Some Aspects of Hegel's Philosophy


Haldar, Hiralal. “Some Aspects of Hegel's Philosophy.” The Philosophical Review 5, no. 3 (1896): 263. https://doi.org/10.2307/2175612


THE misfortune of Hegel is that he is more criticized and refuted than understood. There was a time when his system was, even to philosophers of high merit, as impenetrable as a rock of adamant. But yet critics were not wanting who made short work of him and held him up as an example of the appalling consequences of frequenting the "high priori road.” Now, however, the circumstances have changed. It is generally admitted that knowledge of Hegel is an essential requirement in one who has anything to do with philosophy, whether he agrees with him or not. The difficulties of Hegel have also, to a great extent, been obviated by the labors of competent scholars. "The English student," says Mr. Moorhead,” is no longer debarred by the uncouthness of Hegel’s own writings from the study of his ideas. His 'nuggets' have been broken down by the enthusiastic labors of younger thinkers in our own country and have now become current coin in every field of speculation. Though this is true, it is by no means sure, if we are to judge from certain recent objections, that some of his main principles have been correctly seized. Indeed, most of the objections seem to be based upon an entire misapprehension of his ideas. It is necessary, therefore, especially for those who, without being Hegelians in the strict sense of the term, believe that his system must be the foundation of all profitable speculation in the future, to understand exactly the nature of what may be regarded as the hinges on which his philosophy turns. In this paper a humble attempt will be made to throw some light upon certainty problems in Hegel's system, with occasional references to recent discussions.

The theory of the identity of Thought and Being is an old difficulty in Hegel, and, notwithstanding the vast mass of expository writing upon it, the critics still shake their heads dubiously. To maintain, it is argued, that Thought is identical with Being is in itself absurd; but even if the doctrine be tenable, Hegel has not proved it, but has begun by quietly assuming it. Now the difficulty of perceiving the soundness of Hegel's doctrine arises, I think, from our psychological prepossessions. By 'thought' we ordinarily mean, either the psychic processes of thinking, or the products of subjective thought. Hegel does not use the term ' thought ‘in either of these senses. Nor does he mean by it the epistemological unity of self-consciousness. Whether Hegel was justified in using the term in any other sense may fairly be doubted, but it is of the utmost importance to clearly distinguish the signification which it has in his system from the ordinary meanings of it. Thought, in Hegel's sense, is synonymous with Reason, and Reason is the only ultimate Reality. It is, in short, the Absolute Idea which reconciles with each other, comprehends within itself, and overreaches, all partial existences or "appearances, “to use Mr. Bradley's language, and thus exists or has being in the truest sense of the term. Hegel has supreme contempt for that which merely exists. To have mere being is as good as to be nothing. What really exists, the only true Being, is the Absolute Idea, Reason or Thought. The highest Being, the absolutely independent Being, it will thus be seen is Thought. The distinction of subject and object is merely a distinction between two aspects of the Absolute Idea. Universal organism of Thought has the profoundest Being and the only true Being; the ultimate Reality is Thought. Thesis the proper meaning of Hegel's doctrine of the identity of Thought and Being. It is important to note that, if by thought' we mean merely the 'unity of self-consciousness it is impossible to say without gross self-contradiction that Thought is identical with Being. The unity of self-consciousness is the correlative of Being, and cannot, therefore, be identical with it. English Neo-Hegelianism, I cannot help thinking, is to some extent responsible for making Hegel’s theory seem absurd. The followers of Hegel in England have rendered a great service to true philosophy by showing that all existence must be relative to the self. But, with the exception of Professor Edward Card, they have neglected to point out that the correlativity of the self and the world implies a higher and all-inclusive unity. This unity may, as we have seen, be called indifferently Thought or Being.


