Studies in the Hegelian Dialectic. John McTaggart & Ellis McTaggart 1896
1. HEGEL'S primary object in his dialectic is to establish the existence of a logical connection between the various categories which are involved in the constitution of experience. He teaches that this connection is of such a kind that any category, if scrutinised with sufficient care and attention, is found to lead on to another, and to involve it, in such a manner that an attempt to use the first of any subject while we refuse to use the second of the same subject results in a contradiction. The category thus reached leads on in a similar way to a third, and the process continues until at last we reach the goal of the dialectic in a category which betrays no instability.
If we examine the process in more detail, we shall find that it advances, not directly, but by moving from side to side, like a ship tacking against an unfavourable wind. The simplest and best known form of this advance, as it is to be found in the earlier transitions of the logic, is as follows. The examination of a certain category leads us to the conclusion that, if we predicate it of any subject, we are compelled by consistency to predicate of the same subject the logical contrary of that category. This brings us to an absurdity, since the predication of two contrary attributes of the same thing at the same time violates the law of contradiction. On examining the two contrary predicates further, they are seen to be capable of reconciliation in a higher category, which combines the contents of both of them, not merely placed side by side, but absorbed into a wider idea, as moments or aspects of which they can exist without contradiction.
This idea of the synthesis of opposites is perhaps the most characteristic in the whole of Hegel's system. It is certainly one of the most difficult to explain. Indeed the only way of grasping what Hegel meant by it is to observe in detail how he uses it, and in what manner the lower categories are partly altered and partly preserved in the higher one, so that, while their opposition vanishes, the significance of both is nevertheless to be found in the unity which follows.
Since in this way, and in this way only so far as we can see, two contrary categories can be simultaneously true of a subject, and since we must hold these two to be simultaneously true, we arrive at the conclusion that whenever we use the first category we shall be forced on to use the third, since by it alone can the contradictions be removed, in which we should otherwise be involved. This third category, however, when it in its turn is viewed as a single unity, similarly discloses that its predication involves that of its contrary, and the Thesis and Antithesis thus opposed have again to be resolved in a Synthesis. Nor can we rest anywhere in this alternate production and removal of contradictions until we reach the end of the ladder of categories. It begins with the category of Pure Being, the simplest idea of the human mind. It ends with the category which Hegel declares to be the highest – the Idea which recognises itself in all things.
2. It must be remarked that the type of transition, which we have just sketched, is one which is modified as the dialectic advances. It is only natural, in a system in which matter and form are so closely connected, that the gradual changes of the matter, which forms the content of the system, should react on the nature of the movement by which the changes take place. Even when we deal with physical action and reaction we find this true. All tools are affected, each time they are used, so as to change, more or less, their manner of working in the future. It is not surprising, therefore, that so delicate a tool as that which is used by thought should not remain unchanged among changing materials.
"The abstract form of the continuation or advance” says Hegel “is, in Being, an other (or antithesis) and transition into another; in the Essence, showing or reflection in its opposite; in the Notion, the distinction of the individual from the universality, which continues itself as such into, and is as an identity with, what is distinguished from it.” <Note: Encyclopaedia, Section 240.> This indicates a gradual increase in the directness of the advance, and a diminished importance of the movement from contrary to contrary. But this point, which Hegel leaves undeveloped, will require further consideration. <Note: Chap. IV.>
3. The ground of the necessity which the dialectic process claims cannot, it is evident, lie merely in the category from which we start. For in that case the conclusion of the process could, if it were valid, have no greater content than was contained in the starting point. All that can be done with a single premise is to analyse it, and the mere analysis of an idea could never lead us necessarily onwards to any other idea incompatible with it, and therefore could never lead us to its contrary. But the dialectic claims to proceed from the lower to the higher, and it claims to add to our knowledge, and not merely to expound it. At the same time it asserts that no premise other than the validity of the lower category is requisite to enable us to affirm the validity of the higher.
The solution of this difficulty, which has been the ground of many attacks on Hegel, lies in the fact that the dialectic must be looked on as a process, not of construction but of reconstruction. If the lower categories lead on to the higher, and these to the highest, the reason is that the lower categories have no independent existence, but are only abstractions from the highest. It is this alone which is independent and real. In it all one-sidedness has been destroyed by the successive reconciliation of opposites. It is thus the completely concrete, and for Hegel the real is always the concrete. Moreover, according to Hegel, the real is always the completely rational. ("The consummation of the infinite aim . . . consists merely in removing the illusion which makes it seem as yet unaccomplished.” <Note: Enc. Section 212, lecture note.> ) Now no category except the highest can be completely rational, since every lower one involves its contrary. The Absolute Idea is present to us in all reality, in all the phenomena of experience, and in our own selves. Everywhere it is the soul of all reality. But although it is always present to us, it is not always explicitly present. In the content of consciousness it is present implicitly. But we do not always attempt to unravel that content, nor are our attempts always successful. Very often all that is explicitly before our minds is some finite and incomplete category. When this is so, the dialectic process can begin, and indeed must begin, if we are sufficiently acute and attentive, – because the ideal which is latent in the nature of all experience, and of the mind itself, forbids us to rest content with the inadequate category. The incomplete reality before the mind is inevitably measured against the complete reality of the mind itself, and it is in this process that it betrays its incompleteness, and demands its contrary to supplement its one-sidedness. “Before the mind there is a single conception, but the whole mind itself, which does not appear, engages in the process, operates on the datum, and produces the result.” <Note: Bradley's Logic, Book III. Part 1. Chap. 2, Section 20.>
4. The dialectic process is not a mere addition to the conception before us of one casually selected moment after another, but obeys a definite law. The reason of this is that at any point the finite category explicitly before us stands in a definite relation to the complete and absolute idea which is implicit in our consciousness. Any category, except the most abstract of all, can be analysed, according to Hegel, into two others, which in the unity of the higher truth were reconciled, but which, when separated, stand in opposition to each other as contraries. If abstraction consists in this separation, then, when we are using the most abstract of the categories, we fall short of the truth, because one side of the completely concrete truth has been taken in abstraction, and from that relatively concrete truth again one side has been abstracted, and so on, until the greatest abstraction possible has been reached. It must therefore cause unrest in the mind which implicitly contains the concrete whole from which it was abstracted. And through this unrest the imperfection will be removed in the manner described above, that is, by affirming, in the first place, that contrary category, the removal of which had been the last stage of the abstraction, then by restoring the whole in which those two opposites had been reconciled, and so on.
