclusion we have based upon the dialectic movement in the triad of Life, Cognition, and the Absolute Idea, as well as upon direct statements that Hegel has made regarding the problem. The Hegelian Absolute, we have seen, cannot be identified with a community of self-conscious spirits, as Mr.
McTaggart contends. There seems to be no justification for such an interpretation of Hegel either in the final triad of the Logic or in the final triad under Absolute Religion. In the former we pass beyond the exact balance between the unity and its differences to the category of self-consciousness, where the unity exists for itself in its differentiations; in the latter we are ultimately brought back to the Idea and told to look there for the answer to our question about the nature of God. Furthermore, such a community of spirits as Mr. McTaggart imagines we found would not be adequate to express even the nature of the state as Hegel defines it. Thus from another point of departure we were led to question whether such a community could adequately represent Hegel’s synthesis of ultimate reality. For it seemed that, if a personal unity is essential to the nature of the state, we might justly conclude that the synthesis of the real, of which the state is only an imperfect copy, could hardly be less than a personal unity.
This conclusion that the Absolute is a self-conscious Individuality, leads us to a further problem that we must here face. And that problem is concerning the relation between such an Absolute and the world of finite existence. Granting that the Absolute is a self-conscious Personality, in what relation must we say that He stands to our own finite world? The remaining portion of this chapter will be taken up with an attempt to answer this question.
A first glance at the problem might lead one to conclude that only two solutions of it are possible, and that either solution is fatal to the doctrine of the personality of the Absolute. For it would seem that we must admit either that there is or that there is not an Other to the Absolute.
And with this admission we find ourselves in a dilemma. For, on the one hand, if there be in the universe something besides the Absolute, an Other that has the least degree of reality in its own right, then it apparently follows that the Absolute is limited by this Other, is, in other words, not the Absolute. “The slightest suspicion of pluralism, the minutest wiggle of independence of any one of its parts from the control of the totality would ruin it. Absolute unity brooks no degrees, – as well might you claim absolute purity for a glass of water because it contains but a single little cholera-germ. The independence, however infinitesimal, of a part, however small, would be to the Absolute as fatal as a cholera-germ.” On the other hand, if there be no Other to the Absolute, if there be nothing in the universe that can claim reality on its own account apart from its relation to the Absolute, then pantheism is our only conclusion. Evidently, if our theory merges everything into the Absolute, it is nothing short of pantheism. So it would seem that the doctrine of a personal Absolute leaves us either in contradiction with ourselves or in a pantheistic metaphysics; and from this dilemma there seems to be no way of escape.
Perhaps it is hardly necessary to say that Hegel wastes no words in arguing for a limited Absolute; he does not fall into self-contradiction on this point. For him the Absolute is the only true reality; all else has its reality, not in itself, but in the Absolute. Concerning Hegel’s position here there can, presumably, be no question. On the other hand, there need be no hesitancy whatsoever in asserting that, in Hegel’s own mind at any rate, his system is not pantheistic. Pantheism he often denounces as a mistaken theory of reality; he constantly urges that to conceive of the Absolute as the One Reality in which all particularity loses its significance is completely erroneous. Whatever may be the relation that he teaches exists between the Absolute and the finite world, it certainly is not the relation of identity, which, in his opinion, exists between the Spinozistic Substance and its Accidents: indeed, it is just in contradistinction to this doctrine of Spinoza that Hegel is at pains to define his own. As Hegel views the matter, then, neither pantheism nor a finite God is the conclusion to be drawn in answer to our problem.
But how does he find a way of escape from the dilemma? In both the Philosophy of Religion and the Philosophy of Mind, Hegel tells us that he is not unaware that his theory may be misconstrued as pantheistic; and he is careful to point out the oversight on which the misconstruction rests. The point he makes is this: the interpretation overlooks the distinction between the Absolute as Substance and the Absolute as Subject.
