Studies in the Hegelian Dialectic. John McTaggart & Ellis McTaggart 1896
30. IN the last chapter I have explained the view of Hegel’s philosophy which seems to me the most probable. It is now necessary to examine some objections which have been raised to the possibility of interpreting Hegel in this manner. With regard to three points in particular various commentators have taken a different view of Hegel’s meaning. It has been held that the dialectic process has no reference whatever to experience, but takes place in pure thought considered apart from anything else. It has been held that, whether this be so or not, yet at the end of the dialectic we reach, in the Absolute Idea, a form of thought which exists in and by itself, and does not merely mediate data immediately given to the mind by some other source. And, lastly, it has been held that the deduction of Nature and Spirit from Logic is to be taken as an attempt to degrade them into mere forms of the latter, and to declare that all things are reducible to thought alone.
31. The first of these points has been discussed by Trendelenburg in his Logische Untersuchungen. According to him, Hegel attempted what was impossible, and achieved what was useless. He attempted, by observation of the pure notion in its most abstract stage, and apart from everything but itself, to evoke all the other stages of the pure notion, and so reach a result of general validity ā priori. But since we can extract from an idea, taken by itself, nothing more than is already in it, and since an idea, independent of the data which it connects and mediates, is unthinkable, any such dialectical evolution as Hegel desired was impossible. In point of fact, all appearance of advance from one category to another is due, according to Trendelenburg, to surreptitious appeals to experience. In this way the sterility of pure thought was conquered, but with it the cogency of this dialectic process also disappeared, and it became merely empirical and contingent, without a claim to be called philosophy.
On the question as to the actual results of the dialectic we shall consider Trendelenburg’s views further on. As to Hegel’s intention, he says “Although the Wissenschaftslehre of Fichte extracted the Non-Ego from the Ego, yet he does not go on to real notions. The dialectic has appropriated his methods; it takes the same course in position, opposition, and reconciliation. It does not make so much difference that it begins with the notion of Being, for it is the empty image of Being. If it nevertheless comes to the notions of reality and to concrete forms, we do not perceive whence it gets to them. For pure thought will not accept them, and then permeate them, but endeavours to make them. Thought, expressed in this way, is born blind and has no eyes towards the outside.” <Note: Logische Untersuchungen, Vol. I. p. 92. My references to this work are to the edition of 1862.>
32. In answer to this we may quote Mr F. H. Bradley. “An idea prevails that the Dialectic Method is a sort of experiment with conceptions in vacuo. We are supposed to have nothing but one single isolated abstract idea, and this solitary monad then proceeds to multiply by gemmation from or by fission of its private substance, or by fetching matter from the impalpable void. But this is a mere caricature, and it comes from confusion between that which the mind has got before it and that which it has within itself. Before the mind there is a single conception, but the mind itself, which does not appear, engages in the process, operates on the datum, and produces the result. The opposition between the real, in the fragmentary character in which the mind possesses it, and the true reality felt within the mind, is the moving cause of that unrest which sets up the dialectical process.” <Note: Logic, Book III. Part I. Chap. 2. Section 20.>
The fact seems to be that Trendelenburg’s interpretation of Hegel’s attempt to construct a dialectic of pure thought, is inadequate in two ways. He supposes, first, that the incomplete thought from which we start is conceived to exist only in its incompleteness, and is intended to have as yet no actual relation to the concrete reality to which it is afterwards to attain. In fact, he says, the process does depend on a reference to concrete reality, but, in so far as this is so, the original attempt, which was to construct an objectively valid dialectic by means of pure thought, has broken down. I shall try, however, to show that such a relation to reality was in Hegel’s mind throughout, and that it leads to conclusions of objective validity. If pure thought meant anything inconsistent with this, it would certainly be sterile. But there is nothing in this which is inconsistent with pure thought, for the notion, as contained implicitly in reality and experience, is precisely of the same nature as the isolated piece which we begin by consciously observing, though it is more complete.
And, secondly, Trendelenburg appears to think that thought, to be pure, must be perceived by itself, and not in concrete experience, which always contains, along with pure thought, the complementary moment of sensation. If this was the case, it would most certainly be sterile, or rather impossible. So far from one category being able to transform itself, by the dialectic process, into another, no category could exist at all. For all thought, as we have seen, <Note: Chap. I. Section 27.> requires something immediate on which to act. But this need not prevent the dialectic process from being one of pure thought. As was explained above <Note: Chap. I. Section 16.> the only part of experience from which the dialectic process derives its cogency, and the only part which changes in it, is the element of pure thought, although the dialectic process, like all other acts of reasoning, can only take place when the thought is joined with sensation.
Whether the reference to experience in Hegel’s Logic destroys its claims to absolute and ā priori validity will be discussed in the next chapter. At present we have to ask whether the appeal to experience is inconsistent with the original intention of the dialectic, as Trendelenburg asserts, and whether it was only used by Hegel because the absurdity of his original purpose drove him, more or less unconsciously, to make such an appeal, or whether, on the other hand, it was all along an essential part of the system that it should have such a relation to experience.
33. At the beginning of Section 6 of the Encyclopaedia Hegel says that “at first we become aware of these contents” of philosophical knowledge “in what we call experience. . . . As it is only in form that philosophy is distinguished from other modes of obtaining an acquaintance with this same sum of being, it must necessarily be in harmony with actuality and experience.” This passage supports the view that Hegel was conscious of the manner in which his dialectic rested on experience. For, even if it were possible for philosophy to observe pure thought independently of experience, it is certain that “other means of obtaining an acquaintance with this same sum of being" – science, namely, and common sense – have no field for their action except experience. It is no doubt the case that, as Hegel mentions in Section 8, philosophy has “another circle of objects, which” empirical knowledge “does not embrace. These are Freedom, Mind, and God.” But, although philosophy deals with these conceptions, it does so, according to Hegel, only by starting from empirical knowledge. It is, for example, only by the contemplation of the finite objects perceived by the senses that we arrive at the knowledge of God. <Note: Enc. Section 12, quoted in section 35 below.> And, as we are now considering the basis, and not the extent, of philosophy, the fact that we can rise to knowledge of that which is never represented in sensuous intuition is not to the point.
34. Again, in Section 9, he points out that “the method of empirical science exhibits two defects. The first is that the Universal, or general principle contained in it, the genus or kind, &c., is of its own nature indeterminate and vague, and therefore not on its own account connected with the Particular or the details. Either is external and accidental to the other, and it is the same with the particular facts which are brought into union: each is external and accidental to the others. The second defect is that the beginnings are in every case data and postulates, neither accounted for nor deduced. In both these points the form of necessity fails to get its due. Hence reflection, whenever it sets itself to remedy these defects, becomes speculative thinking, the thinking proper to philosophy.” Further on in the same section he says that “the relation of speculative science to the other sciences may be stated in the following terms. It does not in the least neglect the empirical facts contained in the other sciences but recognises and adopts them: it appreciates and applies towards its own structure the universal element in these sciences, their laws and classifications; but besides all this, into the categories of science, it introduces, and gives currency to, other categories. The difference looked at in this way is only a change of categories.”
The method of philosophy then is separated by no difference of kind from the method of science, and must therefore also deal with experience. It takes the materials of science, and carries further the process of arrangement and analysis which science began. Whether, in doing so, it actually goes so far as to destroy the basis from which it started, is a question which will be considered later. <Note: Sections 47-49.> The changes which it produces are in any case very extensive. Fresh categories are introduced, and not merely as additions, but as altering materially the meaning of the categories of science which now turn out to be abstract and of imperfect validity. The process must not be confounded with one which should simply carry scientific generalisations up to the highest point, using only the categories of science, and making the ordinary scientific presuppositions. The result may in one sense be said to differ from the result of science in kind and not only in degree. But the method only differs in degree. The special categories of philosophy are not introduced “out of a pistol” but are the necessary consequence of reflection on the categories of science and the contradictions they display. And, if there is this continuity between science and philosophy, we are placed in the dilemma of either supposing that Hegel imagined science to be possible without experience, or admitting that for him the dialectic method, the method of philosophy, also required experience as its presupposition.
35. The whole of Section 12 has a very important bearing on this question. The following extracts are especially significant. Philosophy “takes its departure from experience; including under that name both our immediate consciousness and the inductions from it. Awakened, as it were, by this stimulus, thought is vitally characterised by raising itself above the natural state of mind, above the senses and inferences from the senses into its own unadulterated element, and by assuming, accordingly, at first a stand-aloof and negative attitude towards the point from which it draws its origin.” And further on “On the relation between immediacy and mediation in consciousness ... here it may be sufficient to premise that, although the two ‘moments’ or factors present themselves as distinct, still neither of them can be absent, nor can one exist apart from the other. Thus the knowledge of God” (compare Section 1 – "Truth, in that supreme sense in which God and God only is the Truth") “as of every supersensible reality, is in its true character an exaltation above sensations or perceptions: it consequently involves a negative attitude to the initial data of sense, and to that extent implies mediation. For to mediate is to take something as a beginning, and to go onward to a second thing; so that the existence of this second thing depends on our having reached it from something else contradistinguished from it. In spite of this the knowledge of God is independent (selbstständig) and not a mere consequence of the empirical phase of consciousness; in fact, its independence is essentially secured through this negation and exaltation. No doubt, if we attach an unfair prominence to the fact of mediation, and represent it as implying a state of conditionedness (Bedingtheit), it may be said – not that the remark would mean much – that philosophy is the child of experience, and owes its rise to an ā posteriori fact. (As a matter of fact, thinking is always the negation of what we have immediately before us.) With as much truth however we may be said to owe eating to the means of nourishment, so long as we can have no eating without them. If we take this view, eating is certainly represented as ungrateful; it devours that to which it owes itself. Thinking, upon this view of its action, is equally ungrateful.” And again, “In relation to the first abstract universality of thought there is a correct and well-grounded sense in which we may say, that we may thank experience for the development of philosophy. For, firstly, the empirical sciences do not stop short at the perception of the individual features of a phenomenon. By the aid of thought, they come forward to meet philosophy with materials for it, in the shape of general uniformities, i.e. laws and classifications of the phenomena. When this is done, the particular facts which they contain are ready to be received into philosophy. This, secondly, implies a certain compulsion on thought itself to proceed to these concrete specific truths. The reception into philosophy of these scientific materials, now that thought has removed its immediacy, and made it cease to be mere data, forms at the same time a development of thought out of itself. Philosophy then owes its development to the empirical sciences. In return it gives their contents what is so vital to them, the freedom of thought – gives them, in short, an ā priori character. These contents are now warranted necessary, and no longer depend on the evidence of facts merely, that they were so found and so experienced. The fact of experience thus becomes an illustration and image of the original and completely self-supporting activity of thought.”