Thus the first and deepest cause of the dialectic movement is the instability of all finite categories, due to their imperfect nature. The immediate result of this instability is the production of contradictions. For, as we have already seen, since the imperfect category endeavours to return to the more concrete unity of which it is one side, it is found to involve the other side of that unity, which is its own contrary. And, again, to the existence of the contradiction we owe the advance of the dialectic. For it is the contradiction involved in the impossibility of predicating a category without predicating its opposite which causes us to abandon that category as inadequate. We are driven on first to its antithesis. And when we find that this involves the predication of the thesis, as much as this latter had involved the predication of the antithesis, the impossibility of escaping from contradictions in either extreme drives us to remove them by combining both extremes in a synthesis which transcends them.
5. It has been asserted that Hegel sometimes declares the contradictions to be the cause of the dialectic movement, and sometimes to be the effect of that movement. This is maintained by Hartmann. <Note: Ueber die dialektische Methode, B. II. 3.> No doubt the contradictions are considered as the immediate cause of the movement. But the only evidence which Hartmann gives for supposing that they are also held to be the effect, is a quotation from the second volume of the Logic. In this, speaking of that finite activity of thought which he calls Vorstellung, Hegel says that it has the contradictions as part of its content, but is not conscious of this, because it does not contain “das Uebergehen, welches das Wesentliche ist, und den Widerspruch enthält.” <Note: Logic, Vol. II. p. 71.> Now all that this implies seems to be that the contradictions first become manifest in the movement, which is not at all identical with the assertion that they are caused by it, and is quite compatible with the counter-assertion that it is caused by them.
Moreover, Hartmann also gives the same account of the origin of the contradictions which I have suggested above. He says “Der (im Hegel'schen Geiste) tiefer liegende Grund der Erscheinung ist aber die Flüssigkeit des Begriffes selbst.” <Note: Op. cit. B. II. 3.> Flüssigkeit is certainly not equivalent to movement, and may fairly be translated instability. There is then no inconsistency. It is quite possible that the instability of the notion may be the cause of the contradictions, and that the contradictions again may be the cause of the actual motion. Hartmann does not, apparently, see that there is any change in his position when he gives first instability and then motion as the cause of the contradictions, and it is this confusion on his own part which causes him to accuse Hegel of inconsistency.
He endeavours to account for Hegel's supposed error by saying that the contradictions were given as the cause of the dialectic movement when Hegel desired to show the subjective action of the individual mind, while the dialectic movement was given as the cause of the contradictions when he wished to represent the process as objective. If, as I have endeavoured to show, there is no reason for supposing that Hegel ever did hold the dialectic movement to be the cause of the contradictions, there will be no further necessity for this theory. But it may be well to remark that it involves a false conception of the meaning in which it is possible to apply the term objective to the dialectic at all.
6. There is a sense of the word objective in which it may be correctly said that the dependence of the contradictions on the instability of the notion is more objective than the dependence of the dialectic movement on the contradictions. For the former is present in all thought, which is not the case with the latter. A contradiction can be said to be present in thought, when it is implied in it, even though it is not clearly seen. But it can only cause the dialectic movement, when it is clearly seen. Whenever a finite category is used it is abstract, and consequently unstable, and, implicitly at least, involves its contrary, though this may not be perceived, and, indeed, in ordinary thought is not perceived. On the other hand, the actual dialectic movement does not take place whenever a category is used, for in that case finite thought would not exist at all. It is only when the contradictions are perceived, when they are recognised as incompatible, in their unreconciled form, with truth, and when the synthesis which can reconcile them has been discovered, that the dialectic process is before us.
The contradiction has therefore more objectivity, in one sense of the word, because it is more inevitable and less dependent on particular and contingent circumstances. But we are not entitled to draw the sort of distinction between them which Hartmann makes, and to say that while the one is only an action of the thinking subject, the other is based on the nature of things independently of the subject who thinks them. Both relations are objective in the sense that they are universal, and have validity as a description of the nature of reality. Neither is objective in the sense that it takes place otherwise than in thought. We shall have to consider this point in detail later: <Note: Chap. V.> at present we can only say that, though the dialectic process is a valid description of reality, reality itself is not, in its truest nature, a process but a stable and timeless state. Hegel says indeed that reason is to be found in actual existence, but it is reason in its complete and concrete shape, under the highest and absolute form of the notion, and not travelling up from category to category. Till the highest is reached, all the results are expressly termed abstract, and do not, therefore, come up to the level of reality. Moreover they contain unsynthesised contradictions, and that which is contradictory, though it may have a certain relative truth, can never exist independently, as would be the case if it existed in the world of fact. The dialectic movement is indeed a guide to that world, since the highest category, under which alone reality can be construed, contains all the lower categories as moments, but the gradual passage from one stage of the notion to another, during which the highest yet reached is for the moment regarded as independent and substantial, is an inadequate expression of the truth.
7. This is not incompatible with the admission that various isolated phenomena, considered as phenomena and as isolated, are imperfect, for in considering them in this way we do not consider them as they really are. Hegel speaks of the untruth of an external object as consisting in the disagreement between the objective notion, and the object. <Note: Enc. Section 24, lecture note.> From this it might be inferred that even in the world of real objects there existed imperfections and contradictions. But, on looking more closely, we see that the imperfection and contradiction are really, according to Hegel, due only to our manner of contemplating the object. A particular thing may or may not correspond to the notion. But the universe is not merely an aggregation of particular things, but a system in which they are connected, and a thing which in itself is imperfect and irrational may be a part of a perfect and rational universe. Its imperfection was artificial, caused by our regarding it, in an artificial and unreal abstraction, as if it could exist apart from other things.
A diseased body, for example, is in an untrue state, if we merely regard it by itself, since it is obviously failing to fulfil the ideal of a body. But if we look at it in connection with the intellectual and spiritual life of its occupant, the bodily imperfection might in some cases be seen, without going further, to be a part in a rational whole. And, taking the universe as a whole, Hegel declares “God alone exhibits a real agreement of the notion and the reality. All finite things involve an untruth.” God, however, is held by Hegel to be the reality which underlies all finite things. It is therefore only when looked at as finite that they involve an untruth. Looked at sub specie Dei they are true. The untruth is therefore in our manner of apprehending them only. It would indeed, as Hartmann remarks, be senseless tautology for Hegel to talk of the objective truth of the world. But this Hegel does not do. It is in the nature of the world as a whole that it must be objectively true. <Note: Cp. Enc. Section 212, quoted in section 3 above.> But isolated fragments of the world, just because they are isolated, cannot fully agree with the notion, and may or may not agree with a particular aspect of it. According as they do or do not do this Hegel calls them true or false.