In reply to the objection that Hegel has rather assumed than proved the ultimate identity of Thought and Being, all that it is necessary to say is that the proof is furnished by the history of modern philosophy. It must never be forgotten that Hegelianism is the logical outcome of Kant's philosophy. If we grasp the central meaning of Kant, we are inevitably driven on to Hegel. It is not, I think, too much to say that Hegel’s Logic is little more than a systematization of the lessons of Kant's great Critiques. Hegel regarded Kant’s deduction of the categories as the cornerstone of his philosophy, and with true insight laid his finger upon it as the source of fresh and suggestive ideas. Now the important lesson of that deduction is, that knowledge of an objective world is relative to the synthetic unity of self-consciousness, and the synthetic unity of self-consciousness is itself relative to a known objective world. The manifold of sense can be brought into relations in space and time only by a combining principle, and such a combining principle is the self. The essence of the self, again, is that it is synthetic, and can exist only through the synthetic work that it performs. The self is a unity of plurality and is as much relative to the plurality of the objective world as that plurality is relative to it. But does not this correlativity imply a higher unity? Unfortunately, Kant did not see this implication of his theory. If the self and the world are correlative to each other, evidently there is a higher principle which comprehends and transcends them and makes their correlativity possible. This higher unity cannot be less than either Thought or Being. It is not Being only, for Being is one of the correlatives which it includes within itself. For the same reason it is not Thought only. It is Thought which is Being, being which is Thought, or, in one word, Thinking Being. This is the conception which Kant’s deduction of the categories makes necessary, and with which Hegel starts. This all-inclusive unity, it is needless to say now, is not a barren identity. Let us carefully observe the path that leads up to it. We begin with the objective world. Under Kant's guidance we see that it is essentially the work of the understanding. We carefully distinguish the universal elements from the mere particulars which are as good as nothing. These universal elements are the categories. The determination of the manifold of sense by the categories presupposes the unity of the self. We are thus led on from the object to the subject. But the subject, the synthetic unity of apperception, as Kant himself points out, presupposes the objective world which it makes possible. The object drives us to the subject and the subject drives us back to the object. But this forward and backward movement is only the circulation of the lifeblood of the highest Reality, the final unity, a unity which is neither Thought only, nor Being only, but both at once. But, where are we? Are we not already surrounded by the familiar atmosphere of Hegel's Logic? It comes to this then, that Hegel travels by the same path by which Kant travelled. Only his terminus is a little beyond Kant’s, and he is more wary than his great predecessor, and is careful to survey minutely every inch of ground that he traverses. Kant gives us a very meagre list of categories. Hegel enriches it by making large and important additions. Kant neglects to show the organic interconnexion of the categories. Hegel admirably performs the work in his "Objective Logic. “Kant shows that the objective world determined by the categories implies the unity of the self. Hegel, in the latter part of the "Doctrine of Essence" demonstrates how the Griffith central principle of the objective world. Kant points out that the unity of apperception is entirely relative to the objective world. Hegel, in the first part of the Subjective Logic, shows its content in the object. Here Kant stops. Hegel, in the remaining part of the " Doctrine of the Notion," demonstrates the essential correlativity of subject and object, and leads them up to the category of categories, the crowning principle of the universe of mind and matter, the Absolute Idea. Is it possible then to accuse Hegel of beginning with a big assumption? Does he not fully prove his theory by completing and systematizing the philosophy of Kant? But Hegel does not lean upon Kant only. In the Phenomenology of Spirit and the introduction to the Encyclopedia, he has himself shown the necessity of passing on to the point of view of the identity of Thought and Being. The Phenomenology is an introduction to his system, and those who read the Logic in the light of it will hardly find any reasonable ground for the accusation that his system is based upon a gratuitous assumption.

