Hegel to von Raumer
Nuremberg, August 2, 1816

Source: Hegel: The Letters, Clark Butler and Christine Seiler ed., Purdue Research Foundation, 1984.

The occasion of our conversation, dear sir, moves me now to take the liberty of setting forth my thoughts on the teaching of philosophy at universities. I must really ask for your indulgence regarding the form as well, and must request that you not ask for more detailed development and coherence than is possible to give in a hasty letter, which should reach you while you are still in our vicinity.

I begin immediately by asking how this subject could come up for discussion at all? For it may otherwise seem a very simple matter: what is true of the teaching of other sciences must also be true of philosophy. I do not wish in this regard to dwell on the demand that the teaching of philosophy, too, unite clarity with both depth and appropriate elaboration; that it share with the teaching of other sciences in a university the fate of being treated in a fixed time period, as a rule six months; that the science taught must accordingly be expanded or condensed, and so on. The particular sort of embarrassment presently observed in the teaching of philosophy surely has its source in the new direction this science has taken, giving rise to the current situation in which its former scientific development and the special sciences into which its subject matter was divided have become more or less antiquated in form and content. Yet the idea of philosophy which has taken their place still finds itself without scientific development, and the subject matter of the special sciences has been transformed and integrated with this new idea only incompletely or not at all. That is why we see scientific form in sciences without interest, and elsewhere interest without scientific form.

Thus on the average what we still see taught in universities and writings are a few of the old sciences: logic, empirical psychology, natural law, perhaps even ethics. For metaphysics has disappeared even for those who still hold on otherwise to older ways, just like German constitutional law for the law faculty. If, however, the other sciences of which metaphysics used to consist are not missed so very much, at the very least natural theology must be missed, the object of which was the rational knowledge of God. As for those sciences which are still retained, in particular logic, it almost seems that only tradition and regard for the formal utility of training the understanding are still maintained. For the content as well as the form of these and other sciences contrasts all too sharply with the idea of philosophy to which interest has turned – as also with the manner of philosophizing adopted along with it – for these sciences still to give any real satisfaction. When the young begin the study of the sciences they have already been touched if only by the uncertain rumor of other ideas and methods, so that they approach this study without the requisite preconceived idea of their authority and importance. Thus they do not easily find in such study the “something” they have been led to expect.

Once this contrast has imposed itself, I should like to say, even the teaching of these sciences is no longer conducted with its former ease and total confidence. An insecurity or irritability results which does not help provide access to or credit to such teaching.

On the other hand, the new idea has not yet satisfied the requirement of fashioning the vast field of objects belonging to philosophy into a whole organized in and through the parts. The requirement of determinate cognitions and the truth acknowledged elsewhere that the whole can truly be grasped only when one works through the parts have been not only evaded but cast aside with the claim that determinateness and manifoldness in knowledge are superfluous to the idea and indeed even contrary or inferior to it. According to such a view, philosophy is as compendious as was medicine, or at least as therapy in the era of [John] Brown’s system, which held that the study of therapy could be completed in half an hour. In Munich, meanwhile, you have perhaps made the personal acquaintance of a philosopher adept in this intensive method. From time to time Franz Baader [Ch 21] publishes one or two sheets which are supposed to contain the entire essence of all philosophy, or of one of the special sciences which make it up. One who allows himself to publish merely in this way has the further advantage of being thought by the public to be even a master in the development of such general thoughts. But while Friedrich Schlegel was still in Jena I myself witnessed his debut with his lectures on transcendental philosophy [winter semester 1800-01]. He finished his course in six weeks, not to the satisfaction of his audience, which had expected and paid for a six-month course. We have seen a greater extension given to general ideas by the aid of fantasy, which, both brilliantly and dimly, has served up a mixture of the high and low, near and far, often with deeper meaning and just as often in an entirely superficial way; and which used in particular for this purpose those regions of nature and spirit which are in themselves dim and arbitrary. An opposite path to greater expanse is the critical and skeptical path which possesses in material present at hand the element enabling it to proceed, but which incidentally arrives at nothing but the unpleasantness and boredom of negative results. If this path perchance also serves to exercise cleverness, if moreover the employment of fantasy might have the effect of a temporary fermentation of the mind, if perchance it might also awaken what is called edification and light up the general idea itself in a few, nevertheless neither procedure achieves what is to be achieved, and what constitutes the study of science.

Youth, at the outset of the new philosophy, at first found it agreeable to be able to polish off the study of philosophy and even the sciences in general by means of a few universal formulas that were supposed to contain all. But, confronted with the demands of the state and of scientific education otherwise, the consequences of this view – lack of knowledge, ignorance, as much in philosophical concepts as in the specialized vocational disciplines – met with too serious a contradiction and practical repudiation for this presumptuousness not to have fallen out of credit. Just as its inner necessity demands that philosophy be developed scientifically and in its diverse parts, to me this equally seems the standpoint adapted to the times. A return cannot be made to the sciences of which philosophy once consisted. But neither can the mass of concepts and the content which they encompassed be purely and simply ignored. The new form of the idea also demands its rights, and for this reason the old material must undergo a transformation adapted to the current standpoint in philosophy. I can only, it is true, consider this view of what the times call for to be a subjective judgment, just as I must initially consider as subjective the direction I took in my elaboration of philosophy through early assigning myself that goal. I have just completed the publication of my works on logic and must now wait to see how the public will receive this approach.

