Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy

B.  Relation of Philosophy to Other Departments of Knowledge.

3. Commencement of Philosophy and of its History.

Now that we have thus defined the Notion of Philosophy to be the Thought which, as the universal content, is complete Being, it will be shown in the history of Philosophy how the determinations in this content make their appearance little by little. At first we only ask where Philosophy and its History begin.

a. Freedom of Thought as a first condition.

The general answer is in accordance with what has been said. Philosophy begins where the universal is comprehended as the all-embracing existence, or where the existent is laid hold of in a universal form, and where thinking about thought first commences. Where, then, has this occurred? Where did it begin? That is a question of history. Thought must be for itself, must come into existence in its freedom, liberate itself from nature and come out of its immersion in mere sense-perception; it must as free, enter within itself and thus arrive at the consciousness of freedom. Philosophy is properly to be commenced where the Absolute is no more in the form of ordinary conception, and free thought not merely thinks the Absolute but grasps its Idea. That is to say where Thought grasps as Thought, the Being (which may be Thought itself), which it recognizes as the essence of things, the absolute totality and the immanent essence of everything, and does so as an external being. The simple existence which is not sensuous and which the Jews thought of as God (for all Religion is thinking), is thus not a subject to be treated of by Philosophy, but just such a proposition as that "The existence or principle of things is water, fire or thought."

Thought, this universal determination which sets forth itself, is an abstract determinateness; it is the beginning of Philosophy, but this beginning is at the same time in history, the concrete form taken by a people, the principle of which constitutes what we have stated above. If we say that the consciousness of freedom is connected with the appearance of Philosophy, this principle must be a fundamental one with those with whom Philosophy begins; a people having this consciousness of freedom founds its existence on that principle seeing that the laws and the whole circumstances of the people are based only on the Notion that Mind forms of itself, and in the categories which it has. Connected with this on the practical side, is the fact that actual freedom develops political freedom, and this only begins where the individual knows himself as an independent individual to be universal and real, where his significance is infinite, or where the subject has attained the consciousness of personality and thus desires to be esteemed for himself alone. Free, philosophic thought has this direct connection with practical freedom, that as the former supplies thought about the absolute, universal and real object, the latter, because it thinks itself, gives itself the character of universality. Thinking means the bringing of something into the form of universality; hence Thought first treats of the universal, or determines what is objective and individual in the natural things which are present in sensuous consciousness, as the universal, as an objective Thought. Its second attribute is that in recognizing and knowing this objective and infinite universal, I, at the same time, remain confronting it from the standpoint of objectivity.

On account of this general connection between political freedom and the freedom of Thought, Philosophy only appears in History where and in as far as free institutions are formed. Since Mind requires to separate itself from its natural will and engrossment in matter if it wishes to enter upon Philosophy, it cannot do so in the form with which the world-spirit commences and which takes precedence of that separation. This stage of the unity of Mind with Nature which as immediate is not the true and perfect state, is mainly found in the Oriental conception of existence, therefore Philosophy first begins in the Grecian world.

b. Separation of the East and its Philosophy.

Some explanations have to be given regarding this first form. Since Mind in it, as consciousness and will, is but desire, self-consciousness still stands upon its first stage in which the sphere of its idea and will is finite. As intelligence is thus finite too, its ends are not yet a universal for themselves; but if a people makes for what is moral, if laws and justice are possessed, the character of universality underlies its will. This presupposes a new power in Mind with which it commences to be free, for the universal will as the relation of thought to thought or as the universal, contains a thought which is at home with itself. If a people desire to be free, they will subordinate their desires to universal laws, while formerly that which was desired was only a particular. Now finitude of the will characterizes the orientals, because with them the will has not yet grasped itself as universal, for thought is not yet free for itself. Hence there can but be the relation of lord and slave, and in this despotic sphere fear constitutes the ruling category. Because the will is not yet free from what is finite, it can therein be comprehended and the finite can be shown forth as negative. This sensation of negation, that something cannot last, is just fear as distinguished from freedom which does not consist in being finite but in being for itself, and this cannot be laid hold of. Religion necessarily has this character, since the fear of the Lord is the essential element beyond which we cannot get. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" is indeed a true saying; man must begin with this in order to know the finite ends in their negative character. But man must also have overcome fear through the relinquishment of finite ends, and the satisfaction which that Religion affords is confined to what is finite, seeing that the chief means of reconciliation are natural forms which are impersonated and held in reverence.

The oriental consciousness raises itself, indeed, above the natural content to what is infinite; but it only knows itself as accidental in reference to the power which makes the individual fear. This subordination may take two forms and must indeed from one extreme pass to the other. The finite, which is for consciousness, may have the form of finitude as finite, or it may become the infinite, which is however an abstraction. The man who lives in fear, and he who rules over men through fear, both stand upon the same platform; the difference between them is only in the greater power of will which can go forth to sacrifice all that is finite for some particular end. The despot brings about what his caprice directs, including certainly what is good, not as law, but as arbitrary will: the passive will, like that of slavery, is converted into the active energy of will, which will, however, is arbitrary still. In Religion we even find self-immersion in the deepest sensuality represented as the service of God, and then there follows in the East a flight to the emptiest abstraction as to what is infinite, as also the exaltation attained through the renunciation of everything, and this is specially so amongst the Indians, who torture themselves and enter into the most profound abstraction. The Indians look straight before them for ten years at a time, are fed by those around, and are destitute of other spiritual content than that of knowing what is abstract, which content therefore is entirely finite. This, then, is not the soil of freedom.

