Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830) Part One

III. First Attitude of Thought to Objectivity


The first of these attitudes of thought is seen in the method which has no doubts and no sense of the contradiction in thought, or of the hostility of thought against itself. It entertains an unquestioning belief that reflection is the means of ascertaining the truth, and of bringing the objects before the mind as they really are. And in this belief it advances straight upon its objects, takes the materials furnished by sense and perception, and reproduces them from itself as facts of thought; and then, believing this result to be the truth, the method is content. Philosophy in its earliest stages, all the sciences, and even the daily action and movement of consciousness, live in this faith.

§ 27

This method of thought has never become aware of the antithesis of subjective and objective: and to that extent there is nothing to prevent its statements from possessing a genuinely philosophical and speculative character, though it is just as possible that they may never get beyond finite categories, or the stage where the antithesis is still unresolved. In the present introduction the main question for us is to observe this attitude of thought in its extreme form; and we shall accordingly first of all examine its second and inferior aspect as a philosophic system. One of the clearest instances of it, and one lying nearest to ourselves, may be found in the Metaphysic of the Past as it subsisted among us previous to the philosophy of Kant. It is however only in reference to the history of philosophy that this Metaphysic can be said to belong to the past: the thing is always and at all places to be found, as the view which the abstract understanding takes of the objects of reason. And it is in this point that the real and immediate good lies in a closer examination of its main scope and its modis operandi.

§ 28

This metaphysical system took the laws and forms of thought to be the fundamental laws and forms of things. It assumed that to think a thing was the means of finding its very self and nature: and to that extent it occupied higher ground than the Critical Philosophy which succeeded it. But in the first instance (1) these terms of thought were cut off from their connection, their solidarity; each was believed valid by itself and capable of serving as a predicate of the truth. It was the general assumption of this metaphysic that a knowledge of the Absolute was gained by assigning predicates to it. It neither inquired what the terms of the understanding specially meant or what they were worth, nor did it test the method which characterises the Absolute by the assignment of predicates.

As an example of such predicates may be taken: Existence, in the proposition, ‘God has existence’; Finitude or Infinity, as in the question, ‘Is the world finite or infinite?’; Simple and Complex, in the proposition, ‘The Soul is simple’ or again, ‘The thing is a unity, a whole’, etc. Nobody asked whether such predicates had any intrinsic and independent truth, or if the propositional form could be a form of truth.

The Metaphysic of the past assumed, as unsophisticated belief always does, that thought apprehends the very self of things, and that things, to become what they truly are, require to be thought. For Nature and the human soul are a very Proteus in their perpetual transformations; and it soon occurs to the observer that the first crude impression of things is not their essential being. This is a point of view the very reverse of the result arrived at by the Critical Philosophy; a result, of which it may be said, that it bade man go and feed on mere husks and chaff.

We must look more closely into the procedure of that old metaphysic. In the first place it never went beyond the province of the analytic understanding. Without preliminary inquiry it adopted the abstract categories of thought and let them rank as predicates of truth. But in using the term thought we must not forget the difference between finite or discursive thinking and the thinking which is infinite and rational. The categories, as they meet us prima facie and in isolation, are finite forms. But truth is always infinite, and cannot be expressed or presented to consciousness in finite terms. The phrase infinite thought may excite surprise, if we adhere to the modern conception that thought is always limited. But it is, speaking rightly, the very essence of thought to be infinite. The nominal explanation of calling a thing finite is that it has an end, that it exists up to a certain point only, where it comes into contact with, and is limited by, its other. The finite therefore subsists in reference to its other, which is its negation and presents itself as its limit. Now thought is always in its own sphere its relations are with itself, and it is its own object. In having a thought for object, I am at home with myself. The thinking power, the ‘I’, is therefore infinite, because, when it thinks, it is in relation to an object which is itself. Generally speaking, an object means a something else, a negative confronting me. But in the case where thought thinks itself, it has an object which is at the same time no object: in other words, its objectivity is suppressed and transformed into an idea. Thought, as thought, therefore in its unmixed nature involves no limits; it is finite only when it keeps to limited categories, which it believes to be ultimate. Infinite or speculative thought, on the contrary, while it no less defines, does in the very act of limiting and defining make that defect vanish. And so infinity is not, as most frequently happens, to be conceived as an abstract away and away for ever and ever, but in the simple manner previously indicated.