“Those who say that speculative philosophy is pantheism generally know nothing of this distinction; they overlook the main point, as they always do, and they disparage philosophy by representing it as different from what it really is.” This distinction being forgotten, unity is construed to mean only abstract identity. “In accordance with that superficiality with which the polemic against philosophy is carried on, it is added, moreover, that philosophy is a system of Identity.... But those who speak of the philosophy of Identity mean abstract unity, unity in general, and pay no attention to that upon which alone all depends; namely, the essential nature of this unity, and whether it is defined as Substance or Spirit.... What is of importance is the difference in the character of the unity. The unity of God is always unity, but everything depends upon the particular nature of the unity; this point being disregarded, that upon which everything depends is overlooked.” It is, then, in the nature of the unity that Hegel expects to find a way out of the difficulty.
Of course the unity which Hegel is here emphasizing is the unity of the Notion. This unity of the Notion it is which he thinks satisfactorily explains the relation of the Absolute to the world of particularity. This is evident from a glance at the Logic. For it is this unity of the Notion that is the culmination of the dialectical development of the categories and receives complete expression in the category of categories, the Absolute Idea. This unity it is, therefore, that is the ultimate expression of reality, the final statement of the relation between God and the world.
What, now, is this unity of the Notion? If the interpretation of Hegel given in the present study is not fundamentally false and all of our arguments up to this point totally vicious, it seems that we are forced to say that the unity of the Notion is the category of self-consciousness.
This is the conclusion that is forced upon us by the Phenomenology of Spirit; the Notion is the life of mind. Likewise, the Logic teaches us the same lesson: since the Absolute Idea is the ultimate expression of the unity of the Notion, it follows, if the Absolute Idea is a self-conscious Individual, that the unity of the Notion, that unity which explains the nature of reality, must be self-consciousness. Indeed, this seems to be just the point that Hegel has in mind, in numerous passages in the History of Philosophy, the Philosophy of Religion, the Philosophy of Mind, and elsewhere, in which he draws a distinction, as he does in the passages cited above, between the definition of the Absolute as Substance and his own conception of the Absolute as Spirit, or Subject, and urges that the latter definition offers the only way of escape from pantheism in our metaphysics. It is in the category of self-consciousness, therefore, that we are to look for an exemplification of the unity of the Notion.
Let us try to see how this category aids us in our present problem.
In attempting to do this, we shall first briefly analyze self-consciousness to discover its fundamental characteristics; and then we shall, on the basis of this analysis, see what must be our conclusions concerning an Absolute Consciousness. For it seems certain that, if we are to argue at all concerning a personal Absolute, we must rest the discussion on an analysis of finite consciousness; there is no other basis of discussion. At any rate, this is what Hegel does, as the Phenomenology shows; and we are interested primarily in setting forth his doctrines and their justification.
Whatever other characteristics finite self-consciousness may have, there are three which can hardly be called in question. The first of these is that consciousness always has a content. By that I mean that there is always something other than the consciousness itself, which exists as the object of it. Apart from this objective reference consciousness is the veriest abstraction. The second characteristic of consciousness is that it always includes its content as something essentially its own. The content is not received by consciousness as if it were a stranger to be momentarily entertained and then lost forever: on the contrary, the content is the very life of the consciousness that possesses it. As Hegel would say, spirit finds the object to be bone of its bone and flesh of its flesh, and so all alienation between the two has disappeared. This characteristic of the conscious life needs some emphasis; we have so formed the habit of thinking that the content is an element foreign to consciousness, that we are prone to forget the abstraction that is responsible for the habit. It requires only a little reflection, however, to bring to light the vital unity that exists between consciousness and its content – a unity that is absolutely fundamental to the integrity of each. The last characteristic of consciousness that I would call attention to is this: consciousness is never identical with, but is always something more than, its content. Notwithstanding the fact that the content is always received by consciousness as its very own, as its other self in fact, still there is a distinction between the two that never disappears; consciousness and its content never fall together in an undifferentiated identity.