Hegel's theory that the world as a whole must be objectively true, so rational, and therefore, as he would continue, perfect, comes no doubt in rather rude contact with some of the facts of life. The consideration of this must for the present be deferred. <Note: Chap. V.>
8. We have seen that the motive power of the dialectic lies in the relation of the abstract idea explicitly before the mind to the concrete idea implicitly before it in all experience and all consciousness. This will enable us to determine the relation in which the ideas of contradiction and negation stand to the dialectic.
It is sometimes supposed that the Hegelian logic rests on a defiance of the law of contradiction. That law says that whatever is A can never at the same time be not-A. But the dialectic asserts that, when A is any category, except the Absolute Idea, whatever is A may be, and indeed must be, not-A also. Now if the law of contradiction is rejected, argument becomes impossible. It is impossible to refute any proposition without the help of this law. The refutation can only take place by the establishment of another proposition incompatible with the first. But if we are to regard the simultaneous assertion of two contradictories, not as a mark of error, but as an indication of truth, we shall find it impossible to disprove any proposition at all. Nothing, however, can ever claim to be considered as true, which could never be refuted, even if it were false. And indeed it is impossible, as Hegel himself has pointed out to us, even to assert anything without involving the law of contradiction, for every positive assertion has meaning only in so far as it is defined, and therefore negative. If the statement All men are mortal, for example, did not exclude the statement Some men are immortal, it would be meaningless. And it only excludes it by virtue of the law of contradiction. If then the dialectic rejected the law of contradiction, it would reduce itself to an absurdity, by rendering all argument, and even all assertion, unmeaning.
The dialectic, however, does not reject that law. An unresolved contradiction is, for Hegel as for every one else, a sign of error. The relation of the thesis and antithesis derives its whole meaning from the synthesis, which follows them, and in which the contradiction ceases to exist as such. “Contradiction is not the end of the matter, but cancels itself.” <Note: Enc. Section 119, lecture note.> An unreconciled predication of two contrary categories, for instance Being and not-Being, of the same thing, would lead in the dialectic, as it would lead elsewhere, to scepticism, if it was not for the reconciliation in Becoming. The synthesis alone has reality, and its elements derive such importance as they have from being, in so far as their truth goes, members of a unity in which their opposition is overcome.
In fact, so far is the dialectic from denying the law of contradiction, that it is especially based on it. The contradictions are the cause of the dialectic process. But they can only be this if they are received as marks of error. We are obliged to say that we find the truth of Being and not-Being in Becoming, and in Becoming only, because, if we endeavour to take them in their independence, and not as synthesised, we find an unreconciled contradiction. But why should we not find an unreconciled contradiction and acquiesce in it without going further, except for the law that two contradictory propositions about the same subject are a sign of error? Truth consists, not of contradictions, but of moments which, if separated, would be contradictions, but which in their synthesis are reconciled and consistent.
9. It follows also from this view of the paramount importance of the synthesis in the dialectic process that the place of negation in that process is only secondary. The really fundamental aspect of the dialectic is not the tendency of the finite category to negate itself but to complete itself. Since the various relatively perfect and concrete categories are, according to Hegel, made up each of two moments or aspects which stand to one another in the relation of contrary ideas, it follows that one characteristic of the process will be the passage from an idea to its contrary. But this is not due, as has occasionally been supposed, to an inherent tendency in all finite categories to affirm their own negation as such. It is due to their inherent tendency to affirm their own complement. It is indeed, according to Hegel, no empirical and contingent fact, but an absolute and necessary law, that their complement is in some degree their negation. But the one category passes into the other, because the second completes the meaning of the first, not because it denies it.
This, however, is one of the points at which the difficulty, always great, of distinguishing what Hegel did say from that which he ought in consistency to have said becomes almost insuperable. It may safely be asserted that the motive force of the dialectic was clearly held by him to rest in the implicit presence in us of its goal. This is admitted by his opponents as well as his supporters. That he did to some extent recognise the consequence of this – the subordinate importance which it assigned to the idea of negation – seems also probable, especially when we consider the passage quoted above, <Note: Enc. Section 240, quoted in section 2 above.> in which the element of negation appears to enter into the dialectic process with very different degrees of prominence in the three stages of which that process consists. On the other hand, the absence of any detailed exposition of a principle so fundamental as that of the gradually decreasing share taken by negation in the dialectic, and the failure to follow out all its consequences, seem to indicate that he had either not clearly realised it, or had not perceived its full importance. But to this point it will be necessary to return.
10. What relation, we must now enquire, exists between thought as engaged in the dialectic process, and thought as engaged in the ordinary affairs of life? In these latter we continually employ the more abstract categories, which, according to Hegel, are the more imperfect, as if they were satisfactory and ultimate determinations of thought. So far as we do this we must contrive to arrest for the time the dialectic movement. While a category is undergoing the changes and transformations in which that movement consists, it is as unfit to be used as an instrument of thought, as an expanding rod would be for a yard measure. We may observe, and even argue about, the growth of the idea, as we may observe the expansion of a rod under heat, but the argument must be conducted with stable ideas, as the observation must be made with measures of unaltering size. For if, for example, a notion, when employed as a middle term, is capable of changing its meaning between the major and the minor premises, it renders the whole syllogism invalid. And all reasoning depends on the assumption that a term can be trusted to retain the same meaning on different occasions. Otherwise, any inference would be impossible, since all connection between propositions would be destroyed.
There are two ways in which we may treat the categories. The first is, in the language of Hegel, the function of the Reason – to perform, namely, the dialectic process, and when that culminates in the highest category, which alone is without contradiction, to construe the world by its means. As this category has no contradictions in it, it is stable and can be used without any fear of its transforming itself under our hands. The second function is that of the Understanding, whose characteristic it is to treat abstractions as if they were independent realities. They are thus forced into an artificial stability and permanence, and can be used for the work of ordinary thought. Of course the attempt to use an imperfect and unbalanced category as if it were perfect and self-subsistent leads to errors and contradictions – it is just these errors and contradictions which are the proof that the category is imperfect. But for many purposes the limit of error is so small, that the work of the Understanding possesses practical use and validity. If we take an arc three feet long of the circumference of a circle a mile in diameter, it will be curved, and will show itself to be so, if examined with sufficient accuracy. But in practice it would often produce no inconvenience to treat it as a straight line. So, if an attempt is made to explain experience exclusively by the category, for example, of causality, it will be found, if the matter is considered with enough care, that any explanation, in which no higher category is employed, involves a contradiction. <Note: Enc. Sections 153, 154.> Nevertheless, for many of the everyday occurrences on which we exercise our thoughts, an explanation by the Understanding, by means of the category of causality only, will be found to rationalise the event sufficiently for the needs of the moment.