In the East, Mind indeed begins to dawn, but it is still true of it that the subject is not presented as a person, but appears in the objectively substantial, which is represented as partly supersensuous and partly, and even more, material, as negative and perishing. The highest point attainable by the individual, the everlasting bliss, is made an immersion into substance, a vanishing away of consciousness, and thus of all distinction between substance and individuality - hence an annihilation. A spiritually dead relation thus comes into existence, since the highest point there to be reached is insensibility. So far, however, man has not attained that bliss, but finds himself to be a single existent individual, distinguished from the universal substance. He is thus outside the unity, has no significance, and as being what is accidental and without rights, is finite only; he finds himself limited through Nature - in caste for instance. The will is not here the substantial will; it is the arbitrary will given up to what is outwardly and inwardly contingent, for substance alone is the affirmative. With it greatness, nobility, or exaltitude of character, are certainly not excluded, but they are only present as the naturally determined or the arbitrary will, and not in the objective forms of morality and law to which all owe respect, which hold good for all, and in which for that same reason all are recognized. The oriental subject thus has the advantage of independence, since there is nothing fixed; however undetermined is the substance of the Easterns, as undetermined, free and independent may their character be. What for us is justice and morality is also in their state, but in a substantial, natural, patriarchal way, and not in subjective freedom. Conscience does not exist nor does morality. Everything is simply in a state of nature, which allows the noblest to exist as it does the worst.

The conclusion to be derived from this is that no philosophic knowledge can be found here. To Philosophy belongs the knowledge of Substance, the absolute Universal, that whether I think it and develop it or not, confronts me still as for itself objective; and whether this is to me substantial or not, still just in that I think it, it is mine, that in which I possess my distinctive character or am affirmative: thus my thoughts are not mere subjective determinations or opinions, but, as being my thoughts, are also thoughts of what is objective, or they are substantial thoughts. The Eastern form must therefore be excluded from the History of Philosophy, but still, upon the whole, I will take some notice of it. I have touched on this elsewhere, for some time ago we for the first time reached a position to judge of it. Earlier a great parade was made about the Indian wisdom without any real knowledge of what it was; now this is for the first time known, and naturally it is found to be in conformity with the rest.

c. Beginnings of Philosophy in Greece.

Philosophy proper commences in the West. It is in the West that this freedom of self-consciousness first comes forth; the natural consciousness, and likewise Mind disappear into themselves. In the brightness of the East the individual disappears; the light first becomes in the West the flash of thought which strikes within itself, and from thence creates its world out of itself. The blessedness of the West is thus so determined that in it the subject as such endures and continues in the substantial; the individual mind grasps its Being as universal, but universality is just this relation to itself This being at home with self, this personality and infinitude of the "I" constitutes the Being of Mind; it is thus and can be none else. For a people to know themselves as free, and to be only as universal, is for them to be; it is the principle of their whole life as regards morality and all else. To take an example, we only know our real Being in so far as personal freedom is its first condition, and hence we never can be slaves. Were the mere arbitrary will of the prince a law, and should he wish slavery to be introduced, we would have the knowledge that this could not be. To sleep, to live, to have a certain office, is not our real Being, and certainly to be no slave is such, for that has come to mean the being in nature. Thus in the West we are upon the soil of a veritable Philosophy.

Because in desire I am subject to another, and my Being is in a particularity, I am, as I exist, unlike myself; for I am "I," the universal complete, but hemmed in by passion. This last is self-will or formal freedom, which has desire as content. Amongst the Greeks we first find the freedom which is the end of true will, the equitable and right, in which I am free and universal, and others, too, are free, are also "I" and like me; where a relationship between free and free is thus established with its actual laws, determinations of the universal will, and justly constituted states. Hence it is here that Philosophy began.

In Greece we first see real freedom flourish, but still in a restricted form, and with a limitation, since slavery was still existent, and the states were by its means conditioned. In the following abstractions we may first of all superficially describe the freedom of the East, of Greece, and of the Teutonic world. In the East only one individual is free, the despot; in Greece the few are free; in the Teutonic world the saying is true that all are free, that is, man is free as man. But since the one in Eastern countries cannot be free because that would necessitate the others also being free to him, impulse, self-will, and formal freedom, can there alone be found. Since in Greece we have to deal with the particular, the Athenians, and the Spartans, are free indeed, but not the Messenians or the Helots. The principle of the "few" has yet to be discovered, and this implies some modifications of the Greek point of view which we must consider in connection with the History of Philosophy. To take these into consideration means simply to proceed to the dividing up of Philosophy.

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