The Absolute is an organic unity, an organic unity which comprehends and transcends the universal elements of experience or the categories. But it is not enough to affirm merely the organic inter-connexon of the categories. Suchinter-connexion must be fully demonstrated. To do this, is the function of Dialectic. A question, however, may, by the bye, be disposed of at this point. Are the categories subjective or objective? The answer to this follows from what has been already said. If the Absolute is both Thought and Being, it is a unity that transcends the distinction of subject and object, the constituent elements of it must partake of its own character, that is to say, must be neither subjective mere nor objective merely, but both at once. But, in order to be strictly correct, it is perhaps better to say that some of the categories are objective, some subjective. We have seen that subject and object are two aspects of the Absolute. Those categories that make up the object are the categories, for example, enumerated by Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason, and those that are treated in Hegel. “Doctrine of Being,” “Doctrine of Essence," and the second division of the "Doctrine of the Notion" are objective categories. Those categories, again, which constitute the subject, those that Hegel examines in the first and third divisions of the "Doctrine of the Notion," are subjective. But, as the object is essentially related to the subject, and the subject is mediated by the consciousness of objects, the objective categories are also subjective, and vice versa.


But what are the categories, and whence do they come? The most general answer that can be given to this question is that the categories are experience described in general terms and are obtained from Science. They are the ground principles of Nature, the frames in which the particulars of experience are set. Now it is the work of Science to disengage the universal determining principles from the phenomena with which it deals. Philosophy can undertake the task of systematizing and affiliating to each other the connecting principles of phenomena, or the categories, only after science has discovered them. It has thus to wait for the results of Science and cannot anticipate them. Kant's procedure, as is well known, was somewhat different. He, in an artificial way, deduced the twelve categories from the forms of Judgment recognized in Aristotle's Logic, and proceeded to show how they are imposed upon the manifold of sense. For Hegel there is no problem of artificially combining the subjective categories with the objective data of sense. Philosophy has not to perform the ambitious and impossible task of explaining the genesis of Nature. Its humble work is to understand what is, or to perceive the interconnection between the component factors of the Supreme Reality, the concrete universal the Absolute. It, like Science, has nothing to do with mere particulars. The particular as particular has no value, nay, not even existence. Its concern is with the significance of the particulars. Philosophy does not undertake the task of finding out the universal principles of Nature. That work is done by the various sciences in their respective fields, it begins its work after the sciences have completed, partially at least, their labors. We thus see how unfounded the charge is that Hegel has evolved the categories out of his inner consciousness and attempted to construct the universe priori. All along he is face to face with the actually existing Reality. Subjective fancies, optimistic dreams, vain Utopias, are furthest from his mind. Hegel is nothing if not realistic. And yet the charge of neglecting experience and frequenting the "high priori road," is constantly brought against him. Hegel is supposed to have done the very thing against which he most strenuously set his face! Such is the irony of fate!


Hegel is misunderstood at this point even by those from whom such a misunderstanding would be least expected. We are familiar with Green's remarks on Hegel's dialectic method. 1These remarks are based upon the misconception that Hegel interrogates subjective consciousness and not Nature. True philosophy, according to Green, must be founded upon a painstaking analysis of Nature. Exactly so. But in saying this Green merely repeats Hegel's own opinion. Hegel is no admirer of the merely subjective consciousness. He has, rather, great contempt for it. Is not subjective idealism one of the things against which he inveighs at every turn? The fact is that Hegel has not the audacity to override Science but bases his whole philosophy upon it. It would have been impossible for him to find out the categories if he had neglected experience.