11. To this explanation an objection has been raised by Hartmann. <Note: Op. cit. B. II. 6.> He “emphatically denies” our power to arrest the progress of the Notion in this manner. It might, he admits, be possible to do so, if the Notion were changed by us, but it is represented as changing itself. The human thinker is thus only “the fifth wheel to the cart,” and quite unable to arrest a process which is entirely independent of him.
Now in one sense of the words it is perfectly true, that, if the Notion changes at all, the change is caused by its own nature, and not by us. If the arguments of the dialectic are true, they must appeal with irresistible force to every one who looks into the question with sufficient ability and attention, and thus the process may be said to be due to the Notion, and not to the thinker. But this is no more than may be said of every argument. If it is valid, it is not in the power of any man who has examined it, to deny its validity. But when there is no logical alternative there may be a psychological one. No intelligent man, who carefully examines the proofs, can doubt that the earth goes round the sun. But any person who will not examine them, or cannot understand them, may remain convinced all his life that the sun goes round the earth. And any one, however clearly he understands the truth, can, by diverting his attention from comparatively remote astronomical arguments, and fixing it on the familiar and daily appearances, speak of and picture the movement as that of the sun, as most men, I suppose, generally do.
So with the dialectic. The arguments are, if Hegel is right, such as to leave the man who examines them no option. But for those who have no time, inclination, or ability to examine them, the categories will continue to be quite separate and independent, while the contradictions which this view will produce in experience will either be treated as ultimate, or, more probably, will not be noticed at all. And even for the student of philosophy, the arguments remain so comparatively abstruse and unfamiliar that he finds no difficulty, when practical life requires it, in assuming for a time the point of view of the Understanding, and regarding each category as unchanging and self-supporting. This he does merely by diverting his attention from the arguments by which their instability is proved.
Although therefore the change in the Notion is due to its nature, it does not follow that it cannot be stopped by peculiarities in the nature of the thinker, or by his arbitrary choice. The positive element in the change lies wholly in the Notion, but that it should take place at all in any particular case requires certain conditions in the individual mind in question, and by changing these conditions we can at will arrest the process of the categories, and use any one of them as fixed and unchanging.
Any other view of the dialectic process would require us to suppose that the movement of the categories became obvious to us, not as the result of much hard thinking, but spontaneously and involuntarily. It can scarcely be asserted that Hegel held such a theory, which would lead to the conclusion that everyone who ever used the category of Being – that is everyone who ever thought at all, whether he reflected on thought or not, – had gone through all the stages of the Hegelian logic, and arrived at all its conclusions.
12. Another difficulty which Hartmann brings forward in this connection arises from a misapprehension of Hegel's meaning. He affirms <Note: Op. cit. B. II. 6.> that, so far from stopping the dialectic process, we could not even perceive it when it took place. For we can only become aware of the change by comparing stage A with stage B, and how is it possible that we should do this, if A turns into B, beyond our control, whenever it appears?
In the first place, we may answer, it is possible, as we have seen, to arrest the dialectic movement, in any given case, at will, so that the development of the categories is not beyond our control. In the second place the thesis is not held by Hegel to turn into the antithesis in the simple and complete way which this objection supposes. The one category leads up to and postulates the other but does not become completely the same as its successor. The thesis and antithesis are said no doubt to be the same, but the same with a difference. If we predicate A, we are forced to predicate B, but there remains nevertheless a distinction between A and B. It is just the coexistence of this distinction with the necessary implication of the one category in the other, which renders the synthesis necessary as a reconciliation. If the thesis and antithesis were not different, the simultaneous predication of both of them would involve no difficulty.
13. Such is the general nature of the dialectic as conceived by Hegel. How does he attempt to prove its truth and necessity? The proof must be based on something already understood and granted by those to whom it is addressed. And since the proof should be one which must be accepted by all men, we must base it on that which all men allow to be justifiable – the ordinary procedure, that is, of thought in common sense and science, which Hegel calls the Understanding as opposed to the Reason. We must show that if we grant, as we cannot help granting, the validity of the ordinary exercise of our thought, we must also grant the validity of the dialectic.
This necessity Hegel recognises. He says, it is true, that, since only the Reason possesses the complete truth, up to which the merely partial truth of the Understanding leads, the real explanation must be of the Understanding by the Reason. <Note: Logic, Vol. I. p. 198.> But this is not inconsistent with a recognition of the necessity of justifying the Reason to the Understanding. The course of real explanation must always run from ground to consequent, and, according to Hegel, from concrete to abstract. On the other hand, the order of proof must run from whatever is known to whatever is unknown. When, as we have seen is the case with the dialectic, we start from explicit knowledge of the abstract only, and proceed to knowledge of the concrete, which alone gives reality to that abstract, the order of explanation and the order of proof must clearly be exactly opposite to one another.
The justification of the Reason at the bar of the Understanding, depends upon two facts. The one is the search for the Absolute which is involved in the Understanding, the other is the existence in the Understanding of contradictions which render it impossible that it should succeed in the search. The Understanding demands an answer to every question it can ask. But every question which it succeeds in answering suggests fresh questions. Any explanation requires some reference to surrounding phenomena, and these in their turn must be explained by reference to others, and nothing can therefore be fully explained unless everything else which is in direct or indirect connection with it, unless, that is, the whole universe, be fully explained also. And the explanation of a phenomenon requires, besides this, the knowledge of its causes and effects, while these again require a knowledge of their causes and effects, so that not only the whole present universe, but the of the past and future must be known before any single fact can be really understood. Again, since the knowledge of a phenomenon involves the knowledge of its parts, and all phenomena, occurring as they do in space and time, are infinitely divisible, our knowledge must not only be infinitely extended over space and time, but also infinitely minute. The connection of the phenomenal universe by the law of reciprocity has a double effect on knowledge. It is true, as Tennyson tells us, that we could not know a single flower completely without also knowing God and man. But it is also true that, till we know everything about God and man, we cannot answer satisfactorily a single question about the flower. In asking any question whatever, the Understanding implicitly asks for a complete account of the whole Universe, throughout all space and all time. It demands a solution which shall really solve the question without raising fresh ones – a complete and symmetrical system of knowledge.
