Studies in the Hegelian Dialectic. John McTaggart & Ellis McTaggart 1896
106. MY object in this chapter will be to show that the method, by which Hegel proceeds from one category to another in his Logic, is not the same throughout, but changes materially as the process advances. I shall endeavour to show that this change may be reduced to a general law, and that from this law we may derive important consequences with regard to the nature and validity of the dialectic.
The exact relation of these corollaries to Hegel’s own views is rather uncertain. Some of them do not appear to be denied in any part of the Logic, and, since they are apparently involved in some of his theories, may be supposed to have been recognised and accepted by him. On the other hand, he did not explicitly state and develope them anywhere, which, in the case of doctrines of such importance, is some ground for supposing that he did not hold them. Others, again, are certainly incompatible with his express statements. I desire, therefore, in considering them, to leave on one side the question of how far they were believed by Hegel, and merely to give reasons for thinking that they are necessary consequences of his system and must be accepted by those who hold it.
107. The passage in which Hegel sums up his position on this point most plainly runs as follows: “The abstract form of the advance is, in Being, an other and transition into an other; in Essence, showing a reflection in the opposite; in notion, the distinction of individual from universality, which continues itself as such into, and is as an identity with, what is distinguished from it.” <Note: Enc. Section 240.>
The difference between the procedure in the doctrine of Being and in the doctrine of Essence is given in more detail earlier. “In the sphere of Essence one category does not pass into another, but refers to another merely. In Being the form of reference is simply due to our reflection on what takes place; but this form is the special and proper characteristic of Essence. In the sphere of Being, when somewhat becomes another, the somewhat has vanished. Not so in Essence: here there is no real other, but only diversity, reference of the one to its other. The transition of Essence is therefore at the same time no transition; for in the passage of different into different, the different does not vanish: the different terms remain in their relation. When we speak of Being and Nought, Being is independent, so is Nought. The case is otherwise with the Positive and the Negative. No doubt these possess the characteristic of Being and Nought. But the positive by itself has no sense; it is wholly in reference to the negative. And it is the same with the negative. In the Sphere of Being the reference of one term to another is only implicit; in Essence, on the contrary, it is explicit. And this in general isthe distinction between the forms of Being and Essence: in Being everything is immediate, in Essence everything is relative.” <Note: Enc. Section 111, lecture note.>
And again, in describing the transition from Essence to the Notion, he says: “Transition into something else is the dialectical process within the range of Being; reflection (bringing something else into light) in the range of Essence. The movement of the Notion is development; by which that only is explicitly affirmed which is already implicitly speaking present. In the world of nature, it is organic life that corresponds to the grade of the notion. Thus, e.g., the plant is developed from its germ. The germ virtually involves the whole plant, but does so only ideally or in thought; and it would therefore be a mistake to regard the development of the root, stem, leaves, and other different parts of the plant as meaning that they were realiter present, but in a very minute form, in the germ. That is the so-called ‘box- within-box’ hypothesis; a theory which commits the mistake of supposing an actual existence of what is at first found only in the shape of an ideal. The truth of the hypothesis on the other hand lies in its perceiving that, in the process of development, the notion keeps to itself, and only gives rise to alteration of form without making any addition in point of content. It is this nature of the notion – this manifestation of itself in its process as a development of its own self – which is chiefly in view by those who speak of innate ideas, or who, like Plato, describe all learning as merely reminiscence. Of course that again does not mean that everything which is embodied in a mind, after that mind has been formed by instruction, had been present in that mind beforehand in a definitely expanded shape.
“The movement of the notion is after all to be looked on only as a kind of play. The other which it sets up is in reality not another. Or, as it is expressed in the teaching, of Christianity, not merely has God created a world which confronts Him as another; He has also from all eternity begotten a Son, in whom He, a Spirit, is at home with Himself.” <Note: Enc. Section 161, lecture note.>
108. The result of this process may be summed up as follows: The further the dialectic goes from its starting point the less prominent becomes the apparent stability of the individual finite categories, and the less do they seem to be self-centred and independent. On the other hand, the process itself becomes more clearly self-evident, and is seen to be the only real meaning of the lower categories. In Being each category appears, taken by itself, to be permanent and exclusive of all others, and to have no principle of transition in it. It is only outside reflection which examines and breaks down this presence of stability, and shows us that the dialectic process is inevitable. In Essence, however, each category by its own import refers to that which follows it, and the transition is seen to be inherent in its nature. But it is still felt to be, as it were, only an external effect of that nature. The categories have still an inner nature, as contrasted with the outer relations which they have with other categories. So far as they have this inner nature, they are still conceived as independent and self-centred. But with the passage into the notion things alter; that passage “is the very hardest, because it proposes that independent actuality shall be thought as having all its substantiality in the passing over and identity with the other independent actuality.” <Note: Enc. Section 159.> Not only is the transition now necessary to the categories, but the transition is the categories. The reality in any finite category, in this stage, consists only in its summing up those which went before, and in leading on to those which come after.
109. Another change can be observed as the process continues. In the categories of Being the typical form is a transition from a thesis to an antithesis which is merely complementary to it, and is in no way superior to it in value or comprehensiveness. Only when these two extremes are taken together is there for the first time any advance to a higher notion. This advance is a transition to a synthesis which comes as a consequence of the thesis and antithesis jointly. It would be impossible to obtain the synthesis, or to make any advance, from either of the two complementary terms without the other. Neither is in any respect more advanced than the other, and neither of them can be said to be more closely connected than the other with the synthesis, in which both of them alike find their explanation and reconciliation. But when we come to Essence the matter is changed. Here the transition from thesis to antithesis is still indeed from positive to negative, but it is more than merely this. The antithesis is not merely complementary to the thesis, but is a correction of it. It is consequently more concrete and true than the thesis, and represents a real advance. And the transition to the synthesis is not now made so much from the comparison of the other two terms as from the antithesis alone. For the antithesis does not now merely oppose a contrary defect to the original defect of the thesis. It corrects, to some degree, that original mistake, and therefore has – to use the Hegelian phraseology – “the truth” of the thesis more or less within itself. As the action of the synthesis is to reconcile the thesis and the antithesis it can only be deduced from the comparison of the two. But if the antithesis has – as it has in Essence – the thesis as part of its own significance, it will present the whole of the data which the synthesis requires, and it will not be necessary to recur to the thesis, before the step to the synthesis is taken.
But although the reconciliation can be inferred from the second term, apart from the first, a reconciliation is still necessary. For, while the antithesis is an advance upon the thesis, it is also opposed to it. It is not simply a completion of it, but also a denial, though a denial which is already an approximation to union. This element of opposition and negation tends to disappear in the categories of the Notion. As these approach the end of the whole process, the steps are indeed discriminated from one another, but they can scarcely be said to be in opposition. For we have now arrived at a consciousness more or less explicit that in each category all that have gone before are summed up, and all that are to come after are contained implicitly. “The movement of the Notion is after all to be looked on only as a kind of play. The other which it sets up is in reality not another.” And, as a consequence, the third term merely completes the second, without correcting one-sidedness in it, in the same way as the second term merely expands and completes the first. As this type is realised, in fact, the distinctions of the three terms gradually lose their meaning. There is no longer an opposition produced between two terms and mediated by a third. Each term is a direct advance on the one before it. The object of the process is not now to make the one-sided complete, but the implicit explicit. For we have reached a stage when each side carries in it already more or less consciousness of that unity of the whole which is the synthesis, and requires development rather than refutation.