The fundamental importance of these three characteristics of consciousness, as well as their vital interconnectedness, may be emphasized by a brief analysis of self-consciousness. It is evident that as a self-conscious being I am of a two-fold nature. In the first place, I am a bundle of sensations, feelings, impulses, desires, volitions, and ideas.
This is the object-self. And from this point of view I am eternally changing.
At any moment of my existence I am never what I have been, or shall be, at any other moment. At one instant I am a center of impulses and passions; at another, a centre of ideas and ideals. To-day I am a self of pleasures; tomorrow, a self of pains. An everlasting panorama of change, a veritable Heracleitean flux – this is what the object-self really is. But there is another fact about this self-consciousness that must be taken into account; so far we have considered only one side of it. It is true that I am eternally changing, that I am not what I have been heretofore, and that I shall never be again just what I am now. And yet, paradoxical as it may sound, what I have been I am, and what I am I shall be.
Underlying the panorama of change, deeper than the self that is in a never-ceasing process of transformation, is another self that gives unity and coherence to the process. This is the subject-self. And this it is that makes education, spiritual development in general, possible; without it our experience would be at best but a chaos of meaningless sensations and incoherent desires. These two aspects or phases seem to be present in all self-consciousness. Take a cross-section of consciousness at any moment, and you will discover that it is of this two-fold nature. Even in our moments of most intense introspection, when we enter as intimately as possible into ourselves, we find that this duality is present; indeed, one is inclined to say, it is then that its presence is most strongly impressed upon us.
It is to be noticed, moreover, that the duality is absolutely essential to self-consciousness. Not only do we find it actually present in self-consciousness; the implication of experience is that it must exist so long as consciousness itself exists. For self-consciousness is just this duality: the subject-self and the object-self exist only as they co-exist. This fact may be illustrated by the consciousness that we possess just as we are falling asleep. In proportion as this duality is overcome does the waking consciousness sink away; and it rapidly returns when the attention becomes fixed upon some object and the duality, unknown and unexperienced in the land of dreams, is restored. And normal waking consciousness illustrates the same truth. He is most truly self-conscious who sinks himself, as we say, in the object that occupies the focus of consciousness; this is the ethical import of the doctrine of self-abnegation. But this sinking of the self in the object attended to does not destroy the difference between the self and the object; rather does it intensify the duality. For the object absorbs attention only in proportion as it harmonizes with a set of purposes and interests that are themselves clearly defined. To take a concrete case, let us suppose that I am intensely interested in a botanical specimen. Here there is evidently a unity of subject and object; indeed, it would be difficult to differentiate the two, and the difficulty would increase with the increase of my interest in the specimen.
And yet, clearly, there is a difference. The specimen grasps my interest only as it makes its appeal to a self whose centre of being is more or less clearly defined; and the more significant the hold of the specimen on my attention, the deeper and more significant must have been my training in the science of botany. If I am a mere tyro in botanical investigations, the specimen would not make the same appeal as it would were I thoroughly versed in the subject; and the difference is that in the former case the appeal would be made to a less thoroughly developed self. The unity, and consequently the duality, is not as clearly defined in the former case as in the latter. The very unity of consciousness thus seems to be organically bound up with this dual relation of subject and object.
And from this follows immediately a further result. Since this duality is essential to consciousness, these two phases of subject and object cannot fall into identity with each other. Take any case of consciousness that you please, whether it be consciousness of objects in the mental or in the physical world. Do you find there a coincidence between subject and object? Certainly not. The object is never its own consciousness; there is, and can be, no identity between them. It is inconsistent with the very nature of consciousness that these two phases collapse into identity.
As Professor Royce says, “When we are aware only of unity, it appears that we then become aware of nothing at all.” The presupposition of consciousness is that there shall be something, an object in the physical world, an object in the mental world, something other than the consciousness itself, of which the consciousness shall be. The two cannot be identical with each other.
