Studies in the Hegelian Dialectic. John McTaggart & Ellis McTaggart 1896

Chapter VI: The Final Result of the Dialectic

179. FROM a practical point of view the chief interest in Hegel’s system must centre in the last stages of the Philosophy of Spirit. Even if we hold that the pure thought of the Logic is the logical prius of the whole dialectic, and that all Nature and Spirit stand in a purely dependent relation, still our most vital interest must be in that part of the system which touches and interprets the concrete life of Spirit which we ourselves share. And this interest will be yet stronger in those who hold the view, which I have endeavoured to expound in previous chapters, that the logical prius of the system is not pure thought but Spirit. For then, in the highest forms of Spirit we shall see reality in its truest and deepest meaning, from which all other aspects of reality – whether in Logic, in Nature, or in the lower forms of Spirit – are but abstractions, and to which they must return as the only escape from the contradiction and inadequacy which is manifested in them. Upon this view the highest form, in which Spirit manifests itself, will be the ultimate meaning of all things.

Many students must have experienced some disappointment when, turning to the end of the Philosophy of Spirit, they found that its final stage was simply Philosophy. It is true that any thinker, who has the least sympathy with Hegel, must assign to philosophy a sufficiently important place in the nature of things. Hegel taught that the secrets of the universe opened themselves to us, but only on condition of deep and systematic thought, and the importance of philosophy was undiminished either by scepticism or by appeals to the healthy instincts of the plain man. But there is some difference between taking philosophy as the supreme and completely adequate means, and admitting it to be the supreme end. There is some difference between holding that philosophy is the knowledge of the highest form of reality, and holding that it is itself the highest form of reality. It seems to me that Hegel has been untrue to the tendencies of his own system in seeking the ultimate reality of Spirit in philosophy alone, and that, on his own premises, he ought to have looked for a more comprehensive explanation. What that should have been, I shall not attempt to determine. I only wish to show that it should have been something more than philosophy.

180. Hegel does not give any very detailed account of philosophy, considered as the highest expression of reality. Most of the space devoted, in the Philosophy of Spirit, to Philosophy is occupied in defending it against the charge of pantheism – in Hegel’s use of the word. The following are the passages which appear most significant for our purpose.

571. “These three syllogisms” (i.e. of religion) “constituting the one syllogism of the absolute self-mediation of spirit, are the revelation of that spirit whose life is set out as a cycle of concrete shapes in pictorial thought. From this its separation into parts, with a temporal and external sequence, the unfolding of the mediation contracts itself in the result – where the spirit closes in unity with itself, – not merely to the simplicity of faith and devotional feeling, but even to thought. In the immanent simplicity of thought the unfolding still has its expansion, yet is all the while known as an indivisible coherence of the universal, simple, and eternal spirit in itself. In this form of truth, truth is the object of philosophy.” ...

572. Philosophy “is the unity of Art and Religion. Whereas the vision-method of Art, external in point of form, is but subjective production and shivers the substantial content into many separate shapes, and whereas Religion, with its separation into parts, opens it out in mental picture, and mediates what is thus opened out; Philosophy not merely keeps them together to make a total, but even unifies them into the simple spiritual vision, and then in that raises them to self-conscious thought. Such consciousness is thus the intelligible unity (cognised by thought) of art and religion, in which the diverse elements in the content are cognised as necessary, and this necessary as free.” 573. “Philosophy thus characterises itself as a cognition of the necessity in the content of the absolute picture-idea, as also of the necessity in the two forms – on the one hand, immediate vision and its poetry, and the objective and external revelation presupposed by representation, – on the other hand, first the subjective retreat inwards, then the subjective movement of faith and its final identification with the presupposed object. This cognition is thus the recognition of this content and its form; it is the liberation from the one- sidedness of the forms, elevation of them into the absolute form, which determines itself to content, remains identical with it, and is in that the cognition of that essential and actual necessity. This movement, which philosophy is, finds itself already accomplished, when at the close it seizes its own notion, – i.e. only looks back on its knowledge.” ...

574. “This notion of philosophy is the self-thinking Idea, the truth aware of itself (Section 236), – the logical system, but with the signification that it is universality approved and certified in concrete content as in its actuality. In this way the science has gone back to its beginning: its result is the logical system but as a spiritual principle: out of the presupposing judgment, in which the notion was only implicit, and the beginning an immediate, – and thus out of the appearance which it had there – it has risen into its pure principle, and thus also into its proper medium.”

181. The word Philosophy, in its ordinary signification, denotes a purely intellectual activity. No doubt, whenever we philosophise we are acting, and we are also feeling either pleasure or pain. But philosophy itself is knowledge, it is neither action nor feeling. And there seems nothing in Hegel’s account of it to induce us to change the meaning of the word in this respect. It is true that he speaks of philosophy as the union of art and religion. Both art and religion are more than mere knowledge, since they both present aspects of volition and of feeling. But, if we look back on his treatment of art and religion as separate stages, we shall see that he confines himself almost entirely to the truth which lies in them, ignoring the other elements. And when, in Section 572, he points out how philosophy is the unity of these two, it is merely as expressing the truth more completely than they do, that he gives it this position. There is nothing said of a higher or deeper ideal of good, nothing of any increased harmony between our ideal and our surroundings, nothing of any greater or deeper pleasure. Philosophy is “the intelligible unity (cognised by thought) of art and religion, in which the diverse elements in the content are cognised as necessary, and this necessary as free.”

We are thus, it would seem, bound down to the view that Hegel considered the supreme nature of Spirit to be expressed as knowledge, and as knowledge only. There are two senses in which we might take this exaltation of philosophy. We might suppose it to apply to philosophy as it exists at present, not covering the whole field of human knowledge, but standing side by side with the sciences and with the mass of unsystematised knowledge, claiming indeed a supremacy over all other sources of knowledge, but by no means able to dispense with their assistance. Or we might suppose that this high position was reserved for philosophy, when, as might conceivably happen, it shall have absorbed all knowledge into itself, so that every fact shall be seen as completely conditioned, and as united to all the others by the nature of the Absolute Idea. Which of these meanings Hegel intended to adopt does not seem to be very clear, but neither appears, on closer examination, to be acceptable as a complete and satisfactory account of the deepest nature of Spirit.