110. It is natural that these changes should accompany the one first mentioned. For, as it is gradually seen that each category, of its own nature, and not by mere outside reflection on it, leads on to the next, that next will have inherent in it its relation to the first. It will not only be the negation and complement of the thesis, but will know that it is so. In so far as it does this, it will be higher than the thesis. It is true that the thesis will see in like manner that it must be connected with the category that succeeds it. But this knowledge can only give a general character of transition to the thesis, for it only knows that it is connected with something, but does not yet know with what. But the antithesis does know with what it is connected, since it is connected with a term which precedes it in the dialectic process. And to see how it is inseparably connected with its opposite, and defined by its relation to it, is an important step towards the reconciliation of the opposition. A fortiori the greater clearness and ease of the transition will have the same effect in the case of the Notion. For there we see that the whole meaning of the category lies in its passage to another. The second therefore has the whole meaning of the first in it, as well as the addition that has been made in the transition, and must therefore be higher than the first.
From this follows naturally the change in the relation of the terms to their synthesis. We have seen that, in proportion as the meaning of the thesis is completely included in the meaning of the antithesis, it becomes possible to find all the data required for the synthesis in the antithesis alone. And when each term has its meaning completely absorbed in the one which follows it, the triple rhythm disappears altogether, in which case each term would be a simple advance on the one below it, and would be deduced from that one only.
111. While Hegel expressly notices, as we have seen, the increasing freedom and directness of the dialectic movement, he makes no mention of the different relation to one another assumed by the various members of the process, which I have just indicated. Traces of the change may, however, be observed in the detail of the dialectic. The three triads which it will be best to examine for this purpose are the first in the doctrine of Being, the middle one in the doctrine of Essence, and the last in the doctrine of the Notion. For, if there is any change within each of these three great divisions (a point we must presently consider), the special characteristics of each will be shown most clearly at that point at which it is at the greatest distance from each of the other divisions. The triads in question are those of Being, Not-Being, and Becoming; of the World of Appearance, Content and Form, and Ratio; <Note: I follow the divisions of Essence as given in the Encyclopaedia.> and of Life, Cognition, and the Absolute Idea. <Note: Cognition is used by Hegel in two senses. Here it is to be taken as Cognition in general, of which Cognition proper and Volition are species.>
Now, in the first of these, thesis and antithesis are on an absolute level. Not-Being is no higher than Being: it does not contain Being in any sense in which Being does not contain it. We can pass as easily from Not-Being to Being as vice versa. And Not-Being by itself is helpless to produce Becoming – as helpless as Being is. The synthesis can only come from the conjunction of both of them. On the other hand the idea of Content and Form, according to Hegel, is a distinct advance on the idea of the World of Appearance, since in Content and Form “the connection of the phenomenon with self is completely stated.” Ratio, again, although the synthesis of the two previous terms, is deduced from the second of them alone, while it could not be deduced from the first alone. It is the relation of Content and Form to one another which leads us on to the other relation which is called ratio. The idea of Cognition, also, is a distinct advance upon the idea of Life, since the defect in the latter, from which Hegel explains the existence of death, is overcome as we pass to Cognition. And it is from Cognition alone, without any reference back to Life, that we reach the Absolute Idea.
112. Another point arises on which we shall find but little guidance in Hegel’s own writings. To each of the three great divisions of the dialectic he has ascribed a particular variation of the method. Are we to understand that one variety changes into another suddenly at the transition from division to division, or is the change continuous, so that, while the typical forms of each division are strongly characterised, the difference between the last step in one and the first step in the next is no greater than the difference between two consecutive steps in the same division? Shall we find the best analogy in the distinction between water and steam – a qualitative change suddenly brought about when a quantitative change has reached a certain degree – or in the distinction between youth and manhood, which at their most characteristic points are clearly distinct, but which pass into one another imperceptibly.
On this point Hegel says nothing. Possibly it had never presented itself to his mind. But there are signs in the Logic which may lead us to believe that the change of method is gradual and continuous.
In the first place we may notice that the absolutely pure type of the process, in Being, is not to be met with in any triad of Quality or Quantity except the first. Being and Not-Being are on a level. But if we compare Being an sich with Being for another, the One with the Many, and mere Quantity with Quantum, we observe that the second category is higher than the first in each pair, and that it is not merely the complement of the first, but to a certain degree transcends it. The inherent relation of thesis to antithesis seems to develop more as we pass on, so that before Essence is reached its characteristics are already visible to some extent, and the mere passivity and finitude of Being is partly broken down.
If, again, we compare the first and last stages of Essence, we shall find that the first approximates to the type of Being, while the last comes fairly close to that of the Notion, by substituting the idea of development for the idea of the reconciliation of contradictions. Difference, as treated by Hegel, is certainly an advance on Identity, and not a mere opposite, but there is still a good deal of opposition between the terms. The advance is shown by the fact that Difference contains Likeness and Unlikeness within itself, while the opposition of the two categories is clear, not only in common usage, but from the fact that the synthesis has to reconcile them, and balance their various deficiencies. But when we reach Substance and Causality we find that the notion of contradiction is subordinated to that of development, nearly as fully as if we were already at the beginning of the doctrine of the Notion.
So, finally, the special features of the doctrine of the Notion are not fully exhibited until we have come to its last stage. In the transitions of the Notion as Notion, of the Judgment, and of the Syllogism, we have not by any means entirely rid ourselves of the elements of opposition and negation. It is not until we reach the concluding triad of the Logic that we are able fully to see the typical progress of the Notion. In the transition from Life to Cognition, and from Cognition to the Absolute Idea, we perceive that the movement is all but completely direct, that the whole is seen to be in each part, and that there is no longer a contest, but only a development.
It is not safe, however, to place much weight on all this. In the first place, while Hegel explicitly says that each of the three doctrines has its special method, he says nothing about any development of method within each doctrine. In the second place the difficulty and uncertainty of comparing, quantitatively and exactly, shades of difference so slight and subtle, must always be very great. And, so far as we can compare them, there seem to be some exceptions to the rule of continuous development. We find some triads which approximate more closely to the pure Being-type than others which precede them, and we find some which approximate more closely to the pure Notion-type than others which follow them. But that there are some traces of continuous development cannot, I think, be denied, and this will become more probable if we see reason to think that, in a correct dialectic, the development would be continuous.
113. Before we consider this question we must first enquire whether the existence of such a development of any sort, whether continuous or not, might be expected from the nature of the case. We shall see that there are reasons for supposing this to be so, when we remember what we must regard as the essence of the dialectic. The motive power of all the categories is the concrete absolute truth, from which all finite categories are mere abstractions and to which they tend spontaneously to return. Again, two contradictory ideas cannot be held to be true at the same time. If it ever seems inevitable that they should be, this is a sign of error somewhere, and we cannot feel satisfied with the result, until we have transcended and synthesised the contradiction. It follows that in so far as the finite categories announce themselves as permanent, and as opposed in pairs of unsynthesised contradictories, they are expressing falsehood and not truth. We gain the truth by transcending the contradictions of the categories and by demonstrating their instability. Now the change in the method, of which we are speaking, indicates a clearer perception of this truth. For we have seen that the process becomes more spontaneous and more direct. As it becomes more spontaneous, as each category is seen to lead on of its own nature to the next, and to have its meaning only in the transition, it brings out more fully what lies at the root of the whole dialectic – namely that the truth of the opposed categories lies only in the synthesis. And as the process becomes more direct and leaves the opposition and negation behind, it also brings out more clearly what is an essential fact in every stage of the dialectic, – that is, that the impulse of imperfect truth, as we have it, is not towards self- contradiction as such, but towards self-completion. The essential nature of the whole dialectic is thus more clearly seen in the later stages, which approximate to the type of the Notion, than in the earlier stages which approximate to the type of Being.
This is what we might expect Ó priori. For the content of each stage in the dialectic is nearer to the truth than that of the stage before it. And each stage forms the starting-point from which we go forward again to further truth. At each step, therefore, in the forward process, we have a fuller knowledge of the truth than at the one before, and it is only natural that this fuller knowledge should react upon the manner in which the next step is made. The dialectic is due to the relation between the concrete whole, implicit in consciousness, and the abstract part of it which has become explicit. Since the second element alters at every step, as the categories approximate to the complete truth, it is clear that its relation to the unchanging whole alters also, and this would naturally affect the method. And, since the change in the relation will be one which will make that relation more obvious and evident, we may expect that every step which we take towards the full truth will render it possible to proceed more easily and directly to the next step.