36. The peculiar importance of this section lies in the emphasis laid simultaneously on both the elements of the dialectic process. On the one hand the start is definitely asserted, as in the quotation from Section 9, to be made from experience. On the other hand we are told that the result relates itself negatively towards the point from which it draws its origin. This precludes on the one side the theory that Hegel endeavoured to produce the dialectic process by mere reflection on the nature of pure thought in abstraction, and, on the other side, denies that a reference to experience involves a merely empirical argument. The reception into philosophy of the material furnished by science is declared to be identical with the development of thought out of itself. We are enabled also to understand correctly, by means of this Section, certain expressions with regard to the dialectic process which are occasionally interpreted by critics as meaning that the medium of the Logic is abstract pure thought. For example, here as in other places, Hegel repudiates the idea that “philosophy is a child of experience, and owes its existence to an ā posteriori element.” Such an idea, we are told, is “unfair.” Such expressions might lead us to reject the theory of the dialectic offered above, if it was not for the explanation which here follows them. It is only unfair to say this, Hegel continues, in the same sense in which it would be unfair to say that we owe eating to the means of nourishment. Now it is unquestionable that, without something to eat, eating is impossible, and if eating does not depend on the existence of something to eat, it follows that the existence of experience may be indispensable to the existence of philosophy, although philosophy has been declared not to depend on experience. Mediation, as Hegel uses the word, is not equivalent to dependence, and it is possible for thought to require a mediation by sense, and therefore to be helpless without it, while it is nevertheless, in Hegelian terminology, not in a state of dependence (Bedingtheit) on it. Without the data which are supplied to us by sense, the dialectic could not exist. It is not, however, caused by those data, but is necessarily combined with them in a higher unity. It is no more dependent on them than any other abstraction from a whole is on its fellow abstractions from the same whole. Each step which it takes depends, as we have seen, on the relation which the previous step bears to the goal of the process. The whole process may thus fairly be said not to be dependent at all.
The independence of the idea of God is declared to rest on its negation and exaltation above the empirical side of consciousness. This independence cannot possibly mean, therefore, the absence of all connection between the two, for to be related to a thing even negatively, is, as Hegel himself points out on occasion (as in his treatment of the ideas of finitude and infinity, Section 95), itself a condition, and in this sense a dependence. The independence here can only consist in the fact that, although the beginning is in experience, which contains an empirical side, yet in the result the idea of God is separated from the particular empirical facts with which the process started, and is free from all likeness to them, although they form its demonstration and justification. Whether this is possible or not, it appears to be this which Hegel means in asserting his dialectic to be independent of all experience, and this is quite compatible with an experiential basis.
It may be objected that in this Section Hegel is not speaking of his own system, but of the origin of philosophy in general. It is, no doubt, true that the origin of philosophy from a historical standpoint is one of the points discussed here. But if we look at Section 14, we shall find that the two questions are considered by Hegel as identical. “The same evolution of thought,” he says, “which is exhibited in the history of philosophy is presented in the System of Philosophy itself.” It is clear, therefore, that he regards the process traced in Section 12 as one which is not only historically accurate but also philosophically valid, and that he holds the relation of experience to the dialectic, which is there defined, as that which really exists.
37. We find similar statements in his criticism of the Intuitionist School. In explaining their position, he says (Section 70), “What this theory asserts is that truth lies neither in the Idea as a merely subjective thought, nor in mere being on its own account; that mere being per se, a being that is not of the Idea, is the sensible and finite being of the world. Now all this only affirms, without demonstration, that the Idea has truth only by means of being, and being has truth only by means of the Idea. The maxim of immediate knowledge rejects an indefinite empty immediacy (and such is abstract being, or pure unity taken by itself) and affirms in its stead the unity of the Idea with being. And it acts rightly in so doing. But it is stupid not to see that the unity of distinct terms or modes is not merely a purely immediate unity, i.e. unity empty and indeterminate, but that it involves the principle that one term has truth only as mediated through the other, or, if the phrase be preferred, that either term is only mediated with truth through the other.”
On the one hand then he asserts that truth does not lie in the idea as separated from the sensible and finite being of the world. But the idea in its unity with the sensible and finite being of the world is experience. This unity, however, is only mediate – that is to say, it is not, as the Intuitionists supposed it to be, perceived immediately, nor evident from the nature of thought itself. It lies rather in the mediation of each with truth only by means of the other, which supports the view asserted above – that Hegel makes no attempt to use pure thought in abstraction from the data of sense, but holds truth to lie only in the whole from which these two elements are abstracted.
Hegel here denies one immediacy and admits another, both of which are called by the same name in English. He denies the validity of intuition, if by intuition is meant Jacobi’s unmittelbares Wissen, which perceives immediately the unity of thought and being. But he admits that intuition, if we mean by it the Kantian Anschauung, is essential to knowledge, for without “the sensible and finite being of the world” the idea has no truth.
38. Bearing this in mind we are able to see that there is nothing in Section 75 inconsistent with the position I have attributed to Hegel. He there says, “It has been shown to be untrue in fact to say that there is an immediate knowledge, a knowledge without mediation either by means of something else or in itself. It has also been explained to be false in fact to say that thought advances through finite and conditioned categories only, which are always mediated by something else, and to forget that in the very act of mediation the mediation itself vanishes.”
The first of these statements will present no difficulties, for it is quite consistent to deny the existence of immediate knowledge, while admitting the existence of an immediate element in knowledge. Indeed, the assertion that all knowledge consists in the mediation of the immediate at once affirms that there is an immediate, and denies that it is knowledge.
Hegel’s reminder that in the act of mediation the mediation itself vanishes does not concern us here. For we are now considering the basis on which the dialectic process rests, and not the end which it reaches. The latter must be considered further on. The fact that the dialectic process consists in mediating the immediate is enough to show that it must have some relation to experience, since only in experience can the immediate be found.
39. Passing on to the Doctrine of the Notion, we have (Section 166, lecture note): “The notion does not, as understanding supposes, stand still in its own immobility. It is rather an infinite form, of boundless activity, as it were the punctum saliens of all vitality, and thereby self-differentiating (sich von sich selbst unterscheidend). This disruption of the notion into the difference of its constituent functions, – a disruption imposed by the native act of the notion, is the judgment. A judgment, therefore, means the particularising of the notion. No doubt the notion is implicitly the particular. But in the notion as notion, the particular is not yet explicit, and still remains in transparent unity with the universal. Thus for example, as we remarked before (Section 160, lecture note), the germ of a plant contains its particular, such as root, branches, leaves, &c., but these details are at first present only potentially, and are not realised till the germ uncloses. This unclosing is, as it were, the judgment of the plant. The illustration may also serve to show how neither the notion nor the judgment is merely found in our head, or merely framed by us. The notion is the very heart of things, and makes them what they are. To form a notion of an object means therefore to become aware of its notion; and when we proceed to a criticism or judgment of the object, we are not performing a subjective act, and merely ascribing this or that predicate to the object. We are, on the contrary, observing the object in the specific character imposed by its notion.”
This analogy may illustrate the view which we have been considering. In the growth of a tree the positive element is in the seed only. The air, earth, and water, although they are necessary to the development of the tree, do not play a positive part in its growth. It is the nature of the seed alone which determines that a plant shall be produced, and what sort of plant it shall be. But the surrounding conditions, of suitable soil and so on, are conditions without which the seed cannot realise the end of its nature. In this analogy, the seed will correspond to the category of Being, the completely mature plant to the Absolute Idea, and the air, earth, and water, to the matter of intuition. If we look more closely, the resemblance to actual plant life is not perfect, since different amounts of light, heat, and manure will change the size and colour, though not the species of the flower, which gives to these surroundings a more active part than Hegel allows to the matter of intuition. But since Hegel says, without restriction, that the germ of the plant contains its particulars, he must be supposed to ignore the amount of quantitative change which depends on the circumstances in which the plant is placed, and in this case the analogy is exact.
