Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy

Section Three: Recent German Philosophy
A. Jacobi.

In connection with Kant we must here begin by speaking of Jacobi, whose philosophy is contemporaneous with that of Kant; in both of these the advance beyond the preceding period is very evident. The result in the two cases is much the same, although both the starting point and the method of progression are somewhat different. In Jacobi's case the stimulus was given mainly by French philosophy, with which he was very conversant, and also by German metaphysics, while Kant began rather from the English side, that is, from the scepticism of Hume. Jacobi, in that negative attitude which he preserved as well as Kant, kept before him the objective aspect of the method of knowledge, and specially considered it, for he declared knowledge to be in its content incapable of recognizing the Absolute: the truth must be concrete, present, but not finite. Kant does not consider the content, but took the view of knowledge being subjective; and for this reason he declared it to be incapable of recognizing absolute existence. To Kant knowledge is thus a knowledge of phenomena only, not because the categories are merely limited and finite, but because they are subjective. To Jacobi, on the other hand, the chief point is that the categories are not merely subjective, but that they themselves are conditioned. This is an essential difference between the two points of view, even if they both arrive at the same result.

Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, born at Düsseldorf in 1743, held office first in the Duchy of Berg, and then in Bavaria. He studied in Geneva and Paris, associating in the former place with Bonnet and in the latter with Diderot. Jacobi was a man of the highest character and culture. He was long occupied with State affairs, and in Düsseldorf he held a public office which was connected with the administration of the finance department in the State. At the time of the French Revolution he was obliged to retire. As a Bavarian official he went to Munich, there became President of the Academy of Sciences in 1804, which office he, however, resigned in 1812; for in the Napoleonic period Protestants were decried as demagogues. He lived at Munich till the end of his life, and died at the same place on the 10th of March, 1819.(1)

In the year 1785, Jacobi published Letters on Spinoza, which were written in 1783, on the occasion of the dispute with Mendelssohn above-mentioned (p. 406); for in none of his writings did Jacobi develop his philosophy systematically, he set it forth in letters only. When Mendelssohn wished to write a life of Lessing, Jacobi sent to ask him if he knew that “Lessing was a Spinozist” (Jacobi's Werke, Vol. IV. Sec. 1, pp. 39, 40). Mendelssohn was displeased at this, and it was the occasion of the correspondence. In the course of the dispute it was made evident that those who held themselves to be professed philosophers and possessed of a monopoly of Lessing's friendship, such as Nicolai, Mendelssohn, &c., knew nothing about Spinozism; not only was there manifested in them the superficial character of their philosophic insight, but ignorance as well; with Mendelssohn, for instance, this was shown respecting even the outward history of the Spinozistic philosophy, and much more regarding the inward (Jacobi's Werke, Vol. IV. Sec. 1, p. 91). That Jacobi asserted Lessing to be a Spinozist, and gave a high place to the French — this serious statement came to these good men as a thunderbolt from the blue. They — the self-satisfied, self-possessed, superior persons — were quite surprised that he also made pretensions to knowledge, and of such a “dead dog” as Spinoza (ibidem, p. 68). Explanations followed upon this, in which Jacobi further developed his philosophic views.

Mendelssohn is directly opposed to Jacobi, for Mendelssohn took his stand on cognition, placed true existence immediately in thought and conception, and maintained: “What I cannot think as true does not trouble me as doubt. A question which I do not understand, I cannot answer, it is for me as good as no question at all."(2) He continued to argue on these same lines. His proof of the existence of God thus carries with it this necessity of thought, viz. that actuality must plainly be in thought, and a thinker must be pre-supposed, or the possibility of the actual is in the thinker. “What no thinking Being conceives as possible is not possible, and what is thought by no thinking creature as actual cannot be actual in fact. If we take away from anything whatsoever the conception formed by a thinking Being that that thing is possible or actual, the thing itself is done away with.” The Notion of the thing is thus to man the essence of the same. “No finite Being can think the actuality of a thing in its perfection as actual, and still less can he perceive the possibility and actuality of all present things. There must thus be a thinking Being or an understanding which in the most perfect way thinks the content of all possibilities as possible, and the content of all actualities as actual; i.e. there must be an infinite understanding, and this is God."(3) Here on the one hand we see a unity of thought and Being, on the other the absolute unity as infinite understanding — the former is the self-consciousness which is apprehended as finite merely. Actuality, Being, has its possibility in thought, or its possibility is thought; it is not a process from possibility to actuality, for the possibility remains at home in the actuality.