182. Let us consider first philosophy as we have it at present. In this form it can scarcely claim to be worthy of this supreme place. It may, no doubt, reasonably consider itself as the highest activity of Spirit – at any rate in the department of cognition. But in order to stand at the end of the development of Spirit it must be more than this. It must not only be the highest activity of Spirit, but one in which all the others are swallowed up and transcended. It must have overcome and removed all the contradictions, all the inadequacies, which belong to the lower forms in which Spirit manifests itself.

Now all the knowledge which philosophy gives us is, from one point of view, abstract, and so imperfect. It teaches us what the fundamental nature of reality is, and what, therefore, everything must be. But it does not pretend to show us how everything partakes of that nature – to trace out in every detail of the universe that rationality which, on general grounds, it asserts to be in it. It could not, indeed, do this, for, in order to trace the Notion in every detail, it would have first to discover what every detail was. And this it cannot do. For what the facts are in which the Notion manifests itself, we must learn not from philosophy but from experience.

183. But, it may be said, Hegel did not accept this view. He held that it was possible, from the nature of the pure Idea, to deduce the nature of the facts in which it manifested itself, and on this theory philosophy would cover the whole field of knowledge, and our criticism would fall to the ground.

My object here, however, is to show that Hegel’s view of the ultimate nature of Spirit is inconsistent with the general principles established in his Logic, and not that it is inconsistent with the rest of his attempts to apply the Logic. Even, therefore, if Hegel had attempted to deduce particular facts from the Logic, it would be sufficient for my present purpose to point out, as I have endeavoured to do above, that, on his own premises, he had no right to make the attempt. But, as I have also tried to show, he never does attempt to deduce facts from the Logic, but only to interpret and explain them by it. <Note: Chap. II. Sections 55-57.>

Moreover, whether we are to consider the applications of the Logic as deductions or as explanations, it is perfectly clear that they are limited in their scope. Hegel says, more than once, that certain details are too insignificant and contingent to permit us to trace their speculative meaning. Even in the cases which he works out most fully, there is always a residuum left unexplained. He may have pushed his desire to find speculative meanings in biological details beyond the limits of prudence, but he never attempted to find any significance in the precise number of zoological species. He may have held that the perfection of the Prussian constitution was philosophically demonstrable, but he made no endeavour to explain, from the nature of the Idea, the exact number of civil servants in the employment of the Crown. And yet these are facts, which can be learned by experience, which are links in chains of causes and effects, and which, like everything else in the universe, the dialectic declares on general grounds must rest on something, which is rational because it is real.

Philosophy then must be contented with an abstract demonstration that things must be rational, without being able in all cases to show how they are rational. Part of our knowledge will thus remain on an empirical basis, and the sphere of philosophy will be doubly limited. Not only will it be limited to knowledge, but to certain departments of knowledge. An activity which leaves so much of the workings of Spirit untouched cannot be accepted as adequately expressing by itself the ultimate nature of Spirit. Indeed, taken by itself, philosophy proclaims its own inadequacy. For it must assert things to be completely rational, and therefore completely explicable, which, all the same, it cannot succeed in completely explaining.

184. It has been asserted that it is natural and right that Hegel’s system should end simply with philosophy, since it is simply with philosophy that it begins. Thus Erdmann says: “It is with intelligible sarcasm that Hegel was accustomed to mention those who, when the exposition had reached this point, supposed that now for the first time (as if in a philosophy of philosophy) that which was peculiar and distinctive had been reached. Rather has everything already been treated, and it only remains to complete by a survey of it the circle of the system, so that its presence becomes an Encyclopaedia. If, that is to say, religion fallen into discord with thought (as, for that matter, the Phenomenology of Spirit had already shown) leads to speculative, free thought, while logic had begun with the determination to realise such thought, then the end of the Philosophy of Religion coincides with the beginning of the Logic, and the requirement laid down by Fichte that the system be a circle is fulfilled.” <Note: History of Philosophy, Section 329, 9.>

This, however, scarcely disposes of the difficulty. The object of philosophy is not simply to account for the existence of philosophy. It aims at discovering the ultimate nature of all reality. To start with philosophising, and to end by explaining why we must philosophise, is indeed a circle, but a very limited one, which leaves out of account most of our knowledge and most of our action, unless we are prepared to prove independently that all reality is synthesised in the conscious spirit, and all the reality of the conscious spirit is synthesised in philosophising. Without this proof philosophy would leave vast provinces of experience completely outside its influence – a position which may be modest, but is certainly not Hegelian.

It is true that, on the way to Philosophy as it occurs at the end of the Philosophy of Spirit, Hegel goes through many other branches of human activity and experience. But since the process is a dialectic, the whole meaning of the process must be taken as summed up in the last term. Either then we must make philosophy include all knowledge – to say nothing, for the present, of anything besides knowledge – or else we must admit at once that Hegel is wrong in making philosophy the highest point of Spirit, since at that point we have to find something which adequately expresses all reality, and philosophy, in the ordinary sense of the word, does not even include all cognition of reality.

185. Let us take then the second meaning of philosophy – that in which we conceive it developed till all knowledge forms one harmonious whole, so that no single fact remains contingent and irrational.

This ideal may be conceived in two ways. Philosophy would, in the first place, become equivalent to the whole of knowledge, if pure thought could ever reach the goal, at which it has been sometimes asserted that Hegel’s dialectic was aiming, and deduce all reality from its own nature, without the assistance of any immediately given data. If this could ever happen, then, no doubt, philosophy and knowledge would be coincident. The only reality would be pure thought. The nature of that thought would be given us by the dialectic, and so philosophy would be able to explain completely the whole of reality.

But, as we have seen above, <Note: Chap. II. Sections 55-57.> such a goal is impossible and contradictory. For thought is only a mediating activity, and requires something to mediate. This need not, indeed, be anything alien to it. The whole content of the reality, which thought mediates, may itself be nothing but thought. But whatever the nature of that reality, it must be given to thought in each case from outside, as a datum. Supposing nothing but thought existed, still in the fact that it existed, that it was there, we should have an immediate certainty, which could no more be deduced from the nature of thought, than the reality of a hundred thalers could be deduced from the idea of them.