The point of the comparison, if the above explanation is correct, lies in the fact that the growth of the plant has certain conditions which do not determine the nature of the development, though without their presence the development could not exist at all. That this is the point which Hegel wished to make is rendered probable by his having taken as his example a case of organic life. For in organic life we are able to distinguish between the cause of growth and the essential conditions of it in a way that would be impossible if we were considering an event governed only by mechanical laws. In the latter case we can only say that the cause is the sum of all the necessary conditions, and we are unable to consider any one of them as more fundamental than the others. But with organic life we have introduced the idea of a final cause, and we are thus enabled to distinguish between the positive cause and the conditions which are necessary but not positive. Hegel’s declaration that the growth of the notion must be judged by the principles of organic growth, enables us to make this distinction, without which we should be unable to understand that the relation held by the data of sense to the dialectic process should be indispensable, and yet negative.
40. Again (Section 232, lecture note) he says, “The necessity which cognition (Erkennen) reaches by means of demonstration is the reverse of what formed its starting-point. In its starting-point cognition had a given and a contingent content; but now, at the close of its movement, it knows its content to be necessary. This necessity is reached by means of subjective activity. Similarly, subjectivity at starting was quite abstract, a bare tabula rasa. It now shows itself as a modifying and determining principle. In this way we pass from the idea of cognition to that of will. The passage, as will be apparent on a closer examination, means that the universal, to be truly apprehended, must be apprehended as subjectivity, as a notion self-moving, active, and form-imposing.” Hegel is speaking here of finite cognition at the point at which it passes over into volition. But he is speaking of it before the change has yet been made, for the “it", which knows its content to be necessary, can only be taken as meaning cognition. The process here described starts with finite cognition, which is not philosophy, but the ordinary thought of every-day life. By this process the passage is made to volition. The advance lies in the fact that, while knowledge started from the given and contingent, it now knows its content to be necessary. But when this change has taken place in the content, cognition has become philosophy. (Compare Section 9, quoted in section 34 above. “The second defect is that the beginnings are in every case data and postulates, neither accounted for nor deduced. In both these points the form of necessity fails to get its due. Hence, reflection whenever it sets itself to remedy these defects, becomes speculative thinking, the thinking proper to philosophy.") And the universal, under the form of subjectivity, has been apprehended as a self-moving notion, which also shows that by this point knowledge has become philosophy. And the process by which it has advanced begins with the given and the contingent, which can only be found in sense. The advance of the dialectic towards the Absolute Idea has therefore a basis in experience.
41. In Section 238, Hegel, in considering the organic elements of the speculative method, states that its beginning is being or immediacy. “When it means immediate being the beginning is taken from intuition (Anschauung) and perception – the initial stage in the analytical method of finite cognition. When it means universality, it is the beginning of the synthetic method. But since the Logical Idea (das Logische) is as much a universal as it is in being, since it is as much presupposed by the notion as the notion itself immediately is, its beginning is a synthetical as well as an analytical beginning.
(Lecture note.) “Philosophical method is analytical as well as synthetical, not indeed in the sense of a bare juxtaposition or mere alternating employment of these two methods of finite cognition, but rather in such a way that it holds them merged in itself. In every one of its movements, therefore, it displays an attitude at once analytical and synthetical. Philosophic thought proceeds analytically, in so far as it only accepts its object, the Idea, and while allowing it its own way is only, as it were, an onlooker at its movement and development. To this extent philosophising is wholly passive. Philosophic thought, however, is equally synthetic, and evinces itself to be the action of the notion itself. To that end, however, there is required an effort to keep back the incessant impertinence of our own fancies and private opinions.”
Continuing the same subject, he says in Section 239, “The advance renders explicit the judgment implicit in the Idea. The immediate universal, as the notion implicit, is the dialectical force, which on its own part deposes its immediacy and universality to the level of a mere stage or ‘moment.’ Thus is produced the negative of the beginning, the original datum is made determinate: it exists for something, as related to those things which are distinguished from it – the stage of Reflection.
Seeing that the immanent dialectic only states explicitly what was involved in the immediate notion, this advance is analytical, but seeing that in this notion this distinction was not yet stated, it is equally synthetical.
(Lecture note.) “In the advance of the idea the beginning exhibits itself as what it implicitly is. It is seen to be mediated and derivative, and neither to have proper being nor proper immediacy. It is only for the consciousness which is itself immediate, that Nature forms the commencement or immediacy, and that Spirit appears as what is mediated by Nature. The truth is that Nature is due to the statuting of Spirit, (das durch den Geist Gesetzte,) and it is Spirit itself which gives itself a presupposition in Nature.”
42. In this passage the double foundation of the dialectic is clearly admitted, and its connection with the double aspect of the process is made clear. We must have, in the first place, pure thought given to us as a fact – we cannot know the nature of thought unless thinking has taken place. From one point of view, then, the dialectic process is the observation of a subject matter already before us. In this aspect philosophy “allows the idea its own way” and “is only, as it were, an onlooker at its movement and development.” And in so far as this is so we have the unequivocal declaration that “the beginning is taken from sensation or perception" – since pure thought is never found except as an element in the whole of experience. But at the same time the process is not merely one of empirical selection of first one character and then another from the concrete whole. When once the first and simplest judgment has been made about experience – the judgment which is involved in the application of the category of Being – the various steps of the dialectic process will grow by an inner necessity out of that judgment. This judgment will be the beginning as universality, as the other aspect was the beginning as immediate being; and, in so far as the beginning is universal, the process is synthetic and “evinces itself to be the action of the notion itself.”
The explanation of the union of the two processes lies in the fact that the reality present to our minds in experience is always the full and concrete notion. This is the logical prius of the movement, although the unanalysed mass and the abstract notion of Being may be the temporal prius in that stage of finite reflection which precedes philosophy. “In the onward movement of the idea the beginning exhibits itself as what it is implicitly. It is seen to be mediated and derivative, and neither to have proper being nor proper immediacy.” And again, in Section 242, the notion “is the idea, which, as absolutely first (in the method) regards this terminus as merely the annihilation of the show or semblance, which made the beginning appear immediate, and made itself seem a result. It is the knowledge that the idea is one systematic whole.” All less complete ideas are illegitimate abstractions from this whole, and naturally tend therefore to approximate to it. And such a process may be viewed from two sides. It may be regarded from the point of view of the whole – in which case the dialectic process will be viewed as gradually retracing the steps of abstraction which had led to the idea of pure Being, and rebuilding the concrete object till it again coincided with reality. Or it may be regarded from the point of view of the incomplete and growing notion, when the advance will seem to be purely out of the notion itself. “Seeing that the immanent dialectic only states explicitly what was involved in the immediate notion, this advance is analytical, but seeing that in this notion this distinction was not yet stated, it is equally synthetical.”
And these two aspects – the analytic from the stand-point of the concrete and perfect notion, and the synthetic from the stand-point of the yet imperfect notion, – correspond respectively to aspects for which the beginning is taken from sensation or perception, and from the action of the notion itself. In so far as we look on the motive force of the dialectic process as residing in the completeness of the concrete notion, the process depends on the contemplation of reality and therefore of sensation and perception. For the sensation, although contributing no positive element to the process, is the necessary condition of our becoming conscious of the nature of thought. But in so far as we look on the motive force of the process as supplied by the incompleteness of the growing notion, we shall bring into prominence the fact that the process is after all one of pure thought. And we only get a true view of the whole when we combine the two and see that the stimulus is in the relation of the abstract and explicit idea to the complete and implicit idea, that the process is one of pure thought perceived in a medium of sensation and therefore synthetic and analytic at once.
43. To this we may add the following extract from the Philosophy of Spirit (Encyclopaedia, Section 447, lecture note), “In sensation there is present the whole Reason – the collected material of Spirit. All our images, thoughts, and ideas, of external nature, of justice, of ethics, and of the content of religion, develop themselves from our intelligence as used in sensation; as they themselves, on the other hand, when they have received their complete explanation are again concentrated in the simple form of sensation. . . . This development of Spirit out of sensation, however, has commonly been understood as if the intelligence was originally completely empty, and therefore received all content from outside as something quite strange to it. This is a mistake. For that which the intelligence appears to take in from outside is in reality nothing else than the reasonable, which is therefore identical with spirit, and immanent in it. The activity of spirit has therefore no other goal, except, by the removal of the apparent externality to self of the implicitly reasonable object, to remove also the apparent externality of the object to spirit.” Here we learn that the reasonable, with which the Logic deals, is first given to us in sensation, and as apparently external to self, and that it is by starting from that which is given in sensation that we learn the nature of spirit. To act in this way is a fundamental characteristic of spirit – "the activity of spirit has no other goal" – and therefore it must be in this way that our minds act when they are engaged on the dialectic process.
44. I have endeavoured to show, by the consideration of these passages from Hegel’s writings, that his method possesses two characteristics. These are, first, that it is a process of pure thought, but only possible in the presence of matter of intuition; second, that the motive force of the whole process is involved in the relation between the incomplete form of the notion, which at any moment may be explicitly before us, and the complete form which is present implicitly in all our thought as in all other reality.
We must now pass to another question. The validity of each stage of the dialectic, as we have seen, depended on the one before, and all of them ultimately on the first stage – the category of Being. The validity of this again we found to depend on the fact that its denial would be suicidal. <Note: Chap. I. Section 18.>
Now it must be admitted that this is a mere inference, and not explicitly stated by Hegel. Such a statement would be most natural at the beginning of the whole dialectic process, but it is neither there nor elsewhere. No justification whatever is given of the idea of Being. It is merely assumed and all the consequences that follow from it, however cogent in themselves, are left, so to speak, suspended in the air with no explicit argument anywhere to attach them to reality. The explanation of this strange peculiarity is, I think, largely to be found in the state of philosophy at the time when Hegel wrote.