Jacobi maintains against these demands of thought — and this in one view is the chief thought in his philosophy — that every method of their demonstration leads to fatalism, atheism, and Spinozism,(4) and presents God as derived and founded upon something else; for comprehending Him signifies demonstrating His dependence. Jacobi thus asserts that mediate knowledge consists in giving a cause of something which has in its turn a finite effect, and so on; so that a knowledge such as this can all through relate to the finite only.

Jacobi further states upon this subject, in the first place, that "Reason" — later on when he distinguished reason and understanding (of which more hereafter(5)), he altered it to understanding(6) - "can never bring to light more than the conditions of what is conditioned, natural laws and mechanism. We comprehend a thing when we can deduce it from its proximate causes,” and not from the remoter causes; the most remote and quite universal cause is always God. “Or” we know the thing if we “perceive its immediate conditions as they come in due succession. Thus, for instance, we comprehend a circle when we can clearly represent to ourselves the mechanism of its origination or its physical conditions; we know the syllogistic formulæ when we have actually come to know the laws to which the human understanding is subject in judgment and conclusion, its physical nature and its mechanism. For this reason we have no conceptions of qualities as such, but only intuitions. Even of our present existence we have a feeling only, but no conceptions. Genuine conceptions we have merely of figure, number, position, movement and the forms of thought; qualities are known and understood, if they are traced back to these and objectively annulled.” This is undoubtedly really finite knowledge, which is to give the determinate conditions of anything determinate, to demonstrate it as resulting from another cause, in such a way that each condition is again conditioned and finite. Jacobi continues: “The business of reason is really progressive union and connection, and its speculative business is union and connection in accordance with the known laws of necessity, i.e. of identity. Everything that reason can bring forth by means of analysis, combination, judgment, conclusion, and re-conception, consists in nothing but things of nature” (i.e. finite things), “and reason itself, as a limited existence, belongs to these things. But the whole of nature, the sum of all conditioned existence, cannot reveal more to the investigating understanding than what is contained in it, namely, manifold existence, changes, a succession of forms” (the conditioned), “and not an actual beginning” (of the world), “nor a real principle of any objective existence."(7)

But Jacobi in the second place here accepts reason in a wider sense and says: “If we understand by reason the principle of knowledge generally, it is the mind from which the whole living nature of man is constituted; through it man arises; he is a form which it has adopted.” With this Jacobi's view of the attempt to know the unconditioned is connected. “I take the whole human being and find that his consciousness is composed of two original conceptions, the conceptions of the conditioned and the unconditioned. Both are inseparably bound up with one another, and yet in such a way that the conception of the conditioned presupposes the conception of the unconditioned, and can be given in this alone. We are just as certain of its existence as we are of our own conditioned existence, or even more so. Since our conditioned existence rests on an infinitude of mediations, there is opened up to our investigation a vast field which, for the sake of our preservation even, we are forced to work upon.” It would, however, be quite another thing to wish to know the unconditioned apart from this practical end. However Jacobi here remarks, “To try to discover the conditions of the unconditioned, to find a possibility for absolute necessity, and to construct this last in order to be able to comprehend it, is what we undertake when we endeavour to make nature an existence comprehensible to us, i.e. a merely natural existence, and to bring the mechanism of the principle of mechanism into the light of day. For if everything which can be said to arise and be present in a way comprehensible to us, must arise and be present in a conditioned way, we remain, so long as we continue to comprehend, in a chain of conditioned conditions. Where this chain breaks off, we cease to comprehend, and there the connection which we call nature likewise ceases. The conception of the possibility of the outward existence of nature would thus be the conception of an absolute beginning or origin of nature; it would be the conception of the unconditioned itself in so far as it is a conditioning of nature not naturally connected, i.e. a conditioning of nature unconnected and unconditioned for us. Now should a conception of what is thus unconditioned and unconnected, and consequently supernatural, be possible, the unconditioned must cease to be unconditioned, it must itself receive conditions; and absolute necessity must commence to be possibility in order that it may allow itself to be constructed."(8) This is contradictory.

