Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830) Part One

III. Third Attitude of Thought to Objectivity

§ 61

If we are to believe the Critical philosophy, thought is subjective, and its ultimate and invincible mode is abstract universality or formal identity. Thought is thus set in opposition to Truth, which is no abstraction, but concrete universality. In this highest mode of thought, which is entitled Reason, the Categories are left out of account. The extreme theory on the opposite side holds thought to be an act of the particular only, and on that ground declares it incapable of apprehending the Truth. This is the Intuitional theory.

§ 62

According to this theory, thinking, a private and particular operation, has its whole scope and product in the Categories. But these Categories, as arrested by the understanding, are limited vehicles of thought, forms of the conditioned, of the dependent and derivative. A thought limited to these modes has no sense of the Infinite and the True, and cannot bridge over the gulf that separates it from them. (This stricture refers to the proofs of God’s existence.) These inadequate modes or categories are also spoken of as notions: and to get a notion of an object therefore can only mean, in this language, to grasp it under the form of being conditioned and derivative. Consequently, if the object in question be the True, the Infinite, the Unconditioned, we change it by our notions into a finite and conditioned; whereby, instead of apprehending the truth by thought, we have perverted it into untruth.

Such is the one simple line of argument advanced for the thesis that the knowledge of God and of truth must be immediate, or intuitive. At an earlier period all sort of anthropomorphic conceptions, as they are termed, were banished from God, as being finite and therefore unworthy of the infinite; and in this way God had been reduced to a tolerably blank being. But in those days the thought-forms were in general not supposed to come under the head of anthropomorphism. Thought was believed rather to strip finitude from the conceptions of the Absolute — in agreement with the above-mentioned conviction of all ages, that reflection is the only road to truth. But now, at length, even the thought-forms are pronounced anthropomorphic, and thought itself is described as a mere faculty of Unitisation.

Jacobi has stated this charge most distinctly in the seventh supplement to his Letters on Spinoza — borrowing his line of argument from the works of Spinoza himself, and applying it as a weapon against knowledge in general. In his attack knowledge is taken to mean knowledge of the finite only, a process of thought from one condition in a series to another, each of which is at once conditioning and conditioned. According to such a view, to explain and to get the notion of anything, is the same as to show it to be derived from something else. Whatever such knowledge embraces, consequently, is partial, dependent, and finite, while the infinite or true, i.e. God, lies outside of the mechanical interconnection to which knowledge is said to be confined. It is important to observe that, while Kant makes the finite nature of the Categories consist mainly in the formal circumstance that they are subjective, Jacobi discusses the Categories in their own proper character, and pronounces them to be in their very import finite. What Jacobi chiefly had before his eyes, when he thus described science, was the brilliant successes of the physical or ‘exact’ sciences in ascertaining natural forces and laws. It is certainly not on the finite ground occupied by these sciences that we can expect to meet the in-dwelling presence of the infinite. Lalande was right when he said he had swept the whole heaven with his glass, and seen no God. (See § 60n.) In the field of physical science, the universal, which is the final result of analysis, is only the indeterminate aggregate — of the external finite — in one word, Matter: and Jacobi well perceived that there was no other issue obtainable in the way of a mere advance from one explanatory clause or law to another.

§ 63

All the while the doctrine that truth exists for the mind was so strongly maintained by Jacobi, that Reason alone is declared to be that by which man lives. This Reason is the knowledge of God. But, seeing that derivative knowledge is restricted to the compass of finite facts, Reason is knowledge underivative, or Faith.