45. The argument of the dialectic could, if the theory in the previous chapter is correct, have been so arranged as to be obviously transcendental. The basis of the whole would be the existence of the world of experience, which no sceptic can wholly deny, since denial itself always implies the existence of something. The barest admission that could be made, however, with regard to this world of experience, would involve that it should be brought under the category of Being whose validity would be therefore granted. But as, in the process of the dialectic, the category of Being developed contradictions which led up to fresh categories, and so on, the validity of these categories also, as applied to reality, must be granted, since they follow from the validity of the category of Being.
Kant, who had to establish his system in the face of sceptical criticism, naturally emphasised the transcendental character of the argument, and the cogency with which his conclusions could be applied to the world of reality, involved as they were in propositions which his adversaries were not prepared to dispute. But Hegel’s position was different. He lived in an age of Idealism, when the pure scepticism of Hume had ceased to be a living force, and when it was a generally accepted view that the mind was adequate to the knowledge of reality. Under such circumstances Hegel would naturally lay stress on the conclusions of his system, in which he more or less differed from his contemporaries, rather than on the original premises, in which he chiefly agreed with them, and would point out how far the end was from the beginning, rather than how clearly it might be derived from it. To this must be added Hegel’s marked preference for a constructive, rather than a polemical treatment, which appears so strongly in all his works. Transcendental arguments, as Mr Balfour remarks in the Defence of Philosophic Doubt, convince by threats, and are not the form into which an exposition addressed, as Hegel’s was, to a friendly audience, would naturally fall. But this has exposed his system to severe disadvantages in the reaction against all Idealism which has taken place since his death. For the transcendental form becomes necessary when the attacks of scepticism have to be met, and its absence, though due chiefly to the special character of the audience to whom the philosophy was first addressed, has led to the reproaches which have been so freely directed against Absolute Idealism, as a mere fairy tale, or as a theory with internal consistency, but without any relation to facts.
The same causes may perhaps account for the prominence of the synthetic over the analytic aspect of the dialectic, which may be noticed occasionally throughout the Logic. The criticism of idealists would naturally be devoted more to the internal consistency of the system than to its right to exist at all, on which point they would probably have no objection to raise. To meet such criticisms it would be necessary to lay emphasis on the synthetic side of the process, while to us, who in most cases approach the whole question from a comparatively negative stand-point, it would seem more natural to bring forward the analytic side, and to show that the whole system was involved in any admission of the existence of reality.
46. Hegel speaks of his logic as without any pre-supposition. This is taken by Trendelenburg as equivalent to an assertion that it has no basis in experience. But we have seen that the only postulate which Hegel assumed was the validity of the category of Being – that is, the existence of something. Now this, though not directly proved, can scarcely be said to be assumed, if it is involved in all other assertions. And a system which requires no other postulate than this might fairly be said to have no pre-supposition. The very fact that the argument exists proves that it was entitled to its assumption, for if the argument exists, then the category of Being has validity, at any rate, of one thing – the argument itself. And this is compatible with all the relation to experience which the dialectic needs, or will admit.
A parallel case will be found in Hegel’s criticism of Kant’s refutation of the ontological argument. <Note: Cp. Sections 63, 64.> He then treats the actual existence of God, who for him is equivalent to the Absolute Reality, as a matter which can be passed over in silence, since its denial – the denial of any reality in the universe – is suicidal. It is really the same fact – the existence of some reality – which, under another aspect, is assumed at the beginning of the Logic. We may reasonably suppose that Hegel treated it in the same way, holding that a postulate which could not be denied without self- contradiction need not be considered as a pre-supposition at all. From all more particular pre-suppositions he doubtless claims that his logic is free. But this claim is not incompatible with the relation of the dialectic to experience, which was suggested in the last chapter.
It must also be noted that Hegel says of the proofs of the existence of God which are derived from the finite world “the process of exaltation might thus appear to be transition, and to involve a means, but it is not a whit less true that every trace of transition and means is absorbed, since the world, which might have seemed to be the means of reaching God, is explained to be a nullity.” <Note: Enc. Section 50.> And in section 12, in the passage quoted above, he tells us that philosophy is unfairly said to be the child of experience, since it “involves a negative attitude to the initial acts of the senses.” Now in the Logic the result certainly stands in a negative relation to the beginning, for the inadequacy of the category of Being to express reality has been demonstrated in the course of the dialectic. The category of Being would then, in Hegel’s language, have been absorbed, and it would be unfair to say that the dialectic depended on it. Under these circumstances it is only natural that he should not call its validity a pre-supposition.
47. There is, then, a constant relation to experience throughout the course of the dialectic. But, even if this is so, does that relation remain at the end of the process? It has been asserted that, although throughout the Logic Hegel may treat thought as mediate, and as only existing as an element in a whole of which the other element is an immediate datum, yet, when we reach the Absolute Idea, that Idea is held to be self-centred and capable of existing by itself in abstraction from everything else. It must be admitted that such a transition would be unjustifiable, <Note: Cp. Chap. III. Section 99.> but I am unable to see any reason to suppose that Hegel held any such belief.
We must discriminate between those characteristics of the immediate element of experience which are indispensable if experience is to be constituted at all, and those which are not indispensable. The essential characteristics may all be summed up in immediacy. All thought that we know, or that we can conceive, has its action only in mediation, and its existence without something immediate on which it may act would be a contradiction. On the other hand it is not essential that this immediate should be also contingent. “The contingent may be described as what has the ground of its being, not in itself, but in somewhat else.” <Note: Enc. Section 145, lecture note.> Now it is quite possible that, in a more advanced state of knowledge, we might be able to trace back all the data immediately given in experience till we had referred them to an individuality or organic whole from the nature of which they could all be deduced. Contingency would be here eliminated, for all experience would be referred to a single unity and determined by its notion. The only question which could then arise would be, “Why was the ultimate nature of reality thus and not otherwise?” The question would, no doubt, be one to which no answer could be given. This would not, however, render the nature of reality in any way contingent. For such a question would be meaningless. Enquiries as to the reasons of things have their place only within the universe, whose existence they presuppose. We have no right to make them with regard to the universe itself. Thus in the case we have supposed contingency would be entirely eliminated, yet immediacy would remain untouched. We should still know reality, not by thought alone, but because it was given to us.
48. It seems probable that Hegel did suppose that the Absolute Idea, when completely realised, involved the elimination of the contingent, which indeed he treats <Note: Enc. Section 145.> as part of a lower category, which is, of course, transcended in the highest. It may certainly be doubted whether human knowledge could ever attain, as a matter of fact, to this height of perfection. In particular, it may be asked whether such a state of knowledge would not require other means than our present senses for the perception of reality outside ourselves. But whether the elimination of Contingency is or is not possible, the point which is important to us here is that, should it take place, it does not involve the elimination of the immediate, and therefore does not prove that Hegel had any intention of declaring thought to be self- sufficing, even when it reached the Absolute Idea. In the stage immediately before the Absolute Idea – that of ordinary cognition and volition – it is evident that the idea is not self-sufficing, since it is certain that we can neither think nor resolve in every-day life without some immediate data. Now the point of transition between this category and the Absolute Idea is stated to be “the unity of the theoretical and practical idea, and thus at the same time the unity of the idea of life with that of cognition. In cognition we had the idea in the shape of differentiation. The process of cognition has issued in the overthrow of this differentiation, and the restoration of that unity which, as unity, and in its immediacy, is in the first instance the Idea of Life.” <Note: Enc. Section 236, lecture note.> In this there is nothing which tends to the elimination of immediacy, or to the self- sufficiency of thought, but only the complete discovery in the outside world of the pure thought which is also in us.
Again, in the idea of Life, thought is certainly not self-sufficing, since one of the essential characteristics of this category is that the soul is in relation to a body, which involves, of course, sensation. Now the Absolute Idea is a synthesis of this category and the category of Cognition. Thought is mediate in both of these. How then can it be immediate in the synthesis? The correction of inadequacies in the Hegelian logic comes by the emphasis of one side in the thesis and of the other in the antithesis, the synthesis reconciling the two. The synthesis, throughout the entire dialectic, can only advance on the thesis and antithesis on points in which they disagree with one another. On points in which they agree it can make no change. And when, in Absolute Spirit, Hegel reaches that which he unquestionably believes to be self-mediated and self-sufficing, he only does so because it is a synthesis of the mediating logic and the element of immediacy or “givenness” which first occurs in nature. But within the logic there is no immediacy to balance the admitted mere mediacy of the finite categories, and the distinction of mediacy and immediacy cannot therefore, within the logic, be transcended.
49. We find no sign again of transcended mediation in the direct definition of the Absolute Idea. “Dieses aus der Differenz und Endlichkeit des Erkennens zu sich zuruckgekommene und durch die Thätigkeit des Begriffs mit ihm identisch gewordene Leben ist die speculative oder absolute Idee. Die Idee als Einheit der subjectiven und der objectiven Idee ist der Begriff der Idee, dem die Idee als solche der Gegenstand, dem das Objekt sie ist; ein Objekt, in welches alle Bestimmungen zusammen gegangen sind.” <Note: Enc. Sections 235, 236.>
The second sentence of the definition asserts that the idea is the “Gegenstand und Objekt” to the notion of the idea. This cannot, it appears to me, be taken as equivalent to a statement that thought here becomes self- subsistent and self-mediating. It seems rather to signify that that which is immediately given to thought to mediate, is now known to be itself thought, although still immediately given. In other words, the Absolute Idea is realised when the thinker sees in the whole world round him nothing but the realisation of the same idea which forms his own essential nature – is at once conscious of the existence of the other, and of its fundamental similarity to himself. The expression that the idea as such is the object to the notion of the idea seems rather to support this view by indicating that the idea as object is viewed in a different aspect from the idea as subject. If immediacy was here gained by thought, so that it required no object given from outside, it would have been more natural to say that the idea was its own object, or indeed that the distinction of subject and object had vanished altogether.