It is thus impossible that any acquaintance with the nature of thought could ever dispense us with the necessity of having some immediate datum, which could not be deduced, but must be accepted, and we have seen that there are reasons for believing that Hegel never proposed to philosophy such an impossible and suicidal end. There is, however, another sense in which it is possible to suppose that philosophy may become coincident with the whole of knowledge, and thereby make knowledge one single, symmetrical, and perfectly rational system. And it may be said that when philosophy has thus broadened itself to include all knowledge, it may be taken as expressing adequately the whole nature of spirit, and therefore, on Hegel’s system, of all reality. Let us examine more closely what would be the nature of such a perfected knowledge.

186. All knowledge must have immediate data, which are not deduced but given. But it does not follow that knowledge must consequently be left imperfect, and with ragged edges. That which indicates the defect of knowledge is not immediacy, but contingency, in the Hegelian sense of the word, that is, the necessity of explanation from outside. Now all data of knowledge as originally given us, by the outer senses or through introspection, are not only immediate but contingent. But the two qualities do not necessarily go together, and we can conceive a state of things, in which knowledge should rest on data – or, rather, on a datum – which should be immediate, without being contingent.

Supposing that the theory of the nature of reality, which Hegel lays down in his Logic, is true, then, if knowledge were perfect, the abstract certainty (Gewissheit) of what must be would be transformed into complete knowledge (Erkennen) of what is. We should then perceive all reality under the only form which, according to Hegel, can be really adequate to it – that is, as a unity of spirits, existing only in their connection with one another. We should see that the whole nature of each individual was expressed in these relations with others. And we should see that that nature, which was what marked him out as an individual, was not to be conceived as something merely particular and exclusive, so that reality consisted of a crowd or aggregate of separate individuals. On the contrary the nature of each individual is to be taken as determined by his place in a whole, which we must conceive on the analogy of an organism, – a unity manifesting itself in multiplicity. The individual has his entire nature in the manifestation of this whole, as the whole, in turn, is nothing else but its manifestation in individuals. Through this unity the parts will mutually determine one another, so that from any one all the rest could, with sufficient insight, be deduced, and so that no change could be made in any without affecting all. This complete interdependence is only approximately realised in the unity which is found in a picture or a living being, but in the Absolute the unity must be conceived as far closer than aesthetic or organic unity, though we can only imagine it by aid of the analogies which these afford us. And in this complete interdependence and mutual determination each individual would find his fullest self-development. For his relations with others express his place in the whole, and it is this place in the whole which expresses his deepest individuality.

If knowledge ever did fill out the sketch that the Hegelian logic gives, it must be in some such form as this that it would do so. For it is, I think, clear, from the category of the Absolute Idea, that reality can only be found in selves, which have their whole existence in finding themselves in harmony with other selves. And this plurality of selves, again, must be conceived, not as a mere aggregate, but as a unity whose intimacy and strength is only inadequately represented by the idea of Organism. For, if not, then the relations would be merely external and secondary, as compared with the reality of the individuals between whom the relations existed. And this would be incompatible with Hegel’s declaration that the individuals have their existence for self only in their relation to others.

187. Of course such an ideal of knowledge is indefinitely remote as compared with our present condition. It would require, in the first place, a knowledge of all the facts in the universe – from which we are now separated by no inconsiderable interval. And, at the same time, it would require a great increase in the depth and keenness of view which we can bring to bear in knowledge, if all that part of reality which we only perceive at present under the lower categories of Being and Essence, is to be brought under the Absolute Idea, and, in place of the inorganic, the merely animal, and the imperfectly spiritual, which now presents itself to us, we are to see the universe as a whole of self-conscious selves, in perfect unity with one another.

But that the ideal should be remote from our present state need not surprise us. For it is the point at which the world- process culminates, and whatever view we may hold as to the ultimate reality of the conception of process, it is clear enough that, from any point of view which admits of the conception of process at all, we must have a long way still to go before we reach a consummation which leaves the universe perfectly rational and perfectly righteous. It would be more suspicious if any ideal not greatly removed from our present state should be held out to us as a complete and adequate satisfaction. It is enough that this ideal is one which, if Hegel’s logic be true, must be attainable sub specie temporis, because, sub specie aeternitatis, it is the only reality. And it is an ideal which is not self-contradictory, for the immediacy of the data is retained, although their contingency has vanished. The immediacy is retained, because we should have, as a given fact, to which reason mounts in the process of discovery, and on which it bases its demonstrations in the process of explanation, that there are such and such selves, and that they are connected in such and such a way. On the other hand, the contingency has vanished. For while everything is determined, nothing is determined merely from outside. The universe presents, indeed, an aspect of multiplicity, but then it is not a mere multiplicity. The universe is a super-organic unity, <Note: This expression is, I believe, new. I fear that it is very barbarous. But there seems a necessity for some such phrase to denote that supreme unity, which, just because it is perfect unity, is compatible with, and indeed requires, the complete differentiation and individuality of its parts. To call such unity merely organic is dangerous. For in an organism the unity is not complete, nor the parts fully individual (cp. Hegel’s treatment of the subject under the category of Life).> and therefore, when one part of it is determined by another, it is determined by the idea of the whole, which is also in itself, and the determination is not dependent on something alien, but on the essential nature of that which is determined. Hence determination appears as self-development, and necessity, as Hegel points out at the beginning of the Doctrine of the Notion, reveals itself as in reality freedom.

188. Neither this, nor any other possible system of knowledge, could give us any ground of determination for the universe as a whole, since there is nothing outside it, by which it could be determined. This, however, would not render our knowledge defective. If we reached this point the only question which would remain unanswered would be: – Why is the universe as a whole what it is, and not something else? And this question could not be answered. But we must not infer from this the incomplete rationality of the universe. For the truth is that the question ought never to have been asked. It is unmeaning, since it applies a category, which has significance only inside the universe, to the universe as a whole. Of any part we are entitled and bound to ask Why, for by the very fact that it is a part, it cannot be directly self-determined, and must depend on other things. <Note: The parts of a super-organic whole are, indeed, self-determined, but not directly. Their self- determination comes through their determination by the other parts.> But, when we speak of an all-embracing totality, then, with the possibility of finding a cause, disappears also the necessity for finding one. Independent and uncaused existence is not in itself a contradictory or impossible idea. It is contradictory when it is applied to anything in the universe, for whatever is in the universe must be in connection with other things. But this can of course be no reason for suspecting a fallacy when we find ourselves obliged to use the idea in reference to the universe as a whole, which has nothing outside it with which it could stand in connection.