But Hegel himself is partly to blame if he has been misunderstood. He is never tired of speaking of the imminent movement of Dialectic, and of disparaging mere external reflection. It sometimes appears as if he believed that we have nothing to do but to hold fast to the category of Pureeing, and the spontaneous movement of Dialectic will lead us on from category to category till we reach the Absolute Idea. This, however, is not Hegel's meaning. “Hegel," as Professor Andrew Seth truly remarks, “would not have spoken as he does of the labor of the Notion if he had had nothing to do but to set his apparatus at Being and Nothing, and let it unwind itself of its own accord." Dialectic has no power of discovering the categories. It only enables us to perceive the organic inter-connexon of the categories, to realize however the category is meaningless without the others and the Whole of which they are elements. What Hegel calls reflection' describes the categories separately, as if they were independent of each other, and brings them into relation to each other in an external and mechanical way. This is, for instance, what Kant did in his Critique of Pure Reason. A living organism, however, is more than an aggregate of its component parts ; you do not give a proper account of it, if you merely draw up a list of the various limbs and organs of the body, with their descriptions. An adequate conception of the living body is not possible without an insight into the mutual relations of its various parts and the functions which they discharge in the economy of the whole. Reflection is analytic, or at best, mechanically synthetic. Dialectic, on the other hand, is organically synthetic. But because Dialectic goes deeper than mere reflection, it does not follow that it is independent of experience. It cannot perform miracles and has not the power of producing something out of nothing. The categories being given, it shows how they grow out of each other, and are phases or aspects of a single Reality. But it cannot generate them. It is nothing more than the comprehensive insight which enables one to see the prostrating the whole and the whole through the parts.


The categories, then, are the connecting links of experience, and the Absolute is the system of the categories. But have we not, after all, mere universals, an "unearthly ballet of bloodless categories," than which a single atom is more real and has, therefore, greater worth? Is not the individual alone real? The truth is that you cannot separate the universal from the particular, any more than you can separate the concave from the convex side of an arch. Let me quote here a passage from Lotze which exactly expresses the truth “The only reality given us, the true reality, includes as an inseparable part of itself this varying flow of phenomena in space and time, this course of Things that happen. This ceaselessly advancing melody of events and nothing else’s the metaphysical place in which the connectedness of the world of Ideas, the multiplicity of its harmonious relations, not only is found by us but alone has its reality. Within this reality single products and single occurrences might be legitimate regarded as transitory instances, upon which the world of ideas impressed itself and from which it again withdrew ;for before and after and beside them the living idea remained active and present in innumerable other instances, and, while changing its forms, never disappeared from reality. But the whole of reality, the whole of this world, known and unknown together, could not properly be separated from the world of ideas as though it were possible for the latter to exist and hold good on its own account before realizing itself in the given world, and as though there might have been innumerable equivalent instances innumerable other worlds besides this in which the antecedent system of pure Ideas might equally have realized itself." l These remarks are probably meant as a reply to Hegel, but they aptly express Hegel's own thought. In his system there is no separation between the universal and the particular. The most general laws of Nature, the categories, are realized in the particular facts of experience. In philosophy, as in science, experience must be described in general terms, but it should never be forgotten that general statements always have particular implications. Critics of Hegel do not bear this simple truth in mind, and, consequently, put forward objections which do not in the least affect him. For instance, we are told that the most trivial facts of experience have greater reality than the whole host of categories. Is this criticism? Is it not ridiculous to argue, for example, that a single case of an apple falling to ground is more real than the general law that bodies attract each other? Hegel is the last person in the world to deny that the mere universal is an empty abstraction. Coming after the age of Empiricism, it was not possible for him to revert to Platonism. What Aristotle was not, he could not be? But at the same time, he could not possibly rest in Empiricism. Kant’s criticism of Hume, if nothing else, made that impossible. Nor did Hegel seek to combine mechanically the universal with the particular. That attempt was made by Kant, and his signal failure is well known. Hegel's categories are the animating principles of Nature and have their home there. They are the life-breath of the particular, which without them would have no existence. The individual is what it is (to seltzer’s language in a slightly modified form), only in consequence of the categories, and, conversely, the categories have no other reality but in the cases of their application. The Real, the Absolute Experience, is a universal which is particular, a particular which is universal; neither the one nor the other -alone. To suppose that the real is a mere aggregate of the particular facts of experience, is the mistake of the Naturalist. To suppose that it is somewhere far away from the only world which we know, utterly divorced and different in kind from it, is the mistake of the Universalist or Transcendentalist.