If this is the correct interpretation of this passage, then thought remains, for Hegel, in the Absolute Idea, what it has been in all the finite categories. Although the content of all experience contains, in such a case, nothing which is not a manifestation of the pure Absolute Idea, yet to every subject in whom that idea is realised, the idea is presented in the form of immediate data, which are mediated by the subject’s own action. The fundamental nature of subject and object is the same, but the distinction between them remains in their relation to one another.
No doubt Hegel regards as the highest ideal of the dialectic process something which shall be self-mediated, and in which mediation as an external process vanishes. But this he finds in Absolute Spirit, which is a synthesis of the Absolute Idea with the element of immediate presentation. The Absolute Idea is still an abstraction, as compared with the whole of Absolute Spirit, and is not self-mediated.
50. We have now to consider the third objection which has been raised to the theory of Hegel’s meaning explained in the first chapter. This objection is that Hegel has ascribed ontological validity to his dialectic to a greater extent than this theory admits, and that he has attempted to account by pure thought, not only for the rationality, but also for the entire existence of the universe. This is maintained by Professor Seth, who objects to the system chiefly, it would seem, on this ground. He says, for example, “Hegel apparently says, on one occasion, that his own elaborate phraseology means no more than the ancient position that < rules the world, or the modern phrase, there is Reason in the world. <Note: Enc. Section 24, lecture note.> If the system is reducible to this very general proposition, our objections would certainly fall to the ground.” <Note: Hegelianism and Personality, pp. 124, 125.>
Somewhat earlier he expresses the position, which he believes Hegel to hold, with great force and clearness. Hegel “apparently thinks it incumbent upon him to prove that spirit exists by a necessity of thought. The concrete existence of the categories (in Nature and Spirit) is to be deduced from their essence or thought-nature; it is to be shown that they cannot not be. When we have mounted to the Absolute Idea, it is contended, we cannot help going further. The nisus of thought itself projects thought out of the sphere of thought altogether into that of actual existence. In fact, strive against the idea as we may, it seems indubitable that there is here once more repeated in Hegel the extraordinary but apparently fascinating attempt to construct the world out of abstract thought or mere universals.” <Note: op. cit. pp. 110, 111.>
51. The passages from which most information on this point is to be expected will be those in the Greater and Smaller Logics, in which the transition to the world of Nature is described. These are quoted and abridged as follows by Professor Seth. “‘The Absolute Idea is still logical, still confined to the element of pure thoughts. . . . But inasmuch as the pure idea of knowledge is thus, so far, shut up in a species of subjectivity, it is impelled to remove this limitation; and thus the pure truth, the last result of the logic, becomes also the beginning of another sphere and science.’ <Note: Werke, v. pp. 352, 353.> The Idea, he recalls to us, has been defined as ‘the absolute unity of the pure notion and its reality’ – ‘the pure notion which is related only to itself;’ but if this is so, the two sides of this relation are one, and they collapse, as it were, ‘into the immediacy of Being.’ ‘The Idea as the totality in this form is Nature. This determining of itself, however, is not a process of becoming, or a transition’ such as we have from stage to stage in the Logic. ‘The passing over is rather to be understood thus – that the Idea freely lets itself go, being absolutely sure of itself and at rest in itself. On account of this freedom, the form of its determination is likewise absolutely free – namely, the externality of space and time existing absolutely for itself without subjectivity.’ A few lines lower he speaks of the ‘resolve (Entschluss) of the pure Idea to determine itself as external Idea.’ Turning to the Encyclopaedia we find, at the end of the smaller Logic, <Note: Enc. Section 244.> a more concise but substantially similar statement. ‘The Idea which exists for itself, looked at from the point of view of this unity with itself, is Perception; and the Idea as it exists for perception is Nature. . . . The absolute freedom of the Idea consists in this, that in the absolute truth of itself’ (i.e., according to Hegel’s usage, when it has attained the full perfection of the form which belongs to it) ‘it resolves to let the element of its particularity – the immediate Idea as its own reflection – go forth freely from itself as Nature.’ And in the lecture-note which follows we read, as in the larger Logic, ‘We have now returned to the notion of the Idea with which we began. This return to the beginning is also an advance. That with which we began was Being, abstract Being, and now we have the Idea as Being; but this existent Idea is Nature.’” <Note: Hegelianism and Personality, pp. 105, 106.>
52. It is certainly possible at first sight to take these passages as supporting Professor Seth’s theory. But we must consider that, according to that theory, Hegel is made to occupy a position, not only paradoxical and untenable, but also inconsistent. If, as I have endeavoured to show above, and as is admitted by Professor Seth, Hegel fully recognises the fact that the whole dialectic movement of pure thought only takes place in that concrete whole in which sense data are a moment correlative with pure thought – because thought could not exist at all without immediate data – how can he suppose that the movement of pure thought produces the sensations which are the conditions of its own existence? Are we not bound to adopt any other explanation, rather than suppose him guilty of such a glaring contradiction?
Such an explanation was offered in the last Chapter, <Note: Section 26.> where it was pointed out that, as the comparison of the abstract idea with the concrete idea was the origin of the dialectic movement within the Logic, so the comparison of the concrete idea with the full whole of reality, compared with which the concrete notion itself was an abstraction, was the origin of the transition from Logic to Nature and Spirit – a transition in which there was no attempt to construct the world out of abstract thought, because the foundation of the argument was the presence, implicit in all experience, of the concrete reality whose necessity was being demonstrated.
Such a theory, at one time, Professor Seth was willing to accept as correct, and now considers as “the explanation which a conciliatory and soberminded Hegelian would give of Hegel’s remarkable tour de force.” His account is substantially the same as that given above. “Here, again, then, as throughout the Logic, it might be said we are merely undoing the work of abstraction and retracing our steps towards concrete fact. This, as we have seen, implies the admission that it is our experiential knowledge of actual fact which is the real motive-force impelling us onward – impelling us here from the abstract determinations of the Logic to the quasi-reality of Nature, and thence to the full reality of spirit. It is because we ourselves are spirits that we cannot stop short of that consummation. In this sense we can understand the feeling of ‘limitation’ or incompleteness of which Hegel speaks at the end of the Logic. The pure form craves, as it were, for its concrete realisation.” <Note: op. cit. pp. 108, 109.>
He subsequently, however, rejects this position, and indeed seems scarcely to see its full meaning. For his “soberminded Hegelian,” who accepts this reading, will, he informs us, “lay as little stress as possible upon the so- called deduction. Further reflection,” he continues, “has convinced me, however, that Hegel’s contention here is of more fundamental import to his system than such a representation allows. Perhaps it may even be said, that, when we surrender this deduction, though we may retain much that is valuable in Hegel’s thought, we surrender the system as a whole. For, however readily he may admit, when pressed, that in the ordo ad individuum experience is the quarry from which all the materials are derived, it must not be forgotten that he professes to offer us an absolute philosophy. And it is the characteristic of an absolute philosophy that everything must be deduced or constructed as a necessity of thought. Hegel’s system, accordingly, is so framed as to elude the necessity of resting anywhere on mere fact. It is not enough for him to take self-conscious intelligence as an existent fact, by reflection on whose action in his own conscious experience and in the history of the race certain categories are disclosed, reducible by philosophic insight to a system of mutually connected notions, which may then be viewed as constituting the essence or formal structure of reason. He apparently thinks it incumbent on him to prove that spirit exists by a necessity of thought. The concrete existence of the categories (in Nature and Spirit) is to be deduced from their essence or thought-nature: it is to be shown they cannot not be.” <Note: op. cit. pp. 109, 110.>
53. Now in this passage there are two separate charges made against Hegel, which Professor Seth apparently thinks are identical. The one is that “thought of its own abstract nature gives birth to the reality of things,” that is, that, given thought, Nature and Spirit can be deduced. That they are deduced from thought in some way cannot be denied, but Professor Seth rejects the idea that the deduction is partly analytical, and declares that Hegel endeavoured to demonstrate the existence of the worlds of Nature and Spirit by pure synthesis from the world of Logic. But this is not all. Hegel is also accused of endeavouring to prove “the concrete existence of the categories from their essence.” This is properly a second charge. But Professor Seth appears to identify it with the first, by speaking of the concrete existence as “in nature and spirit,” and by making essence identical with the nature of thought. This identification is, I venture to think, unjustifiable.
In the first place every proposition about Nature and Spirit is not one which involves real existence. We might say, for example, “Dragons must occupy space,” or “Angels must have some way of gaining immediate knowledge.” Both propositions might be perfectly correct, even if neither dragons nor angels existed, because our propositions would deal only with essence. They might be put in a hypothetical form, such as, “If there were dragons, they would occupy space.” (In this discussion I adopt Professor Seth’s use of the word essence to signify the nature of a thing, which remains the same, whether the thing exists or not. It must not, of course, be confounded with Hegel’s use of the same word to denote the second stage of the Logic, which merely describes one stage among others in what Professor Seth would call the essence of thought.)