Indeed the suggestion, that it is possible that the universe should have been different from what it is, would, in such a state of knowledge, possess no meaning. For, from the complete interdependence of all the parts, it would follow that if it was different at all, it must be different completely. And a possibility which has no common element with actuality, which would be the case here, is a mere abstraction which is devoid of all value.

This, then, is the highest point to which knowledge, as knowledge, can attain, upon Hegel’s principles. Everything is known, and everything is known to be completely rational. And, although our minds cannot help throwing a shadow of contingency and irrationality over the symmetrical structure, by asking, as it is always possible to ask, what determined the whole to be what it is, and why it is not otherwise, yet reflection convinces us that the question is unjustifiable, and indeed unmeaning, and that the inability to answer it can be no reason for doubting the completely satisfactory nature of the result at which we have arrived.

189. But even when knowledge has reached this point, is it an adequate expression of the complete nature of reality? This question, I think, must be answered in the negative. We have, it is true, come to the conclusion, – if we have gone so far with Hegel – that Spirit is the only and the all-sufficient reality. But knowledge does not exhaust the nature of Spirit. The simplest introspection will show us that, besides knowledge, we have also volition, and the feeling of pleasure and pain. These are primâ facie different from knowledge, and it does not seem possible that they should ever be reduced to it. Knowledge, volition, and feeling remain, in spite of all such attempts, distinct and independent. They are not, indeed, independent, in the sense that any of them can exist without the others. Nor is it impossible that they might be found to be aspects of a unity which embraces and transcends them all. But they are independent in so far that neither of the others can be reduced to, or transcended by, knowledge.

Let us first consider volition. Volition and knowledge have this common element, that they are activities which strive to bring about a harmony between the conscious self and its surroundings. But in the manner in which they do this they are the direct antitheses of one another. In knowledge the self endeavours to conform itself to its surroundings. In volition, on the other hand, it demands that its surroundings shall conform to itself. Of course the knowing mind is far from being inactive in knowledge – it is only by means of its own activity that it arrives at the objective truth which is its aim. Nor is the self by any means purely active in volition. For it has sometimes only to recognise and approve a harmony already existing, and not to produce one by its action. And sometimes the surroundings react on the self, and develop it or crush it into acquiescence in facts against which it would previously have protested.

But it remains true that in knowledge the aim of the self is to render its own state a correct mirror of the objective reality, and that, in so far as it fails to do this, it condemns its own state as false and mistaken. In volition, on the contrary, its aim is that objective reality shall carry out the demands made by the inner nature of the self. In so far as reality fails to do this, the self condemns it as wrong. Now this is surely a fundamental difference. Starting with the aim, which is common to both, that a harmony is to be established, what greater difference can exist between two ways of carrying out this aim, than that one way demands that the subject shall conform to the object, while the other way demands that the object shall conform to the subject?

190. We may put this in another way. The aim of knowledge is the true. The aim of volition is the good (in the widest sense of the word, in which it includes all that we desire, since all that is desired at all, is desired sub specie boni). Now one of these aims cannot be reduced to the other. There is no direct transition from truth to goodness, nor from goodness to truth. We may of course come to the conclusion, which Hegel has attempted to demonstrate, that the content of the two ideas is the same, that the deepest truth is the highest good, and the highest good is the deepest truth, that whatever is real is righteous, and whatever is righteous is real. But we can only do this by finding out independently what is true and what is good, and by proving that they coincide.

If we have come to this conclusion, and established it to our own satisfaction as a general principle, we are entitled, no doubt, to apply it in particular cases where the identity is not evident. To those, for example, who have satisfied themselves of the existence of a benevolent God, it is perfectly open to argue that we must be immortal, because the absence of immortality would make life a ghastly farce, or, by a converse process, that toothache must be good because God sends it. But if the harmony of the two sides has not been established by the demonstration of the existence of a benevolent and omnipotent power, or of some other ground for the same conclusion, such an argument depends on an unjustifiable assumption.

There is nothing in the mere fact of a thing’s existence to make it desired or desirable by us. There is nothing in the mere fact that a thing is desired or desirable by us to make it exist. Two mental activities for which the test of validity is respectively existence and desirability must surely, therefore, be coordinate, without any possibility of reducing the one to a case or application of the other. If indeed we considered volition as merely that which leads to action, it might be considered less fundamental than knowledge, since it would inevitably disappear in a state of perfect harmony. But volition must be taken to include all affirmations of an ideal in relation to existence, including those which lead to no action because they do not find reality to be discrepant with them. And in this case we shall have to consider it as fundamental an activity of Spirit as knowledge is, and one, therefore, which cannot be ignored in favour of knowledge when we are investigating the completely adequate form of Spirit.

191. No doubt the fact that knowledge and volition have the same aim before them – a harmony between the self and its surroundings – and that they effect it in ways which are directly contrary to one another, suggests a possible union of the two. The dialectic method will lead us to enquire whether, besides being species of a wider genus, they are not also abstractions from a deeper unity, which unity would reveal itself as the really adequate form of Spirit. But although this may be a Hegelian solution, it is not Hegel’s. Whatever he may have hinted in the Logic – a point to which we shall presently return – in the Philosophy of Spirit he attempts to take knowledge by itself as the ultimate form of Spirit. And such a result must, if volition is really coordinate with knowledge, be erroneous.

192. There is yet a third element in the life of Spirit, besides knowledge and volition. This is feeling proper – pleasure and pain. And this too must rank as a separate element of spiritual activity, independent of knowledge. This does not involve the assertion that we could ever experience a state of mind that was purely pleasure or pain. So far as our experience reaches, on the contrary, we never do feel pleasure or pain, without at the same time recognising the existence of some fact, and finding ourselves to be or not to be in harmony with it. Thus feeling is only found in company with knowledge and volition. But although it is thus inseparable from knowledge, it is independent of it in the sense that it cannot be reduced to it. Knowledge is essentially and inevitably a judgment – an assertion about matter of fact. Now in the feeling of pleasure and pain there is no judgment and no assertion, but there is something else to which no judgment can ever be equivalent.