This ideal it cannot, as Hegel maintains, reach by its own exertions, because it is the nature of the Understanding to treat the various finite categories as self-subsistent unities, and this attempt leads it into the various contradictions pointed out throughout the dialectic, owing to the inevitable connection of every finite category with its contrary. Since, then, it postulates in all its actions an ideal which cannot be reached by itself, it is obliged, unless it would deny its own validity, to admit the validity of the Reason, since by the Reason alone can the contradictions be removed, and the ideal be realised. And, when it has done this, it loses the false independence which made it suppose itself to be something different from the Reason.
14. One of the most difficult and important points in determining the nature of the Hegelian logic is to find its exact relation to experience. Whatever theory we may adopt has to fall within certain limits. On the one hand it is asserted by Hegel's critics, and generally admitted by his followers, that, rightly or wrongly, there is some indispensable reference to experience in the dialectic – so that, without the aid of experience it would be impossible for the cogency of the dialectic process to display itself. On the other hand it is impossible to deny that, in some sense, Hegel believed that the dialectic process takes place in pure thought, that, however incomplete the Logic might be without the Philosophy of Nature, and the Philosophy of Spirit, however much the existence of Nature and Spirit might be involved in the existence of pure thought, yet nevertheless within the sphere of logic we had arrived at pure thought, unconditioned in respect of its development as thought.
And both these characteristics of the dialectic are, independently of Hegel's assertion, clearly necessary for the validity of any possible dialectic. The consideration of pure thought, without any reference to experience, would be absolutely sterile, or rather impossible. For we are as unable to employ “empty” pure thought (to borrow Kant's phrase) as to employ “blind” intuition. Thought is a process of mediation and relation, and implies something immediate to be related, which cannot be found in thought. Even if a stage of thought could be conceived as existing, in which it was self- subsistent, and in which it had no reference to any data – and it is impossible to imagine such a state, or to give any reason for supposing thought thus to change its essential nature – at any rate this is not the ordinary thought of common life. And as the dialectic process professes to start from a basis common to everyone, so as to enable it to claim universal validity for its conclusions, it is certain that it will be necessary for thought, in the dialectic process, to have some relation to data given immediately, and independent of that thought itself. Even if the dialectic should finally transcend this condition it would have at starting to take thought as we use it in every-day life – as merely mediating, and not self-subsistent. And I shall try to show later on that it never does transcend, or try to transcend that limitation. <Note: Chap. II.>
On the other hand it is no less true that any argument would be incapable of leading us to general conclusions relating to pure thought, which was based on the nature of any particular piece of experience in its particularity, and that, whatever reference to experience Hegel may or may not have admitted into his system, his language is conclusive against the possibility that he has admitted any empirical or contingent basis to the dialectic.
15. The two conditions can, however, be reconciled. There is a sense in which conclusions relating to pure thought may properly be based on an observation of experience, and in this sense, as I believe, we must take the Logic in order to arrive at Hegel's true meaning. According to this view, what is observed is the spontaneous and unconditioned movement of the pure notion, which does not in any way depend on the matter of intuition for its validity, which, on the contrary, is derived from the character of the pure reason itself. But the process, although independent of the matter of intuition, can only be perceived when the pure notion is taken in conjunction with matter of intuition – that is to say when it is taken in experience – because it is impossible for us to grasp thought in absolute purity, or except as applied to an immediate datum. Since we cannot observe pure thought at all, except in experience, it is clear that it is only in experience that we can observe the change from the less to the more adequate form which thought undergoes in the dialectic process. But this change of form is due to the nature of thought alone, and not to the other element in experience – the matter of intuition. <Note: Since I am here dealing only with the question of epistemology, it will be allowable, I think, to assume that there is a matter of intuition, distinct from thought, and not reducible to it, (though incapable of existing apart from it,) since this is the position taken up within Hegel's Logic. Whether the dialectic process has any relation to it or not, its existence is, in the Logic, admitted, at least provisionally. If Hegel did make any attempt to reduce the whole universe to a manifestation of pure thought, without any other element, he certainly did not do so till the transition to the world of Nature at the end of the Logic. Even there I believe no such attempt is to be found.>
The presence of this other element in experience is thus a condition of our perceiving the dialectical movement of pure thought. We may go further. It does not follow, from the fact that the movement is due to the nature of pure thought alone, that pure thought can ever exist, or ever be imagined to exist by itself. We may regard pure thought as a mere abstraction of one side of experience, which is the only concrete reality, while the matter of intuition is an abstraction of the other side of the same reality – each, when considered by itself, being false and misleading. This, as we shall see, is the position which Hegel does take up. Even so, it will still remain true that, in experience, the dialectic process was due exclusively to that element of experience which we call pure thought, the other element – that of intuition – being indeed an indispensable condition of the dialectic movement, but one which remains passive throughout, and one by which the movement is not determined. It is only necessary to the movement of the idea because it is necessary to its existence. It is not itself a principle of change, which may as fairly be said to be independent, as the changes in the pictures of a magic lantern may be ascribed exclusively to the camera, and not at all to the canvas on which they are reflected, although without the canvas, the pictures themselves, and therefore the transition from one to another of them would be impossible.
16. If this is the relation of the dialectic process to the medium in which it works, what postulate does it require to start from? We must distinguish its postulate from its basis. Its basis is the reality which it requires to have presented to itself, in order that it may develop itself. Its postulate is the proposition which it requires to have admitted, in order that from this premise it may demonstrate its own logical validity as a consequence. The basis of the dialectic is to be found in the nature of pure thought itself, since the reason of the process being what it is, is due, as we have seen, to the nature of the highest and most concrete form of the notion, implicit in all experience. Since pure thought, as we have seen, even if it could exist at all in any other manner, could only become evident to us in experience, the basis which the dialectic method will require to work on, may be called the nature of experience in general.
It is only the general nature of experience – those characteristics which are common to all of it – which forms the basis of the process. For it is not the only object of the dialectic to prove that the lower and subordinate categories are unable to explain all parts of experience without resorting to the higher categories, and finally to the Absolute Idea. It undertakes also to show that the lower categories are inadequate, when considered with sufficient intelligence and persistence, to explain any part of the world. What is required, therefore, is not so much the collection of a large mass of experience to work on, but the close and careful scrutiny of some part, however small. The whole chain of categories is implied in any and every phenomenon. Particular fragments of experience may no doubt place the inadequacy of some finite category in a specially clear light, or may render the transition to the next stage of the idea particularly obvious and easy, but it is only greater convenience which is thus gained; with sufficient power any part, however unpromising, would yield the same result.