Knowledge, Faith, Thought, Intuition are the categories that we meet with on this line of reflection. These terms, as presumably familiar to every one, are only too frequently subjected to an arbitrary use, under no better guidance than the conceptions and distinctions of psychology, without any investigation into their nature and notion, which is the main question after all. Thus, we often find knowledge contrasted with faith, and faith at the same time explained to be an underivative or intuitive knowledge — so that it must be at least some sort of knowledge. And, besides, it is unquestionably a fact of experience, firstly, that what we believe is in our consciousness — which implies that we know about it; and secondly, that this belief is a certainty in our consciousness — which implies that we know it. Again, and especially, we find thought opposed to immediate knowledge and faith, and, in particular, to intuition. But if this intuition be qualified as intellectual, we must really mean intuition which thinks, unless, in a question about the nature of God, we are willing to interpret intellect to mean images and representations of imagination. The word faith or belief, in the dialect of this system, comes to be employed even with reference to common objects that are present to the senses. We believe, says Jacobi, that we have a body — we believe in the existence of the things of sense. But if we are speaking of faith in the True and Eternal, and saying that God is given and revealed to us in immediate knowledge or intuition, we are concerned not with the things of sense, but with objects special to our thinking mind, with truths of inherently universal significance. And when the individual ‘I’, or in other words personality, is under discussion — not the ‘I’ of experience, or a single private person — above all, when the personality of God is before us, we are speaking of personality unalloyed — of a personality in its own nature universal. Such personality is a thought, and falls within the province of thought only. More than this. Pure and simple intuition is completely the same as pure and simple thought. Intuition and belief, in the first instance, denote the definite conceptions we attach to these words in our ordinary employment of them: and to this extent they differ from thought in certain points which nearly every one can understand. But here they are taken in a higher sense, and must be interpreted to mean a belief in God, or an intellectual intuition of God; in short, we must put aside all that especially distinguishes thought on the one side from belief and intuition on the other. How belief and intuition, when transferred to these higher regions, differ from thought, it is impossible for any one to say. And yet, such are the barren distinctions of words, with which men fancy that they assert an important truth; even while the formulae they maintain are identical with those which they impugn.

The term Faith brings with it the special advantage of suggesting the faith of the Christian religion; it seems to include Christian faith, or perhaps even to coincide with it; and thus the Philosophy of Faith has a thoroughly orthodox and Christian look, on the strength of which it takes the liberty of uttering its arbitrary dicta with greater pretension and authority. But we must not let ourselves be deceived by the semblance surreptitiously secured by a merely verbal similarity. The two things are radically distinct. Firstly, the Christian faith comprises in it an authority of the Church: but the faith of Jacobi’s philosophy has no other authority than that of a personal revelation. And, secondly, the Christian faith is a copious body of objective truth, a system of knowledge and doctrine: while the scope of the philosophic faith is so utterly indefinite, that, while it has room for the faith of the Christian, it equally admits a belief in the divinity of the Dalai Lama, the ox, or the monkey — thus, so far as it goes, narrowing Deity down to its simplest terms, a ‘Supreme Being’. Faith itself, taken in this professedly philosophical sense, is nothing but the sapless abstract of immediate knowledge — a purely formal category applicable to very different facts; and it ought never to be confused or identified with the spiritual fullness of Christian faith, whether we look at that faith in the heart of the believer and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, or in the system of theological doctrine.

With what is here called faith or immediate knowledge must also be identified inspiration, the heart’s revelations, the truths implanted in man by nature, and also in particular, healthy reason or Common Sense, as it is called. All these forms agree in adopting as their leading principle the immediacy, or self-evident way, in which a fact or body of truths is presented in consciousness.

§ 64

This immediate knowledge, consists in knowing that the Infinite, the Eternal, the God which is in our Idea, really is: or, it asserts that in our consciousness there is immediately and inseparably bound up with this idea the certainty of its actual being.

To seek to controvert these maxims of immediate knowledge is the last thing philosophers would think of. They may rather find occasion for self-gratulation when these ancient doctrines, expressing as they do the general tenor of philosophic teaching, have, even in this unphilosophical fashion, become to some extent universal convictions of the age. The true marvel rather is that any one could suppose that these principles were opposed to philosophy — the maxims, viz., that whatever is held to be true is immanent in the mind, and that there is truth for the mind (§ 63). From a formal point of view, there is a peculiar interest in the maxim that the being of God is immediately and inseparably bound up with the thought of God, that objectivity is bound up with the subjectivity which the thought originally presents. Not content with that, the philosophy of immediate knowledge goes so far in its one-sided view, as to affirm that the attribute of existence, even in perception, is quite as inseparably connected with the conception we have of our own bodies and of external things, as it is with the thought of God. Now it is the endeavour of philosophy to prove such a unity, to show that it lies in the very nature of thought and subjectivity, to be inseparable from being and objectivity. In these circumstances therefore, philosophy, whatever estimate may be formed of the character of these proofs, must in any case be glad to see it shown and maintained that its maxims are facts of consciousness, and thus in harmony with experience. The difference between philosophy and the asseverations of immediate knowledge rather centres in the exclusive attitude which immediate knowledge adopts, when it sets itself up against philosophy.

