Hegel 1800

Fragment of a System

Written: 1800;
Translated: T. M. Knox, 1970;
Transcribed: Kwame Genov (youtube.com/kwamegenovv), 2017.

Note. Hegel’s manuscript apparently consisted of forty-seven sheets, of which only the thirty-fourth and forty-seventh survive. In both of these he seems to be dealing with problems similar to those treated in The Spirit of Christianity, especially with the problem of unifying opposites – eternal and temporal, God and man, subject and object, etc. – opposites which reflective thinking has been unable to unite. The key to their union he finds in his conception of life. He holds that religion in its higher form conceives of God not as a mere object separated from man but as infinite life united with men who, as living beings, share in that life and can rise to its level in religious experience. Since these philosophico-religious problems occupy the whole of the extant manuscript, the title given to it by Nohl is somewhat misleading. In contains some of the seeds of the later system, but there is nothing to indicate that Hegel was writing the sketch of a system rather than a theological essay.

Absolute opposition holds good[2] [in the realm of the dead.] One kind of opposition is to be found in the multiplicity of living beings. Living beings must be regarded as organizations. The multiplicity of life has to be thought of as being divided against itself; one part of this multiplicity (a part which is itself an infinite multiplicity because it is alive) is to be regarded purely as something related, as having its being purely in union; the second part, also an infinite multiplicity, is to be regarded as solely in opposition, as having its being solely through a separation from the first. Therefore the first part [the unity] can also be defined as having its being only by means of separation from the second one. The unity is called an organization or an individual. It is self-evident that this life, whose manifold is regarded purely as being related and whose very existence is exactly this relation, can also be regarded as being differentiated in itself, as a mere multiplicity, because the relation between the separated is not more intrinsic to it than the separate between that which is related. On the other hand, it must also be considered as capable of entering into relation with what is excluded from it, as capable of losing its individuality or being linked with what has been excluded. Similarly, the manifold itself, excluded from an organic whole and existing only as thus opposed [to it], must nevertheless be conceived, in itself and in abstraction from that organization, not only as absolutely manifold, yet at the same time itself internally related, but also as connected with the living whole which is excluded from it.

The concept of individuality includes opposition to infinite variety and also inner association with it. A human being is an individual life in so far as he is to be distinguished from all the elements and from the infinity of individual beings outside himself. But he is only an individual life in so far as he is at one with all the elements, with the infinity of lives outside himself. He exists only inasmuch as the totality of life is divided into parts, he himself being one part and all the rest the other part; and again he exists only inasmuch as he is no part at all and inasmuch as nothing is separated from him. If we presuppose life undivided as fixed, then we can regard living beings as expressions or manifestations of that life. Precisely because there manifestations are posited, the infinite multiplicity of living beings is posited simultaneously, but reflection then crystallizes this multiplicity into stable, subsistent, and fixed points, i.e., into individuals.

If on the contrary we presupposed individual lives, namely, ourselves, as the spectators, then that life which is posited outside our own restricted spheres is an infinite life with an infinite variety, infinite oppositions, infinite relations; as a multiplicity, it is an infinite multiplicity of organizations or individuals, and as a unity it is one unique organized whole, divided and unified in itself – Nature. Nature is a positing of life, for reflection has applied to life its concepts of relation and separation, of the self-subsistent particular (something restricted) and the unifying universal (something unrestricted), and by positing these has turned life into nature.

Now because life, as an infinity of living beings or as an infinity of figures, is thus, as nature, an infinitely finite, an unrestricted restrictedness, and because this union and this separation of the finite and the infinite are within nature, nature is not itself life but is only a life crystallized by reflection, even though it be treated by reflection in the worthiest manner.[3] Therefore life in thinking and in contemplating nature still senses (or however else one may describe the mode of apprehension involved) this contradiction, this one opposition which still exists between itself and the infinite life; or, in other words, reason still recognizes the one-sidedness of this mode of treating life and of this mode of positing [concepts]. Out of the mortal and perishable figure, out of what is self-opposed and self-antagonistic, this thinking life raises that living being, which would be free from transience; raises a relation between the multiplex elements which is not dead or killing, a relation which is not a [bare] unity, a conceptual abstraction, but is all-living and all-powerful infinite life; and this life it calls God. In this process it is no longer [merely] thinking or contemplating, because its object does not carry in itself anything reflected, anything dead.[4]

This self-elevation of man, not from the finite to the infinite (for these terms are only products of mere reflection, and as such their separation is absolute), but from finite life to infinite life, is religion. We may call infinite life a spirit on contrast with the abstract multiplicity, for spirit is the living unity of the manifold if it is contrasted with the manifold as spirit’s configuration and not as a mere dead multiplicity; contrasted with the latter, spirit would be nothing but a bare unity which is called law and is something purely conceptual and not a living being. This spirit is an animating law in union with the manifold which is then itself animated. When man takes this animated manifold as a multiplicity of many individuals, yet as connected with the animating spirit, then these single lives become organs, and the infinite whole becomes an infinite totality of life. When he takes the infinite life as the spirit of the whole and at the same time as a living [being] outside himself (since he himself is restricted), and when he puts himself at the same time outside his restricted self in rising toward the living being and intimately uniting himself with him, then he worships God.