Jacobi then passes on from this point to the second of his main propositions, “The unconditioned is called the supernatural. Now since everything which lies outside the connection of what is conditioned, of what is naturally mediated, also lies outside the sphere of our clear and certain knowledge, and cannot be understood through conceptions, the supernatural cannot be accepted in any other way by us than that in which it is given to us — namely as a fact. It is! This supernatural, this essence of all essence, all tongues join in proclaiming to be God."(9) God as the universal, the true, is here taken in the sense of a spiritual generally, in the sense of power, wisdom, &c. That God is, however, is to Jacobi not absolutely true; for to knowledge pertains His objective absolute existence, but He cannot be said to be known. It is thus merely a fact of my consciousness that God exists independently apart from my consciousness; this, however, is itself maintained through my consciousness; the subjective attitude of thought is thus to Jacobi the element of most importance. The consciousness of God, which is in our consciousness, is, however, of such a nature that along with the thought of God we have immediately associated the fact that He is. The existence of the supernatural and super-sensuous, to which the thought of man regarding the natural and finite passes on, is just as certain to Jacobi as he is himself. This certainty is identical with his self-consciousness; as certainly as I am, so certainly is God (Jacobi's Werke, Vol. III. p. 35). Since he thus passes back into self-consciousness, the unconditioned is only for us in an immediate way; this immediate knowledge Jacobi calls Faith, inward revelation (Werke, Vol. II. pp. 3, 4); to this appeal can be made in man. God, the absolute, the unconditioned, cannot, according, to Jacobi, be proved. For proof, comprehension, means to discover conditions for something, to derive it from conditions; but a derived absolute, God, &c., would thus not be absolute at all, would not be unconditioned, would not be God (Jacobi's Werke, Vol. III. p. 7). This immediate knowledge of God is then the point which is maintained in the philosophy of Jacobi. The faith of Kant and of Jacobi are, however, different. To Kant it is a postulate of reason, it is the demand for the solution of the contradiction between the world and goodness; to Jacobi it is represented on its immediate knowledge.

Everything which has been written upon God since Jacobi's time, by philosophers such as Fries and by theologians, rests on this conception of immediate intellectual knowledge, and men even call this revelation, though in another sense than the revelation of theology. Revelation as immediate knowledge is in ourselves, while the Church holds revelation to be something imparted from without.(10) In the theological sense, faith is faith in something which is given to us through teaching. It is a sort of deception when faith and revelation are spoken of and represented as if faith and revelation in the theological sense were here in question; for the sense in which they are used, and which may be termed philosophic, is quite a different one, however pious an air may be assumed in using the terms. This is Jacobi's standpoint, and whatever is by philosophers and theologians said against it, this teaching is eagerly accepted and disseminated. And nowhere is there anything to be found but reflections originating from Jacobi, whereby immediate knowledge is opposed to philosophic knowledge and to reason; and people speak of reason, philosophy, &c., as a blind man speaks of colours. It is, indeed, allowed that a man cannot make shoes unless he is a shoemaker, even although he have the measure and foot, and also the hands. But when Philosophy is concerned, immediate knowledge signifies that every man as he walks and stand is a philosopher, that he can dogmatize as he chooses, and that he is completely acquainted with Philosophy.

By reason, however, mediate knowledge merely is on the one hand understood, and on the other the intellectual perception which speaks of facts (supra, pp. 413-415). In this respect it is true that reason is the knowledge and revelation of absolute truth, since the understanding is the revelation of the finite (Jacobi's Werke, Vol. II. pp. 8-14, 101). “We maintained that two different powers of perception in man have to be accepted: a power of perception through visible and tangible and consequently corporeal organs of perception, and another kind of power, viz. through an invisible organ which in no way represents itself to the outward senses, and whose existence is made known to us through feeling alone. This organ, a spiritual eye for spiritual objects, has been called by men — generally speaking — reason. He whom the pure feelings of the beautiful and good, of admiration and love, of respect and awe, do not convince that in and with these feelings he perceives something to be present which is independent of them, and which is unattainable by the outward senses or by an understanding directed upon their perceptions alone — such an one cannot be argued with” (Jacobi's Werke, Vol. II. pp. 74, 76). But by faith Jacobi likewise understands all that has immediacy of Being for me: “Through faith we know that we have a body, we become aware of other actual things, and that indeed with the same certainty with which we are aware of ourselves. We obtain all conceptions through the qualities which we receive and accept, and there is no other way of attaining real knowledge; for reason, when it begets objects, begets phantoms of the brain. Thus we have a revelation of nature."(11) Hence the expression faith, which had a deep significance in religion, is made use of for different contents of every kind; this in our own time is the point of view most commonly adopted.