17. The basis of the dialectic process, then, is the nature of experience, in so far as the nature of pure thought is contained in it. If the other element in experience has really a primary and essential nature of its own, it will not concern us here, for, as it takes no part in the development of the idea, its existence, and not its particular qualities, is the only thing with which we are at present concerned. The nature of experience however, though it is the basis of the dialectic, is not its logical postulate. For it is not assumed but ascertained by the dialectic, whose whole object is the gradual discovery and demonstration of the Absolute Idea, which is the fundamental principle which makes the nature of experience. The general laws governing experience are the causa essendi of the logic, but not its causa cognoscendi.
The only logical postulate which the dialectic requires is the admission that experience really exists. The dialectic is derived from the nature of experience, and therefore if it is to have any validity of real existence, if it is to have, that is to say, any importance at all, we must be assured of the existence of some experience – in other words, that something is.
The object of the dialectic is to discover the forms and laws of all possible thought. For this purpose it starts from the idea of Being, in which all others are shown to be involved. The application of the results of the dialectic to experience thus depends on the application to experience of the idea of Being, and the logical postulate of the dialectic is no more than that something is, and that the category of Being is therefore valid.
It will be noticed that the basis and the postulate of the dialectic correspond to the two aspects of the idea which we mentioned above as the fundamental cause of the process. The basis – the nature of pure thought – is the complete and concrete idea which is present in our minds, though only implicitly, and which renders it impossible that we should stop short of it by permanently acquiescing in any finite category. The postulate – the abstract idea in its highest state of abstraction, which is admitted to be valid – is that which is explicitly before the mind, and from which the start is made.
18. We are justified in assuming this postulate because it is involved in every action and every thought, and its denial is therefore suicidal. All that is required is the assertion that there is such a thing as reality – that something is. Now the very denial of this involves the reality of the denial, and so contradicts itself and affirms our postulate. And the denial also implies the reality of the person who makes the denial. The same dilemma meets us if we try to take refuge from dogmatic denial in mere doubt. If we really doubt, then the doubt is real, and there is something of whose reality we do not doubt; if on the other hand we do not really doubt the proposition that there is something real, we admit its truth. And doubt, as well as denial, places beyond doubt the existence of the doubter. This is, of course, the Cartesian argument, which is never stated by Hegel precisely in this form, but on which the justification of his use of the category of Being, as valid of reality, appears to depend.
19. The dialectical process thus gains its validity and importance by means of a transcendental argument. The higher categories are connected with the lower in such a manner that the latter inevitably lead on to the former as the only means by which they can be rescued from the contradictions involved in their abstractness. If the lower categories be admitted, and, ultimately, if the lowest of all, the category of Being, be admitted, the rest follows. But we cannot by the most extreme scepticism deny that something is, and we are therefore enabled to conclude that the dialectic process does apply to something. And as whatever the category of Being did not apply to would not exist, we are also able to conclude that there is nothing to which the dialectic process does not apply.
It will be seen that this argument is strictly of a transcendental nature. A proposition denied by the adversary – in this case the validity of the higher categories – is shown to be involved in the truth of some other proposition, which he is not prepared to attack – in this case the validity of the category of Being. But the cogency of ordinary transcendental arguments is limited, and they apply only to people who are prepared to yield the proposition which forms the foundation of the argument, so that they could be outflanked by a deeper scepticism. Now this is not the case with the dialectic. For the proposition on which it is based is so fundamental, that it could be doubted only at the expense of self-contradiction, and the necessity of considering that proposition true is therefore universal, and not only valid in a specially limited argument, or against a special opponent. It is doubtful indeed whether a condition so essential as this is correctly termed a postulate, which seems to denote more properly a proposition which it would be at least possible for an adversary to challenge. At any rate the very peculiar nature of the assumption should be carefully remembered, as it affords a clue for interpreting various expressions of Hegel's, which might otherwise cause serious difficulties. <Note: Cp. Chap. II. Section 46.>
20. Having thus endeavoured to explain the nature of the dialectic, we must ask ourselves at what results we are entitled to arrive by means of that process. These results will be, to begin with, epistemological. For the conditions of the dialectic are, first, the concrete notion, which we are able to examine because it is implicit in all our consciousness, and, second, the category of Being, which we are entitled to postulate, because it is impossible to avoid employing it in judging experience. Our conclusions will therefore relate primarily to the general laws of experience, and will so far be, like those of Kant's Aesthetic and Analytic, concerned with the general conditions of human knowledge. And the result arrived at will be that no category will satisfactorily explain the universe except the Absolute Idea. Any attempt to employ for that purpose a lower category must either accept a gradual transformation of the idea employed until the Absolute Idea is reached, or acquiesce in unreconciled contradictions – which involves the rejection of a fundamental law of reason.
21. This position has two results. In the first place it disproves the efforts which are made from time to time to explain the whole universe by means of the lower categories only. Such an attempt lay at the bottom of Hume's scepticism, when he endeavoured to treat the notion of causality as derived from that of sequence, and to consider all that was added as false and illusive. For absolute scepticism is impossible, and his treatment of the higher category as an unwarranted inference from the lower involves the assertion of the validity of the latter. Such an attempt, again, has been made by Mr Spencer, as well as by the large number of writers who adopt the provisional assumptions of physical science as an ultimate position. They endeavour to explain all phenomena in terms of matter and motion, and to treat all special laws by which they may be governed as merely particular cases of fundamental principles taken from physical science.
But if we agree with Hegel in thinking that the category of Being is inadequate to explain the world which we know without the successive introduction of the categories, among others, of Cause, Life, and Self- Consciousness, and that each category inevitably requires its successor, all such attempts must inevitably fail. Any attempt, for example, to reduce causation to an unjustifiable inference from succession, to explain life merely in terms of matter and motion, or knowledge merely in terms of life, would involve a fatal confusion. For it would be an attempt at explanation by that which is, in itself, incomplete, unreal, and contradictory, and which can only be made rational by being viewed as an aspect of those very higher categories, which were asserted to have been explained away by its means.
