Hegel to Niethammer
Nuremberg, October 23, 1812

Source: Hegel: The Letters, Clark Butler and Christine Seiler ed., Purdue Research Foundation, 1984.

The teaching of philosophical preparatory sciences in the gymnasium has two dimensions: subject areas and the methods. I. Concerning subject matter and its distribution between the three class levels, the directive definitely specifies, 1, religious knowledge and a knowledge of law and duties for underclassmen although it is also indicated that practice in speculative thought might be begun here with logic; 2, both cosmology and natural theology – in connection with the Kantian critiques – and psychology on the intermediate level; and, 3, the philosophical encyclopaedia for the upperclassmen.

Since the teaching of the theory of law, duties, and religion is, I dare say, not to be united with that of logic in the lower class, I have thus far confined myself, here to a treatment of law, duties, and religion, reserving logic for the intermediary class where in fact I have taught it alternately with psychology in the two-year course of study for this class. Then came the prescribed encyclopaedia in the upper class. If I am to give my general opinion of the overall distribution with a view to the matter itself as much as to my own experience, I can only say that I have found it very suitable.

1. Taking up the question now more closely with respect to the first subject matter for instruction, the expression "theory of religion, law, and duties" is employed with the supposition that between these three doctrines it is with religion that the beginning is to be made. Insofar as no compendium is at hand, freedom must surely be left to the teacher to establish the order of succession and connection according to his insight. As for myself I can do nothing else but begin with law, the most simple and abstract consequence of freedom, proceeding thereupon to morality, and progressing from there to religion as the highest stage. This procedure corresponds more closely to the nature of the content to be treated, but a more extensive elaboration is out of place.

If the question were asked as to whether this subject matter is suitable for beginning an introduction to philosophy, I can only answer in the affirmative. The concepts of these doctrines are simple, and yet they at once possess a determinateness which makes them entirely accessible to the age group in this class. Their content finds support in the natural feeling of the pupils, and has actuality in their inner life, for it constitutes the side of inner actuality itself. I thus by far prefer for this class the present subject matter to logic, for the latter has a content which is more abstract, is particularly removed from this immediate actuality of inner life, and is purely theoretical. Freedom, law, property, and so forth are practical determinations with which we deal on a daily basis, and which beyond such immediate existence possess a sanctioned existence and real validity as well. For the mind not yet at home in thought, logical determinations of the universal, particular, and so on are shadows as compared with the actuality to which it [habitually] returns when not yet practiced in holding fast to and contemplating such determinations independently of such actuality. The customary demand placed on the teaching of introductory philosophy is indeed that one should begin from what exists [vom Existierenden], and should from that point lead consciousness to what is higher, i.e., to thought. Yet in concepts of freedom, the existent and immediate are present and are at once already thought without any prior anatomy, analysis, abstraction, and so on. Thus in these doctrines a beginning will in fact be made with what is sought: with the true, the spiritual, the actual. I have always found in this class greater interest in these practical determinations than in the little theoretical content which I had introduced as preliminary. And I felt the qualitative difference in this interest still more sharply when for the first time, following indications in the explanatory part of the directive, I made a beginning with the basic concepts of logic. I have not repeated the experience.

2. The next highest stage for the pupil is the theoretically spiritual stage: the logical, metaphysical, and psychological. If the logical and psychological are to be immediately compared, it is the logical which on the whole is to be seen as easier, because it has as its content simpler, abstract determinations, while the psychological on the other hand has a concrete and in fact even spiritual content. Yet psychology is too easy if it is taken so trivially as to be merely empirical psychology, as perhaps in Kampe's psychology for children. What I know of Cams's manner is so tedious, unedifying, lifeless, and spiritless as to be completely unendurable.

I divide the teaching of psychology into two parts: a, the psychology of emergent spirit and, b, [the psychology] of spirit as it is, in and for itself. In the former I treat consciousness in accordance with my Phenomenology of Spirit, though only the first three stages of the Phenomenology: Consciousness, Self-Consciousness, and Reason. In the latter I deal with the succession of stages from feeling through intuition, representation, imagination, and so on. I distinguish these two sections such that spirit as consciousness acts on determinations as upon objects, and so that its determining becomes for it a relation to an object; while spirit as spirit acts only on its [own] determinations – alterations in it being determined as its own activities and being so viewed.