On the other hand, as we have seen above, a proposition relating to pure thought may refer to real existence. “Being is synthesised in Becoming” is such a proposition, for the category of Being is applicable, we know, to real existence. And as the essences of Being and Becoming are united, and as the existence of Being has been proved, we are able to state the proposition concerning the relation of Being and Becoming as one of real existence.
The confusion of real existence with the worlds of Nature and Spirit is not inexplicable. For all real existence has its immediate side, and must therefore be presented by sense, outer or inner, while thought, again, is correlative to sense, and, so to speak opposed to it, both being complementary elements in experience. Thought consequently gets taken as if it was opposed to real existence. But the fact of the existence of thought can be presented to us by inner sense as something immediate, and we are then as sure of its real existence as we could be of anything in the world of Nature. The office of thought is to mediate; but it actually exists, or it could not mediate; and in virtue of its actual existence any instance of thought may be immediately known; in which case it is mediated by other thought. The existence of logic proves in itself that we can think about thought. Thought therefore can become a datum, and its real existence can be known. It is true that it is an abstraction, and that its real existence is only as an element of experience. But this is true also of the particulars of sense.
54. Since, then, propositions concerning Nature and Spirit may be really “essential and hypothetical” while propositions concerning pure thought may deal with real existence, it follows that the deduction of Nature and Spirit from Logic does not necessarily involve the fallacious attempt to argue from essence to existence. This is the case whether the deduction is both analytic and synthetic in its nature, as I have endeavoured to maintain, or is of a purely synthetic nature, as Professor Seth supposes.
In the first of these suppositions the argument might have been merely from the essence of thought to the essence of Nature. In that case the final conclusion would have run, thought cannot exist without Nature, or, if there is thought there is Nature. Hegel, however, was not satisfied with such a meagre result, and his argument is from existence to existence. The course of the Logic, in the first place, may be summed up thus – we have an immediate certainty that something exists, consequently the category of Being is valid of reality. But the Absolute Idea is involved in the category of Being. Therefore the Absolute Idea is applicable to that which really exists, and we can predicate reality of that Idea. After this follows the transition to the world of Nature, which is of a similar character. The Absolute Idea really exists. But it (since it is of the nature of thought) can only exist in combination with data of sense. Therefore data of sense really exist. Thus the conclusion certainly deals with real existence, but that character has been given to the argument, not by any juggling with pure thought, but by a premise at the beginning relating to real existence – namely, that something must exist. The evidence for this proposition is immediate, for it rests on the impossibility of denying it without asserting at the same time the reality at least of the denial and of the thinker. And this assertion depends on the immediately given, for the existence of the words or ideas which form the denial is perceived by sense, outer or inner, while the existence of the thinker is an inference from, or rather an implication in, the fact that he has sensations or thoughts, of the existence of which – thoughts as well as sensations – he has immediate knowledge.
The same would be the case if the deduction were purely synthetic, one which endeavoured to make the world of Nature and Spirit a mere consequence and result of the world of thought. The argument would be invalid for reasons which we shall presently notice, but not because it attempted to pass from essence to existence. For we have every right to believe that thought exists, and it is from this existent thought (the presence of which within the Logic passes unchallenged by Professor Seth), that Hegel passes on to Nature and Spirit.
The two charges then – of deducing Nature and Spirit merely from thought, and of deducing existence from essence – are by no means identical, and must be taken separately. It will perhaps be more convenient to begin with the first, which is the less sweeping of the two.
55. “Thought out of its own abstract nature gives birth to the reality of things” says Professor Seth in his criticism, and, if this is Hegel’s meaning, we must certainly admit that he has gone too far. Thought is, in its essential nature, mediate. As Trendelenburg remarks <Note: Logische Untersuchungen, Vol. I. p. 68.> the immediacy of certain ideas in the dialectic is only comparative and equivalent to self-mediation. Real immediacy belongs to nothing but the data of intuition. And therefore thought cannot exist unless it has something immediately given which it may mediate. It is, of course, perfectly true that the immediate cannot remain unmediated. The only merely immediate thing is the pure sensation, and the pure sensation taken by itself cannot become part of experience, and therefore, since it has certainly no existence out of experience, does not exist at all. But although immediacy, as such, is a mere abstraction, so is mediation, and, therefore, thought. Green’s extraordinary suggestion that “the notion that an event in the way of sensation is something over and above its conditions may be a mistake of ours,” <Note: Works, Vol. II. p. 190.> and again that “for the only kind of consciousness for which there is reality, the conceived conditions are the reality,” ignores the fact that the ideal of knowledge would in this case be a mass of conditions which conditioned nothing, and of relations with nothing to relate. Such an elevation of an abstraction into an independent reality is not excelled in audacity by any of the parallel fallacies of materialism, against which Green was never weary of protesting.
But if thought is a mere element in the whole of reality, having no more independent existence than mere sense has, it is certainly impossible that thought should produce reality – that the substantial and individual should depend on an abstraction formed from itself. And this is what Hegel believed, if we are to accept Professor Seth’s statement.
56. This theory is rendered the more remarkable by the admission that, within the Logic, the deduction has that analytic aspect which is required to make it valid. “The forward movement is in reality a movement backward: it is a retracing of our steps to the world as we know it in the fulness of its real determinations.” <Note: Hegelianism and Personality, p. 92.> Can we believe that Hegel, after using one method of dialectic process to display the nature of pure thought, employs the same dialectic in an absolutely different sense when he wishes to pass from logic to nature? Logic, Nature, and Spirit are declared to be thesis, antithesis, and synthesis; so are Being, Not-Being, and Becoming. In the case of the latter it is admitted that the true reality lies only in the synthesis, and that no attempt is made to construct it out of the thesis. What reason is there for supposing such an attempt in the case of the more comprehensive deduction which we are now discussing?
Professor Seth attempts to answer the question by drawing a distinction between epistemology and ontology in this respect. As to the former, he says, it may be true that Hegel held that we only arrive at a knowledge of pure thought by abstraction from experience, while yet it may be true that he considered that the other element in experience was originally produced by, and is in the objective world dependent on, pure thought. It is perhaps worth remarking that this derives no countenance from Sections 238 and 239 of the Encyclopaedia quoted above, <Note: Section 41.> where the union of analysis and synthesis is spoken of as “the philosophic method” and as belonging to “philosophic thought” without any suggestion that it only applies to one department of philosophy.
But the distinction is one which would only be tenable if the elements of which experience is composed were self-subsistent entities, capable of existing apart as well as together. Thus it might be said that, although in a certain experiment oxygen and hydrogen were produced out of water, yet from a scientific point of view we should rather consider them as the elements of which water was made up, they, and not the water, being the ultimate reality. But this analogy will not hold here. For the element of immediacy – the datum given through sense – is as necessary and essential to the existence of the idea, as the sides of a triangle are to its angles. The existence of the immediate element is essential to anything really concrete, and the idea is only an element in, and an abstraction from, the concrete. Now the existence of an abstraction apart from the concrete, or the dependence of the concrete on an abstraction from itself, is a contradiction. And that the idea is a mere abstraction from experience is not merely an accident of a particular way of discovering it, but its very essence. Its existence lies solely in mediation, and it cannot therefore, ever be self-sufficient. It is rather an aspect which we can perceive in experience, than an element which can be separated from it, even ideally, without leading us into error.
Its independent existence would thus be a very glaring contradiction. And for Hegel, as for other people, contradictions could not really exist. Each stage in the Logic is a contradiction, it is true, but then those stages have no independent existence. The self-consistent reality is always behind it. “The consummation of the infinite aim . . . consists merely in removing the illusion which makes it seem as yet unaccomplished.” <Note: Enc. Section 212, lecture notes.>
57. And Hegel himself distinctly denies the asserted purely synthetical character of the transition. “It is clear,” he says, “that the emergence of Spirit from Nature ought not to be expressed as if nature was the Absolute Immediate, the First, that which originally statutes, and Spirit on the other hand was only statuted (gesetzt) by it; rather is Nature statuted by Spirit, and the latter is the absolute First. Spirit, in and for itself, is not the simple result of Nature, but in truth its own result; it evolves itself out of the assumptions which it itself makes, out of the logical idea and external nature, and is the truth of the former as well as of the latter – that is to say the true form of the Spirit which is merely in itself, and of the Spirit which is merely outside itself. The appearance of the mediation of Spirit by another is transcended by Spirit itself, since this, so to say, has the consummate ingratitude to transcend that through which it seeks to be mediated, to mediatise it, to reduce it to something which only exists through spirit, and in this way to make itself completely independent.” <Note: Enc. Section 381, lecture note, p. 23.> Spirit, the final result of the process, is thus declared to be also its logical ground, and the process of the Idea to Nature and from Nature to Spirit has therefore an analytic, as well as a synthetic aspect, since the end of the process is only to come to explicit knowledge of its ground, which, as its ground, must have been present to it all along, though not yet in full and explicit consciousness. It may be remarked that Hegel uses exactly the same metaphor of ingratitude to describe the relation of Spirit to the apparent commencement of the process, as he used long before to express the connection between pure thought and the empirical details, from the consideration of which pure thought started. <Note: Enc. Section 12, p. 37 above.> This may serve as a slight additional reason for our belief in the theory that the force of the transition to Spirit lies in the implicit presence of Spirit all along, and not in a merely synthetic advance from pure thought through Nature. For in the logic, as Professor Seth admits, the logical prius of the advance is to be found at the end, and not at the beginning of the process. We may also compare Section 239 of the Encyclopaedia, lecture note – "the truth is that Nature is due to the statuting of Spirit, and it is Spirit itself which gives itself a presupposition in Nature.” This view is incompatible with any attempt to represent Nature as statuted by Logic alone.