Even without considering the special circumstance that each step in the process will give us this deeper insight into the meaning of the work we are carrying on, we might find other reasons for supposing that the nature of the dialectic process is modified by use. For the conception of an agent which is purely active, acting on a material which is purely passive, is a mere abstraction, and has a place nowhere in reality. Even in the case of matter, we find that this is true. An axe has not the same effect at its second blow as at its first, for it is more or less blunted. A violin has not the same tone the second time it is played on, as it had the first. And it would be least of all in the work of the mind that a rigid distinction could be kept up between form and matter, between the tool and the materials.
114. Now these arguments for the existence of change in the method are also arguments for supposing that the change will be continuous. There is reason to expect a change in the method whenever we have advanced a step towards truth. But we advance towards truth, not only when we pass from one chief division of the Logic to another, but whenever we pass from category to category, however minute a subdivision of the process they may represent. It would therefore seem that it is to be expected that the method would change after each category, and that no two transitions throughout the dialectic would present quite the same type. However continuous the change of conclusions can be made, it is likely that the change of method will be equally continuous.
It may also be noted that the three doctrines themselves form a triad, and that in the same way the three divisions of each doctrine, and the three subdivisions of each division, form a triad. The similarity of constitution which exists between the larger and smaller groups of categories may perhaps be some additional reason for anticipating that the smaller transitions will exert on the method an influence similar to that of the larger transitions, although, of course, less in amount.
115. We may therefore, I think, fairly arrive at the conclusion, in the first place, that the dialectic process does and must undergo a progressive change, and, in the second place, that this change is as much continuous as the process of the dialectic itself. Another question now arises. Has the change in the method destroyed its validity? The ordinary proofs relate only to the type characteristic of Being, which, as we have now found reason to believe, is only found in its purity in the very first triad of all. Does the gradual change to the types characteristic of Essence and the Notion make any difference in the justification of the method as a whole?
This question must be answered in the negative. The process has lost none of its cogency. It consisted, according to the earliest type, of a search for completeness, and of a search for harmony between the elements of that completeness, the two stages being separate. Later on we have the same search for completeness and for harmony, but both objects are attained by a single process. In Being, the inadequacy of the thesis led on to the antithesis. Each of these ideas was regarded as an immediate and self-centred whole. On the other hand each of them implied the other, since they were complementary and opposite sides of the truth. This brought about a contradiction, which had to be reconciled by the introduction of the synthesis. Now the change in the process has the effect of gradually dropping the intermediate stage, in which the two sides of the whole are regarded as incompatible and yet as inseparably connected. In the stage of Essence, each category has a reference in its own nature to those which come before and after it. When we reach the antithesis therefore, we have already a sort of anticipation of the synthesis, since we recognise that the two sides are connected by their own nature, and not merely by external reasoning. Thus the same step by which we reach the idea complementary to our starting-point, and so gain completeness, does something towards joining the two extremes in the harmony which we require of them. For, when we have seen that the categories are inherently connected, we have gone a good way towards the perception that they are not incompatible. The harmony thus attained in the antithesis is however only partial, and leaves a good deal for the synthesis to do. In the Notion, the change is carried further. Here we see that the whole meaning of the category resides in the transition, and the whole thesis is really summed up in the antithesis, for the meaning of the thesis is now only the production of the antithesis, and it is absorbed and transcended in it. In fact the relation of thesis, antithesis and synthesis would actually disappear in the typical form of process belonging to the Notion, for each term would be the completion of that which was immediately before it, since all the reality of the latter would be seen to be in its transition to its successor. This never actually happens, even in the final triad of the whole system. For the characteristic type of the Notion represents the process as it would be when it started from a perfectly adequate premise. When however the premise, the explicit idea in the mind, became perfectly adequate and true, we should have rendered explicit the whole concrete idea, and the object of the dialectic process would be attained, so that it could go no further. The typical process of the Notion is therefore an ideal, to which the actual process approximates more and more closely throughout its course, but which it can only reach at the moment when it stops completed.
116. The process always seeks for that idea which is logically required as the completion of the idea from which it starts. At first the complementary idea presents itself as incompatible with the starting-point, and has to be independently harmonised with it. Afterwards the complementary idea is at once presented as in harmony with the original idea in which it is implied. All the change lies in the fact that two operations, at first distinct, are fused into one. The argument of the dialectic all through is, If we start with a valid idea, all that is implied in it is valid, and also everything is valid that is required to avoid a contradiction between the starting-point and that which we reach by means of the starting-point. As we approximate to the end of the process, we are able to see, implied in the idea before us, not merely a complementary and contradictory idea on the same level, but an idea which at once complements and transcends the starting-point. The second idea is here from the first in harmony with the idea which it complements. But its justification is exactly the same as that of the antithesis in the Being-type of the process – that is, that its truth is necessarily involved in the truth of an idea which we have already admitted to be valid. And thus if we are satisfied with the cogency of the earlier forms of the process, we shall have no reason to modify our belief on account of the change of method.
117. We may draw several important conclusions with regard to the general nature of the dialectic, from the manner in which the form changes as it advances towards completion. The first of these is one which we may fairly attribute to Hegel himself, since it is evident from the way in which he deals with the categories, although it is not explicitly noticed by him. This is the subordinate place held by negation in the whole process. We have already observed that the importance of negation in the dialectic is by no means primary. <Note: Chap. I. Section 9.> In the first place Hegel’s Logic is very far from resting, as is supposed by some critics, on the violation of the law of contradiction. It rather rests on the impossibility of violating that law, and on the necessity of finding, for every contradiction, a reconciliation in which it vanishes. And not only is the idea of negation destined always to vanish in the synthesis, but even its temporary introduction is an accident, though an inevitable accident. The motive force of the process lies in the discrepancy between the concrete and perfect idea implicitly in our minds, and the abstract and imperfect idea explicitly in our minds, and the essential characteristic of the process is in the search of this abstract and imperfect idea, not after its negation as such, but after its complement as such. Its complement is, indeed, its contrary, because a relatively concrete category can be analysed into two direct contraries, and therefore the process does go from an idea to its contrary. But it does not do so because it seeks denial, but because it seeks completion.
But this can now be carried still further. Not only is the presence of negation in the dialectic a mere accident, though a necessary one, of the gradual completion of the idea. We are now led to consider it as an accident which is necessary indeed in the lower stages of the dialectic, but which is gradually eliminated in proportion as we proceed further, and in proportion as the materials from which we start are of a concrete and adequate character. For in so far as the process ceases to be from one extreme to another extreme equally one-sided, both of which regard themselves as permanent, and as standing in a relation of opposition towards one another, and in so far as it becomes a process from one term to another which is recognised as in some degree mediated by the first, and as transcending it – in so far the negation of each category by the other disappears. For it is then recognised that in the second category there is no contradiction to the first, because, in so far as the change has been completed, the first is found to have its meaning in the transition to the second. The presence of negation, therefore, is not only a mere accident of the dialectic, but an accident whose importance continuously decreases as the dialectic progresses, and as its subject-matter becomes more fully understood.
118. We now come to a fresh question, of very great importance. We have seen that in the dialectic the relation of the various finite ideas to one another in different parts of the process is not the same – the three categories of Being, Not-Being, and Becoming standing in different relations among themselves to those which connect Life, Cognition, and the Absolute Idea. Now the dialectic process professes to do more than merely describe the stages by which we mount to the Absolute Idea – it also describes the nature of that Idea itself. In addition to the information which we gain about the latter by the definition given of it at the end of the dialectic, we also know that it contains in itself as elements or aspects all the finite stages of thought, through which the dialectic has passed before reaching its goal. It is not something which is reached by the dialectic, and which then exists independently of the manner in which it was reached. It does not reject all the finite categories as absolutely false, but pronounces them to be partly false and partly true, and it sums up in itself the truth of all of them. They are thus contained in it as moments. What relation do these moments bear to one another in the Absolute Idea?