In that logic is the other science in the intermediate class, metaphysics thus seems to go away empty-handed. Metaphysics is, moreover, a science about which one is nowadays accustomed to some embarrassment. In the directive the Kantian exposition of the cosmology of antinomies and of dialectical natural theology is mentioned. It is in fact not so much metaphysics itself as the dialectic thereof which is thus prescribed. And with that the venture comes back again to logic in the form of dialectic.

According to my view, metaphysics in any case falls entirely within logic Here I can cite Kant as my precedent and authority. His critique reduces metaphysics as it has existed until now to a consideration of the understanding and reason. Logic can thus in the Kantian sense be understood so that, beyond the usual content of so-called general logic, what he calls transcendental logic is bound up with it and set out prior to it. In point of content I mean the doctrine of categories, or reflective concepts, and then of the concepts of reason: analytic and dialectic. These objective thought forms constitute an independent content [corresponding to] the role of the Aristotelian Categories [organon de categoriis] or the former ontology. Further, they are independent of one's metaphysical system. They occur in transcendental idealism as much as in dogmatism. The latter calls them determinations of being [Entium], while the former calls them determinations of the understanding. My objective logic will, I hope, purify this science once again, expositing it in its true worth, but until it is better known those Kantian distinctions already contain a makeshift or rough version of it.

With respect to the Kantian antinomies, their dialectical side will be evoked again below. As for their remaining content, it is in part logic, in part the world in time and space, i.e., matter. Inasmuch as their logical content alone arises in logic – namely the antinomical categories which they contain – the fact that these antinomies concern cosmology falls by the wayside. Yet in fact that further content – namely the world, matter, and the like – is at once a useless ballast, a misty image contrived by the power of representation, wholly lacking in value. With respect to the Kantian critic of natural theology, one can – as I have doneundertake it in the doctrine of religion where such material is not unwelcome, especially in a threeand, respectively, four-year course. It holds interest in part in giving knowledge of the ever-so-famous proofs of the existence of God, in part in providing acquaintance with the equally famous Kantian critique of the same, and in part in permitting this critique to be itself criticized.

3. The encyclopaedia, since it is to be philosophical, essentially excludes the literary encyclopaedia, which is moreover devoid of content and not yet of use to youth. It can contain nothing but the general content of philosophy, namely the basic concepts and principles of its particular sciences, among which I count three principal ones: logic, philosophy of nature, and philosophy of spirit. All other sciences, which are viewed as nonphilosophical, are in their beginnings indeed included in this encyclopaedia; and only in their beginnings are they to be considered in the encyclopaedia insofar as it is philosophical. As appropriate as it now is to give such an overview of the elements in the gymnasium, upon closer examination it can still be viewed as superfluous; for, the sciences to be briefly considered in the encyclopaedia have for the most part already been taught at the gymnasium in more developed form: thus the first science of the encyclopaedia-logic – has been spoken of above, while the third science – the doctrine of spirit – has already been dealt with in, 1, psychology and, 2, the doctrine of law, duties, and religion.

Psychology as such – which falls into the two divisions of theoretical and practical mind, intelligence and will – can for the most part dispense with elaboration this second [practical] part, since the same thing has in its truth already come forth as the theory of law, duties, and religion. For the merely psychological aspects of this theory – namely, feelings, desire, impulses, propensities – are purely formal; in their true content – e.g., the propensity to economic gain, the desire to know, the parental instinct directed to children, and so on – they have already been treated in the doctrine of law and duties as necessary relations: e.g., as the responsibility for economic gain within the limits of legal principles, the duty to educate oneself, the duties of parents and children, and so forth.