The thinking of the old metaphysical system was finite. Its whole mode of action was regulated by categories, the limits of which it believed to be permanently fixed and not subject to any further negation. Thus, one of its questions was: Has God existence? The question supposes that existence is an altogether positive term, a sort of ne plus ultra. We shall see however at a later point that existence is by no means a merely positive term, but one which is too low for the Absolute Idea, and unworthy of God. A second question in these metaphysical systems was: Is the world finite or infinite ? The very terms of the question assume that the finite is a permanent contradictory to the infinite: and one can easily see that, when they are so opposed, the infinite, which of course ought to be the whole, only appears as a single aspect and suffers restriction from the finite. But a restricted infinity is itself only a finite. In the same way it was asked whether the soul was simple or composite. Simpleness was, in other words, taken to be an ultimate characteristic, giving expression to a whole truth. Far from being so, simpleness is the expression of a half-truth, as one-sided and abstract as existence — a term of thought, which, as we shall hereafter see, is itself untrue and hence unable to hold truth. If the soul be viewed as merely and abstractly simple, it is characterised in an inadequate and finite way.

It was therefore the main question of the pre-Kantian metaphysic to discover whether predicates of the kind mentioned were to be ascribed to its objects. Now these predicates are after all only limited formulae of the understanding which, instead of expressing the truth, merely impose a limit. More than this, it should be noted that the chief feature of the method lay in ‘assigning’ or ‘attributing’ predicates to the object that was to be cognised, for example, to God. But attribution is no more than an external reflection about the object: the predicates by which the object is to be determined are supplied from the resources of picture-thought, and are applied in a mechanical way. Whereas, if we are to have genuine cognition, the object must characterise its own self and not derive its predicates from without. Even supposing we follow the method of predicating, the mind cannot help feeling that predicates of this sort fail to exhaust the object. From the same point of view the Orientals are quite correct in calling God the many-named or the myriad-named One. One after another of these finite categories leaves the soul unsatisfied, and the Oriental sage is compelled unceasingly to seek for more and more of such predicates. In finite things it is no doubt the case that they have to be characterised through finite predicates: and with these things the understanding finds proper scope for its special action. Itself finite, it knows only the nature of the finite. Thus, when I call some action a theft, I have characterised the action in its essential facts; and such a knowledge is sufficient for the judge. Similarly, finite things stand to each other as cause and effect, force and exercise, and when they are apprehended in these categories, they are known in their finitude. But the objects of reason cannot be defined by these finite predicates. To try to do so was the defect of the old metaphysic.

§ 29

Predicates of this kind, taken individually, have but a limited range of meaning, and no one can fail to perceive how inadequate they are, and how far they fall below the fullness of detail which our imaginative thought gives, in the case, for example, of God, Mind, or Nature. Besides, though the fact of their being all predicates of one subject supplies them with a certain connection, their several meanings keep them apart: and consequently each is brought in as a stranger in relation to the others.

The first of these defects the Orientals sought to remedy, when, for example, they defined God by attributing to Him many names; but still they felt that the number of names would have had to be infinite.

§ 30

(2) In the second place, the metaphysical systems adopted a wrong criterion. Their objects were no doubt totalities which in their own proper selves belong to reason that is, to the organised and systematically developed universe of thought. But these totalities — God, the Soul, the World — were taken by the metaphysician as subjects made and ready, to form the basis for an application of the categories of the understanding. They were assumed from popular conception. Accordingly popular conception was the only canon for settling whether or not the predicates were suitable and sufficient.

§ 31

The common conceptions of God, the Soul, the World, may be supposed to afford thought a firm and fast footing. They do not really do so. Besides having a particular and subjective character clinging to them, and thus leaving room for great variety of interpretation, they themselves first of all require a firm and fast definition by thought. This may be seen in any of these propositions where the predicate, or in philosophy the category, is needed to indicate what the subject, or the conception we start with, is.