We may, in the first place, adopt the easy and simple solution of saying that the relation they bear to one another, as moments in the Absolute Idea, is just the same as that which they bear to one another, as finite categories in the dialectic process. In this case, to discover their position in the Absolute Idea, it is only necessary to consider the dialectic process, not as one which takes place in time, but as having a merely logical import The process contemplated in this way will be a perfect and complete analysis of the concrete idea which is its end, containing about it, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And this, apparently, would have been Hegel’s answer, if the question had been explicitly proposed to him. For he undoubtedly asserts that the dialectic expresses the deepest nature of objective thought.
119. But this conclusion seems open to doubt. For the change of method results, as we have seen, from a gradually growing perception of the truth which is at the bottom of the whole dialectic – the unreality of any finite category as against its synthesis, since the truth and reality of each category consists only in its reference to the next, and in its passage onwards to it. If this was not true all through the dialectic, there could be no dialectic at all, for the justification of the whole process is that the truth of the thesis and the antithesis is contained in the synthesis, and that in so far as they are anything else but aspects of the synthesis they are false and deceptive. This then must be the true nature of the process of thought, and must constitute the real meaning and essence of the dialectic. Yet this is only explicitly perceived in the Notion, and at the end of the Notion – or rather, as I pointed out above, we never attain to complete perception of it, but only approximate towards it as our grasp of the subject increases. Before this the categories appear always as, in their own nature, permanent and self-centred, and the breaking down of this self-assertion, and the substitution for it of the knowledge that truth is only found in the synthesis, appears as opposed to what went before, and as in contradiction to it, although a necessary and inevitable consequence of it. But if this were really so, the dialectic process would be impossible. If there really were any independent element in the lower categories, or any externality in the reconciliation, that reconciliation could never be complete and the dialectic could never claim, as it undoubtedly does claim, to sum up all the lower elements of truth.
The very existence of the dialectic thus tends to prove that it is not in every sense objectively correct. For it would be impossible for any transition to be made, at any point in the process, unless the terms were really related according to the type belonging to the Notion. But no transition in the dialectic does take place exactly according to that type, and most of them according to types substantially different. We must therefore suppose that the dialectic does not exactly represent the truth, since if the truth were as it represents it to be, the dialectic itself could not exist. There must be in the process, besides that element which actually does express the real notion of the transition, another element which is due to the inadequacy of our finite thought to express the character of the reality which we are trying to describe.
This agrees with what was said above – that the change of method is no real change, but only a rearrangement of the elements of the transition. It is, in fact, only a bringing out explicitly of what is implicitly involved all along. In the lower categories our data, with their false appearance of independence, obscure and confuse the true meaning of the dialectic. We can see that the dialectic has this true meaning, even among these lower categories, by reflecting on what is implied in its existence and success. But it is only in the later categories that it becomes explicit. And it must follow that those categories in which it is not yet explicit do not fully represent the true nature of thought, and the essential character of the transition from less perfect to more perfect forms.
120. The conclusion at which we are thus compelled to arrive must be admitted, I think, to have no warrant in Hegel. Hegel would certainly have admitted that the lower categories, regarded in themselves, gave views of reality only approximating, and, in the case of the lowest, only very slightly approximating, to truth. But the procession of the categories, with its advance through oppositions and reconciliations, he apparently regarded as presenting absolute truth – as fully expressing the deepest nature of pure thought. From this, if I am right, we are forced, on his own premises, to dissent. For the true process of thought is one in which each category springs out of the one before it, not by contradicting it, but as an expression of its truest significance, and finds its own truest significance, in turn, by passing on to another category. There is no contradiction, no opposition, and, consequently, no reconciliation. There is only development, the rendering explicit what was implicit, the growth of the seed to the plant. In the actual course of the dialectic this is never attained. It is an ideal which is never quite realised, and from the nature of the case never can be quite realised. In the dialectic there is always opposition, and therefore always reconciliation. We do not go straight onward, but more or less from side to side. It seems inevitable, therefore, to conclude that the dialectic does not completely and perfectly express the nature of thought.
This conclusion is certainly startling and paradoxical. For the validity of the dialectic method for any purpose, and its power of adequately expressing the ultimate nature of thought, appear to be so closely bound up together, that we may easily consider them inseparable. The dialectic process is a distinctively Hegelian idea. Doubtless the germs of it are to be found in Fichte and elsewhere; but it was only by Hegel that it was fully worked out and made the central point of a philosophy. And in so far as it has been held since, it has been held substantially in the manner in which he stated it. To retain the doctrine, and to retain the idea that it is of cardinal importance while denying that it adequately represents the nature of thought, looks like a most unwarranted and gratuitous distinction between ideas which their author held to be inseparable.
Yet I cannot see what alternative is left to us. For it is Hegel himself who refutes his own doctrine. The state to which the dialectic, according to him, gradually approximates, is one in which the terms thesis, antithesis, and synthesis can have no meaning. For in this state there is no opposition to create the relation of thesis and antithesis, and, therefore, no reconciliation of that opposition to create a synthesis. “The elements distinguished are without more ado at the same time declared to be identical with one another, and with the whole. . . . The other which the notion sets up is in reality not another.” <Note: Enc. Section 161.> Now, nowhere in the dialectic do we entirely get rid of the relation of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis; even in the final triad of the process there are traces of it. The inference seems inevitable that the dialectic cannot fully represent, in any part of its movement, the real and essential nature of pure thought. The only thing to be done is to consider whether, with this important limitation, the process has any longer a claim to any real significance, and, if so, to how much? I shall endeavour to show that its importance can scarcely be said to have diminished at all.
121. Since the dialectic, if the hypothesis I have advanced be correct, does not adequately represent the nature of pure thought itself, although it does represent the inevitable course our minds are logically bound to follow, when they attempt to deal with pure thought, it follows that it must be in some degree subjective. We have now to determine exactly the meaning in which we are using this rather ambiguous word. On the one hand it is clear that the dialectic is not subjective in that sense in which the word has been defined as meaning “that which is mine or yours.” It is no mere empirical description or generalisation. For, whatever view we may hold with regard to the success or failure of the dialectic in apprehending the true nature of thought, it will not at all affect the question of its internal necessity, and of its cogency for us. The dialectic is not an account of what men have thought, or may think. It is a demonstration of what they must think, provided they wish to deal with Hegel’s problem at all, and to deal with it consistently and truly.
On the other hand, we must now pronounce the dialectic process to be subjective in this sense – that it does not fully express the essential nature of thought, but obscures it more or less under characteristics which are not essential. It may not seem very clear at first sight how we can distinguish between the necessary course of the mind when engaged in pure thought, which the dialectic method, according to this hypothesis, is admitted to be, and the essential nature of thought, which it is not allowed that it can adequately express. What, it may be asked, is the essential nature of thought, except that course which it must and does take, whenever we think?
We must remember, however, that according to Hegel thought can only exist in its complete and concrete form – that is, as the Absolute Idea. The import of our thought may be, and of course often is, a judgment under some lower category, but our thought itself, as an existent fact, distinguished from the meaning it conveys, must be concrete and complete. For to stop at any category short of the complete whole involves a contradiction, and a contradiction is a sign of error. Now our judgments can be, and often are, erroneous. And so we can, and do, make judgments which involve a contradiction. But there would be no meaning in saying that a fact is erroneous, and therefore, if we find a contradiction in any judgment, we know that it cannot be true of facts. It follows that, though it is unquestionably true that we can predicate in thought categories other than the highest, and even treat them as final, it is no less certain that we cannot, with complete truth, explain thought, any more than any other aspect of reality, by any category but the Absolute Idea.