But this essential duality within consciousness must not be misconstrued as a dualism. In his famous deduction of the categories, Kant unfortunately speaks too much as if the subject-self were superimposed on the object-self as something essentially foreign to it. But the real lesson he has to teach us in that deduction is a deeper one. And that lesson is that the unity and the differences within conscious experience are really one, that there is no chasm between them. It is true that the data which constitute the object-self seem to be facts drawn from a world external to that self, or, at any rate, external to the synthetic unity that binds these data into a unitary and organic whole. But both of these positions fall before criticism, for the data are vitally concerned in their own organization. We must admit that Kant has once for all shown us, at least by implication if not explicitly, that the object-self is not foreign to the subject-self: the data of the Sensibility and the categories of the Understanding are common expressions of one fundamental principle.
And this implication of the Kantian philosophy becomes explicit in Hegel.
The burden of the Phenomenology, as we saw in our first chapter, is that these two selves are organically bound up with each other, and that, if we are to speak accurately, we must call them, not two selves, but only two points of view from which we look at the one self – subject-object.
And it seems that we are forced to say that this is the verdict of experience. Consequently, to view these two phases of consciousness in isolation is to view them abstractly. Of course, this abstraction is perfectly justifiable, indeed, necessary from the standpoint of the particular sciences; but it is dangerous for metaphysics. Whether the emphasis is placed upon the subject or the object is a matter of indifference so far as the metaphysical difficulty involved in their separation is concerned; metaphysically, they are not separable. The data of the object-self get their reality only when organized by the categories of the subject-self; and, on the other hand, the categories are essentially those data, otherwise it is incomprehensible how the organization could possibly take place. Thus the separation between the two is overreached and the two fall together. They are different, and yet they are one such seems to be the paradoxical relation existing between the two sides of consciousness.
The results of our analysis of finite self-consciousness are these.
The characteristics of consciousness are that it has a content, that it differs from this content, and yet at the same time is one with it. Moreover, each of these is a condition that must be met, if consciousness is to exist at all. If the content is removed, then of course consciousness is destroyed, because there is nothing of which the consciousness could be. Likewise, if consciousness and its content are identified, consciousness ceases, for the identification simply amounts to the removal of the content; and here again the essential duality is done away with. Finally, if a chasm is made between consciousness and its content, consciousness again is made impossible; when an impassable barrier is erected between the two, the duality upon which consciousness depends is once more removed. This three-fold condition is the presupposition of all finite consciousness.
Now it would seem that, on the basis of this analysis of finite consciousness, we should be justified in making the following assertions concerning an Absolute Consciousness. In the first place, such a Consciousness would necessarily have a content; that is, there would have to be an Other of which the Absolute is conscious. In the second place, this Other would not be regarded by the Absolute as something foreign or external, in the sense that it lay genuinely outside of the Absolute; rather would it be possessed as an essential element within the Absolute.
And, lastly, the Absolute would necessarily differentiate this Other from itself in such a way as to preserve the duality that we have found to be essential to the conscious life. And our justification for making these assertions concerning an Absolute Consciousness is simply that these characteristics which we have attributed to the Absolute are those that experience shows us to be fundamental to all consciousness as we know it; and unless we are to reduce our discussions to meaningless logomachy, we must test them by concrete experience. Certainly it seems that we must assume that the conditions prerequisite to finite consciousness must be fulfilled in an Absolute Consciousness.