58. To deny the purely synthetic deduction of Nature from Logic, which we have just been considering, is not equivalent to denying that there is any deduction at all intended, which would be obviously incorrect. It is implied that these are the only two alternatives, when Professor Seth tells us that the “soberminded Hegelian,” who denies the purely synthetic deduction, “will lay as little stress as possible upon the so-called deduction. Further reflection has convinced me, however,” he continues, “that Hegel’s contention here is of more fundamental importance to his system than such a representation allows. Perhaps it may even be said that, when we surrender this deduction, though we may retain much that is valuable in Hegel’s thought, we surrender the system as a whole.” <Note: op. cit. pp. 109, 110.> No doubt it is essential to the theory that there shall be a deduction, so that the whole system, from the category of Being to Absolute Spirit, shall be bound closely together. But this is not incompatible with the soberminded view of the dialectic, for, as we have seen, the deduction may be one which is analytic as well as synthetic, and may derive its cogency from the implicit presence, at its starting point, of its result.
59. The treatment of the problem of contingency in the dialectic presents a curious alternation between two incompatible points of view, by the first of which contingency is treated as a category, while by the second it is attributed to the incapacity of Nature to realise the Idea. It is not necessary to consider here the criticisms which might be made on either of these explanations. It is sufficient to point out that, while the former does not imply the theory which Professor Seth adopts as to the general purpose of the Logic, the latter is quite incompatible with it.
As to the first, it is to be noticed that the attempt to convert contingency into a logical category is not necessarily identical with an attempt to ignore reality. “The contingent,” says Hegel, “roughly speaking, is what has the ground of its being, not in itself, but in somewhat else. . . . The contingent is only one side of the actual, the side namely of reflection into somewhat else.” <Note: Enc. Section 145, lecture note.> It is thus by no means the same thing as the real, which includes, even if it does not consist exclusively of, the self-subsistent entity or entities which have their ground in themselves, or, if that expression be objected to, are primary and without any ground at all. The elimination of the contingent is thus quite compatible with the existence of factual reality. This is confirmed by Hegel’s remark in the same section that “to overcome this contingency is, roughly speaking, the problem of science.” For the object of ordinary science is certainly not to eliminate factual reality.
The same expression suggests that the elimination of contingency does not, for Hegel, involve the elimination of immediacy. For the object of ordinary science is not to eliminate the data of sense, but to arrange and classify them. And this is confirmed by the definition quoted above. Contingency consists in explanation from the outside. That which can be explained entirely from itself would not, it appears, be contingent to Hegel, even if part of the explanation was given in the form of a mere datum. No doubt at present all immediacy, involving as it does presentation in sense, outer or inner, requires explanation from outside, and is therefore contingent. But, as was pointed out above in a different connection, <Note: Section 47.> there is nothing in the nature of immediacy which prevents us from supposing a state of knowledge in which the immediate data, being traced back to some self- centred reality, should require no explanation from without, and consequently should lose their contingency, while they preserved their immediacy. The introduction, therefore, of contingency as a category which, like other categories, is transcended, does not fairly lead to the conclusion that Hegel believed in the possibility of mediating thought ever becoming self- sufficient.
On the other hand, the theory that contingency is caused by the inability of Nature to realise the idea, <Note: Enc. Section 16.> is clearly incompatible with an attempt to produce Nature out of pure thought. For, if the world of Nature, as such an attempt would require, is deduced by pure synthesis from the world of reason, and by the free passage of the latter, how can the impotence arise? The only possible explanation of such impotence must be in some independent element, which the idea cannot perfectly subdue and this is inconsistent with the theory of pure synthesis. It may be doubted whether this view is compatible with the general theory of the dialectic at all. But it is certainly, as Professor Seth admits, <Note: op. cit. p. 139.> quite incompatible with “an absolute philosophy” in his use of the phrase. If this was Hegel’s view of contingency, it must be taken as a proof of the presence of an analytic element in the process. For then the failure of thought to embody itself completely in nature, whether consistent or not, would not be so glaringly inconsistent as in the other case. It might then possibly be a casual error. But it is difficult to suppose that Hegel could have slipped by mistake into the assertion that thought, while producing the whole universe, was met in it by an alien element.
60. We must now proceed to the second charge made against the transition from the Logic – that it involves an argument from essence to existence. Such an argument would doubtless be completely fallacious. Any proposition about existence must either be directly based on immediate experience of reality, or must be connected, by a chain of inferences, with a proposition that is so based. The difference between the real and the ideal worlds is one which mere thought can never bridge over, because, for mere thought, it does not exist. As Kant says, the difference between twenty real thalers and twenty thalers which are only imagined to be real, does not appear in the idea of them, which is the same whether they exist or not. The difference lies in the reference to reality, which makes no part of the idea. If, therefore, we confined ourselves to thought, we should be unable to discover whether our thalers were in truth real, or whether we had only imagined their reality. And even if, starting from the nature of thought taken in abstraction from sense, we could evolve the idea of the entire universe (and we have seen <Note: Section 14.> that without sense we could perceive nothing of the nature of thought), it would remain purely ideal, and never be able to explain the fact that the world actually existed. For the difference between the real world, and a world, exactly like it, but only imagined to exist, is a difference which pure thought could not perceive, and therefore could not remove. It is impossible to argue that contradictions would drive it on, for the contradictions of thought, as we have seen, arise from its being abstract, and can do no more than restore the concrete whole from which a start was made. If reality was not given as a characteristic of that concrete whole, no abstraction from it will afford a basis from which the dialectic process can attain to reality.
61. Before, however, we decide that Hegel has been guilty of so great a confusion, we should require convincing evidence that his language must be interpreted to mean that existence in reality can be deduced from the essence of thought. And the evidence offered seems by no means sufficient.
In discussing the first charge made by Professor Seth, I have given reasons for supposing that the analytic aspect of the method, which Professor Seth admits to be present within the Logic, is also to be found in the transition from Logic to Nature and Spirit. Now we have seen above <Note: Section 54.> that the absence of such an analytic element would not imply of necessity that the argument is from essence to existence. But, on the other hand, the presence of that element would render it certain that no attempt was made to proceed to existence from essence. For the presence of the analytic aspect in the transition means that we are working towards the development, in explicit consciousness, of the full value of the whole which was previously before us in implicit consciousness, and the existence of this whole is the motive force of the transition. If, therefore, the result reached by the dialectic has real existence, so also the datum, of which the dialectic process is an analysis, must have real existence. The argument is thus from existence to existence. That a movement is in any way analytic implies that its result is given, at any rate implicitly, in its data. But an argument from essence to existence would most emphatically go beyond its data, producing something fresh. If, therefore, we have reason to reject the first charge of Professor Seth against the validity of the transition from the Logic to the rest of the system, the second charge falls to the ground with it.
62. In defence of his view Professor Seth, pointing out that Hegel calls his philosophy absolute, says that “it is the characteristic of an absolute philosophy that everything must be deduced or constructed as a necessity of thought.” <Note: op. cit. p. 110.> No quotations, however, are given from Hegel in support of this interpretation. And the one definition which Hegel himself gives of the word in the Encyclopaedia turns on quite a different point. “According to Kant, the things that we know about are to us appearances only, and we can never know their essential nature, which belongs to another world, which we cannot approach. . . . The true statement of the case is rather as follows. The things of which we have direct consciousness are mere phenomena, not for us only, but in their own nature; and the true and proper case of these things, finite as they are, is to have their existence founded not in themselves but in the universal divine Idea. This view of things, it is true, is as idealist as Kant’s, but in contradistinction to the subjective idealism of the Critical Philosophy should be termed absolute idealism.” <Note: Enc. Section 45, lecture note.> The meaning of the epithet Absolute is here placed exclusively in the rejection of the Kantian theory that knowledge is only of phenomena. But the assertion that reality may in itself become the object of knowledge is not equivalent to the assertion that conclusions regarding reality can be reached by merely considering the nature of thought. If Absolute had this additional and remarkable meaning Hegel would surely have mentioned it explicitly.