In such a sentence as ‘God is eternal’, we begin with the conception of God, not knowing as yet what he is: to tell us that, is the business of the predicate. In the principles of logic, accordingly, where the terms formulating the subject-matter are those of thought only, it is not merely superfluous to make these categories predicates to propositions in which God, or, still vaguer, the Absolute, is the subject, but it would also have the disadvantage of suggesting another canon than the nature of thought. Besides, the propositional form (and for proposition, it would be more correct to substitute judgment) is not suited to express the concrete — and the true is always concrete — or the speculative. Every judgment is by its form one-sided and, to that extent, false.

This metaphysic was not free or objective thinking. Instead of letting the object freely and spontaneously expound its own characteristics, metaphysic presupposed it ready-made. If anyone wishes to know what free thought means, he must go to Greek philosophy: for Scholasticism, like these metaphysical systems, accepted its facts, and accepted them as a dogma from the authority of the Church. We moderns, too, by our whole upbringing, have been initiated into ideas which it is extremely difficult to overstep, on account of their far-reaching significance. But the ancient philosophers were in a different position. They were men who lived wholly in the perceptions of the senses, and who, after their rejection of mythology and its fancies, presupposed nothing but the heaven above and the earth around. In these material, non-metaphysical surroundings, thought is free and enjoys its own privacy — cleared of everything material and thoroughly at home. This feeling that we are all our own is characteristic of free thought — of that voyage into the open, where nothing is below us or above us, and we stand in solitude with ourselves alone.

§ 32

(3) In the third place, this system of metaphysic turned into Dogmatism. When our thought never ranges beyond narrow and rigid terms, we are forced to assume that of two opposite assertions, such as were the above propositions, the one must be true and the other false.

Dogmatism may be most simply described as the contrary of Scepticism. The ancient Sceptics gave the name of Dogmatism to every philosophy whatever holding a system of definite doctrine. In this large sense Scepticism may apply the name even to philosophy which is properly Speculative. But in the narrower sense, Dogmatism consists in the tenacity which draws a hard and fast line between certain terms and others opposite to them. We may see this clearly in the strict ‘either — or’: for instance, The world is either finite or infinite; but one of these two it must be. The contrary of this rigidity is the characteristic of all Speculative truth. There no such inadequate formulae are allowed, nor can they possibly exhaust it. These formulae Speculative truth holds in union as a totality, whereas Dogmatism invests them in their isolation with a title to fixity and truth.

It often happens in philosophy that the half-truth takes its place beside the whole truth and assumes on its own account the position of something permanent. But the fact is that the half-truth, instead of being a fixed or self-subsistent principle, is a mere element absolved and included in the whole. The metaphysic of understanding is dogmatic, because it maintains half-truths in their isolation: whereas the idealism of speculative philosophy carries out the principle of totality and shows that it can reach beyond the inadequate formularies of abstract thought. Thus idealism would say: The soul is neither finite only, nor infinite only; it is really the one just as much as the other, and in that way neither the one nor the other. In other words, such formularies in their isolation are inadmissible, and only come into account as formative elements in a larger notion. Such idealism we see even in the ordinary phases of consciousness. Thus we say of sensible things, that they are changeable: that is, they are, but it is equally true that they are not. We show more obstinacy in dealing with the categories of the understanding. These are terms which we believe to be somewhat firmer — or even absolutely firm and fast. We look upon them as separated from each other by an infinite chasm, so that opposite categories can never get at each other. The battle of reason is the struggle to break up the rigidity to which the understanding has reduced everything.

§ 33

The first part of this metaphysic in its systematic form is Ontology, or the doctrine of the abstract characteristics of Being. The multitude of these characteristics, and the limits set to their applicability, are not founded upon any principle. They have in consequence to be enumerated as experience and circumstances direct, and the import ascribed to them is founded only upon common sensualised conceptions, upon assertions that particular words are used in a particular sense, and even perhaps upon etymology. If experience pronounces the list to be complete, and if the usage of language, by its agreement, shows the analysis to be correct, the metaphysician is satisfied; and the intrinsic and independent truth and necessity of such characteristics is never made a matter of :investigation at all.