The third science of the encyclopaedia embraces further the doctrine of religion, but special instruction is devoted to this as well. So it is mainly only the second science, the philosophy of nature, which is left over from the encyclopaedia. Yet the observation of nature still has little attraction for the young. They feel, with some justification, that interest in nature rather constitutes a theoretical pastime in comparison with human and spiritual activity and formation. And, secondly, such observation is difficult. For spirit, in conceptualizing nature, has to change the very opposite of what is conceptual into something conceptual, a feat of which thought is capable only when it has grown strong. Yet, in the third place, the philosophy of nature as speculative physics presupposes acquaintance with natural phenomena, with empirical physics, an acquaintance which at this point is not yet present. When in the fourth year of the gymnasium's existence I received students in the upper class who had gone through the three courses of philosophy in the middle and lower classes, I could only notice that they were already acquainted with the greater part of the philosophical scientific cycle, so that I could dispense with the greater part of the encyclopaedia. I then restricted myself chiefly to the philosophy of nature.

On the other hand, I would feel it most desirable for another aspect of the philosophy of spirit, namely the branch dealing with beauty, to be further developed. Beyond the philosophy of nature, aesthetics is the special science still missing in the scientific cycle, and it appears in essence capable of serving as a gymnasium science. It could be taken over by the professor of classical literature in the upper class; but this literature, from which it would be quite harmful to take away hours, is already quite enough to occupy him. Yet it would be most useful if the gymnasium students received, besides a better concept of versification, more definite concepts of the nature of epic, tragedy, comedy, and the like. On the one hand aesthetics could offer better, more recent views on the nature and ends of art; on the other hand, it must of course not remain mere idle talk about art, but must, as I have already noted, go into the particular poetic genres, and into the special ancient and modern poetic modes, leading to a characteristic acquaintance with the most noted poets of the different nations and times, and supporting this knowledge with examples. The course would be as instructive as it would be agreeable. It would contain only knowledge of the most suitable sort for gymnasium pupils. It can be viewed as a real deficiency that this science is not instituted as a subject of gymnasium instruction. With that the encyclopaedia would, in point of content, be present in the gymnasium – apart from the philosophy of nature. Perhaps only a philosophical view of history would still be lacking, which, however, can in part still be dispensed with, and which in part can equally well find its place elsewhere, for example in the science of religion with the doctrine of providence. The general threefold division of the entire subject of philosophy – pure thought, nature, and spirit – all the same must often be invoked in determining the particular sciences.

II. Method. A. One generally distinguishes between the philosophical system with its special sciences and philosophizing as such. According to the modern craze, especially in pedagogy, one is not so much to be instructed in the content of philosophy as to learn how to philosophize without any content. That amounts to saying that one is to travel endlessly without getting to know along the way any cities, rivers, countries, men, etc.

In the first place, one who gets to know a city and then comes to a river, to another city, and so on in the process also learns to travel. He not only learns to do so but indeed really does so. Thus in learning the content of philosophy one not only learns to philosophize but indeed really philosophizes. Moreover, the aim of learning to travel is only to get to know those cities, etc., i.e., to know the content.

Secondly, philosophy contains the highest rational thoughts on essential objects, harboring within it what is universal and true in those objects. It is of great importance to become acquainted with this content and receive these thoughts into one's head. What results from the sad attitude of pure formalism, of perennial empty searching and wandering about, of unsystematic argumentation or speculation, is minds devoid of substance and thoughts, capable of nothing. The theory of law, morality, and religion encompasses important content. Logic as well is a substantial science; objective logic – i.e., Kant's transcendental logiccontains the basic thoughts of being, essence, power, substance, cause, and on and on. The other [subjective] logic contains concepts, judgments, inferences, and so forth, basic determinations of equal importance. Psychology contains feeling, intuition, etc. Finally, the philosophical encyclopaedia encompasses the entire sphere universally. The Wolfian sciences [cf Baron Christian von Wolf] – logic, ontology, cosmology, etc., natural law, morality, etc. have more or less disappeared. Yet philosophy is not therefore any less a systematic complex of substantial sciences. However, knowledge of the absolutely Absolute – for those sciences are to come to know their special contents equally in their truth, i.e., in their absoluteness – is only possible through knowledge of a totality forming in its stages a system. And those sciences are its stages. Aversion to a system makes one think of a statue of a god who is supposed to have no form. Unsystematic philosophy is accidental, fragmentary thinking, and its direct consequence is a rigid attitude to true content.