And yet it was as a self-evident or immediate truth that the cogito, ergo sum of Descartes, the maxim on which may be said to hinge the whole interest of Modern Philosophy, was first stated by its author. The man who calls this a syllogism, must know little more about a syllogism than that the word ‘ergo’ [“therefore”] occurs in it. Where shall we look for the middle term? And a middle term is a much more essential point of a syllogism than the word ‘ergo’. If we try to justify the name, by calling the combination of ideas in Descartes an ‘immediate’ syllogism, this superfluous variety of syllogism is a mere name for an utterly unmediated synthesis of distinct terms of thought. That being so, the synthesis of being with our ideas, as stated in the maxim of immediate knowledge, has no more and no less claim to the title of syllogism than the axiom of Descartes has. From Hotho’s ‘Dissertation on the Cartesian Philosophy’ (published 1826), I borrow the quotation in which Descartes himself distinctly declares that the maxim cogito, ergo sum is no syllogism. The passages are Respons. ad II Object.; De Methodo iv; Ep. i. 118. From the first passage I quote the words more immediately to the point. Descartes says: ‘That we are thinking beings is prima quaedam notio quae ex nullo syllogismo concluditur’ (a certain primary notion, which is deduced from no syllogism); and goes on: ‘neque cum quis dicit: Ego cogito, ergo sum sive existo, existentiam ex cogitatione per syllogismum deducit’ (nor, when one says, I think, therefore I am or exist, does he deduce existence from thought by means of a syllogism). Descartes knew what it implied in a syllogism, and so he adds that, in order to make the maxim admit of a deduction by syllogism, we should have to add the major premise: ‘Illud omne quod cogitate, est sive existit’ (Everything which thinks, is or exists). Of course, he remarks, this major premise itself has to be deduced from the original statement.

The language of Descartes on the maxim that the ‘I’ which thinks must also at the same time be, his saying that this connection is given and implied in the simple perception of consciousness that this connection is the absolute first, the principle, the most certain and evident of all things, so that no scepticism can be conceived so monstrous as not to admit it — all this language is so vivid and distinct, that the modern statements of Jacobi and others on this immediate connection can only pass for needless repetitions.

§ 65

The theory of which we are speaking is not satisfied when it has shown that mediate knowledge taken separately is an adequate vehicle of truth. Its distinctive doctrine is that immediate knowledge alone, to the total exclusion of mediation, can possess a content which is true. This exclusiveness is enough to show that the theory is a relapse into the metaphysical understanding, with its catch words ‘either-or’. And thus it is really a relapse into the habit of external mediation, the gist of which consists in clinging to those narrow and one-sided categories of the finite, which it falsely imagined itself to have left for ever behind. This point, however, we shall not at present discuss in detail. An exclusively immediate knowledge is asserted as a fact only, and in the present Introduction we can only study it from this external point of view. The real significance of such knowledge will be explained when we come to the logical question of the opposition between mediate and immediate. But it is characteristic of the view before us to decline to examine the nature of the fact, that is, the notion of it; for such an examination would itself be a step towards mediation and even towards knowledge. The genuine discussion on logical ground, therefore, must be deferred till we come to the proper province of Logic itself.

The whole of the second part of Logic, the Doctrine of Essential Being, is a discussion of the intrinsic and self-affirming unity of immediacy and mediation.

§ 66

Beyond this point then we need not go: immediate knowledge is to be accepted as a fact. Under these circumstances examination is directed to the field of experience, to a psychological phenomenon. If that be so, we need only note, as the commonest of experiences, that truths which we well know to be results of complicated and highly mediated trains of thought present themselves immediately and without effort to the mind of any man who is familiar with the subject. The mathematician, like everyone who has mastered a particular science, meets any problem with ready-made solutions which presuppose most complicated analyses: and every educated man has a number of general views and maxims which he can muster without trouble, but which can only have sprung from frequent reflection and long experience. The facility we attain in any sort of knowledge, art, or technical expertness, consists in having the particular knowledge or kind of action present to our mind in any case that occurs, even, we may say, immediate in our very limbs, in an outgoing activity. In all these instances, immediacy of knowledge is so far from excluding mediation, that the two things are linked together — immediate knowledge being actually the product and result of mediated knowledge.