This explains how it is possible for the actual and inevitable course of thought not to express fully and adequately its own nature. For thought may be erroneous or deceptive, when it is treating of thought, as much as when it is treating of any other reality. And it is possible that under certain circumstances the judgment expressed in our thoughts may be inevitably erroneous or deceptive. If these judgments have thought as their subject- matter we shall then have the position in question – that the necessary course of thought will fail to express properly its own nature.
122. The mistake, as we have already noticed, comes from the fact that, whereas the logical relations, which form the content of the Absolute Idea, and express the true nature of thought, consist in a direct development in which each term only exists in the transition to another, the actual process, on the other hand, is one from contradictory to contradictory, each of which is conceived as possessing some stability and independence. The reason of this mistake lies in the nature of the process, which is one from error to truth. For while error remains in our conclusions, it must naturally affect our comprehension of the logical relations by which those conclusions are connected, and induce us to suppose them other than they are. In particular, the mistake may be traced to the circumstance that the dialectic starts with the knowledge of the part, and from this works up to the knowledge of the whole. This method of procedure is always inappropriate in anything of the nature of an organism. Now the relation of the moments of the Absolute Idea to the whole of which they are parts is still more close and intimate than is the relation of the parts of a living organism to the organism itself. And here, therefore, even more than with organisms, will it be inadequate and deceptive to endeavour to comprehend the whole from the standpoint of the part. And this is what the dialectic, as it progresses, must necessarily do. Consequently, not only are the lower categories of the dialectic inadequate when taken as ultimate, but their relation to each other is not the relation which they have in the Absolute Idea, and consequently in all existence. These relations, in the dialectic, represent more or less the error through which the human mind is gradually attaining to the truth. They do not adequately represent the relations existing in the truth itself. To this extent, then, the dialectic is subjective.
123. And the dialectic is also to be called subjective because it not only fails to show clearly the true nature of thought, but, as we noticed above, does not fully express its own meaning – the meaning of the process forwards. For the real meaning of the advance, if it is to have any objective reality at all – if it is to be a necessary consequence of all attempt at thorough and consistent thinking, must be the result of the nature of thought as it exists. Our several judgments on the nature of thought have not in themselves any power of leading us on from one of them to another. It is the relation of these judgments to the concrete whole of thought, incarnate in our minds and in all our experience, which creates the dialectic movement. Since this is so, it would seem that the real heart and kernel of the process is the movement of abstractions to rejoin the whole from which they have been separated, and that the essential part of this movement is that by which we are carried from the more abstract to the more concrete. This will be determined by the relations in which the finite categories stand to the concrete idea, when they are viewed as abstractions from it and aspects of it – the only sense in which they have any truth. But the true relation of the abstractions to the concrete idea is, as we have already seen, that to which the dialectic method gradually approximates, but which it never reaches, and not that with which it starts, and which it gradually, but never entirely, discards. And so the dialectic advance has, mixed up with it, elements which do not really belong to the advance, nor to the essence of pure thought, but are merely due to our original ignorance about the latter, of which we only gradually get rid. For all that part of the actual advance in the dialectic, which is different from the advance according to the type characteristic of the Notion, has no share in the real meaning and value of the process, since it does not contribute to what alone makes that meaning and value, namely the restoration of the full and complete idea. What this element is, we can learn by comparing the movement of the dialectic which is typical of Being, with that which is typical of the Notion. It is the opposition and contradiction, the immediacy of the finite categories, and the way in which they negate their antitheses, and resist, until forced into submission, the transition to their syntheses. It is, so to speak, the transverse motion as opposed to the direct motion forward. The dialectic always moves onwards at an angle to the straight line which denotes advance in truth and concreteness. Starting unduly on one side of the truth, it oscillates to the other, and then corrects itself. Once more it finds that even in its corrected statement it is still one-sided, and again swings to the opposite extreme. It is in this indirect way alone that it advances. And the essence of the process is the direct part alone of the advance. The whole point of the dialectic is that it gradually attains to the Absolute Idea. In so far then as the process is not direct advance to the absolute, it does not express the essence of the process only, but also the inevitable inadequacies of the human mind when considering a subject-matter which can only be fully understood when the consideration has been completed.
And, as was remarked above, it also fails to express its own meaning in another way. For the imperfect type of transition, which is never fully eliminated, represents the various categories as possessing some degree of independence and self-subsistence. If they really possessed this, they could not be completely absorbed in the syntheses, and the dialectic could not be successful. The fact that it is successful proves that it has not given a completely correct account of itself, and, for this reason also, it deserves to be called subjective, since it does not fully express the objective reality of thought.
124. Having decided that the dialectic is to this extent subjective, we have to consider how far this will reduce its cardinal significance in philosophy, or its practical utility. I do not see that it need do either. For all that results from this new position is that the dialectic is a process through error to truth. Now we knew this before. For on any theory of the dialectic it remains true that it sets out with inadequate ideas of the universe and finally reaches adequate ideas. We now go further and say that the relation of these inadequate ideas to one another does not completely correspond to anything in the nature of reality. But the general result is the same – that we gain the truth by the dialectic, but that the steps by which we reach it contain imperfections. We shall see that our new view does not destroy the value of the dialectic, if we consider in more detail in what that value consists.
The importance of the dialectic is threefold. The first branch of it depends chiefly on the end being reached, and the other two chiefly on the means by which it is reached. The first of these lies in the conclusion that if we can predicate any category whatever of a thing, we are thereby entitled to predicate the Absolute Idea of it. Now we can predicate some category of anything whatever, and the Absolute Idea is simply the description in abstract terms of the human spirit, or, in other words, the human spirit is the incarnation of the Absolute Idea. From this it follows that the mind could, if it only saw clearly enough, see a nature like its own in everything. The importance of this conclusion is obvious. It gives the assurance of that harmony between ourselves and the world for which philosophy always seeks, and by which alone science and religion can be ultimately justified.
Hegel was entitled, on his own premises, to reach this conclusion by means of the dialectic. And the different view of the relation of the dialectic to reality, which I have ventured to put forward, does not at all affect the validity of the dialectic for this purpose. For the progress of the dialectic remains as necessary as before. The progress is indirect, and we have come to the conclusion that the indirectness of the advance is not in any way due to the essential nature of pure thought, but entirely to our own imperfect understanding of that nature. But the whole process is still necessary, and the direct advance is still essential. And all that we want to know is that the direct advance is necessary. We are only interested, for this particular purpose, in proving that from any possible stand-point we are bound in logical consistency to advance to the Absolute Idea. In this connection it is not of the least importance what is the nature of the road we travel, provided that we must travel it, nor whether the process expresses truth fully, provided that the final conclusion does so. Now the theory propounded above as to the dialectic process leaves the objectivity and adequacy of the result of the dialectic unimpaired. And therefore for this function the system is as well adapted as it ever was.
125. The second ground of the importance of the Hegelian logic consists in the information which it is able to give us about the world as it is here and now for us, who have not yet been able so clearly to interpret all phenomena as only to find our own most fundamental nature manifesting itself in them. As we see that certain categories are superior in concreteness and truth to others, since they come later in the chain and have transcended the meaning of their predecessors, we are able to say that certain methods of regarding the universe are more correct and significant than others. We are able to see that the idea of organism, for example, is a more fundamental explanation than the idea of causality, and one which we should prefer whenever we can apply it to the matter in hand.