I believe, however, I am able to accept this much as correct: namely, that philosophy instruction in the universities can accomplish what it ought – an acquisition of definite knowledge – only if it adopts a definite methodical procedure, encompassing and ordering detail. In this form alone can this science be learned like any other science. Even if the teacher may avoid the word, he must nonetheless be conscious that it is first and essentially this that is in question. It has become the prejudice not only of philosophical study but also – and indeed even more extensively – of pedagogy that thinking for oneself is to be developed and practiced in the first place as if the subject matter were of no importance, and in the second place as if learning were opposed to thinking for oneself. For in fact thinking can only exercise itself on material that is neither a creation or assemblage of fantasy nor a sensory or intellectual intuition, but a thought. Further, a thought can only be learned through being itself thought. According to a common error, a thought bears the stamp of having been thought by oneself only by diverging from the thoughts of other people. Here the well-known saying that what is new is not true, and what is true is not new, customarily finds its application. Moreover, the mania leading everyone to want to have his own system originates from this error. The more absurd and insane a brainstorm, the more it is held to be original and excellent, precisely because it thereby most clearly demonstrates one’s peculiarity and divergence from the thought of others.

Philosophy more precisely acquires the capacity to be learned by virtue of its definiteness, insofar as only thereby does it become intelligible, communicable, and capable of becoming common property. Just as, on the one hand, it requires special study and is not automatically common property merely because everyone generally possesses reason, so its universal communicability takes away the appearance it had, in more recent times as in other times, of being an idiosyncracy of a few transcendent brains. And, in conformity with its true position [in relation] to philology – the first propaedeutic science for a profession – philosophy becomes the second such science. In this connection, it is still possible for a few individuals to remain stuck at this second stage, but at least not for the reason that quite a few, because they had otherwise learned nothing proper, became philosophers. Moreover, that danger is no longer as great as I have just indicated, and in any case it would seem less than the danger of being stuck right off at philology, the first stage. In itself a scientifically developed philosophy already does justice to definite thinking and thorough knowledge. The content of such a philosophy – i.e., what is universal in spiritual and natural conditions – immediately leads by itself to the positive sciences which manifest it in concrete form, in its further development and application, to such an extent that conversely their study proves necessary for a thorough penetration of philosophy. On the other hand, the study of philology, once one has gotten into matters of detail that should essentially remain only a means, has something so isolated and strange about it that it has only slight connection and few points of passage leading to a science and profession in touch with what is actual.

As a propaedeutic science, philosophy must especially accomplish the formal cultivation and exercise of thinking. It can do this only by totally removing itself from the realm of fantasy through a definiteness of concepts and consistent methodical procedure. Philosophy is necessarily able to provide such exercise to a greater degree than mathematics because, unlike mathematics, it lacks sensory content.

I mentioned above the edification frequently expected of philosophers. In my opinion, even as taught to the young, philosophy must never be edifying. But it must satisfy a related need which I still wish to touch upon briefly: as much as more recent times have again called forth a tendency toward solid substance, higher ideas, and religion, so much the less – and indeed less than ever – does the form of feeling, imagination, and confused concepts suffice for it. The occupation of philosophy must be to justify what is of substantial value to insight, to express and conceive it in definite thoughts, and thus to preserve it from obscure byways. In view of this as well as of the content of philosophy, I simply wish to indicate the following singular phenomenon: a philosopher, like anyone else, treats within one and the same science a few more or less or otherwise diverse sciences. The subject matter – the spiritual and natural world – is always the same, and thus philosophy breaks down into the same special sciences. Presumably such diversity must above all be attributed to a confusion that does not permit attainment of definite concepts and fixed distinctions. Embarrassment may also contribute its part when one must teach the old logic alongside the latest transcendental philosophy, and natural theology alongside skeptical metaphysics. I already indicated that the old subject matter surely needs transformation to be completed, and cannot simply be set aside. The sciences between which philosophy must be divided are otherwise sufficiently determined: the totally abstract universal belongs to logic, along with everything formerly included in metaphysics. The concrete [universal] divides into natural philosophy, which gives only part of the whole, and the philosophy of spirit, which comprises – beyond psychology along with anthropology and the teaching of law [Recht] and duties – aesthetics and the philosophy of religion. To this is still to be added the history of philosophy. Whatever differences might occur in matters of principle, the very nature of the object considered entails a division into the above-mentioned sciences as well as their inevitable treatment.

As to external arrangements in support of lecturing – for example, discussion sessions [Konversatorien] – I refrain from adding anything, since I see with dismay how long-winded I have already become, and how much I have drawn on your indulgence. I only add my best wishes for the continuation of your trip [to Italy] and the assurance of my highest esteem and entire devotion. Hegel


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