Although the manifold is here no longer regarded as isolated but is rather explicitly conceived as related to the living spirit, as animated, as organ, still something remains excluded, namely, the dead, so that a certain imperfection and opposition persists. In other words, when the manifold is conceived as an organ only, opposition itself is excluded; but life cannot be regarded as union or relation alone but must be regarded as opposition as well.[5] If I say that life is the union of opposition and relation, this union may be isolated again, and it may be argued that union is opposed to nonunion. Consequently, I would have to say: Life is the union of union and nonunion. In other words, every expression whatsoever is a product of reflection, and therefore it is possible to demonstrate in the case of every expression that, when reflection propounds it, another expression, not propounded, is excluded. Reflection is thus driven on and on without rest; but this process must be checked once and for all by keeping in mind that, for example, what has been called a union of synthesis and antithesis is not something propounded by the understanding or by reflection but has a character of its own, namely, that of being a reality beyond all reflection. Within the living whole there are posited at the same time death, opposition, and understanding, because there is posited a manifold that is alive itself and that, as alive, can posit itself as a whole.[6] By so doing, it is at the same time a part, i.e., something for which there is something dead and which itself is something dead for other such parts. This partial character of the living being is transcended in religion; finite life rises to infinite life. It is only because the finite is itself life that it carries in itself the possibility of raising itself to infinite life.

Philosophy therefore has to stop short of religion because it is a process of thinking and, as such a process, implies an opposition with nonthinking [processes] as well as the opposition between the thinking mind and the object of thought. Philosophy has to disclose the finiteness in all finite things and require their integration by means of reason. In particular, it has to recognize the illusions generated by its own infinite and thus to place the true infinite outside its confines.

The elevation of the finite to the infinite is only characterized as the elevation of finite life to infinite life, as religion, in virtue of the fact that it does not posit the reality of the infinite as a reality created by reflection, be it objective or subjective, i.e., it has not simply added to the restricted that which restricts. If it had done so, the latter would be recognized again as something posited by reflection and thereby itself restricted and would not again seek what restricts it and would postulate a continuation in such a way ad infinitum. Even this activity of reason is an elevation to the infinite, but this infinite is a[7] [false one.]

...,[8] objective center. For all nations this center was the temple facing the east, and to the worshipers of an invisible God it was nothing but this shapeless special room, nothing but a place.[9] But this mere opposite, this purely objective and merely spatial center, must not necessarily remain in this imperfection of entire objectivity. It can itself, as being self-sustained, revert to its own subjectivity by becoming configurated. Divine emotion, the infinite sensed by the finite, is not integrated until reflection is added and dwells upon it. But the relation of reflection to emotion is only the recognition of it as something subjective, is only consciousness of feeling, in which reflection reflects on emotion but each is separate from the other. The pure spatial objectivity provides the unifying center for many, and the objectivity configurated is at the same time what it ought to be, namely, not an actual but only a potential objectivity because subjectivity is now linked with it. This objectivity configurated may be thought as an actual objectivity, but this is not necessary, because it is certainly not pure [or abstract] objectivity.

And thus, just as the antinomy of time was posited above[10] as necessary, namely, the antinomy between a moment and the time needed by life [for its actuality], so now the objective antinomy with respect to the thing confronting us is posited. The infinite being, filling the immeasurability of space, exists at the same time in a definite space, as is said, for instance, in the verse:[11]

He whom all Heavens’ heaven ne'er contained
Lies now in Mary’s womb.

In the religious life both man’s relation to objects and also his action were interpreted [above] as a preservation of the objects in life or as an animation of them, but man was also reminded of his destiny, which demands of him that he admit the existence of the objective as objective or even that he make the living being itself into an object. It may be that this objectification would last only for a moment and that life would withdraw again from the object, free itself from it, and would leave the oppressed[12] to its own life and to its resuscitation. But it is necessary that life should also put itself into a permanent relation with objects and thus maintain their objectivity even up to the point of completely destroying them.