It is no less obvious that immediate existence is bound up with its mediation. The seed and the parents are immediate and initial existences in respect of the offspring which they generate. But the seed and the parents, though they exist and are therefore immediate, are yet in their turn generated; and the child, without prejudice to the mediation of its existence, is immediate, because it is. The fact that I am in Berlin, my immediate presence here, is mediated by my having made the journey hither.

§ 67

One thing may be observed with reference to the immediate knowledge of God, of legal and ethical principles (including under the head of immediate knowledge what is otherwise termed Instinct, Implanted or Innate Ideas, Common Sense, Natural Reason, or whatever form, in short, we give to the original spontaneity). It is a matter of general experience that education or development is required to bring out into consciousness what is therein contained. It was so even with the Platonic reminiscence; and the Christian rite of baptism, although a sacrament, involves the additional obligation of a Christian upbringing. In short, religion and morals, however much they may be faith or immediate knowledge, are still on every side conditioned by the mediating process which is termed development, education, training.

The adherents, no less than the assailants, of the doctrine of Innate Ideas have been guilty throughout of the like exclusiveness and narrowness as is here noted. They have drawn a hard and fast line between the essential and immediate union (as it may be described) of certain universal principles with the soul, and another union which has to be brought about in an external fashion, and through the channel of given objects and conceptions. There is one objection, borrowed from experience, which was raised against the doctrine of Innate Ideas. All men, it was said, must have these ideas; they must have, for example, the maxim of contradiction present in the mind — they must be aware of it; for this maxim and others like it were included in the class of Innate Ideas. The objection may be set down to misconception; for the principles in question, though innate, need not on that account have the form of ideas or conceptions of something we are aware of. Still, the objection completely meets and overthrows the crude theory of immediate knowledge, which expressly maintains its formulae in so far as they are in consciousness. Another point calls for notice. We may suppose it admitted by the intuitive school, that the special case of religious faith involves supplementing by a Christian or religious education and development. In that case it is acting capriciously when it seeks to ignore this admission when speaking about faith, or it betrays a want of reflection not to know, that, if the necessity of education be once admitted, mediation is pronounced indispensable.

The reminiscence of ideas spoken of by Plato is equivalent to saying that ideas implicitly exist in man, instead of being, as the Sophists assert, a foreign importation into his mind. But to conceive knowledge as reminiscence does not interfere with, or set aside as useless, the development of what is implicitly in man; which development is another word for mediation. The same holds good of the innate ideas that we find in Descartes and the Scotch philosophers. These ideas are only potential in the first instance, and should be looked at as being a sort of mere capacity in man.

§ 68

In the case of these experiences the appeal turns upon something that shows itself bound up with immediate consciousness. Even if this combination be in the first instance taken as an external and empirical connection, still, even for empirical observation, the fact of its being constant shows it to be essential and inseparable. But, again, if this immediate consciousness, as exhibited in experience, be taken separately, so far as it is a consciousness of God and the divine nature, the state of mind which it implies is generally described as an exaltation above the finite, above the senses, and above the instinctive desires and affections of the natural heart: which exaltation passes over into, and terminates in, faith in God and a divine order. It is apparent, therefore, that, though faith may be an immediate knowledge and certainty, it equally implies the interposition of this process as its antecedent and condition.

It has been already observed, that the so-called proofs of the being of God, which start from finite being, give an expression to this exaltation. In that light they are no inventions of an oversubtle reflection, but the necessary and native channel in which the movement of mind runs: though it may be that, in their ordinary form, these proofs have not their correct and adequate expression.

§ 69

It is the passage (§ 64) from the subjective Idea to being which forms the main concern of the doctrine of immediate knowledge. A primary and self-evident interconnection is declared to exist between our Idea and being. Yet precisely this central point of transition, utterly irrespective of any connections which show in experience, clearly involves a mediation. And the mediation is of no imperfect or unreal kind, where the mediation takes place with and through something external, but one comprehending both antecedent and conclusion.