Thirdly, the process of coming to know a substantial philosophy is nothing else than learning. Philosophy must be taught and learned as much as any other science. The unfortunate urge to educate the individual in thinking for himself and being self-productive has cast a shadow over truth. As if, when I learn what substance, cause, or anything is, I myself were not thinking. As if I did not myself produce these determinations in my own thought but rather tossed them in my head as pebbles. As if, further, when I have insight into their truth, into the proofs of their synthetic relations or dialectical transitions, I did not receive this insight myself, as if I did not convince myself of these truths. As if when I have become acquainted with the Pythagorean theorem and its proof I have failed to know this theorem and prove its truth myself! As much as philosophical study is in and for itself self-activity, to that degree also is it learning: the learning of an already present, developed science. This science is a treasure of hard-won, ready-prepared, formed content. This inheritance ready at hand must be earned by the individual, i.e., learned. The teacher possesses this treasure; he pre-thinks it. The pupils re-think it. The philosophical sciences contain universal true thoughts of their objects. They constitute the end product of the labor of genial thought in all ages. These true thoughts surpass what an uneducated young man comes up with thinking by himself to the same degree that such a mass of inspired labor exceeds his effort. The original, peculiar views of the young on essential objects are in part still totally deficient and empty, but in part – in infinitely greater part – they are opinion, illusion, half-truth, distortion, and indeterminateness. Through learning, truth takes the place of such imagining. Only when the mind is full of thoughts does it become capable of advancing science and winning true personal distinction in it. Yet this is thus not to be done in public educational institutions, especially not in gymnasiums. Rather, philosophical study is essentially to be directed to assuring that something is learned, that ignorance is hounded out, that empty minds are filled with thoughts, and that the natural peculiarity of thought – i.e., accident, caprice, oddness in matters of opinion – is driven out.

B. Philosophical content has in its method and soul three forms: it is, 1, abstract, 2, dialectical, and 3, speculative. It is abstract insofar as it takes place generally in the element of thought. Yet as merely abstract it becomes – in contrast to the dialectical and speculative forms – the so-called understanding which holds determinations fast and comes to know them in their fixed distinction. The dialectical is the movement and confusion of such fixed determinateness; it is negative reason. The speculative is positive reason, the spiritual, and it alone is really philosophical.

In teaching philosophy in the gymnasium the abstract form is, in the first instance, straightaway the chief concern. The young must first die to sight and hearing, must be torn away from concrete representations, must be withdrawn into the night of the soul and so learn to see on this new level, to hold fast and distinguish determinations.

Moreover, one learns to think abstractly by thinking abstractly. Either one can try to begin from what is sensory or concrete, working it up through analysis into abstraction, thus following the apparent natural order, as also the order which proceeds from what is easier to what is more difficult. Or one can begin right away with abstraction itself, taking it in and for itself, teaching it and making it understandable. First of all, in contrasting these two ways, the first is certainly more conformable to nature, but just for that reason is the unscientific course. Although it is more natural for a disk from a tree trunk that roughly encompasses a circle to be gradually rounded off by stripping off uneven little pieces that protrude, this is nonetheless not the way in which the geometer proceeds; he rather uses a circular instrument, or straightaway a free movement of the hand, to draw an exact abstract circle. And because what is pure, higher, and true is by nature first [natura prius], the procedure conforming to the matter itself is to make it first in science, too. For science is the reverse of merely natural, i.e., nonspiritual, representation. What is pure is first in truth, and science ought proceed in accordance with truth. In the second place, it is a complete error to assume that the path which begins naturally with the concrete sensory [content] and from there progresses to thought is easier. It is on the contrary more difficult. Analogously, it is easier to pronounce and read the elements of spoken language, the individual letters, than entire words. Because the abstract is simpler, it is easier to apprehend. The accompanying concrete sensory [content] is to be stripped away. It is thus superfluous to take it up along with the rest, for it would only have to be got rid of again and could only distract. The abstract as such is understandable enough, as understandable as it is necessary. Real understanding, moreover, can of course enter only with philosophy. What is to be done is thus to receive into one's head thoughts of the universe. Yet thoughts in general are abstract. Formal reasoning without substance is of course also sufficiently abstract. Yet it is being presupposed that one has hold of substance, of true content. On the other hand, empty formalism, abstraction without substance, is best driven out even if it is about the Absolute, and indeed precisely through the above, i.e., through the teaching of a determinate content.