Here also the value of the dialectic remains unimpaired. For whether it does or does not express the true nature of thought with complete correctness; it certainly, according to this theory, does show the necessary and inevitable connection of our finite judgments with one another. The utility which we are now considering lies in the guidance which the dialectic can give us to the relative validity and usefulness of these finite judgments. For it is only necessary to know their relations to one another, and to know that as the series goes further, it goes nearer to the truth. Both these things can be learnt from the dialectic. That it does not tell us the exact relations which subsist in reality is unimportant. For we are not here judging reality, but the judgments of reason about reality.
126. The third function of the dialectic process is certainly destroyed by the view of it which I have explained above. The dialectic showed, for Hegel, the relation of the categories to one another, as moments in the Absolute Idea, and in reality. We are now forced to consider those moments as related in a way which is inadequately expressed by the relation of the categories to one another. We are not however deprived of anything essential to the completeness of the system by this. In the first place, we are still able to understand completely and adequately what the Absolute Idea is. For although one definition was given of it by which “its true content is only the whole system of which we have been hitherto studying the development,” yet a more direct and independent one may also be found. <Note: “Der Begriff der Idee, dem die Idee als solche der Gegenstand, dem das Objekt sie ist.” – Enc. Section 236. The definition quoted in the text is in Section 237, lecture note.> Our inability to regard the process any longer as an adequate analysis of the Absolute Idea will not leave us in ignorance of what the Absolute Idea really is.
And, in the second place, we are not altogether left in the dark even as regards the analysis of the Absolute Idea. The dialectic, it is true, never fully reveals the true nature of thought which forms its secret spring, but it gives us data by which we can discount the necessary error. For the connection of the categories resembles the true nature of thought (which is expressed in the typical transition of the Notion), more and more closely as it goes on, and at the end of the Logic it differs from it only infinitesimally. By observing the type to which the dialectic method approximates throughout its course, we are thus enabled to tell what element in it is that which is due to the essential nature of thought. It is that element which alone is left when, in the typical movement of the Notion, we see how the dialectic would act if it could act with full self-consciousness. It is true that in the lower categories we can never see the transition according to this type, owing to the necessary confusion of the subject-matter in so low a stage, which hides the true nature of the process to which the dialectic endeavours to approximate. But we can regard the movement of all the categories as compounded, in different proportions according to their positions in the system, of two forces, the force of opposition and negation, and the force of advance and completion, and we can say that the latter is due to the real nature of thought, and the former to our misconceptions about it. In other words, the element of imperfection in the dialectic is inevitable, but its amount can be ascertained, and it need not therefore introduce any doubt or scepticism into the conclusions to which the dialectic may lead us.
127. What then is this real and essential element in the advance of thought which is revealed, though never completely, in the dialectic? In the first place, it is an advance which is direct. The element of indirectness which is introduced by the movement from thesis to antithesis, from opposite to opposite, diminishes as the dialectic proceeds, and, in the ideal type, wholly dies away. In that type each category is seen to carry in itself the implication of the next beyond it, to which thought then proceeds. The lower is only lower because part of its meaning is still implicit; it is no longer one-sided, requiring to be corrected by an equal excess on the other side of the truth. And, therefore, no idea stands in an attitude of opposition to any other; there is nothing to break down, nothing to fight. All that aspect of the process belongs to our misapprehension of the relation of the abstract to the concrete. While looking up from the bottom, we may imagine the truth is only to be attained by contest, but in looking down from the top – the only true way of examining a process of this sort – we see that the contest is only due to our misunderstanding, and that the growth of thought is really direct and unopposed.
The movement of the dialectic may perhaps be compared to that of a ship tacking against the wind. If we suppose that the wind blows exactly from the point which the ship wishes to reach, and that, as the voyage continues, the sailing powers of the ship improve so that it becomes able to sail closer and closer to the wind, the analogy will be rather exact. It is impossible for the ship to reach its destination by a direct course, as the wind is precisely opposite to the line which that course would take, and in the same way it is impossible for the dialectic to move forward without the triple relation of its terms, and without some opposition between thesis and antithesis. But the only object of the ship is to proceed towards the port, as the only object of the dialectic process is to attain to the concrete and complete idea, and the movement of the ship from side to side of the direct line is labour wasted, so far as the end of the voyage is concerned, though necessarily wasted, since the forward movement would, under the circumstances, be impossible without the combination with it of a lateral movement. In the same way, the advance in the dialectic is merely in the gradually increasing completeness of the ideas. The opposition of one idea to another, and the consequent negation and contradiction, do not mark any real step towards attaining the knowledge of the essential nature of thought, although they are necessary accompaniments of the process of gaining that knowledge. Again, the change in the ship’s sailing powers which allows it to go nearer to the wind, and so reduces the distance which it is necessary to travel in order to accomplish the journey, will correspond to the gradual subordination of the elements of negation and opposition, which we have seen to take place as we approach the end of the dialectic.
128. Not the whole, then, of each category represents the objective nature of the dialectic, but only a certain element in it. And this is the element of unity and continuity. The element which keeps the categories apart, and gives them the appearance of distinction and stability, is just the element which we are now led to believe is due to our incapacity to grasp the nature of thought until we arrive at the end of the dialectic.
This would seem to render it probable that the dialectic may be looked on primarily as continuous and not discrete. The categories, if this view is right, should not be taken as ultimate units, which are combined in groups of three, and these again in larger groups of three, till at last the whole dialectic is in this manner built up. On the contrary the whole dialectic should be looked on as primarily a unity, which can be analysed into three members, each of which can again be analysed into three members, and so on, as long as our interest and insight are sufficient to induce us to pursue the division.
This theory is confirmed by two other characteristics of the dialectic. The first of these is the great difference in the lengths to which the sub-division of the categories is carried in different parts of the system. If, for example, in the Smaller Logic, we take the first division of Essence, which is named Essence as Ground, we find that its first two sub-divisions are called, respectively, Primary Characteristics of Reflection, and Existence. In the latter there is no trace of further sub-division, while the former is divided again into Identity, Difference, and Ground, and in Difference, once more, we find distinguished Diversity, Likeness and Unlikeness, and Positive and Negative. Similar differences are to be found at other points of the system, and also in the Greater Logic. If the individual categories were ultimate units, such discrepancies in their size and importance would be strange and inexplicable. But if we regard the whole of the dialectic as logically prior to its parts, and the parts as produced by analysis, we have an easy and natural explanation of the inequality – namely, that it is due to some circumstance which rendered Hegel, or which perhaps renders all men, more interested or more acute when dealing with one part of the process than when dealing with another.
129. There is also a second characteristic of the dialectic which supports this theory. It is not necessary to descend to the lowest sub-divisions which Hegel gives, in order to observe the dialectic process. The larger divisions, also, lead on to one another by the same necessity as the smaller ones do. Reasons could be given, without going into greater detail, why Quality should involve Quantity, and both of them Measure; or, again, why Notion must lead us on to Judgment, and Judgment to Syllogism. An argument which confined itself to so few steps would be far more obscure, and consequently more dangerous and doubtful, than the argument which we actually have in the Logic. But still such a chain of demonstrations could be formed, and in many places Hegel gives us part of it.
Now this is incompatible with the view of the dialectic as ultimately discrete. For then every larger division would be nothing but an aggregate of smaller ones. No such division could then be used as a transition from the one below it to the one above it, without descending into the lowest sub- divisions. Being an aggregate of separate units, it could not be treated as a coherent whole until all its separate parts had been demonstrated to be linked together. And the fact that the dialectic process can go from one to another of the larger divisions, ignoring their sub-divisions, will confirm us in supposing that the dialectic is not a chain of links, but rather a continuous flow of thought, which can be analysed into divisions and sub- divisions.