Even in all the increased religious union disclosed by the above-mentioned acts of integration [in worship] hypocrisy may still exist, namely, owing to one’s retention of a particular property for one’s self. If he kept things firmly in his own grasp, man would not yet have fulfilled the negative prerequisites of religion, i.e., would not yet be free from absolute objectivity and would not yet have risen above finite life. He would still be unable to unite himself with the infinite life because he would have kept something for himself; he would still be in a state of mastering things or caught in a dependence upon them. This is the reason why he gives up only part of his property as a sacrifice, for it is his fate to possess property, and this fate is necessary and can never be discarded. In God’s sight man destroys part of his property [on the altar]. The rest he destroys to some extent by taking away as far as possible its character as private property and sharing it with his friends. The destruction of property [on the altar] is an additional negation of private ownership because such destruction is useless and superfluous. Only through this uselessness of destroying, through this destroying for destroying’s sake, does he make good the destruction which he causes for his own particular purposes. At the same time he has consummated the objectivity of the objects by a destruction unrelated to his own purposes, by that complete negation of relations which is called death. This aimless destruction for destruction’s sake sometimes happens, even if the necessity of a purposive destruction of objects remains, and it proves to be the only religious relation to absolute objects.

It only needs to be briefly mentioned that the remaining external surroundings,[13] as necessary confines, should not so much entertain [the devout] by their useless beauty as hint at something else by purposive embellishment, and further that it is the essence of worship to cancel the intuitive or thoughtful contemplation of an objective God, or rather to blend this attitude with the joyful subjectivity of living beings, of song, or of motions of the body, a sort of subjective expression which like the solemn oration can become objective and beautiful by rules, namely: dance, or offer words with a manifold of observances, the due ordering of offering, sacrifices, and so on. Moreover, this variety of expressions, and of those whose expressions they are, demands unity and order which come alive in someone who orders and commands, i.e., a priest, who himself has a separate position of his own if man’s external life has been split into separate compartments for the fulfillment of his many needs. There is no need to mention other consequences and the means of completely realizing them.

This more perfect union in the realm of religion is not absolutely necessary because it consists in such an elevation of finite life to infinite life that as little as possible of the finite and restricted, i.e., of the merely objective or merely subjective, remains, and that every opposition springing from this elevation and integration is reintegrated. Religion is any elevation of the finite to the infinite, when the infinite is conceived as a definite form of life. Some such elevation is necessary because the finite depends on the infinite. But the stage of opposition and unification on which the determinate nature of one generation of men persists is accidental in respect to indeterminate nature.[14] The more perfect integration [or completion] is possible in the case of peoples whose life is as little as possible separated and disintegrated, i.e., in the case of happy peoples. Unhappy peoples cannot reach that stage, but they, living in a state of separation, must take anxious care for the preservation of one member [of the whole], i.e., for their own independence. They are not permitted to abandon the quest for this independence; their highest pride must be to cling to separate and maintain the existence of the unit [whose independence is in question].[15]

One may consider this situation from the side of subjectivity as independence, or from the other side as an alien, remote, inaccessible object. Both seem to be compatible with one another, although it is necessary that, the stronger the separation is, the purer must the Ego be and the further must the object be removed from and above man. The greater and the more isolated the inner sphere, the greater and more isolated is the outer sphere also, and if the latter is regarded as the self-subsistent, the more subjugated man must appear. But it is precisely this being mastered by the immeasurably great object which is steadily retained as man’s relation to the object; it does not matter what mode of consciousness man prefers, whether that of fearing a God who, being infinite and beyond the heaven of heavens, exalted above all connection and all relationship, hovers all-powerful above all nature; or that of placing himself as pure Ego[16] above the ruins of this body and the shining suns, above the countless myriads of heavenly spheres, above the ever new solar systems as numerous as ye all are, ye shining suns.[17]

When the separation is infinite, it does not matter which remains fixed, the subject of the object; but in either case the opposition persists, the opposition of the absolutely finite to the absolutely infinite. In either case the elevation of finite to infinite life would be only an elevation over finite life; the infinite would only be the completely integrated in so far as it was opposed to the totality, i.e., to the infinity of the finite. The opposition would not be overcome in a beautiful union; the union would be frustrated, and opposition would be a hovering of the Ego over all nature, a dependence upon, or rather a relation to, a Being beyond all nature. This religion[18] can be sublime and awful, but it cannot be beautifully humane. And hence the blessedness enjoyed by the Ego which opposes itself to everything and has thus brought everything under its feet is a phenomenon of the time, at bottom equivalent to the phenomenon of dependence on an absolutely alien being which cannot become man, or if it did become man (namely, at a point in time) would, even in this union [between eternal and temporal, infinite and finite], remain something absolutely specialized, i.e., would remain just an absolute unit. Nevertheless, this blessedness may be man’s worthiest and noblest achievement if the union [of the eternal] with the temporal were ignoble and ignominious.[19]

14 September 1800.


2. The first sentence is fragmentary; the restoration of what is lost is purely conjectural. The first paragraph deals with the problem of life as a multiplicity of individual organisms, separated and yet united.