To ask if being, existence, finitude, simplicity, complexity, etc. are notions intrinsically and independently true, must surprise those who believe that a question about truth can only concern propositions (as to whether a notion is or is not with truth to be attributed, as the phrase is, to a subject), and that falsehood lies in the contradiction existing between the subject in our ideas, and the notion to be predicated of it. Now as the notion is concrete, it and every character of it in general is essentially a self-contained unity of distinct characteristics. If truth then were nothing more than the absence of contradiction, it would be first of all necessary in the case of every notion to examine whether it, taken individually, did not contain this sort of intrinsic contradiction.

§ 34

The second branch of the metaphysical system was Rational Psychology or Pneumatology. It dealt with the metaphysical nature of the soul — that is, of the Mind regarded as a thing. It expected to find immortality in a sphere dominated by the laws of composition, time, qualitative change, and quantitative increase or decrease.

The name ‘rational’, given to this species of psychology, served to contrast it with empirical modes of observing the phenomena of the soul Rational psychology viewed the soul in its metaphysical nature, and through the categories supplied by abstract thought. The rationalists endeavoured to ascertain the inner nature of the soul as it is in itself and as it is for thought. In philosophy at present we hear little of the soul: the favourite term is now mind (spirit). The two are distinct, soul being as it were the middle term between body and spirit, or the bond between the two. The mind, as soul, is immersed in corporeity, and the soul is the animating principle of the body.

The pre-Kantian metaphysic, we say, viewed the soul as a thing. ‘Thing’ is a very ambiguous word. By a thing, we mean, firstly, an immediate existence, something we represent in sensuous form: and in this meaning the term has been applied to the soul. Hence the question regarding the seat of the soul. Of course, if the soul have a seat, it is in space and sensuously envisaged. So, too, if the soul be viewed as a thing we can ask whether the soul is simple or composite. The question is important as bearing on the immortality of the soul, which is supposed to depend on the absence of composition. But the fact is, that in abstract simplicity we have a category, which as little corresponds to the nature of the soul, as that of compositeness.

One word on the relation of rational to empirical psychology. The former, because it sets itself to apply thought to cognise mind and even to demonstrate the result of such thinking, is the higher; whereas empirical psychology starts from perception, and only recounts and describes what perception supplies. But if we propose to think the mind, we must not be quite so shy of its special phenomena. Mind is essentially active in the same sense as the Schoolmen [Scholastics] said that God is ‘absolute actuosity’. But if the mind is active it must as it were utter itself. It is wrong therefore to take the mind for a processless ens, as did the old metaphysic which divided the processless inward life of the mind from its outward life. The mind, of all things, must be looked at in its concrete actuality, in its energy; and in such a way that its manifestations are seen to be determined by its inward force.

§ 35

The third branch of metaphysics was Cosmology. The topics it embraced were the world, its contingency, necessity, eternity, limitation in time and space: the laws (only formal) of its changes: the freedom of man and the origin of evil.

To these topics it applied what were believed to be thoroughgoing contrasts: such as contingency and necessity; eternal and internal necessity; efficient and final cause, or causality in general and design; essence or substance and phenomenon; form and matter; freedom and necessity; happiness and pain; good and evil.

The object of Cosmology comprised not merely Nature, but Mind too, in its external complicating in its phenomenon — in fact, existence in general, or the sum of finite things. This object however it viewed not as a concrete whole, but only under certain abstract points of view. Thus the questions Cosmology attempted to solve were such as these: Is accident or necessity dominant in the world? Is the world eternal or created? It was therefore a chief concern of this study to lay down what were called general cosmological laws: for instance, that Nature does not act by fits and starts. And by fits and starts (saltus) they meant a qualitative difference or qualitative alteration showing itself without any antecedent determining mean: whereas, on the contrary, a gradual change (of quantity) is obviously not without intermediation.