What now must be our answer to the dilemma with which we began our discussion? In the first place, it would seem that we have found a way of escape from pantheism in our doctrine of the Absolute. For so long as we maintain the self-consciousness of the Absolute, we are forced to maintain also that the Absolute and the world are differentiated from each other. Really, pantheism is logically possible only to the metaphysician who denies the self-consciousness of the Absolute. For pantheism, if it means anything, means identity between the Absolute and the world of finite existence; whatever form the theory may take, it ultimately reduces everything in the universe to an undifferentiated unity with the all-inclusive One. But, if the Absolute be regarded as a self-conscious Individual, this abstract identity becomes impossible; because, as our analysis of the category has disclosed, consciousness always demands a content from which it is differentiated. Destruction of this duality is the destruction of the possibility of consciousness. Therefore no theory that maintains that the Absolute is Self-Consciousness can legitimately be accused of pantheism so long as it is consistent. But have we escaped the other horn of our dilemma? Our own argument has forced us to admit that an Other to the Absolute is essential; indeed, it is this fact that relieves us from any fears concerning pantheism as the outcome of our doctrine. And have we not virtually limited the Absolute by positing this Other, which our analysis of consciousness has compelled us to assume is necessary? The answer to this objection is involved in what we have just been saying about the fact that the two extremes of the equation of consciousness are not foreign to each other; and it might perhaps be sufficient simply to point to this fact in meeting the objection. But, since this criticism against the doctrine of the personality of the Absolute is so general, and that, too, amongst Idealists of a certain type, it seems well in concluding this discussion to devote some attention to it.
I have chosen Mr. McTaggart as the representative of this type of criticism, because his objections are advanced immediately in connection with a study of Hegel’s system. His views can best be expressed in his own words: “The Absolute is a unity of system, and not a unity of centre, and the element of unity in it cannot be a simple and indivisible point, like that of the finite self. For if the unity is of this sort, then, by virtue of its simplicity and indivisibility, it excludes its differentiation from itself in one sense, while including them in another. But the Absolute cannot exclude its differentiations from itself in any sense.... There is nothing outside of the Absolute. And it would therefore be impossible for it to exclude its differentiations from itself in any sense. For in as far as they are not in it, they are absolutely wrong. In order to evaluate this objection, we must again look at consciousness and ask concerning its real nature. As we have already pointed out, consciousness always demands a content with which it is never identical; without such a content consciousness is nothing but an empty abstraction.
Consciousness presupposes differentiations, and in some sense it is true that these differentiations are excluded from it. But this is not the whole story; there is another aspect of the conscious life that we cannot afford to overlook. Consciousness not only excludes its differentiations, it also includes them. The exclusion is never absolute; the content is a vital part of the consciousness; in a very important sense it is the consciousness. Consciousness overreaches the distinction between itself and its content and takes the content up into itself, so that the content, though different from, yet is one with the consciousness. As Edward Caird aptly puts it, “The self can be conscious of itself as so distinguished and related, only in so far as it overreaches the distinction between itself and its object.” Thus it is that the self or consciousness may be said both to include and exclude its object; and the fact of inclusion is complementary to the fact of exclusion. Inclusion does not mean the abstract identity of subject-self and object-self; nor, on the other hand, does exclusion mean their abstract opposition. Consciousness includes its various differentiations, because they are its differentiations; it excludes them, because they are its differentiations. Inclusion and exclusion are only different names for the same fact, just as are the concave and convex sides of a curved line.
If, now, we are to argue on the basis of finite consciousness concerning the nature of Absolute Consciousness – and, I repeat, I know of no other basis on which to argue – it would seem that we are forced to conclude that such a Consciousness, granting its existence, would necessarily at once include and exclude its differentiations. Every object in the world would be included in such a Consciousness, because every object in the world would be an object for such a Consciousness. But the inclusion would not, could not, be that of identity. For every object in the world would have to be excluded from such a Consciousness, since no object in the world would actually be that Consciousness. And the exclusion could not be abstract opposition; the differentiations would still be differentiations of the consciousness for which they exist.