§ 70

For, what this theory asserts is that truth lies neither in the Idea as a merely subjective thought, nor in mere being on its own account — that mere being per se, a being that is not of the Idea, is the sensible finite being of the world. Now all this only affirms, without demonstration, that the Idea has truth only by means of being, and being has truth only by means of the Idea. The maxim of immediate knowledge rejects an indefinite empty immediacy (and such is abstract being, or pure unity taken by itself), and affirms in its stead the unity of the Idea with being. And it acts rightly in so doing. But it is stupid not to see that the unity of distinct terms or modes is not merely a purely immediate unity, i.e. unity empty and indeterminate, but that — with equal emphasis — the one term is shown to have truth only as mediated through the other — or, if the phrase be preferred, that either term is only mediated with truth through the other. That the quality of mediation is involved in the very immediacy of intuition is thus exhibited as a fact, against which understanding, conformably to the fundamental maxim of immediate knowledge that the evidence of consciousness is infallible, can have nothing to object. It is only ordinary abstract understanding which takes the terms of mediation and immediacy, each by itself absolutely, to represent an inflexible line of distinction, and thus draws upon its own head the hopeless task of reconciling them. The difficulty, as we have shown, has no existence in the fact, and it vanishes in the speculative notion.

§ 71

The one-sidedness of the intuitional school has certain characteristics attending upon it, which we shall proceed to point out in their main features, now that we have discussed the fundamental principle. The first of these corollaries is as follows. Since the criterion of truth is found, not in the nature of the content, but in the mere fact of consciousness, every alleged truth has no other basis than subjective certitude and the assertion that we discover a certain fact in our consciousness. What I discover in my consciousness is thus exaggerated into a fact of the consciousness of all, and even passed off for the very nature of consciousness.

Among the so-called proofs of the existence of God, there used to stand the consensus gentium, to which appeal is made as early as Cicero. The consensus gentium is a weighty authority, and the transition is easy and natural, from the circumstance that a certain fact is found in the consciousness of every one to the conclusion that it is a necessary element in the very nature of consciousness. In this category of general agreement there was latent the deep-rooted perception, which does not escape even the least cultivated mind, that the consciousness of the individual is at the same time particular and accidental. Yet unless we examine the nature of this consciousness itself, stripping it of its particular and accidental elements and, by the toilsome operation of reflection disclosing the universal in its entirety and purity, it is only a unanimous agreement upon a given point that can authorise a decent presumption that that point is part of the very nature of consciousness.

Of course, if thought insists on seeing the necessity of what is presented as a fact of general occurrence, the consensus gentium is certainly not sufficient. Yet even granting the universality of the fact to be a satisfactory proof, it has been found impossible to establish the belief in God on such an argument, because experience shows that there are individuals and nations without any such faith.

In order to judge of the greater or less extent to which Experience shows cases of Atheism or of the belief in God, it is all-important to know if the mere general conception of deity suffices, or if a more definite knowledge of God is required. The Christian world would certainly refuse the title of God to the idols of the Hindus and the Chinese, to the fetishes of the Africans, and even to the gods of Greece themselves. If so, a believer in these idols would not be a believer in God. If it were contended, on the other hand, that such a belief in idols implies some sort of belief in God, as the species implies the genus, then idolatry would argue not faith in an idol merely, but faith in God. The Athenians took an opposite view. The poets and philosophers who explained Zeus to be a cloud, and maintained that there was only one God, were treated as atheists at Athens.

The danger in these questions lies in looking at what the mind may make out of an object, and not what that object actually and explicitly is. If we fail to note this distinction, the commonest perceptions of men’s senses will be religion: for every such perception, and indeed every act of mind, implicitly contains the principle which, when it is purified and developed, rises to religion. But to be capable of religion is one thing, to have it another. And religion yet implicit is only a capacity or a possibility.

Thus in modern times, travellers have found tribes (as Captains Ross and Parry found the Esquimaux) which, as they tell us, have not even that small modicum of religion possessed by African sorcerers, the goetes of Herodotus. On the other hand, an Englishman, who spent the first months of the last Jubilee at Rome, says, in his account of the modern Romans, that the common people are bigots, whilst those who can read and write are atheists to a man.

The charge of Atheism is seldom heard in modern times: principally because the facts and the requirements of religion are reduced to a minimum. (See § 73.)

But there can be nothing shorter and more convenient than to have the bare assertion to make, that we discover a fact in our consciousness, and are certain that it is true: and to declare that this certainty, instead of proceeding from our particular mental constitution only, belongs to the very nature of the mind.

§ 72

A second corollary which results from holding immediacy of consciousness to be the criterion of truth is that all superstition or idolatry is allowed to be truth, and that an apology is prepared for any contents of the will, however wrong and immoral. It is because he believes in them, and not from the reasoning and syllogism of what is termed mediate knowledge, that the Hindu finds God in the cow, the monkey, the Brahmin, or the Lama. But, the natural desires and affections spontaneously carry and deposit their interests in consciousness, where also immoral aims make themselves naturally at home: the good or bad character would thus express the definite being of the will, which would be known, and that most immediately, in the interests and aims.