Hegel’s views as to feeling proper are rather obscure. He says much indeed about Gefühl, but this does not mean pleasure and pain. It appears rather to denote all immediate or intuitive belief in a fact, as opposed to a reasoned demonstration of it. The contents of Gefühl and of Philosophy, he says, may be the same, but they differ in form. It is thus clear that he is speaking of a form of knowledge, and not only of pleasure and pain. But whatever he thinks about the latter, it seems certain that they cannot, any more than volition, find a place in philosophy. And in that case Hegel’s highest form of Spirit is defective on a second ground.

193. To this line of criticism an objection may possibly be taken. It is true, it may be said, that philosophy includes neither volition nor feeling. But it implies them both. You cannot have knowledge without finding yourself, from the point of view of volition, in or out of harmony with the objects of pure knowledge, and without feeling pleasure or pain accordingly. This is no doubt true. And we may go further, and say that, on Hegel’s principles, we should be entitled to conclude that perfect knowledge must bring perfect acquiescence in the universe, and also perfect happiness. For when our knowledge becomes perfect, we should, as the Logic tells us, find that in all our relations with that which was outside us, we had gained the perfect realisation of our own natures. Determination by another would have become, in the fullest and deepest sense, determination by self. Since, therefore, in all our relations with others, the demands of our own nature found complete fulfilment, we should be in a state of perfect acquiescence with the nature of all things round us. And from this perfect harmony, complete happiness must result.

Hegel would, no doubt, have been justified in saying that in reaching complete knowledge we should, at the same time, have reached to the completeness of all activities of Spirit. But he did say more than this. He said that complete knowledge would be by itself the complete activity of Spirit. He tried, it would seem, to ignore volition, and to ignore pleasure and pain. And a view of Spirit which does this will be fatally one-sided.

194. But we must go further. We have seen that knowledge cannot, by itself, be the full expression of the complete nature of Spirit. But can it, we must now ask, be, as knowledge, even part of that full expression? Can it attain its own goal? Or does it carry about the strongest mark of its own imperfection by postulating an ideal which it can never itself reach?

195. The ideal of knowledge may be said to be the combination of complete unity of the subject and object with complete differentiation between them. In so far as we have knowledge there must be unity of the subject and object. Of the elements into which knowledge can be analysed, one class – the data of sensation – come to us from outside, and consequently involve the unity of the subject and the object, without which it is impossible that anything outside us could produce a sensation inside us. On the other hand the categories are notions of our own minds which are yet essential to objective experience. And these, therefore, involve no less the unity of the subject and the object, since otherwise we should not be justified in ascribing to them, as we do ascribe, objective validity.

Differentiation of the subject and object is no less necessary to knowledge than is their unity. For it is of the essence of knowledge that it shall refer to something not itself, something which is independent of the subjective fancies of the subject, something which exists whether he likes it or not, which exists not only for him, but for others, something in fact which is objective. Without this, knowledge changes into dreams or delusions, and these, however interesting as objects of knowledge, are totally different from knowledge itself. In so far as knowledge becomes perfect, it has to apprehend the object as it really is, and so in its full differentiation from the subject.

All knowledge, in so far as it is complete, requires unity and differentiation. Perfect knowledge will require perfect unity and differentiation. And since the dialectic has taught us that all knowledge, except that highest and most complete knowledge which grasps reality under the Absolute Idea, is contradictory and cannot stand except as a moment in some higher form – we may conclude that all knowledge implies complete unity and differentiation. For the lower knowledge implies the higher, and the complete unity and differentiation are implied by the higher knowledge. This is confirmed by the final results of the Logic. There we find that the only ultimately satisfactory category is one in which the self finds itself in relation with other selves and in harmony with their nature. To be in harmony with other selves implies that we are in unity with them, while to recognise them as selves implies differentiation.

Knowledge requires, then, this combination of antithetical qualities. Is it possible that this requirement can ever be realised by knowledge itself?

196. The action of knowledge consists in ascribing predicates to an object. All our knowledge of the object we owe to the predicates which we ascribe to it. But our object is not a mere assemblage of predicates. There is also the unity in which they cohere, which may be called epistemologically the abstract object, and logically the abstract subject.

Here, – as in most other places in the universe – we are met by a paradox. The withdrawal of the abstract object leaves nothing but a collection of predicates, and a collection of predicates taken by itself is a mere unreality. Predicates cannot exist without a central unity in which they can cohere. But when we enquire what is this central unity which gives reality to the object, we find that its unreality is as certain as the unreality of the predicates, and perhaps even more obvious. For if we attempt to make a single statement about this abstract object – even to say that it exists – we find ourselves merely adding to the number of predicates. This cannot help us to attain our purpose, which was to know what the substratum is in which all the predicates inhere. We get no nearer to this by learning that another predicate inheres in it.

Thus the abstract object is an unreality, and yet, if it is withdrawn, the residuum of the concrete object becomes an unreality too. Such a relation is not uncommon in metaphysics. All reality is concrete. All concrete ideas can be split up into abstract elements. If we split up the concrete idea, which corresponds to some real thing, into its constituent abstractions, we shall have a group of ideas which in their unity correspond to a reality, but when separated are self- contradictory and unreal. The position of the abstract object is thus similar to that of another abstraction which has received more attention in metaphysics – the abstract subject.

Mr Bradley has given this abstract object the name of the This, in opposition to the What, which consists of the predicates which we have found to be applicable to the This. While knowledge remains imperfect, the This has in it the possibility of an indefinite number of other qualities, besides the definite number which have been ascertained and embodied in predicates. When knowledge becomes perfect – as perfect as it is capable of becoming – this possibility would disappear, as it seems to me, though Mr Bradley does not mention this point. In perfect knowledge all qualities of the object would be known, and the coherence of our knowledge as a systematic whole would be the warrant for the completeness of the enumeration. But even here the abstract This would still remain, and prove itself irreducible to anything else. To attempt to know it is like attempting to jump on the shadow of one’s own head. For all propositions are the assertion of a partial unity between the subject and the predicate. The This on the other hand is just what distinguishes the subject from its predicates.