The Absolute Consciousness, like all other consciousness, would be confined to the circle of its own differentiations: this we seem forced to admit. But the differentiations of the Absolute, like the differentiations of finite consciousness, would be differentiations still: this also we seemed forced to admit. And with this we have admitted the inclusion and the exclusion of the differentiations of an absolute Consciousness. As Hegel remarks, “God is Himself consciousness, He distinguishes Himself from Himself within Himself, and as consciousness He gives Himself as object for what we call the side of consciousness.” This is exactly what every finite consciousness does in its own limited way: it gives itself as object, distinguishes itself from itself within itself, and is at once knower and known, possessor and possessed, subject and object. Such seems to be the paradox of consciousness as such; there is nothing inherently contradictory or absurd about it – unless, indeed, consciousness itself is an absurdity.
Thus we are forced to say that Mr. McTaggart’s objection to the doctrine of a personal Absolute rests upon a misconstruction of the true import of the category of self-consciousness. The objection stands or falls with the contention that, if the Absolute were to exclude its differentiations from itself, those differentiations would either cease to be real or stand as a limitation to the Absolute. Now this contention holds only on the condition that the Absolute is forced to oppose to itself its differentiations as something entirely beyond and foreign to it. But it is the very nature of consciousness not to do this, if our analysis has been correct. For as we have repeatedly seen, perhaps to the point of weariness, consciousness is a duality within unity; and if you destroy either the unity or the duality, you utterly annihilate the conscious life. And it seems evident that, if you construct a chasm between consciousness and its differentiations, you do irreparable violence to the unity between the two. At your touch both consciousness and its differentiations vanish into nothingness. There is no meaning in talking about the exclusion of something by consciousness, unless that something is included in consciousness; for consciousness excludes its differentiations just by virtue of the fact that it includes them. To argue, therefore, that an Absolute Consciousness is impossible because it cannot abstractly oppose itself to its differentiations is exactly as convincing as it would be to argue that finite consciousness is impossible because it cannot do the same.
You could argue either way indifferently and with equal success in both cases; for your demand sins against the presupposition of all consciousness.
Of course an Absolute Consciousness is impossible, provided it is so by definition; but why define it so? It seems to be no more inherently absurd than finite consciousness, and there can be no question that finite consciousness is an actuality.
It is interesting to notice that this objection of Mr. McTaggart is inconsistent with his own analysis of finite consciousness. Speaking in another context of the finite self, which he grants is ‘sufficiently paradoxical,’ he says: “What does it included Everything of which it is conscious.
What does it exclude? Equally – everything of which it is conscious.
What can it say is not inside it? Nothing. What can it say is not outside it? A single abstraction. And any attempt to remove the paradox destroys the self. For the two sides are inevitably connected. If we try to make it a distinct individual by separating it from all other things, it loses all content of which it can be conscious, and so loses the very individuality which we started by trying to preserve. If, on the other hand, we try to save its content by emphasizing the inclusion at the expense of the exclusion, then the consciousness vanishes, and, since the self has no contents but the objects of which it is conscious, the content vanishes also.” Now I submit that, if Mr. McTaggart stands consistently by the position here stated he cannot argue that consciousness, whether finite or absolute, can exclude its differentiations in any sense in which it does not at the same time and ipso facto include them.
And this is the ground upon which his objection against the doctrine of a personal Absolute, as I comprehend it, rests. To say that the finite self excludes its differentiations in a manner that would be impossible to the Absolute assumes the very point at issue, and so begs the whole question.
Does the finite self exclude its differentiations in a manner impossible for the Absolute? Certainly not, if we are willing to accept Mr.