3. This seems to refer to Schelling’s philosophy of nature, which was in the focus of German idealism during 1797-99. For Schelling nature was of equal rank with Fichte’s supreme principle, the absolute Ego. He understood nature not as a mechanical system but as a creative organism animated by a world soul, and to that extent he dealt with it “in the worthiest manner.” But, even so, Hegel hints, Schelling was unable fully to unite the infinite and the finite. This criticism anticipates ideas expressed in The Difference between the Systems of Fichte and Schelling.

4. Here Hegel had added, and later canceled: “but worshiping” (its object).

5. We may think of the opposition between unity and manifold as overcome by the concept of the manifold organized into unity. But the opposition of life and nonlife, or of the organic and the inorganic, persists – an opposition presupposed by the very concept of life.

6. This statement, almost as dialectical as Hegel’s later method, forecasts what Hutchison Stirling calls “the secret of Hegel” – the reconciliation of understanding with life. But still he believes that this reconciliation is reserved to religion. Philosophical reflection always “kills” life by distinguishing oppositions, and it cannot give up those distinctions without killing itself. Desperately but as yet unsuccessfully, Hegel gropes after a method which would understand life by both positing and uniting opposites. Nowhere else can the fountainhead of Hegel’s dialectic be better studied than in the intellectual struggle reflected in this paper.

7. The manuscript breaks off here, at the end of sheet 34.

8. Sheet 47, the conclusion of the original manuscript, begins in the middle of a sentence, and the interpretation of the first few paragraphs is hard because we have no clue to what immediate proceeded. But some light may perhaps be found elsewhere. In a fragment which Nohl prints in his Appendix, p. 367, Hegel writes: “If a spectator visits a temple and, without any feeling of piety, regards it purely as a building, it may fill him with a sense of sublimity; but then its walls are too narrow for him. He tries to give himself space by stretching his arms and raising his head to infinity. The confines of the building which had roused the sense of sublimity thus lose their importance for him and he demands something more, namely, infinity.” In The Spirit of Christianity there is a reference to the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Jerusalem. There was no concrete shape or figure to be an object of religious feeling, but only what Pompey regarded as an empty room.

With these two passages in mind, we may perhaps conjecture that in this fragment Hegel is contrasting the worship of God as an object with the worship of him as an infinite life in which the worshipers share. At the same time Hegel may be contrasting the temple or church as a mere object, four bare walls, with worship as a living whole, articulated into its elements – the worshipers themselves, their devotion, and the external forms of their devotion, ritual, and architecture. Hegel’s point seems to be that worship cannot be focused on God unless it is carried on in some specific place devoted to him. But this place will be formless and unadorned so long as God is conceived abstractly as merely an invisible infinite object. If instead God is conceived as infinite life, then the place changes its character; ti loses its bare objectivity because the worshipers express their devotion by adorning it (e.g., with images of the divine), and the act of worship becomes a union of object with subject – a union achieved in the religious feelings of the worshipers as a union between man and God.

9. Churches are oriented to the site of the original temple, which is thus a unifying center for all Christians, even though for the Jews the Holy of Holies was only an empty room in contrast with Greek temples adorned by statutes of the gods.

10. i.e., in the part of the manuscript which is lost.

11. Taken, with a slight change, from a hymn by Martin Luther, beginning “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ.”

12. i.e., the living being, oppressed by being treated merely as an object.

13. i.e., the temple or church where worship is carried on.

14. Religion raises accidental features of experience to the level of absolute significance. Peoples still living in paradisaical unity with “indeterminate” nature are free to select any features of their finite experience for religious exaltation and sanctification. Their status is that of the mythological consciousness.

15. This contrast between happy and unhappy peoples may refer to that between the Greeks and the Israelites.

16. The two imperfect types of integration between infinite and finite which Hegel distinguishes here are (a) Judaism (for which see § I of The Spirit of Christianity) and (b) Fichte’s philosophy of the pure Ego.

17. Quoted from Fichte: Appellation, Werke (Berlin, 1845) ii.3, p. 237.

18. i.e., Christianity as inheriting Judaism and as contrasted with the beautiful union in Greek religion. Or the contrast is perhaps between the beauty of the teaching of Jesus (especially as interpreted in The Spirit of Christianity) and the renewed outbreak of oppositions in the development of the Christian church (see the close of The Spirit of Christianity).

19. The meaning of these somewhat obscure words may be as follows. The “blessedness enjoyed by the ego” refers to Fichte’s philosophy of the absolute ego. Hegel characterizes this philosophy as “a phenomenon of the time” rather than an eternal truth. Fichte’s position with its total separation of Ego and world resembles biblical theism. The overcoming o this separation by the Incarnation is confined to the historical Jesus and fails to achieve the absolute union of time and eternity. Should this unification by means of an all-embracing speculative system be impossible, then Fichte’s system would be the worthiest achievement of the human mind.