22. Even if this were all, the result of the dialectic would be of great importance. It would have refuted all attempts to establish a complete and consistent materialism, and would have demonstrated the claims of the categories of spirit to a place in construing part at least of the universe. But it has done more than this. For it does not content itself with showing that the lower categories lead necessarily to the higher, when the question relates to those portions of experience in which the higher categories are naturally applied by the uncritical consciousness. It also demonstrates that the lower categories, in themselves, and to whatever matter of intuition they may be applied, involve the higher categories also. Not only is Being inadequate to explain, without the aid of Becoming, those phenomena which we all recognise in ordinary life as phenomena of change, but it is also unable to explain those others which are commonly considered as merely cases of unchanging existence. Not only is the idea of Substance inadequate to deal with ordinary cases of scientific causation, but without the idea of Cause it becomes involved in contradictions, even when keeping to the province which the uncritical consciousness assigns to it. Not only is it impossible to explain the phenomena of vegetable and animal life by the idea of mechanism, but that idea is inadequate even to explain the phenomena of physics. Not only can consciousness not be expressed merely in terms of life, but life is an inadequate category even for biological phenomena. With such a system we are able to admit, without any danger either to its consistency or to its practical corollaries, all that science can possibly claim as to the interrelation of all the phenomena of the universe, and as to the constant determination of mind by purely physical causes. For not only have we justified the categories of spirit, but we have subjected the whole world of experience to their rule. We are entitled to assert, not only that spirit cannot be reduced to matter, but also that matter must be reduced to spirit. It is of no philosophical importance, therefore, though all things should, from the scientific standpoint, be determined by material causes. For all material determination is now known to be only spiritual determination in disguise.
23. The conclusion thus reached is one which deals with pure thought, since the argument has rested throughout on the nature of pure thought, and on that only, and the conclusion itself is a statement as to the only form of pure thought which we can use with complete correctness. But we have not found anything which would enable us to discard sensation from its position as an element of experience as necessary and fundamental as pure thought itself, and if Hegel did draw such a consequence from it, we must hold that he has taken an unjustifiable step forwards. All the thought which we know is in its essential nature mediate, and requires something immediate to act on, if it is to act at all. And this immediate element can be found – so far as our present knowledge is concerned – only in sensation, the necessary background and accompaniment of the dialectic process, which is equally essential at its end as at its beginning. For an attempt to eliminate it would require that Hegel should, in the first place, explain how we could ever conceive unmediated or self-mediated thought, and that he should, in the second place, show that the existence of this self-subsistent thought was implied in the existence of the mediating and independent thought of every-day life. For since it is only the validity of our every-day thought which we find it impossible to deny, it is only that thought which we can take as the basis of the dialectic process. Even if, in the goal of the dialectic, thought became self-subsistent in any intelligible sense, it would be necessary to show that this self-subsistence issued naturally from the finite categories, in which thought is unquestionably recognised as mediate only.
I shall endeavour to prove later on <Note: Chap. II. Section 48.> that Hegel made no attempt to take up this position. The conclusion of the Logic is simply the assertion that the one category by which experience can be judged with complete correctness is the Absolute Idea. It makes no attempt to transcend the law which we find in all experience by which the categories cannot be used of reality, nor indeed apprehended at all, without the presence of immediate data to serve as materials for them.
24. To sum up, the general outline of the Hegelian Logic, from an epistemological point of view, does not differ greatly, I believe, from that of Kant. Both philosophers justify the application of certain categories to the matter of experience, by proving that the validity of those categories is implied in the validity of other ideas which the sceptical opponent cannot or does not challenge. The systems differ largely in many points, particularly in the extent to which they push their principles. And Hegel has secured a firmer foundation for his theory than Kant did, by pushing back his deduction till it rests on a category – the category of Being, – the validity of which with regard to experience not only never had been denied, but could not be denied without contradiction. It is true also that Kant's work was clearly analytic, while Hegel's had also a synthetic side, and may even be said to have brought that side into undue, or at any rate misleading, prominence. But the general principle of the two systems was the same, and the critic who finds no fundamental fallacy in Kant's criticism of knowledge, should have no difficulty in admitting that the Hegelian Logic, if it keeps itself free from errors of detail, forms a valid theory of epistemology.
25. But the Logic claims to be more than this, and we must now proceed to examine what has been generally held to be at once the most characteristic and the weakest part of Hegel's philosophy. How far does he apply the results of his analysis of knowledge to actual reality, and how far is he justified in doing so?
It is beyond doubt that Hegel regarded his Logic as possessing, in some manner, ontological significance. But this may mean one of two very different things. It may mean only that the system rejects the Kantian thing-in-itself, and denies the existence of any reality except that which enters into experience, so that the results of a criticism of knowledge are valid of reality also. But it may mean that it endeavours to dispense with or transcend all data except the nature of thought itself, and to deduce from that nature the whole existing universe. The difference between these two positions is considerable. The first maintains that nothing is real but the reasonable, the second that reality is nothing but rationality. The first maintains that we can explain the world of sense, the second that we can explain it away. The first merely confirms and carries further the process of rationalisation, of which all science and all finite knowledge consist; the second differs entirely from science and finite knowledge, substituting a self- sufficient and absolute thought for thought which is relative and complementary to the data of sense. It is, I maintain, in the first of these senses, and the first only, that Hegel claims ontological validity for the results of the Logic, and that he should do as much as this is inevitable. For to distinguish between conclusions epistemologically valid and those which extend to ontology implies a belief in the existence of something which does not enter into the field of actual or possible knowledge. Such a belief is totally unwarranted. The thing-in-itself as conceived by Kant, behind and apart from the phenomena which alone enter into experience, is a contradiction. We cannot, we are told, know what it is, but only that it is. But this is itself an important piece of knowledge relating to the thing. It involves a judgment, and a judgment involves categories, and we are thus forced to surrender the idea that we can be aware of the existence of anything which is not subject to the laws governing experience. Moreover, the only reason which can be given for our belief in things-in-themselves is that they are the ground or substratum of our sensuous intuitions. But this is a relation, and a relation involves a category. Indeed every statement which can be made about the thing-in-itself contradicts its alleged isolation.
26. It cannot be denied, however, that Hegel does more than is involved in the rejection of a thing-in-itself outside the laws of experience. Not only are his epistemological conclusions declared to have also ontological validity, but he certainly goes further and holds that, from the consideration of the existence of pure thought, we are able to deduce the existence of the worlds of Nature and Spirit. Is this equivalent to an admission that the worlds of Nature and Spirit can be reduced to, or explained away by, pure thought?