In regard to Mind as it makes itself felt in the world, the questions which Cosmology chiefly discussed turned upon the freedom of man and the origin of evil. Nobody can deny that these are questions of the highest importance. But to give them a satisfactory answer, it is above all things necessary not to claim finality for the abstract formulae of understanding, or to suppose that each of the two terms in an antithesis has an independent subsistence or can be treated in its isolation as a complete and self-centred truth. This however is the general position taken by the metaphysicians before Kant, and appears in their cosmological discussions, which for that reason were incapable of compassing their purpose, to understand the phenomena of the world. Observe how they proceed with the distinction between freedom and necessity, in their application of these categories to Nature and Mind. Nature they regard as subject in its workings to necessity; Mind they hold to be free. No doubt there is a real foundation for this distinction in the very core of the Mind itself: but freedom and necessity, when thus abstractly opposed, are terms applicable only in the finite world to which, as such, they belong. A freedom involving no necessity, and mere necessity without freedom, are abstract and in this way untrue formulae of thought. Freedom is no blank indeterminateness: essentially concrete, and unvaryingly self-determinate, it is so far at the same time necessary. Necessity, again, in the ordinary acceptation of the term in popular philosophy, means determination from without only — as in finite mechanics, where a body moves only when it is struck by another body, and moves in the direction communicated to it by the impact. This however is a merely external necessity, not the real inward necessity which is identical with freedom.

The case is similar with the contrast of Good and Evil — the favourite contrast of the introspective modern world. If we regard Evil as possessing a fixity of its own, apart and distinct from Good, we are to a certain extent right: there is an opposition between them; nor do those who maintain the apparent and relative character of the opposition mean that Evil and Good in the Absolute are one, or, in accordance with the modern phrase, that a thing first becomes evil from our way of looking at it. The error arises when we take Evil as a permanent positive, instead of — what it really is — a negative which, though it would fain assert itself, has no real persistence, and is, in fact, only the absolute sham-existence of negativity in itself.

§ 36

The fourth branch of metaphysics is Natural or Rational Theology. The notion of God, or God as a possible being, the proofs, of his existence, and his properties, formed the study of this branch.

(a) When understanding thus discusses the Deity, its main purpose is to find what predicates correspond or not to the fact we have in our imagination as God. And in doing it assumes the contrast between positive and negative to be absolute; and hence, in the long run, nothing is left for the notion as understanding takes it, but the empty abstraction of indeterminate Being, of mere reality or positivity, the lifeless product of modern ‘Deism’.

(b) The method of demonstration employed in finite knowledge must always lead to an inversion of the true order. For it requires the statement of some objective ground for God’s being, which thus acquires the appearance of being derived from something else. This mode of proof, guided as it is by the canon of mere analytical identity, is embarrassed by the difficulty of passing from the finite to the infinite. Either the finitude of the existing world, which is left as much a fact as it was before, clings to the notion of Deity, and God has to be defined as the immediate substance of that world — which is Pantheism: or he remains an object set over against the subject, and in this way, finite — which is Dualism.

(c) The attributes of God which ought to be various and precise had, properly speaking, sunk and disappeared in the abstract notion of pure reality, of indeterminate Being. Yet in our material thought, the finite world continues, meanwhile, to have a real being, with God as a sort of antithesis: and thus arises the further picture of different relations of God to the world. These, formulated as properties, must, on the one hand, as relations to finite circumstances, themselves possess a finite character (giving us such properties as just, gracious, mighty, wise, etc.); on the other hand they must be infinite. Now on this level of thought the only means, and a hazy one, of reconciling these opposing requirements was quantitative exaltation of the properties, forming them into indeterminateness — into the sensus eminentior. But it was an expedient which really destroyed the property and left a mere name.

