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it is in being, since it is as much presupposed by the notion as
the notion itself immediately is, its beginning is a synthetical
as well as an analytical beginning.

(Lecture note.) "Philosophical method is analytical as well
as synthetical, not indeed in the sense of a bare juxtaposition
or mere alternating employment of these two methods of finite
cognition, but rather in such a way that it holds them merged
in itself. In every one of its movements, therefore, it displays
an attitude at once analytical and synthetical. Philosophic
thought proceeds analytically, in so far as it only accepts its
object, the Idea, and while allowing it its own way is only, as
it were, an onlooker at its movement and development. To this
extent philosophising is wholly passive. Philosophic thought,
however, is equally synthetic, and evinces itself to be the action


of the notion itself. To that end, however, there is required an
effort to keep back the incessant impertinence of our own fancies
and private opinions."

Continuing the same subject, he says in Section 239, "The
advance renders explicit the judgment implicit in the Idea. The
immediate universal, as the notion implicit, is the dialectical
force, which on its own part deposes its immediacy and uni-
versality to the level of a mere stage or 'moment.' Thus is
produced the negative of the beginning, the original datum is
made determinate: it exists for something, as related to those
things which are distinguished from it — the stage of Reflection.

"Seeing that the immanent dialectic only states explicitly what
was involved in the immediate notion, this advance is analytical,
but seeing that in this notion this distinction was not yet stated,
it is equally synthetical.

(Lecture note.) "In the advance of the idea the beginning
exhibits itself as what it implicitly is. It is seen to be mediated
and derivative, and neither to have proper being nor proper
immediacy. It is only for the consciousness which is itself
immediate, that Nature forms the commencement or immediacy,
and that Spirit appears as what is mediated by Nature. The truth
is that Nature is due to the statuting of Spirit, (das durch den
Geist Gesetzte,) and it is Spirit itself which gives itself a pre-
supposition in Nature."

42. In this passage the double foundation of the dialectic is
clearly admitted, and its connection with the double aspect of
the process is made clear. We must have, in the first place, pure
thought given to us as a fact — we cannot know the nature of
thought unless thinking has taken place. From one point of
view, then, the dialectic process is the observation of a subject
matter already before us. In this aspect philosophy "allows the
idea its own way" and "is only, as it were, an onlooker at its
movement and development." And in so far as this is so we have
the unequivocal declaration that "the beginning is taken from
sensation or perception" — since pure thought is never found
except as an element in the whole of experience. But at the
same time the process is not merely one of empirical selection
of first one character and then another from the concrete whole.


When once the first and simplest judgment has been made about
experience — the judgment which is involved in the application
of the category of Being — the various steps of the dialectic
process will grow by an inner necessity out of that judgment.
This judgment will be the beginning as universality, as the other
aspect was the beginning as immediate being; and, in so far as
the beginning is universal, the process is synthetic and "evinces
itself to be the action of the notion itself."

The explanation of the union of the two processes lies in the
fact that the reality present to our minds in experience is always
the full and concrete notion. This is the logical frius of the move-
ment, although the unanalysed mass and the abstract notion of
Being may be the temporal 'prius in that stage of finite reflection
which precedes philosophy. "In the onward movement of the
idea the beginning exhibits itself as what it is implicitly. It is
seen to be mediated and derivative, and neither to have proper
being nor proper immediacy." And again, in Section 242, the
notion "is the idea, which, as absolutely first (in the method)
regards this terminus as merely the annihilation of the show or
semblance, which made the beginning appear immediate, and
made itself seem a result. It is the knowledge that the idea is
one systematic whole." All less complete ideas are illegitimate
abstractions from this whole, and naturally tend therefore to
approximate to it. And such a process may be viewed from two
sides. It may be regarded from the point of view of the whole —
in which case the dialectic process will be viewed as gradually
retracing the steps of abstraction which had led to the idea of
pure Being, and rebuilding the concrete object till it again co-
incided with reality. Or it may be regarded from the point of
view of the incomplete and growing notion, when the advance
will seem to be purely out of the notion itself. " Seeing that the
immanent dialectic only states explicitly what was involved in
the immediate notion, this advance is analytical, but seeing that
in this notion this distinction was not yet stated, it is equally

And these two aspects — the analytic from the standpoint of
the concrete and perfect notion, and the synthetic from the
standpoint of the yet imperfect notion, — correspond respectively


to aspects for which the beginning is taken from sensation or
perception, and from the action of the notion itself. In so far
as we look on the motive force of the dialectic process as residing
in the completeness of the concrete notion, the process depends
on the contemplation of reality and therefore of sensation and
perception. For the sensation, although contributing no positive
element to the process, is the necessary condition of our becoming
conscious of the nature of thought. But in so far as we look on
the motive force of the process as supplied by the incompleteness
of the growing notion, we shall bring into prominence the fact
that the process is after all one of pure thought. And we only
get a true view of the whole when we combine the two and see
that the stimulus is in the relation of the abstract and explicit
idea to the complete and implicit idea, that the process is one of
pure thought perceived in a medium of sensation and therefore
synthetic and analytic at once.