197. It is the existence of the This which renders it impossible to regard knowledge as a self-subsistent whole, and makes it necessary to consider it merely as an approximation to the complete activity of spirit for which we search. In the This we have something which is at once within and without knowledge, which it dares not neglect, and yet cannot deal with.

For when we say that the This cannot be known, we do not mean, of course, that we cannot know of its existence. We know of its existence, because we can perceive, by analysis, that it is an essential element of the concrete object. But the very definition which this analysis gives us shows that we can know nothing about it but this – that there is indeed nothing more about it to know, and that even so much cannot be put into words without involving a contradiction. Now to know merely that something exists is to present a problem to knowledge which it must seek to answer. To know that a thing exists, is to know it as immediate and contingent. Knowledge demands that such a thing should be mediated and rationalised. This, as we have seen, cannot be done here. This impossibility is no reproach to the rationality of the universe, for reality is no more mere mediation than it is mere immediacy, and the immediacy of the This combines with the mediation of the What to make up the concrete whole of Spirit. But it is a reproach to the adequacy of knowledge as an activity of Spirit that it should persist in demanding what cannot and should not be obtained. Without immediacy, without the central unity of the object, the mediation and the predicates which make up knowledge would vanish as unmeaning. Yet knowledge is compelled by its own nature to try and remove them, and to feel itself baffled and thwarted when it cannot succeed. Surely an activity with such a contradiction inherent in it can never be a complete expression of the Absolute.

198. In the first place the existence of the This is incompatible with the attainment of the ideal of unity in knowledge. For here we have an element, whose existence in reality we are forced to admit, but which is characterised by the presence of that which is essentially alien to the nature of the knowing consciousness in its activity. In so far as reality contains a This, it cannot be brought into complete unison with the knowing mind, which, as an object, has of course its aspect of immediacy like any other object, but which, as the knowing subject, finds all unresolvable immediacy to be fundamentally opposed to its work of rationalisation. The real cannot be completely expressed in the mind, and the unity of knowledge is therefore defective.

And this brings with it a defective differentiation. For while the This cannot be brought into the unity of knowledge, it is unquestionably a part of reality. And so the failure of knowledge to bring it into unity with itself involves that the part of the object which is brought into unity with the subject is only an abstraction from the full object. The individuality of the object thus fails to be represented, and so its full differentiation from the subject fails to be represented also. The result is that we know objects, so to speak, from the outside, whereas, to know them in their full truth, we ought to know them from inside. That every object <Note: In saying “every object” I do not necessarily mean every chair, every crystal, or even every amoeba. Behind all appearance there is reality. This reality we believe, on the authority of the dialectic, to consist of individuals. But how many such centres there may be behind a given mass of appearance we do not know. Every self-conscious spirit is, no doubt, one object and no more It is with regard to the reality behind what is called inorganic matter and the lower forms of life that the uncertainty arises.> has a real centre of its own appears from the dialectic. For we have seen that the conclusion from the dialectic is that all reality consists of spirits, which are individuals. And, apart from this, the fact that the object is more or less independent as against us – and without some independence knowledge would be impossible, as has already been pointed out – renders it certain that every object has an individual unity to some extent. Now knowledge fails to give this unity its rights. The meaning of the object is found in its This, and its This is, to knowledge, something alien. Knowledge sees it to be, in a sense, the centre of the object, but only a dead centre, a mere residuum produced by abstracting all possible predicates, not a living and unifying centre, such as we know that the synthetic unity of apperception is to our own lives, which we have the advantage of seeing from inside. And since it thus views it from a standpoint which is merely external, knowledge can never represent the object so faithfully as to attain its own ideal.

199. And here we see the reason why knowledge can never represent quite accurately that harmony of the universe which knowledge itself proves. We saw above that when knowledge should have reached the greatest perfection of which it is capable there would still remain one question unanswered – Why is the universe what it is and not something else? We may prove the question unmeaning and absurd, but we cannot help asking it. And the possibility of asking it depends on the existence of the This, which knowledge is unable to bring into unity with the knowing subject. The This is essential to the reality of the object, and is that part of the object to which it owes its independence of the subject. And the question naturally arises, Why should not this core of objectivity have been clothed with other qualities than those which it has, and with which the subject finds itself in harmony?

The question arises because the existence of this harmony is dependent on the This. The This alone gives reality to the object. If it vanished, the harmony would not change into a disharmony, but disappear altogether. And the This, as we have seen, must always be for knowledge a something alien and irrational, because it must always be an unresolved immediate. Now a harmony which depends on something alien and irrational must always appear contingent and defective. Why is there a This at all? Why is it just those qualities which give a harmony for us that the favour of the This has raised into reality? To answer these questions would be to mediate the This, and that would destroy it.

200. It may be urged, as against this argument, that we do not stand in such a position of opposition and alienation towards the This in knowledge. For we ourselves are objects of knowledge as well as knowing subjects, and our abstract personality, which is the centre of our knowledge, is also the This of an object. Now it might be maintained that the interconnection of the qualities of all different objects, which would be perfect in perfect knowledge, would enable us to show why all reality existed, and why it is what it is, if we could only show it of a single fragment of reality. The difficulty, it might be said, lies in reaching the abstract realness of the real by means of knowledge at all. And if by means of our own existence as objects we were able to establish a single connection with the objective world, in which the immediate would not mean the alien, it is possible that no other connection would be required. The last remaining opposition of the subject to the object would disappear.

The difficulty, however, cannot be escaped in this way. For the self as the object of knowledge is as much opposed to the self as the subject as any other object could be. We learn its qualities by arguments from data based on the “internal sense,” as we learn the qualities of other objects by arguments from data given by the external senses. We are immediately certain of the first, but we are immediately certain of the second. And the central unity of our own nature can no more be known directly in itself, apart from its qualities, than can the central unities of other objects. We become aware of its existence by analysing what is implied in having ourselves for objects, and we become aware of the central unities of other things by analysing what is implied in having them for objects. We have no more direct knowledge of the one than of the other. Of course nothing in our own selves is really alien to us, – not even the element of immediacy which makes their This. But then the existence of knowledge implies, as we have seen, that the reality of other things is not really alien to us, although we know it immediately. It is the defect of knowledge that it fails to represent the immediate except as alien.