Jacobi here brings faith into opposition with thought. Let us compare the two, and discover whether they are separated by so great a chasm as those who thus oppose them think. On the one hand absolute existence is to faith immediate; believing consciousness feels itself penetrated by this as by its essence: that existence is its life, believing consciousness asserts itself to be in direct unity with it. Thought thinks the absolute existence; such existence is to it absolute thought, absolute understanding, pure thought; but that signifies that it is likewise immediate itself. On the other hand to faith the immediacy of absolute existence has also the significance of a Being: it is, and is another than 'I.' And the same is true of the thinker; to him it is absolute Being, actual in itself, and different from self-consciousness or thought as finite understanding, to use the common term. Now what is the reason that faith and thought do not understand one another, and each recognize itself in the other? In the first place faith has no consciousness of being a thought, inasmuch as it asserts absolute consciousness to be identical with it as self-consciousness, and has direct inward knowledge of the same. But it expresses this simple unity; in its consciousness it is only immediacy so to speak in the signification of Being, a unity of its unconscious substance. In the second place Being-for-self is contained in thought; to this faith opposes the immediacy of Being. Thought, on the contrary, has the immediate as absolute potentiality, as absolutely a thing of thought: and the immediacy belonging to this thing of thought is without the determination of Being, of life. On the heights of this abstraction the two stand opposed to each other, as the Aufklärung which asserts absolute existence to be a Beyond of self-consciousness, and as the materialism which makes it so to speak present matter (supra, pp. 382, 383). In the one case it is in faith and thought as positive existence or thought, and in the other it is the negative of self-consciousness, which is thus either only determined as negative, as a Beyond, or likewise as existent for self-consciousness. Hence faith and thought are both of them knowledge. We call universal knowledge thought, particular knowledge we call sensuous perception; and we term the introduction of external determinations understanding. The universal element in man is thought, but to it likewise appertains religious feeling for instance; the animal does not possess it, for it has no human feeling; and in so far as this feeling is religious, it is the feeling of a thinker, and what determines this feeling is not the determination of natural desire, &c., but a universal determination. Thus God, even though He is only felt and believed in, is yet the universal taken quite abstractly — even in His personality He is the absolutely universal personality.

As thought and faith are thus one, the same is true of the antithesis between mediated and immediate knowledge. We must, it is true, keep before our eyes the fact that what is revealed in immediate knowledge is the universal. But abstract immediate knowledge is natural, sensuous knowledge; the immediate man in his natural condition, in his desires, does not know this universal. Children, the Esquimaux, &c., know nothing of God; or what the natural man knows of Him is not a real knowledge of Him. Thus the intuitive knowledge of the Egyptians told them that God was an ox or a cat, and the Indians still possess similar sorts of knowledge. On the other hand when man has come so far as to know God as merely an object of the mind, i.e. as spiritual, it is easy to perceive that this knowledge which is asserted to be immediate is really a result mediated through instruction, through a long continued culture. It is only by means of being elevated above nature that man arrives at a consciousness of what is higher, and at a knowledge of the universal; there indeed his knowledge is immediate, but he has only arrived at this through mediation. I think, and thus I know the universal immediately, but this very thought is just process in itself, movement and life. All life is process within itself, is mediated, and this is all the more true of spiritual life; for it is the passing from one to the other, that is, from the merely natural and sensuous to the spiritual. It thus indicates a deficiency in the most simple reflection not to know that the universal is not in immediate knowledge, but is a result of the culture, the education, and the self-revelation of the human race. If immediate knowledge is to be allowed, everyone will be responsible merely to himself: this man knows this, another that, and consequently everything is justified and approved, however contrary to right and religion. This opposition between immediacy and mediacy is thus a very barren and quite empty determination; it is a platitude of the extremest type to consider anything like this to be a true opposition; it proceeds from a most wooden understanding, which thinks that an immediacy can be something on its own account, without a mediation within itself. If Philosophy were to result in this it would be a poor affair; these determinations are merely forms, none of which has intrinsic truth. The form into which Philosophy has in Jacobi's case finally fallen, which is that immediacy is grasped as absolute, manifests a lack of all critical faculty, of all logic. The Kantian philosophy is critical philosophy, but from it the fact has been omitted that we cannot constitute the infinite with finite categories — and immediacy is such an one. When we regard this opposition more closely all knowledge may be termed immediate, but all immediate knowledge is likewise mediated in itself. This we know within our consciousness, and we may see it in the most general phenomena. I know, for example, of America immediately, and yet this knowledge is very much mediated. If I stand in America and see its soil, I must first of all have journeyed to it, Columbus must first have discovered it, ships must have been built, &c.; all these discoveries and inventions pertain to it. That which we now know immediately is consequently a result of infinitely many mediations. Likewise when I see a right-angled triangle I know that the squares of the two sides are equal to the square of the hypotenuse: I know this immediately, and yet I have merely learned it and am convinced of it through the mediation of proof. Immediate knowledge is thus everywhere mediated, and Philosophy does nothing but bring this to consciousness — demonstrating the mediation which in point of fact is already present there, e.g. in religion, &c.