The object of the old metaphysical theology was to see how far unassisted reason could go in the knowledge of God. Certainly a reason derived knowledge of God is the highest problem of philosophy. The earliest teachings of religion are figurate conceptions of God. These conceptions, as the Creed arranges them, are imparted to us in youth. They are the doctrines of our religion, and in so far as the individual rests his faith on these doctrines and feels them to be the truth, he has all he needs as a Christian. Such is faith: and the science of this faith is Theology. But until Theology is something more than a bare enumeration and compilation of these doctrines ab extra, it has no right to the title of science. Even the method so much in vogue at present — the purely historical mode of treatment — which for example reports what has been said by this or the other Father of the Church — does not invest theology with a scientific character. To get that, we must go on to comprehend the facts by thought — which is the business of philosophy. Genuine theology is thus at the same time a real philosophy of religion, as it was, we may add, in the Middle Ages.

And now let us examine this rational theology more narrowly. It was a science which approached God not by reason but by understanding, and, in its mode of thought, employed the terms without any sense of their mutual limitations and connections. The notion of God formed the subject of discussion; and yet the criterion of our knowledge was derived from such an extraneous source as the materialised conception of God. Now thought must be free in its movements. It is no doubt to be remembered that the result of independent thought harmonises with the import of the Christian religion: for the Christian religion is a revelation of reason. But such a harmony surpassed the efforts of rational theology. It proposed to define the figurate conception of God in terms of thought; but it resulted in a notion of God which was what we may call the abstract of positivity or reality, to the exclusion of all negation. God was accordingly defined to be the most real of all beings. Anyone can see however that this most real of beings, in which negation forms no part, is the very opposite of what it ought to be and of what understanding supposes it to be. Instead of being rich and full above all measure, it is so narrowly conceived that it is, on the contrary, extremely poor and altogether empty. It is with reason that the heart craves a concrete body of truth; but without definite feature, that is, without negation, contained in the notion, there can only be an abstraction. When the notion of God is apprehended only as that of the abstract or most real being, God is, as it were, relegated to another world beyond: and to speak of a knowledge of him would be meaningless. Where there is no definite quality, knowledge is impossible. Mere light is mere darkness.

The second problem of rational theology was to prove the existence of God. Now, in this matter, the main point to be noted is that demonstration, as the understanding employs it, means the dependence of one truth on another. In such proofs we have a presupposition-something firm and fast, from which something else follows; we exhibit the dependence of some truth from an assumed starting-point. Hence, if this mode of demonstration is applied to the existence of God, it can only mean that the being of God is to depend on other terms, which will then constitute the ground of his being. It is at once evident that this will lead to some mistake: for God must be simply and solely the ground of everything, and in so far not dependent upon anything else. And a perception of this danger has in modern times led some to say that God’s existence is not capable of proof, but must be immediately or intuitively apprehended. Reason, however, and even sound common sense give demonstration a meaning quite different from that of the understanding. The demonstration of reason no doubt starts from something which is not God. But, as it advances, it does not leave the starting-point a mere unexplained fact, which is what it was. On the contrary it exhibits that point as derivative and called into being, and then God is seen to be primary, truly immediate, and self-subsisting, with the means of derivation wrapped up and absorbed in himself. Those who say: ‘Consider Nature, and Nature will lead you to God; you will find an absolute final cause’ do not mean that God is something derivative: they mean that it is we who proceed to God himself from another; and in this way God, though the consequence, is also the absolute ground of the initial step. The relation of the two things is reversed; and what came as a consequence being shown to be an antecedent, the original antecedent is reduced to a consequence. This is always the way, moreover, whenever reason demonstrates.

If in the light of the present discussion we cast one glance more on the metaphysical method as a whole, we find its main characteristic was to make abstract identity its principle and to try to apprehend the objects of reason by the abstract and finite categories of the understanding. But this infinite of the understanding, this pure essence, is still finite: it has excluded all the variety of particular things, which thus limit and deny it. Instead of winning a concrete, this metaphysic stuck fast on an abstract, identity. Its good point was the perception that thought alone constitutes the essence of all that is. It derived its materials from earlier philosophers, particularly the Schoolmen. In speculative philosophy the understanding undoubtedly forms a stage, but not a stage at which we should keep for ever standing. Plato is no metaphysician of this imperfect type, still less Aristotle, although the contrary is generally believed.

Findlay's explanation | IV: Second Attitude to Objectivity — Empiricism

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