201. Here, then, we seem to have the reason why our minds could never, in the most perfect state of knowledge possible, get rid of the abstract idea of the contingency of the whole system. We saw in the first part of this chapter that such an idea was unmeaning, since it would be impossible for any reality to be destroyed or altered, unless the same happened to all reality, and the possibility of this, which has no common ground with actuality, is an unmeaning phrase. And we have now seen another reason why the possibility is unmeaning. For we have traced it to the persistence of thought in considering its essential condition as its essential enemy. The existence of such a miscalled possibility, therefore, tells nothing against the rationality of the universe. But it does tell against the adequacy of knowledge as an expression of the universe. By finding a flaw in perfection, where no flaw exists, it pronounces its own condemnation. If the possibility is unmeaning, knowledge is imperfect in being compelled to regard it as a possibility.

It may seem at first sight absurd to talk of knowledge as inadequate. If it were imperfect, how could we know it? What right have we to condemn it as imperfect when the judge is of necessity the same person as the culprit? This is, of course, so far true, that if knowledge did not show us its own ideal, we could never know that it did not realise it. But there is a great difference between realising an ideal and indicating it. It is possible, and I have endeavoured to show that it is actually the case, that knowledge can do the one, and not the other. When we ask about the abstract conditions of reality, it is able to demonstrate that harmony must exist, and that immediacy is compatible with it, and essential to it. But when it is asked to show in detail how the harmony exists, which it has shown must exist, it is unable to do so. There is here no contradiction in our estimate of knowledge, but there is a contradiction in knowledge, which prevents us from regarding it as adequate, and which forces us to look further in search of the ultimate activity of Spirit.

We saw before that this activity could not consist solely of knowledge, but we have now reached the further conclusion that knowledge, as knowledge, could not form even a part of that activity. For it carries a mark of imperfection about it, in its inability to completely attain the goal which it cannot cease to strive for, and in its dependence on that which it must consider an imperfection. We must therefore look for the ultimate nature of Spirit in something which transcends and surpasses cognition, including it indeed as a moment, but transforming it and raising it into a higher sphere, where its imperfections vanish.

202. In doing this we are compelled, of course, to reject Hegel’s own treatment of the subject, in the Philosophy of Spirit. But we may, I think, find some support for our position in the Logic. For there, as it seems to me, we find the sketch of a more complete and adequate representation of Absolute Reality, than the one which is worked out in the Philosophy of Spirit.

We have in the Logic, immediately before the Absolute Idea, a category called Cognition in general. This is again divided into Cognition proper and Volition. These two categories are treated by Hegel as a thesis and antithesis, and, according to the method pursued in every other part of the Logic, the triad should have been completed by a synthesis, before we pass out of Cognition in general to the final synthesis – the Absolute Idea. No such synthesis, however, is given by Hegel as a separate term. According to his exposition, the Absolute Idea itself forms the synthesis of the opposition of Cognition proper and Volition, as it does also of the larger opposition of Life and Cognition in general.

The significance of this part of the Logic for us lies in the fact that Cognition proper requires to be synthesised with Volition before we can reach the absolute reality. Of course Hegel is not dealing, in the Logic, with the concrete activities of cognition and volition, any more than he is dealing, rather earlier in the Logic, with the concrete activities of mechanism and chemistry. The Logic deals only with the element of pure thought in reality, and when its categories bear the names of concrete relations – this only means that the pure idea, which is the category in question, is the idea which comes most prominently forward in that concrete relation, and which therefore can be usefully and significantly called by its name.

This, however, does not destroy the importance of the Logic for our present purpose. Although the concrete activities are not merely their own logical ideas, they must stand in the same relation inter se as the logical ideas do inter se. For the process in the Philosophy of Spirit, as in all the applications of the dialectic, while it does not profess to be logical in the sense that all its details can be logically deduced, certainly professes to be logical in the sense that the relation of its stages to one another can be logically explained. <Note: Cp. Chap. VII. Sections 207, 210.> Indeed, if it did not do this, it could no longer be called an application of the Logic at all, but would be a mere empirical collection of facts. If then the idea of cognition proper – that is, of knowledge as opposed to volition – is by itself so imperfect and one-sided, that it must be transcended, and must be synthesised with the idea of volition, before the adequate and Absolute Idea can be reached, it would seem to follow that a concrete application of this philosophy is bound to regard cognition as an inadequate expression of the full nature of reality, and to endeavour to find some higher expression which shall unite cognition and volition, preserving that which is true in each, while escaping from their imperfections and one-sidedness.

203. It may be objected that the Cognition proper, which is treated by Hegel as an inadequate category, denotes only that knowledge which is found in ordinary experience and in science, and that the place of knowledge in its highest shape – the shape of philosophy – must be looked for under the Absolute Idea. This view does not appear tenable on closer examination. At the end of Cognition proper, Hegel tells us, the content of cognition is seen to be necessary. This would indicate philosophic knowledge, if “necessary” is taken as referring to the necessity of freedom, which is its normal use in the Doctrine of the Notion. There is certainly a good deal of discussion of philosophic method under the head of the Absolute Idea But this appears to be introduced, not because this category is the one under which our philosophising comes but because it is the last category of the philosophy, and it is therefore natural to look back, at this point, on the method which has been pursued.

The most cogent argument, however, against this view is that the Absolute Idea is defined as the union of Cognition proper with Volition. Therefore the Absolute Idea must be an idea richer and fuller than that of Cognition – richer and fuller by the content of the idea of Volition. Now we can have no reason to suppose that philosophic knowledge is the union of ordinary knowledge with volition. For philosophy stands in just the same relation to volition as ordinary knowledge does. We never have knowledge without having volition, but neither can be reduced to the other. The Absolute Idea then contains within itself the idea of Knowledge only as a transcended moment. If there is any difference between them, indeed, we must consider the idea of Volition the higher of the two, since it is Volition which forms the antithesis, and we have seen that, in the Doctrine of the Notion, the antithesis may be expected to be more adequate than the thesis to which it is opposed. <Note: Chap. IV. Sections 109, 110.>

I am not attempting to argue from this that we ought to take Hegel as putting anything more concrete than philosophy into the nature of absolute reality. We are especially bound in the case of so systematic a writer as Hegel, to look for the authoritative exposition of his views on any subject in the part of his work which professedly deals with that subject. And in the Philosophy of Spirit it seems clear that Hegel means the highest stage of Spirit to be nothing but philosophy. But, in giving the abstract framework of absolute reality in the Logic, he has given, as we have seen above, a framework for something which, whatever it is, is more than any form of mere cognition. And so, when saying that the conclusion of the Philosophy of Spirit is inconsistent with the general tenor of Hegel’s philosophy, we can strengthen our position by adding that it is inconsistent with the final result of the Logic.

