Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy
Part One: Greek Philosophy. First Period, Second Division.

Chapter II: From the Sophists to the Socratics.

IN this second division we have first to consider more particularly the Sophists, secondly Socrates, and thirdly the Socratics, while we distinguish from these Plato, and take him along with Aristotle in the third division. The nouς, which is at first only grasped in a very subjective manner as end, that is to say as that which is end to men, i.e. the Good, in Plato and Aristotle became understood in what is on the whole an objective way, as genus or Idea. Because thought has now become set forth as principle, and this at first presents a subjective appearance as being the subjective activity of thought, there now sets in (since the absolute is posited as subject) an age of subjective reflection; i.e. there begins in this period — which coincides with the disintegration of Greece in the Peloponnesian war — the principle of modern times.

Since in the nouς of Anaxagoras, as the still formal self-determining activity, determination is as yet quite undetermined, general and abstract, and along with that content-less throughout, the universal standpoint is the immediate necessity of going on to a content which begins actual determination. But what is this absolute, universal content which abstract thought as self-determining activity gives itself? That is the real question here. Consciousness now confronts the untrammelled thought of those ancient philosophers, whose general ideas we hive considered. While hitherto the subject, when it reflected on the absolute, only produced thoughts, and had this content before it, it is now seen that what is here present is not the whole, but that the thinking subject likewise really belongs to the totality of the objective. Furthermore, this subjectivity of thought has again the double character of at once being the infinite, self-relating form, which as this pure activity of the universal, receives content-determinations; and, on the other hand, as consciousness reflects that it is the thinking subject which is thus positing, of also being a return of spirit from objectivity into itself. Thus if thought, because it immersed itself in the object, had as such, and like the nouς of Anaxagoras, at first no content, because this stood on the other side, so now, with the return of thought as to the consciousness that the subject is what thinks, we have the other side — that what has to be dealt with is the attainment of a truly absolute content. This content, taken abstractly, may itself be again a double one. Either the “I” is in respect of determination the real when it makes itself and its interests the content, or the content becomes determined as the altogether universal. According to this, we have two questions to deal with, which are — how the determination of what is in and for itself is to be comprehended, and how this is likewise in immediate relation to the “I” as thinking. It comes to pass in Philosophy that although the “I” is the positing, yet the posited content of that which is thought is the object existent in and for itself. If one were to remain at saying that the “I” is that which posits, this would be the false idealism of modern times: in earlier times men did not remain at saying that what is thought is bad because I posit it.

To the Sophists the content is mine, and subjective Socrates grasped the content which is in and for itself, and the followers of Socrates have, in direct connection with him, merely farther defined this content.

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