§ 73

Thirdly and lastly, the immediate consciousness of God goes no further than to tell us that he is: to tell us what he is would be an act of cognition, involving mediation. So that God as an object of religion is expressly narrowed down to the indeterminate supersensible, God in general: and the significance of religion is reduced to a minimum.

If it were really needful to win back and secure the bare belief that there is a God, or even to create it, we might well wonder at the poverty of the age which can see a gain in the merest pittance of religious consciousness, and which in its church has sunk so low as to worship at the altar that stood in Athens long ago, dedicated to the ‘Unknown God’.

§ 74

We have still briefly to indicate the general nature of the form of immediacy. For it is the essential one-sidedness of the category which makes whatever comes under it one-sided and, for that reason, finite. And, first, it makes the universal no better than an abstraction external to the particulars, and God a being without determinate quality. But God can only be called a spirit when he is known to be at once the beginning and end, as well as the mean, in the process of mediation. Without this unification of elements he is neither concrete, nor living, nor a spirit. Thus the knowledge of God as a spirit necessarily implies mediation. The form of immediacy, secondly, invests the particular with the character of independent or self-centred being. But such predicates contradict the very essence of the particular — which is to be referred to something else outside. They thus invest the finite with the character of an absolute. But, besides, the form of immediacy is altogether abstract: it has no preference for one set of contents more than another, but is equally susceptible of all: it may as well sanction what is idolatrous and immoral as the reverse. Only when we discern that the content — the particular — is not self-subsistent, but derivative from something else, are its finitude and untruth shown in their proper light. Such discernment, where the content we discern carries with it the ground of its dependent nature, is a knowledge which involves mediation. The only content which can be held to be the truth is one not mediated with something else, not limited by other things: or, otherwise expressed, it is one mediated by itself, where mediation and immediate reference-to-self coincide. The understanding that fancies it has got clear of finite knowledge, the identity of the analytical metaphysicians and the old ‘rationalists’, abruptly takes again as principle and criterion of truth that immediacy which, as an abstract reference-to-self, is the same as abstract identity. Abstract thought (the scientific form used by ‘reflective’ metaphysic) and abstract intuition (the form used by immediate knowledge) are one and the same.

The stereotyped opposition between the form of immediacy and that of mediation gives to the former a half-ness and inadequacy that affects every content which is brought under it. Immediacy means, upon the whole, an abstract reference-to-self, that is, an abstract identity or abstract universality. Accordingly the essential and real universal, when taken merely in its immediacy, is a mere abstract universal; and from this point of view God is conceived as a being altogether without determinate quality. To call God spirit is in that case only a phrase: for the consciousness and self-consciousness which spirit implies are impossible without a distinguishing of it from itself and from something else, i.e. without mediation.

§ 75

It was impossible for us to criticise this, the third attitude which thought has been made to take towards objective truth, in any other mode than what is naturally indicated and admitted in the doctrine itself. The theory asserts that immediate knowledge is a fact. It has been shown to be untrue in fact to say that there is an immediate knowledge, a knowledge without mediation either by means of something else or in itself. It has also been explained to be false in fact to say that thought advances through finite and conditioned categories only, which are always mediated by a something else, and to forget that in the very act of mediation the mediation itself vanishes. And to show that, in point of fact, there is a knowledge which advances neither by unmixed immediacy nor by unmixed mediation, we can point to the example of Logic and the whole of philosophy.

§ 76

If we view the maxims of immediate knowledge in connection with the uncritical metaphysic of the past from which we started, we shall learn from the comparison the reactionary nature of the school of Jacobi. His doctrine is a return to the modern starting-point of this metaphysic in the Cartesian philosophy. Both Jacobi and Descartes maintain the following three points:

(1) The simple inseparability of the thought and being of the thinker. Cogito, ergo sum is the same doctrine as that the being, reality, and existence of the ‘Ego’ is immediately revealed to me in consciousness. (Descartes, in fact, is careful to state that by thought he means consciousness in general. Princip. Phil. i. 9.) This inseparability is the absolutely first and most certain knowledge, not mediated or demonstrated.