204. Let us now turn to the Philosophy of Spirit, and consider the way in which Hegel introduces Philosophy as the culminating point of reality. The three terms which form the triad of Absolute Spirit are Art, Revealed Religion, and Philosophy. Of the relation of these three stages he speaks as follows: “Whereas the vision-method of Art, external in point of form, is but subjective production and shivers the substantial content into many separate shapes, and whereas Religion, with its separation into parts, opens it out in mental picture, and mediates what is thus opened out; Philosophy not merely keeps them together to make a total, but even unifies them into the simple spiritual vision, and then in that raises them to self-conscious thought. Such consciousness is thus the intelligible unity (cognised by thought) of art and religion, in which the diverse elements in the content are cognised as necessary, and this necessity as free.” <Note: Enc. Section 572.>

On examining this more closely, doubts present themselves. Is Philosophy really capable of acting as a synthesis between Art and Religion? Should it not rather form part of the antithesis, together with Religion? All the stages in this triad of Absolute Spirit are occupied in endeavouring to find a harmony between the individual spirit – now developed into full consciousness of his own nature – on the one hand, and the rest of the universe on the other hand. Such a harmony is directly and immediately presented in beauty. But the immediacy makes the harmony contingent and defective. Where beauty is present, the harmony exists; where it is not present – a case not unfrequently occurring – the harmony disappears. It is necessary to find some ground of harmony which is universal, and which shall enable us to attribute rationality and righteousness to all things, independently of their immediate and superficial aspect.

This ground, according to Hegel, is afforded us by the doctrines of Revealed Religion, which declares that all things are dependent on and the manifestation of a reality in which we recognise the fulfilment of our ideals of rationality and righteousness. Thus Revealed Religion assures us that all things must be in harmony, instead of showing us, as Art does, that some things are in harmony.

205. Now Philosophy, it seems to me, can do no more than this. It is true that it does it, in what, from Hegel’s point of view, is a higher and better way. It is true that it substitutes a completely reasoned process for one which, in the last resort, rests on authority. It is true that it changes the external harmony, which Revealed Religion offers, into a harmony inherent in the nature of things. It is true that the process, which is known to Revealed Religion as “a cycle of concrete shapes in pictorial thought,” and as “a separation into parts, with a temporal and external sequence,” is in Philosophy “known as an indivisible coherence of the universal, simple, and eternal spirit in itself.” <Note: Enc. Section 571.> But all this does not avail to bring back the simplicity and directness of Art, which must be brought back in the synthesis. Art shows us that something is as we would have it. Its harmony with our ideals is visible on the surface. But Philosophy, like Religion, leaving the surface of things untouched, points to their inner nature, and proves that, in spite of the superficial discord and evil, the true reality is harmonious and good. To unite these we should require a state of spirit which should present us with a harmony direct and immediate on the one hand, and universal and necessary on the other. Art gives the first and Philosophy the second, but Philosophy can no more unite the two than Art can.

This is clear of philosophy, as we have it now, and so long as it has not absorbed into itself all other knowledge. For it is the knowledge of the general conditions only of reality. As such, it can lay down general laws for all reality. But it is not able to show how they are carried out in detail. It may arrive at the conclusion that all that is real is rational. This will apply, among other things, to toothache or cowardice. Now we are shown by the whole history of religion that optimism based on general grounds may be of great importance to the lives of those who believe it, and philosophy, if it can give us this, will have given us no small gift. But philosophy will not be able to show us how the rationality or the righteousness come in, either in toothache or in cowardice. It can only convince us that they are there, though we cannot see them. It is obvious that we have as yet no synthesis with the directness and immediacy of art.

If philosophy should ever, as was suggested in the earlier part of this chapter, develop so as to include all knowledge in one complete harmony, then, no doubt, we should not only know of every fact in the universe that it was rational, but we should also see how it was so. Even here, however, the required synthesis would not be attained. Our knowledge would still be only mediate knowledge, and thus could not be the synthesis for two reasons. Firstly, because, as we have seen, it has to regard the immediate element in reality as to some extent alien. Secondly, because the synthesis must contain in itself, as a transcended moment, the immediate harmony of art, and must therefore be lifted above the distinction of mediate and immediate.

Besides this, a merely intellectual activity could not be the ultimate truth of which art and religion are lower stages. For both of these involve not merely knowledge, but volition, and also feeling. And so the highest stage of spirit would have to include, not only the perception of the rationality of all things, which is offered by philosophy, but also the complete acquiescence which is the goal of successful volition, and the pleasure which is the inevitable result of conscious harmony.

206. The result of all this would appear to be, that, in order to render the highest form of Absolute Spirit capable, as it must be on Hegel’s theory, of transcending and summing up all other aspects of reality, we shall have to recast the last steps of the Philosophy of Spirit, so as to bring the result more in accordance with the general outlines laid down at the end of the Logic. Philosophy, together with Revealed Religion, will be the antithesis to Art. And a place will be left vacant for a new synthesis.

It forms no part of the object of this work to enquire what this synthesis may be. My purpose has been only to give some reasons for thinking that Hegel had not found an adequate expression for the absolute reality, and I do not venture to suggest one myself. But we can, within very wide and general limits, say what the nature of such an expression must be. It must be some state of conscious spirit in which the opposition of cognition and volition is overcome – in which we neither judge our ideas by the world, nor the world by our ideas, but are aware that inner and outer are in such close and necessary harmony that even the thought of possible discord has become impossible. In its unity not only cognition and volition, but feeling also, must be blended and united. In some way or another it must have overcome the rift in discursive knowledge, and the immediate must for it be no longer the alien. It must be as direct as art, as certain and universal as philosophy.