From what has been said above, it is easy to understand Hegel’s transition from Logic to Nature. This question has given rise to a good deal of discussion. Schelling, after Hegel’s death, sought to demolish his whole system by directing his attack to this point. The fact, however, is that those who believe that there is a transition here from one thing tore altogether on a wrong track. In fact, the advance from category to category has already ceased in the " Doctrine of the Notion." l the " Doctrine of the Notion “only elaborates or develops the results gained in the previous parts of the Logic." The onward movement of the Notion," Hegel himself is careful to point out," is no longer either a transition into or a reflection on something else, but Development. . . .Transition into something else is the dialectical process within the range of Being : reflection (bringing something else into light) in the range of Essence. The movement of the Notions development: by which that only is explicit which is already implicitly present. “In Nature there is nothing more than what there is in Logic. The Phenomena of Nature are nothing more than cases of application of the categories, and the categories live, move, and have their being only in the cases of their application. Nature may, therefore, be regarded as a pictorial illustration of the system of categories. There is no transition at all from Logic to Nature. The same Reality which is viewed in its universal aspect in the Logic, is viewed in its particular aspect in the Philosophy of Nature. Here, again, Hegel himself has thrown obstacles in the way of a proper interpretation of the relation between the Logical Idea and Nature. His own pet formula has been the source of endless difficulties. We are told that the Logical Idea is the thesis; of which the antithesis is Nature, and the synthesis Spirit. . But we must not always interpret Hegel's statements too literally. Here, as everywhere, the letter killed. As Professor Seth observes, "It is not unnatural for a man to be overridden by an important principle which he has brought to light; and Hegel is not free from this failing."


What has been said above is not, perhaps, sufficient to meet objections. Has not Hegel spoken of the contingency nature? We’re not the phenomena of Nature found by him too refractory for systematic treatment. Is there not mention of things in the Philosophy of Nature to which counterparts are not to be found in Logic? How can all this be so if the Philosophy of Nature is only Applied Logic? The answer is that there seems to be more in Nature than in the Logical Idea because Hegel's Logic is itself imperfect. Hegel has certainly not discovered all the determining principles of Nature. No man can possibly do that. Science is continually bringing fresh categories to light, and it is the business of Logic to systematize them. For this purpose, however, it must humbly follow Science. Logic can be complete only if Science becomes complete. But the completeness of Science would mean full knowledge of Nature and the entire preclusion of contingency. Instead of suggesting that there is an irrational element in Nature, Hegel ought to have said that the seeming irrationality of Nature is due to the incompleteness of Logic. If there were irrationality in Nature, Hegel's philosophy would be a baseless structure. The presupposition of that philosophy is that Nature is intelligible to the very core. Hegel was so overridden by the passion for building a complete system that he seems to have labored under the delusion that his categories exhaust the rational significance of Nature. If the different sciences could completely determine the significance of the various groups of phenomena with which they deal, and if philosophy could fully systematize the materials supplied by them, the world of knowledge would be found tube " a system in which every element, being correlative to the other, at once presupposes and is presupposed by every other, “and the existing want of correspondence between the Logical Idea and Nature would disappear. Nature seems to be more than cases of application of the categories because the Logical Idea itself is not a completed system. If the Logical Idea is not a complete system, if Hegel has not given us a full list of the categories, and if without omniscience the list cannot be completed, how can a system of metaphysics be possible at all ?I confess I have no satisfactory answer to give. Indeed, it seems to me that this question lays bare the Achilles' heel of Hegelianism, as of all systematic metaphysics. Philosophical synthesis must, for want of a full knowledge of materials, be premature, and premature synthesis is entirely valueless. Suppose I begin to work with four elements, A, B, C, D. Philosophical reflection shows that A stands to B in the relation x. With the progress of knowledge new elements, E, F, G, H, become known to me. In the light of these, I have to revise my previous systematization. I now find that A stands to B, not in the old relation x, but in a different one, such a modification must necessarily take place if the new elements, E, F, G, H, are not to be mechanically added to the old ones, but reduced to organic factors of the whole. What was x is transformed into y. Similarly, y, with further discoveries, must be changed into z, and so on ad infinitum. What, then, is the value of system-building? If every relation between categories that is determined is liable to modification and alteration, what is the good of taking the trouble to determine such a relation at all? Why should we amuse ourselves with system-building if no complete system and a system must be complete can be built? There is no answer today that a relation that is discovered is true so far as it goes, though in the light of fuller knowledge we may perceive a deeper significance of it. The difference between x and y is not that the latter is more complete than the former; y is altogether a new relation, and is at least the contrary of x. The relation between A and B, when viewed in connexion with the context, C, D, E, F, G, ", must necessarily be different from what it is when C and D are the only elements associated with A and B. Does it not follow, then, that the attempt to affiliate one category to another is only to entangle ourselves in the cobwebs of imagination? This question makes me pause, and, until I can answer it satisfactorily, I am neither a Hegelian nor a firm believer in metaphysics. That the component elements of the universe are organically connected with each other because it is a systematic whole, is a rational conviction which obtrudes itself upon us; but the exact form and order of the connection is perhaps beyond the reach of human intellect. The difficulty of the situation is this. The study of the history of philosophy drives the student on to Hegel’s point of view. He cannot easily see how to avoid his conclusions, and yet he shrinks back from his method as from dazzling light. But without method Hegelianism is nothing. Perhaps the only possible method is that which Mr. Bradley has adopted in his Appearance and Reality. All that we can do, perhaps, is to show that partial knowledge is mere appearance and demands an All-comprehensive Unity to systematize and give meaning to it; and then to defend the conception of the Absolute against possible objections. Nothing short of omniscience can enable us to determine exactly the relations in which the elements of the Whole stand to each other.