130. The belief that the dialectic is continuous may have an important influence on our position if we are led, on closer examination, to the conclusion that any of Hegel’s transitions are erroneous and cannot be justified. On the hypothesis that the steps of the dialectic are discrete, one such error would destroy the validity of the whole process, beyond the point where it occurs, as completely as the two ends of a chain would be separated by the breaking of a single link, even if all the rest held fast. Our only reason for not considering the whole value of the process, beyond the faulty link, as absolutely destroyed, would rest on a rough argument from analogy. It might be said that, if there was a valid dialectic process up to a certain point, and again from that point onwards, it was not probable that there would, at that one point, be an absolute gulf, and we might therefore hope that a fresh transition might be discovered at this point, instead of the one which we had been compelled to reject. But such an analogy would not be very strong.
On the other hand, the theory of the continuity of the dialectic will make such a discovery much less serious. For if the larger division, in a sub- division of which the fault occurs, forms itself a valid transition from the division before it to the one which follows it, we shall be sure that to do this it must be a coherent whole, and capable, therefore, of being analysed into a coherent chain of sub-divisions. And therefore, though we cannot be satisfied with the dialectic until we have replaced the defective member with one that will stand criticism, we shall have good grounds for supposing that such a change can be effected.
131. The gradual change in the method of the dialectic can be well exemplified by examining the supreme and all-including triad, of which all the others are moments. This triad is given by Hegel as Logic, Nature, and Spirit.
If we enquire as to the form which the dialectic process is likely to assume here, we find ourselves in a difficulty. For the form of transition in any particular triad was determined by its place in the series. If it was among the earlier categories, it approximated to the character given as typical of Being; if it did not come till near the end, it showed more or less resemblance to the type of the Notion. And we were able to see that this was natural, because the later method, being more direct, and less encumbered with irrelevant material, was only to be attained when the work previously done had given us sufficient insight into the real nature of the subject- matter. This principle, however, will not help us here. For the transition which we are here considering is both the first and the last of its series, and it is impossible, therefore, to determine its characteristic features by its place in the order. The less direct method is necessary when we are dealing with the abstract and imperfect categories with which our investigations must begin, the more direct method comes with the more adequate categories. But this triad covers the whole range, from the barest category of the Logic – that of pure Being – to the culmination of human thought in Absolute Spirit.
Since it covers the whole range, in which all the types of the dialectic method are displayed, the natural conclusion would seem to be that one of them is as appropriate to it as another, that whichever form may be used will be more or less helpful and significant, because the process does cover the ground in which that form can appropriately be used; while, on the other hand, every form will be more or less inadequate, because the process covers ground on which it cannot appropriately be used. If we cast it in the form of the Notion, we shall ignore the fact that it starts at a point too early for a method so direct; if, on the other hand, we try the form of the categories of Being, the process contains material for which such a method is inadequate.
132. And if we look at the facts we shall find that they confirm this view, and that it is possible to state the relation of Logic, Nature, and Spirit to one another, in two different ways. Hegel himself states it in the manner characteristic of the Notion. It is not so much positive, negative, and synthesis, as universal, particular, and individual that he points out. In the Logic thought is to be found in pure abstraction from all particulars, (we cannot, of course, think it as abstracted from particulars, but in the Logic we attend only to the thought, and ignore the data it connects). In Nature we find thought again, for Nature is part of experience, and more or less rational, and this implies that it has thought in it. In Nature, however, thought is rather buried under the mass of data which appear contingent and empirical; we see the reason is there, but we do not see that everything is completely rational. It is described by Hegel as the idea in a state of alienation from itself. Nature is thus far from being the mere contrary and correlative of thought. It is thought and something more, thought incarnate in the particulars of sense. At the same time, while the transition indicates an advance, it does not indicate a pure advance. For the thought is represented as more or less overpowered by the new element which has been added, and not altogether reconciled to and interpenetrating it. In going forward it has also gone to one side, and this requires, therefore, the correction which is given to it in the synthesis, when thought, in Spirit, completely masters the mass of particulars which for a time had seemed to master it, and when we perceive that the truth of the universe lies in the existence of thought as fact, the incarnation of the Absolute Idea – in short, in Spirit.
Here we meet all the characteristics of the Notion-type. The second term, to which we advance from the first, is to some extent its opposite, since the particulars of sense, entirely wanting in the first, are in undue prominence in the second. But it is to a much greater extent the completion of the first, since the idea, which was taken in the Logic in unreal abstraction, is now taken as embodied in facts, which is the way it really exists. The only defect is that the embodiment is not yet quite complete and evident. And the synthesis which removes this defect does not, as in earlier types of the dialectic, stand impartially between thesis and antithesis, each as defective as the other, but only completes the process already begun in the antithesis. It is not necessary to compare the two lower terms, Logic and Nature, to be able to proceed to Spirit. The consideration of Nature alone would be sufficient to show that it postulated the existence of Spirit. For we have already in Nature both the sides required for the synthesis, though their connection is so far imperfect, and there is consequently no need to refer back to the thesis, whose meaning has been incorporated and preserved in the antithesis. The existence of the two sides, not completely reconciled, in the antithesis, in itself postulates a synthesis, in which the reconciliation shall be completed.
133. But it would also be possible to state the transition in the form which is used in the Logic for the lower part of the dialectic. In this case we should proceed from pure thought to its simple contrary, and from the two together to a synthesis. This simple contrary will be the element which, together with thought, forms the basis for the synthesis which is given in Spirit. And as Nature, as we have seen, contains the same elements as Spirit, though less perfectly developed, we shall find this contrary of thought to be the element in experience, whether of Nature or Spirit, which cannot be reduced to thought. Now of this element we know that it is immediate and that it is particular – not in the sense in which Nature is particular, in the sense of incompletely developed individuality, but of abstract particularity. It is possible to conceive that in the long run all other characteristics of experience except these might be reduced to a consequence of thought. But however far the process of rationalisation might be carried, and however fully we might be able to answer the question of why things are as they are and not otherwise, it is impossible to get rid of a datum which is immediate and therefore unaccounted for. For thought is only mediation, and therefore, taken apart from immediacy, is a mere abstraction. If nothing existed but thought itself, still the fact of its existence must be in the long run immediately given, and something for which thought itself could not account. This immediacy is the mark of the element which is essential to experience and irreducible to thought.
If then we wished to display the process from Logic to Spirit according to the Being-type of transition we should, starting from pure thought as our thesis, put as its antithesis the element of immediacy and “givenness” in experience. This element can never be properly or adequately described, since all description consists in predicating categories of the subject, and is therefore mediation; but by abstracting the element of mediation in experience, as in Logic we abstract the element of immediacy, we can form some idea of what it is like. Here we should have thought and immediacy as exactly opposite and counterbalancing elements. They are each essential to the truth, but present themselves as opposed to one another. Neither of them has the other as a part of itself, though they can be seen to be closely and intimately connected. But each of them negates the other as much as it implies it, and the relation, without the synthesis, is one of opposition and contradiction. We cannot see, as we can when a transition assumes the Notion- form, that the whole meaning of the one category lies in its transition to the other. The synthesis of our triad would be the notion of experience or reality, in which we have the given immediate mediated. This would contain both Nature and Spirit, the former as the more imperfect stage, the latter as the more perfect, culminating in the completely satisfactory conception of Absolute Spirit. Nature stands in this case in the same relation to Absolute Spirit as do the lower forms of Spirit, – as less perfectly developed forms of the concrete reality.
This triad could be proved as cogently as the other. It could be shown, in the first place, that mere mediation is unmeaning, except in relation to the merely immediate, since, without something to mediate, it could not act. In the same way it could be shown that the merely given, without any action of thought on it, could not exist, since any attempt to describe it, or even to assert its existence, involves the use of some category, and therefore of thought. And these two extremes, each of which negates the other, and at the same time demands it, are reconciled in the synthesis of actual experience, whether Nature or Spirit, in which the immediate is mediated, and both extremes in this way gain for the first time reality and consistency.