(2) The inseparability of existence from the conception of God: the former is necessarily implied in the latter, or the conception never can be without the attribute of existence, which is thus necessary and eternal.

Descartes, Princip. Phil. i. 15: ‘The reader will be more disposed to believe that there exists a being supremely perfect, if he notes that in the case of nothing else is there found in him an idea, in which he notices necessary existence to be contained in the same way. He will see that that idea exhibits a true and unchangeable nature — a nature which cannot but exist, since necessary existence is contained in it.’ A remark which immediately follows, and which sounds like mediation or demonstration, does not really prejudice the original principle.

In Spinoza we come upon the same statement that the essence or abstract conception of God implies existence. The first of Spinoza’s definitions, that of the Causa Sui (or Self-Cause), explains it to be ‘that of which the essence involves existence, or that whose nature cannot be conceived except as existing’. The inseparability of the notion from being is the main point and fundamental hypothesis in his system. But what notion is thus inseparable from being? Not the notion of finite things, for they are so constituted as to have a contingent and a created existence. Spinoza’s eleventh proposition, which follows with a proof that God exists necessarily, and his twentieth, showing that God’s existence and his essence are one and the same, are really superfluous, and the proof is more in form than in reality. To say that God is Substance, the only Substance, and that, as Substance is Causa Sui, God therefore exists necessarily, is merely stating that God is that of which the notion and the being are inseparable.

(3) The immediate consciousness of the existence of external things. By this nothing more is meant than sense-consciousness. To have such a thing is the slightest of all cognitions: and the only thing worth knowing about it is that such immediate knowledge of the being of things external is error and delusion, that the sensible world as such is altogether void of truth; that the being of these external things is accidental and passes away as a show; and that their very nature is to have only an existence which is separable from their essence and notion.

§ 77

There is however a distinction between the two points of view:

(1) The Cartesian philosophy, from these unproved postulates, which it assumes to be unprovable, proceeds to wider and wider details of knowledge, and thus gave rise to the sciences of modern times. The modern theory (of Jacobi), on the contrary, (§ 62) has come to what is intrinsically a most important conclusion that cognition, proceeding as it must by finite mediations, can know only the finite, and never embody the truth; and would fain have the consciousness of God go no further than the aforesaid very abstract belief that God is.

Anselm on the contrary says: ‘Methinks it is carelessness, if, after we have been confirmed in the faith, we do not exert ourselves to see the meaning of what we believe.’ [Tractat. Cur Deus Homo?] These words of Anselm, in connection with the concrete truths of Christian doctrine, offer a far harder problem for investigation, than is contemplated by this modern faith.

(2) The modern doctrine on the one hand makes no change in the Cartesian method of the usual scientific knowledge, and conducts on the same plan the experimental and finite sciences that have sprung from it. But, on the other hand, when it comes to the science which has infinity for its scope, it throws aside that method and thus, as it knows no other, it rejects all methods. It abandons itself to wild vagaries of imagination and assertion, to a moral priggishness and sentimental arrogance, or to a reckless dogmatising and lust of argument, which is loudest against philosophy and philosophic doctrines. Philosophy of course tolerates no mere assertions or conceits, and checks the free play of argumentative see-saw.

§ 78

We must then reject the opposition between an independent immediacy in the contents or facts of consciousness and an equally independent mediation, supposed incompatible with the former. The incompatibility is a mere assumption, an arbitrary assertion. All other assumptions and postulates must in like manner be left behind at the entrance to philosophy, whether they are derived from the intellect or the imagination. For philosophy is the science in which every such proposition must first be scrutinised and its meaning and oppositions be ascertained.

Scepticism, made a negative science and systematically applied to all forms of knowledge, might seem a suitable introduction, as pointing out the nullity of such assumptions. But a sceptical introduction would be not only an ungrateful but also a useless course; and that because Dialectic, as we shall soon make appear, is itself an essential element of affirmative science.

Scepticism, besides, could only get hold of the finite forms as they were suggested by experience, taking them as given, instead of deducing them scientifically. To require such a scepticism accomplished is the same as to insist on science being preceded by universal doubt, or a total absence of presupposition. Strictly speaking, in the resolve that wills pure thought, this requirement is accomplished by freedom which, abstracting from everything, grasps its pure abstraction, the simplicity of thought.

Findlay's explanation | VI - Logic Defined and Divided

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