I shall conclude with the consideration of one more point. Is it true, as is alleged, that Hegel has ignored Will altogether and made Thought all in all? The term Will, like Thought, has probably misled many. If by Will is meant a sense of effort, certainly Hegel has ignored it, for the simple reason that it is irrelevant in metaphysics and has no place outsides-physics. But if Thought, as Dialectic proves, is essentially dynamic, it, in so far as it is dynamic, is Will. Hegel’s Absolute is energizing Reason and is therefore both Thought and Will. If there is no recognition of Will in Hegel’s system, what is the significance of such categories as Attraction and Repulsion, Force, and its Expression? It cannot be said that the thought of Attraction and Repulsion is very different from actual Attraction and Repulsion. We have already seen that Thought is not different from Being. Attraction and Repulsion, Force, and its Expression, are only the modes in which the Absolute realizes itself; and, if these do not constitute Will, it is difficult to say what does. The Absolute Idea is the synthesis of the True and the Good, and, if the True is Thought, is not the Good, Will? The truth is that Thought divorced from Will is a mere abstraction. The Absolute is an active Reason. Is it not blissful, too? If we are justified in thinking that happiness is the incident of harmony, what can be happier than the Absolute? It overcomes all finitude and discord. Pains and imperfections in the part only contribute to its harmony. Mr. Bradley is not, after all, wrong in maintaining that in the Absolute there is a balance of pleasure over pain. This opinion is not in any way inconsistent with Hegelianism, though, of course, Hegel has not expressly said anything on the subject. But I think it is a necessary corollary of Hegel's theory. If the Absolute is a harmonious Whole how can it be other than blissful? If a conjecture were to be hazarded, at the risk of lapsing into mysticism, might it not be said that the beatitude of the Absolute is of the aesthetic type? The True, the Good, the Beautiful this must ever remain the fittest description of the Absolute, or, in the words of the ancient philosophers of India, Satyam, Siam, Sundaram.


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