If one now stops at the abstract form of philosophical content, one has a philosophy – or at least so-called philosophy – of the understanding. And insofar as in the gymnasium what matters is an introduction and breadth of material, such understandable content, such a systematic mass of abstract substantial concepts – i.e., philosophy as a subject matter – is introductory. For subject matter is generally first for actual thinking in the process of emerging. This first stage thus necessarily appears predominant in the sphere of the gymnasium.

The second stage or form is the dialectical. This stage is more difficult than the abstract; and is at once the stage in which the young, eager for material content and sustenance, are least interested. The Kantian antinomies are specified in the directive with respect to cosmology. The antinomies contain deep fundamentals of the antinomical [content] of reason. Yet these fundamentals lie concealed and are recognized in the antinomies so to speak unthinkingly and insufficiently in their truth. On the other hand, the antinomies really constitute all too poor a dialectic. Nothing beyond tortuous antitheses. I have, I believe, elucidated them in my Logic according to their true worth [Werke IV, 226-38]. Infinitely better is the dialectic of the ancient Eleatics and the examples preserved from it for us. Since every new concept in a systematic whole really arises from what precedes by dialectic, a teacher acquainted with the nature of philosophizing everywhere enjoys as often as possible the freedom to advance the inquiry by means of dialectic; and where dialectic finds no access, he is free to pass on to the next concept without it.

The third form is the truly speculative form, i.e., knowledge of what is opposed in its very oneness, more precisely the knowledge that the opposites are in truth one. Only this speculative stage is truly philosophical. It is naturally the most difficult; it is the truth. It is itself present in twofold form: 1. in its common form, where it is brought closer to representation, imagination, and the heart, as for example when one speaks of the universal self-moving life of nature molding itself in endless forms. Or, to cite another example, pantheism and the like, or when one speaks of the eternal love of God, Who creates for the sake of love in order to contemplate Himself in his eternal Son, and then in a son given to the temporal order, i.e., in the world, and so on. Law, self-consciousness, the practical in general already contain in and for themselves the principles or beginnings of the speculative. And of spirit and the spiritual there is, moreover, in truth not even a single nonspeculative word that can be said; for spirit is unity with itself in otherness. As a rule when one uses the words "soul," "spirit," or "God" one is speaking all the same only of stones and coals. In speaking of spirit only abstractly via the understanding, the content can nevertheless be speculative, so much so that the content of the perfect religion is most speculative, in which case instructionbe it inspired or, if not inspired, then, as it were, narrative – merely brings the object before representation, not into the concept.

2. What is philosophical in the form of the concept is exclusively what has been grasped conceptually, the speculative proceeding out of the dialectic. This can be only scantily present in the gymnasium. It will generally be apprehended only by the few, and to some extent one cannot even really know whether it is apprehended by them. To learn to think speculatively, which is specified in the directive as the chief purpose of preparatory philosophical instruction, is thus surely to be seen as the necessary goal. Preparation for it is first abstract thinking and then dialectical thinking, and beyond that consists in attaining representations of speculative content. Because gymnasium instruction is essentially preparatory, it can consist chiefly in working into such dimensions of philosophizing.

THE ABOVE FORMAL communication was accompanied by a personal letter in which Hegel suggests the abolition of all formal philosophy instruction in the gymnasium.


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