The philosophy of Jacobi, inasmuch as it says: “Thought cannot proceed further than to the feeling of God,” has been accepted utiliter; it was more easily arrived at than in the case of Kant. Knowledge, however, is something very different from what Jacobi calls such; against finite knowledge his arguments are quite correct. Immediate knowledge is not knowledge, comprehension, for that implies that the content is determined in itself, i.e. is grasped as concrete. But in immediate knowledge it is the case that the only fact known of God is that He exists. For should there be determinations respecting God, they must, according to Jacobi, be grasped as a finite, and the knowledge of them would again merely be a progression from finite to finite. There thus remains only the indeterminate conception of God, an “Above me,” an indeterminate Beyond. This gives accordingly the same result as does the Aufklärung, viz. that the highest reality is ultimate: we find the same in French philosophy and in Kant — only here we still have the opinion that this emptiness is the highest philosophy possible. But if each standpoint has an aspect wherein it is justified, there always rests in the proposition that the human mind knows God immediately, the important consideration that we have here a recognition of the freedom of the human spirit: in it we have the source of the knowledge of God, and all externality of authority is thus abrogated in this principle. The principle is hereby gained, but only the principle of freedom of spirit; and the greatness of our time rests in the fact that freedom, the peculiar possession of mind whereby it is at home with itself in itself, is recognized, and that mind has this consciousness within itself. This however is merely abstract, for the next step is that the principle of freedom is again purified and comes to its true objectivity, so that not everything which strikes me or springs up within me must, because it is manifested in me, hold good its true. It is only through thought, which casts off the particular and accidental, that the principle receives this objectivity which is independent of mere subjectivity and in and for itself — though in such a way that the freedom of mind still remains respected. One's own spirit must bear witness to spirit that God is Spirit; the content must be true. But this does not give authenticity to itself by its being revealed with certainty to me. This is the standpoint, and we have thus seen its deficiency and the greatness of the principle which is involved in it.


Kant (next section) — Contents


1. Tenneman's Grundriss von Wendt, 406, p. 531; Rixner: Handbuch der geschichte der Philosophie, Vol. III. 145, p. 317; Jacobi's Werke, Vol. IV. Sec. 1, p. 3.
2. Jacobi: Brief über die Lehre des Spinoza (second edition, 1789), pp. 85, 86 (Werke, Vol. IV. Sec. 1, p. 110).
3. Buhle: Lehrbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie, Part VIII. pp. 386, 387; Mendelssohn's Morgenstunden (second edition, 1786), pp. 293-296.
4. Jacobi: Briefe über die Lehre des Spinoza, IV. Prop. pp. 225, 223 (pp. 223, 216).
5. Infra, pp. 418, 419.
6. Jacobi's Werke, Vol. II, pp. 7 seq.; p. 221, note.
7. Jacobi: Brief über die Lehre des Spinoza, supplement vii. pp. 419-421, and note (Werke, Vol. IV. Sec. 2, pp. 149-151).
8. Jacobi: Briefe über die Lehre des Spinoza, supplement vii. pp. 422-426 (pp. 151-156).
9. Ibidem, pp. 426, 427 (pp. 155, 156).
10. Cf. Jacobi's Werke, Vol. III. p. 277.
11. Jacobi: Briefe über die Lehre des Spinoza, pp. 216, 217 (p. 211).

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