We shall see that this is not the case when we reflect that the dialectic process is no less analytic of a given material than it is synthetic from a given premise, and owes its impulse as much to the perfect and concrete idea which is implicit in experience, as to the imperfect and abstract idea which is explicitly before the student. For if the idea is, when met with in reality, always perfect and concrete, it is no less true that it is, when met with in reality, invariably, and of necessity, found in connection with sensuous intuition, without which even the relatively concrete idea which ends the Logic is itself an illegitimate abstraction. This being the case it follows that, as each stage of the Logic insists on going forward to the next stage, so the completed logical idea insists on going forward and asserting the coexistence with itself of sensuous perception. It does not postulate any particular sensuous perception, for the idea is equally implicit in all experience, and one fragment is as good as another in which to perceive it. We are thus unable to deduce any of the particulars of the world of sense from the Logic. But we are able to deduce that there must be such a world, for without it the idea would be still an abstraction and therefore still contradictory. We are able to predicate of that world whatever is necessary to make it the complement of the world of pure thought. It must be immediate, that thought may have something to mediate, individual and isolated piece from piece that thought may have something to relate. It must be, in short, the abstract individual, which, together with the abstract universal of thought, forms the concrete reality, alike individual and universal, which alone is consistent and self-sustained.
27. If this is so, it follows that there is nothing mysterious or intricate about the deduction of the world of Nature from the Logic, and of the world of Spirit from the world of Nature. It is simply the final step in the self- recovery of the spirit from the illegitimate abstractions of the understanding – the recovery which we have seen to be the source of all movement in the dialectic. Once granted a single category of the Logic, and all the others follow, since in the world of reality each lower category only exists as a moment of the Absolute Idea, and can therefore never by itself satisfy the demands of the mind. And, in like manner, the world of pure thought only exists as an abstraction from concrete reality, so that, granted pure thought, we are compelled by the necessity of the dialectic to grant the existence of some sensuous intuition also. It is perhaps conceivable that, in some future state of knowledge, the completion of the dialectic process might be seen to involve, not only the mere existence of Nature and Spirit, but their existence with particular characteristics, and that this might be carried so far that it amounted to a complete determination, in one way or another, of every question which could be asked concerning them. If this should be the case, we should be able to deduce à priori from the character of pure thought the whole contents of science and history. Even then, however, we should not have taken up the position that the immediate element in Nature and Spirit could be reduced to pure thought. For we should not be endeavouring to deduce the immediate merely from the mediate, but from the mediate compared with the concrete reality of which they are both moments. The true force of the proof would lie in the existence of this synthesis. At present, however, the world of sense appears to us to contain a large number of particulars which are quite indifferent to pure thought, so that it might be as well embodied in one arrangement of them as in another. This may possibly be an inevitable law of knowledge. It certainly expresses the state of our knowledge at present. It follows that the Philosophy of Nature and Spirit will consist only in observing the progress of the pure idea as it appears in the midst of phenomena to a large extent contingent to it, and cannot hope to account for all the particulars of experience. But this is all that Hegel attempts to do. He endeavours to find the idea in everything, but not to reduce everything to a manifestation of the idea. Thus he remarks in the Philosophy of Spirit, “This development of reality or objectivity brings forward a row of forms which must certainly be given empirically, but from an empirical point of view should not be placed side by side and outside each other, but must be known as the expression which corresponds to a necessary series of definite notions, and only in so far as they express such a series of notions have interest for philosophic thought.” <Note: Enc. Section 387, lecture note, p. 42.>
28. If this explanation be correct, it will follow that Hegel never endeavoured to claim ontological validity for his Logic in the second sense mentioned above – by attempting, that is, to deduce all the contents of experience from the nature of pure thought only. The deduction which does take place is not dependent merely on the premise from which it starts, which is certainly to be found in the nature of pure thought, but also on the whole to which it is working up, and which is implicit in our thought. If we can proceed in this way from Logic to Nature and Spirit, it proves that Logic without the additional elements which occur in Nature and Spirit is a mere abstraction. And an abstraction cannot possibly be the cause of the reality from which it is an abstraction. There can be no place here, therefore, for the attempt to construct the world out of abstract thought, of which Hegel's philosophy is sometimes supposed to have consisted.
The importance of the ontological significance of the dialectic, even in this limited extent, is, however, very great. We are now enabled to assert, not only that, within our experience, actual or possible, everything can be explained by the Absolute Idea, but also that all reality, in any sense in which we can attach any intelligible meaning to the word, can also be explained by that idea. I cannot have the least reason to believe in, or even to imagine possible, anything which does not in the long run turn out to contain and be constituted by the highest category. And since that category, as was pointed out above, expresses the deepest nature of the human mind, we are entitled to believe that the universe as a whole is in fundamental agreement with our own nature, and that whatever can rightly be called rational may be safely declared to be also real.
29. From this account of the Hegelian system it will appear that its main result is the completion of the work which had been carried on by German philosophy since the publication of the Critique of Pure Reason – the establishment, by means of the transcendental method, of the rationality of the Universe. There was much left for Hegel to do. For the Critique of Pure Reason was a dualism, and had all the qualities of a dualism. Man's aspirations after complete rationality and complete justice in life were checked by the consideration of the phenomenal side of his own nature, which delivered him over to the mercy of a world in one of whose elements – the irrational manifold – he saw only what was alien to himself. And the defect of the Critique of Pure Reason in this respect was not completely remedied by the Critique of Practical Reason. The reconciliation was only external: the alien element was not to be absorbed or transcended but conquered. It was declared the weaker, but it kept its existence. And the whole of this argument had a slighter basis than the earlier one, since it rested, not on the validity of knowledge, but on the validity of the moral sense – the denial of which is not as clearly a contradiction of itself. Moreover, it is not by any means universally admitted that the obligation to seek the good is dependent on the possibility of realising it in full. And if it is not so dependent then the validity of the moral sense does not necessarily imply the validity of the Ideas of Reason. Even in the Critique of Judgment the reconciliation of the two sides was still external and incomplete.
Nor had spirit a much stronger position with Kant's immediate successors. Fichte, indeed, reduced the Non-Ego to a shadow, but just for that reason, as Dr Caird remarks, rendered it impossible to completely destroy it. And the Absolute of Schelling, standing as it did midway between matter and spirit, could be but slight comfort to spirit, whose most characteristic features and most important interests had little chance of preservation in a merely neutral basis.
Hegel on the other hand asserted the absolute supremacy of reason. For him it is the key to the interpretation of the whole universe; it finds nothing alien to itself wherever it goes. And the reason for which he thus claimed unrestricted power was demonstrated to contain every category up to the Absolute Idea. It is this demonstration – quite as much as the rejection of the possibility that anything in the universe should be alien to reason – which gives his philosophy its practical interest. For from the practical point of view it is of little consequence that the world should be proved to be the embodiment of reason, if we are to see in reason nothing higher than reciprocity, and are compelled to regard the higher categories as mere subjective delusions. Such a maimed reason as this is one in which we can have scarcely more pleasure or acquiescence than in chaos. If the rational can be identified with the good, it can only be in respect of the later categories, such as End, Life, and Cognition.