McTaggart’s analysis of finite consciousness. The finite self, he tells us, includes everything of which it is conscious, and it excludes everything that it includes. But, be it noted, it does not cease to include because it excludes: inclusion and exclusion, we are told, are ‘inevitably connected.’ If, now, finite consciousness at once includes and excludes its differentiations, is there anything absurd in the position that Absolute Consciousness may do the same? If the finite consciousness is a differentiation of the Absolute just because of its paradoxical nature – and this, we must remember, is the basis upon which Mr. McTaggart rests his argument for the immortality of the individual – may it not be that the Absolute itself embodies this paradox par excellence? If inclusion and exclusion by consciousness are correlative terms, why is it impossible for a perfect Consciousness to include everything in the universe and yet at the same time and just for that reason exclude it? Why, in short, would it be necessary for the infinite and perfect self to fail just in that respect which constitutes the very essence of the finite and imperfect self? Arguing in this vein appears to be an approach to absurdity; and yet this seems to be the position into which Mr. McTaggart is forced by his own analysis of consciousness. The whole difficulty with Mr. McTaggart’s position may be put in very brief compass. His objection rests upon the disjunction with which we began: either pantheism or a finite God, either abstract identity between the absolute and its differentiations or a limited Absolute. But this disjunction depends upon an abstract view of the nature of consciousness.
For it implies that consciousness must be either identical with or abstractly opposed to its differentiations, that the Absolute either is the world or must regard the world as something essentially foreign to itself. This disjunction, however, plainly flies in the face of experience.
As we have tried to show, and as Mr. McTaggart himself has pointed out, consciousness and its differentiations are neither identical nor yet opposed to each other: they are ‘inevitably connected,’ and each lives in the life of the other. And when we make a violent separation between them, or assume a position that implies this separation, we should not forget the fact that the possibility of finite consciousness, as well as the possibility of an Absolute Consciousness is thereby denied – simply because we then have done away with the presupposition of all consciousness. And this suggests to us that it would be well to investigate experience further, before we commit ourselves to a position that leads to such singularly disastrous results. This essential unity of the Absolute and its Other Hegel emphasizes in his exposition of the philosophical import of the Christian dogma of the Incarnation. In this dogma we have expressed in religious terms the philosophical truth that “the divine and human natures are not implicitly different.” In Jesus Christ is manifested the Universal, God; the contingent and accidental circumstances of temporal life are disregarded by Him. “Who is my mother and my brother?” “Let the dead bury their dead.” But Christ is not only God; he is also the Son of Man, the Man of Sorrows. In his death we have evidence of the fact that He shares the common fate of all human beings; indeed, “in Him humanity was carried to its furthest point,” since he died the aggravated death of the evil-doer. This Personality, which reaches to the glories of the Infinite, touches also, by virtue of its divinity, the lowest abyss of the finite. The true lesson of the Incarnation, Hegel would seem to say, is that God is not high and lifted up beyond the world of time and place; but that He is also here, and that it is only here that He finds full and complete expression. God’s Other is His own very Self, and not an existence beyond Him.
In conclusion, then, we may say that, as Hegel views the matter, the puzzle of God’s relation to the world is to a considerable extent one of our own making. By a process of abstraction we separate God from the world, and then proceed to ask how we are ever to get them together again; we destroy their essential interconnectedness, and then raise the cry that their relation to each other is to us incomprehensible. Consequently, we must either take refuge in an impotent faith or be content to remain sceptics and agnostics. “The ‘reflective’ understanding begins by rejecting all systems and modes of conception, which, whether they spring from heart, imagination, or speculation, express the interconnection of God and the world: and in order to have God pure in faith or consciousness, he is as essence parted from appearance, as infinite from the finite. But, after this partition, the conviction arises also that the appearance has a relation to the essence, the finite to the infinite, and so on: and thus arises the question of reflection as to the nature of this relation. It is in the reflective form that the whole difficulty of the affair lies, and that causes this relation to be called incomprehensible by the agnostic.” Hegel’s own solution of the problem, which he proceeds to outline for us in the paragraph from which this passage is taken, is to be found on a plane which transcends the point of view of the ‘reflective understanding’; and his solution consists really in pointing out that the separation that gives rise to the problem is the result of abstract thinking.
This more concrete standpoint he calls the Notion of the speculative Reason, which is, in the last analysis, the category of self-consciousness.