63. Again, Hegel rejects Kant’s well known criticism on the ontological proof of the existence of God, and, as this criticism turns on the impossibility of predicating reality through any arguments based only on the definition of the subject, it has been supposed that Hegel did not see this impossibility. “It would be strange,” Hegel says, “if the Notion, the very inmost of mind, if even the Ego, or above all the concrete totality we call God were not rich enough to include so poor a category as Being.” <Note: Enc. Section 51.> “Most assuredly” is Professor Seth’s comment on this, “the Notion contains the category of Being; so does the Ego, that is to say, the Idea of the Ego, and the Idea of God, both of which are simply the Notion under another name. The category of Being is contained in the Ego and may be disengaged from it.” But, he continues, “It is not the category ‘Being’ of which we are in quest, but that reality of which all categories are only descriptions, and which itself can only be experienced, immediately known, or lived. To such reality or factual existence, there is no logical bridge.” <Note: op. cit. p. 119.>
But before we conclude that Hegel has asserted the existence of such a logical bridge, it will be well to bear in mind his warning in the section quoted above, that in God “we have an object of another kind than any hundred thalers, and unlike any one particular notion, representation, or whatever else it may be called.” In what this peculiarity consists is not clearly explained here. But in the middle of the preceding section we find, “That upward spring of the mind signifies that the being which the world has is only a semblance, no real being, no absolute truth; it signifies that beyond and above that appearance, truth abides in God, so that true being is another name for God.” <Note: Enc. Section 50.>
Now, if God is identical with all true being, he certainly has “that reality of which all categories are only descriptions.” For, if he has not, nothing has it, since there is no reality outside him, and the denial of all reality is as impossible as the denial of all truth, – to deny it is to assert it. For if the denial is true, it must be real, and so must the person who makes it. The only question then is whether the category of Being can be predicated of this real God, and in this case Professor Seth admits that Hegel was quite right in his judgment that the predication could be made, if it was worth while. It would seem then that he is scarcely justified in charging Hegel with endeavouring to construct a logical bridge to real or factual existence. Hegel was speaking of something whose real existence could not be doubted except by a scepticism which extended to self-contradiction. Thus he considered himself entitled to assume in his exposition the actual existence of God, and only deliberated whether the predicate of Being could or could not be attached to this existence. To do this he pronounced to be perfectly legitimate, and perfectly useless – legitimate, because we can say of all reality that it is; useless, because the full depth of reality, in which all categories can be found, is expressed so inadequately by this, the simplest and most abstract of all the categories.
64. Kant’s objections do not affect such an ontological argument as this. He shows, no doubt, that we have no right to conclude that anything really exists, on the ground that we have made real existence part of the conception of the thing. No possible attribute, which would belong to the thing if it existed, can give us any reason to suppose that it does exist. But this was not Hegel’s argument. He did not try to prove God’s existence simply from the divine attributes. He relied on two facts. The first was that the conception of God proved that all attributes predicated of anything must, in the last resort, be predicated of God. The second was that experience did exist, and consequently that attributes must be predicated of some existent subject, to account for experience. The important point in the conception of God, for Hegel’s purpose here, was not that he was the most real of beings, nor that he contained all positive qualities, but that he was the only real being. For the existence of an ens realissimum or of an omnitudo realitatis can be denied. But the existence of all reality cannot be denied, for its denial would be contradictory. And, on Hegel’s definition, to deny God’s existence is equivalent to denying all reality, for “true being is another name for God.”
"If, in an identical judgment,” says Kant, “I reject the predicate and retain the subject, there arises a contradiction, and hence I say that the former belongs to the latter necessarily. But if I reject the subject as well as the predicate there is no contradiction, because there is nothing left which can be contradicted. . . . The same applies to the concept of an absolutely necessary being. Remove its existence, and you remove the thing itself, with all its predicates, so that a contradiction becomes impossible.” <Note: Critique of Pure Reason, Book II. Chap. III. Section 4.> But the Hegelian argument rests on the fact that you cannot remove “the thing itself” because the statement by which you do it, and yourself likewise, are actually existent, and must have some ultimate reality behind them, which ultimate reality, called by Hegel God, is the thing whose removal is in question. Thus there is a contradiction. You can only get rid of the Hegelian God by getting rid of the entire universe. And to do this is impossible.
It must be noticed, however, that this form of the ontological argument can only prove the existence of a God who is conceived as the sole reality in the universe. If we ourselves, or anything else, are conceived as existing, except as parts of him, then the denial of his existence does not involve the denial of all reality, and has therefore no contradiction contained in it. Kant’s refutation will stand as against all attempts to prove, by the ontological argument, the existence of a God not conceived as immanent in all existence. It will also be conclusive against all attempts to demonstrate, by means of the ontological argument, any particular quality or attribute of God, unless that attribute can be shown to be essential to his all-inclusive reality, in which case, of course, we should, by denying it, deny the reality also. Kant was right in holding that the ontological argument could not establish the existence of a God, as conceived by his dogmatic predecessors, or as conceived by himself in the Critique of Practical Reason. Hegel was right in holding that it was valid of a God, defined in the Hegelian manner.
65. Professor Seth also relies on Hegel’s treatment of the individual character of existence. “He adroitly contrives to insinuate that, because it is undefinable, the individual is therefore a valueless abstraction.” <Note: op. cit. p. 128.> And he quotes from the Smaller Logic, “Sensible existence has been characterised by the attributes of individuality, and a mutual exclusion of the members. It is well to remember that these very attributes are thoughts and general terms. . . . Language is the work of thought, and hence all that is expressed in language must be universal. . . . And what cannot be uttered, feeling or sensation, far from being the highest truth is the most unimportant and untrue.” <Note: Enc. Section 20.> Professor Seth calls this “Hegel’s insinuated disparagement of the individual.” But, if anything is disparaged, it is not the individual, but sensible existence. When we say that individuality is not a quality of sensible existence, but depends upon thought, this diminishes the fulness and reality of sensible existence, but not unecessarily of individuality. And it is of vital importance which of these two it is which Hegel disparages. For “the individual is the real,” and an attack on individuality, an attempt to make it a mere product of thought, would go far to prove that Hegel did cherish the idea of reducing the whole universe to a manifestation of pure thought. “The meanest thing that exists has a life of its own, absolutely unique and individual, which we can partly understand by terms borrowed from our own experience, but which is no more identical with, or in any way like, the description we give of it, than our own inner life is identical with the description we give of it in a book of philosophy.” <Note: Hegelianism and Personality, p. 125.> But to deny the importance of the sensible element in experience, taken as independent, is justifiable.
It is no doubt perfectly true that we are only entitled to say that a thing is real, when we base that judgment on some datum immediately given to us, and also that those data can only be given us by sense, – inner or outer. But it does not at all follow that the sensible, taken by itself, is real. Thought also is essential to reality. In the first place it would be impossible for us to be self-conscious without thought, since mere unrelated sensation is incompatible with self-consciousness. Now without self-consciousness nothing would be real for us. Without self-consciousness sensations could not exist. For an unperceived sensation is a contradiction. Sensations exist only in being perceived; and perception is impossible without comparison at the least, which involves thought, and so self-consciousness.
Mere sensation may surely then be called unimportant – even Kant called it blind – since it has no reality at all, except in a unity in which it is not mere sensation. It is as much an abstraction as mere thought is. The importance lies only in the concrete whole of which they are both parts, and this reality is not to be considered as if it was built up out of thought and sensation. In that case the mere sensation might be said to have some reality, though only in combination. But here the sensation, as a mere abstraction, must be held not to exist in the concrete reality, but merely to be capable of distinction in it, and thus to have of itself no reality whatever.
It is of course true that it is only the immediate contents of experience which need mediation by thought to give them reality, and not self-subsistent entities, – such as our own selves. But Hegel’s charge of unimportance was made against sensations, which are not self-subsistent entities, but simply part of the content of experience.
In the Introductory Chapter, in which the passage quoted above is found, Hegel was merely trying to prove that thought was essential, not that it was all-sufficient. It will therefore quite agree with the context if we take this view of what it was to which he denied importance. It would certainly have made his position clearer, if he had, at the same time, asserted the abstractness and unimportance of thought without sense, as emphatically as he had asserted the abstractness and unimportance of sense without thought, but the former is implied in the passages <Note: Sections 33-42 above.> by which the dialectic is made to depend on experience, and explicitly affirmed in the passage from the Philosophy of Spirit <Note: Section 43 above.> in which the logical idea is declared to be dependent on Spirit, and to be mediated by it. For in Spirit we have the union of the two sides which, when separated, present themselves to us as the mediating thought and the immediate datum.
66. We are told also that the tendency of the whole system is towards the undue exaltation of logic and essence, at the expense of nature and reality. In support of this it is said that, although Hegel “talks (and by the idiom of the language cannot avoid talking) of ‘der absolute Geist’ (the absolute spirit) that by no means implies, as the literal English translation does, that he is speaking of God as a Subjective Spirit, a singular intelligence. ... The article goes with the noun in any case, according to German usage; and ‘absolute spirit’ has no more necessary reference to a Concrete Subject than the simple ‘spirit’ or intelligence which preceded it.” <Note: Hegelianism and Personality, p. 151.> It may be the case that Hegel did not conceive Absolute Spirit as a single intelligence. Indeed it seems probable that he did not do so, but the point is too large to be discussed here. But even in that case, it does not follow that the Absolute Spirit cannot be concrete. If it is conceived as an organism or society of finite intelligences, it will still be a concrete subject, although it will possess no self-consciousness or personality of its own. If it is regarded as manifested in an unconnected agglomeration of finite intelligences, it may not be a subject, but will still be concrete, since it will consist of the finite intelligences, which are certainly concrete. No doubt, if a definition or description be asked for of Absolute Spirit, the answer, like all definitions or descriptions, will be in abstract terms, but a definition, though in abstract terms, may be the definition of a concrete thing. Even if the Absolute Spirit was a singular intelligence, any explanation of its nature would have to be made by ascribing to it predicates, which are necessarily abstract terms.
And against this asserted tendency on Hegel’s part to take refuge in abstractions we may set his own explicit declarations. He continually uses abstract as a term of reproach and declares that the concrete alone is true. Now it cannot be denied that Nature is more concrete than the pure idea, or that Spirit is more concrete than Nature. This would lead us, apart from other considerations, to suppose that the logical prius of the universe was to be looked for in Spirit, which is the most concrete of all things, <Note: Philosophy of Spirit, Section 377, p. 3.> and not in the Idea, which is only imperfectly concrete, even in its highest form.