134. The possibility of this alternative arrangement affords, as I mentioned above, an additional argument in favour of the view that the change of method is essential to the dialectic, and that it is due to the progressively increasing insight into the subject which we gain as we pass to the higher categories and approximate to the completely adequate result. For, in this instance, when the whole ground from beginning to end of the dialectic process is covered in a single triad we find that either method may be used, – a fact which suggests of itself that the two methods are appropriate to the two ends of the series, which are here, and here only, united by a single step. Independently of this, however, it is also worth while to consider the possibility of the double transition attentively, because it may help us to explain the origin of some of the misapprehensions of Hegel’s meaning which are by no means uncommon.
135. We saw above that the dialectic represented the real nature of thought more closely in the later categories, when it appeared comparatively direct and spontaneous, than in the earlier stages, when it was still encumbered with negations and contradictions. It would appear probable, therefore, beforehand, that of the two possible methods of treating this particular triad, the one which Hegel has in fact adopted would be the more expressive and significant. On examination we shall find that this is actually the case. For there is no real separation between thought and immediacy; neither can exist without the other. Now, in the method adopted by Hegel, the element of immediacy comes in first in Nature, and comes in, not as an element opposed to, though necessarily connected with, pure thought, but as already bound up with it in a unity. This expresses the truth better than a method which starts by considering the two aspects as two self-centred and independent realities, which have to be connected by reasoning external to themselves. For by this second method, even when the two terms are finally reconciled in a synthesis, it is done, so to speak, against their will, since their claims to independence are only overcome by the reductio ad absurdum to which they are brought, when they are seen, as independent, to be at once mutually contradictory and mutually implied in each other. In this method the transitory nature of the incomplete categories and the way in which their movement forward depends on their own essential nature, are not sufficiently emphasised.
And we shall find that the subject-matter of the transition is too advanced to bear stating according to the Being-type without showing that that type is not fully appropriate to it. Logic and Immediacy are indeed as much on a level as Being and Not-Being. There is no trace whatever in the former case, any more than in the latter, of a rudimentary synthesis in the antithesis. But the other characteristic of the lower type – that the thesis and the antithesis should claim to be mutually exclusive and independent – cannot be fully realised. Being and Nothing, although they may be shown by reasoning to be mutually implicated, are at any rate primÔ facie distinct and independent. But mediation and immediacy, although opposed, are nevertheless connected, even primÔ facie. It is impossible even to define the two terms without suggesting that each of them is, by itself, unstable, and that their only real existence is as aspects of the concrete whole in which they are united. The method is thus not sufficiently advanced for the matter it deals with.
136. It is, however, as I endeavoured to show above, probable Ó priori that neither method would completely suit this particular case. And not only the method which we have just discussed, but the one which Hegel preferred to it, will be found to some extent inadequate to its task here. Hegel’s is, no doubt, the more correct and convenient of the two; yet its use alone, without the knowledge that it does not in this case exclude the concurrent use of the other as equally legitimate, may lead to grave miscomprehensions of the system.
For the use of that method which Hegel does not adopt – the one in which the terms are Logic, Immediacy, and Nature and Spirit taken together – has at any rate this advantage, that it brings out the fact that Immediacy is as important and ultimate a factor in reality as Logic is, and one which cannot be reduced to Logic. The two terms are exactly on a level. We begin with the Logic and go from that to Immediacy, because it is to the completed idea of the Logic that we come if we start from the idea of pure Being, and we naturally start from the idea of pure Being, because it alone, of all our ideas, is the one whose denial carries with it, at once and clearly, self- contradiction. But the transition from Immediacy to Logic is exactly the same as that from Logic to Immediacy. And as the two terms are correlative in this way, it would be comparatively easy to see, by observing them, that neither of them derived its validity from the other, but both from the synthesis.
137. This is not so clear when the argument takes the other form. The element of Immediacy here never appears as a separate and independent term at all. It appears in Nature for the first time, and here it is already in combination with thought. And Nature and Logic are not correlative terms, from either of which we can proceed to the other. The transition runs from Logic to Nature – from thought by itself, to thought in union with immediacy. It is not unnatural, therefore, to suppose that immediacy is dependent on pure thought, and can be deduced from it, while the reverse process is not possible. The pure reason is supposed to make for itself the material in which it is embodied. “The logical bias of the Hegelian philosophy,” says Professor Seth, “tends . . . to reduce things to mere types or ‘concretions’ of abstract formulŠ.” <Note: Hegelianism and Personality, p. 126.> It might, I think, be shown that other considerations conclusively prove this view to be incorrect. In the first place, throughout the Logic there are continual references which show that pure thought requires some material, other than itself, in which to work. And, secondly, the spring of all movement in the dialectic comes from the synthesis towards which the process is working, and not from the thesis from which the start is made. Consequently, progress from Logic to Nature could, in any case, prove, not that the additional element in nature was derived from thought, but that it co-existed with thought in the synthesis which is their goal. But although the mistake might have been avoided, even under the actual circumstances, it could scarcely have been made if the possibility of the alternative method of deduction had been recognised. Immediacy would, in that case, have been treated as a separate element in the process, and as one which was correlative with pure thought, so that it could scarcely have been supposed to have been dependent on it.
138. The more developed method, again, tends rather to obscure the full meaning and importance of the synthesis, unless we realise that, in this method, part of the work of the synthesis is already done in the second term. This is of great importance, because we have seen that it is in their synthesis alone that the terms gain full reality and validity, which they did not possess when considered in abstraction. In the earlier method we see clearly that pure thought is one of these abstractions, as mere immediacy is the other. It is, therefore, clear that each of these terms, taken by itself, is a mere aspect, and could not possibly, out of its own nature, produce the other aspect, and the reality from which they both come. From this standpoint it would be impossible to suppose that out of pure thought were produced Nature and Spirit.
Now, in the type characteristic of the Notion, the same element appears both in thesis and antithesis, although in the latter it is in combination with a fresh element. There is, therefore, a possibility of misunderstanding the process. For an element which was both in thesis and antithesis might appear not to be merely a one-sided abstraction, but to have the concreteness which is to be found in the synthesis, since it appears in both the extremes into which the synthesis may be separated. When, for example, we have Logic, Nature, and Spirit, we might be tempted to argue that pure thought could not be only one side of the truth, since it was found in each of the lower terms – by itself in Logic and combined with immediacy in Nature – and hence to attribute to it a greater self-sufficiency and importance than it really possesses.
This mistake will disappear when we realise that the only reason that pure thought appears again in the second term of the triad is that the synthesis, in transitions of this type, has already begun in the second term. It is only in the synthesis that thought appears in union with its opposite, and, apart from the synthesis, it is as incomplete and unsubstantial as immediacy is.
But the change in the type of the process is not sufficiently emphasised in Hegel, and there is a tendency on the part of observers to take the type presented by the earliest categories as that which prevails all through the dialectic. And as, in the earlier type, one of the extremes could not have been found both in the first and second terms of a triad, it is supposed that pure thought cannot be such an extreme, cannot stand in the same relation to Spirit, as Being does to Becoming, and is rather to be looked on as the cause of what follows it, than as an abstraction from it.
139. I have endeavoured to show that the view of the dialectic given in this chapter, while we cannot suppose it to have been held by Hegel, is nevertheless not unconnected with his system. The germs of it are to be found in his exposition of the changes of method in the three great divisions of the process, and the observation of the details of the system confirm this. But it was not sufficiently emphasised, nor did Hegel draw from it the consequences, particularly as regards the subjective element in the dialectic, which I have tried to show are logically involved in it.
But there is, nevertheless, justification for our regarding this theory as a development and not a contradiction of the Hegelian system, since it is only by the aid of some such theory that we can regard that system as valid at all. And we have seen that such a modification will not affect either of the great objects which Absolute Idealism claims to have accomplished – the demonstration, namely, that the real is rational and the rational is real, and the classification, according to their necessary relations and intrinsic value, of the various categories which we use in ordinary and finite thought.