43. To this we may add the following extract from the
Philosophy of Spirit (Encyclopaedia, Section 447, lecture note),
*'In sensation there is present the whole Reason — the collected
material of Spirit. All our images, thoughts, and ideas, of ex-
ternal nature, of justice, of ethics, and of the content of religion,
develop themselves from our intelligence as used in sensation;
as they themselves, on the other hand, when they have received
their complete explanation are again concentrated in the simple
form of sensation.... This development of Spirit out of sensation,
however, has commonly been understood as if the intelhgence
was originally completely empty, and therefore received all
content from outside as something quite strange to it. This is
a mistake. For that which the intelligence appears to take in
from outside is in reality nothing else than the reasonable, which
is therefore identical with spirit, and immanent in it. The activity
of spirit has therefore no other goal, except, by the removal of
the apparent externality to self of the implicitly reasonable
object, to remove also the apparent externaUty of the object
to spirit."

Here we learn that the reasonable, with which the Logic deals,
is first given to us in sensation, and as apparently external to
self, and that it is by starting from that which is given in


sensation that we learn the nature of spirit. To act in this way
is a fundamental characteristic of spirit — "the activity of spirit
has no other goal" — and therefore it must be in this way that
our minds act when they are engaged on the dialectic process.

44. I have endeavoured to show, by the consideration of these
passages from Hegel's writings, that his method possesses two
characteristics. These are, first, that it is a process of pure
thought, but only possible in the presence of matter of intuition ;
second, that the motive force of the whole process is involved
in the relation between the incomplete form of the notion, which
at any moment may be explicitly before us, and the complete
form which is present imphcitly in all our thought as in all other

We must now pass to another question. The vaHdity of each
stage of the dialectic, as we have seen, depended on the one
before, and all of them ultimately on the first stage — the category
of Being. The validity of this again we found to depend on the
fact that its denial would be suicidal^.

Now it must be admitted that this is a mere inference, and
not explicitly stated by Hegel. Such a statement would be most
natural at the beginning of the whole dialectic process, but it
is neither there nor elsewhere. No justification whatever is given
of the idea of Being. It is merely assumed and all the consequences
that follow from it, however cogent in themselves, are left, so
to speak, suspended in the air with no explicit argument any-
where to attach them to reality. The explanation of this strange
peculiarity is, I think, largely to be found in the state of philo-
sophy at the time when Hegel wrote.

45. The argument of the dialectic could, if the theory in
the previous chapter is correct, have been arranged as follows.
The basis of the whole would be the existence of the
world of experience, which no sceptic can wholly deny, since
denial itself always imphes the existence of something. The
barest admission that could be made, however, with regard
to this world of experience, would involve that it should be
brought under the category of Being, whose validity would be
therefore granted. But as, in the process of the dialectic, the

1 Chap. I. Section 18.


category of Being developed contradictions which led up to fresh
categories, and so on, the validity of these categories also, as
applied to reality, must be granted, since they follow from the
validity of the category of Being.

Kant, who had to establish his system in the face of sceptical
criticism, naturally emphasised the transcendental character of
the argument, and the cogency with which his conclusions could
be applied to the world of reality, involved as they were in
propositions which his adversaries were not prepared to dispute.
But Hegel's position was different. He lived in an age of Idealism,
when the pure scepticism of Hume had ceased to be a living
force, and when it was a generally accepted view that the mind
was adequate to the knowledge of reality. Under such cir-
cumstances Hegel would naturally lay stress on the conclusions
of his system, in which he more or less differed from his con-
temporaries, rather than on the original premises, in which he
chiefly agreed with them, and would point out how far the end
was from the beginning, rather than how clearly it might be
derived from it. To this must be added Hegel's marked preference
for a constructive, rather than a polemical treatment, which
appears so strongly in all his works^. But this has exposed his
system to severe disadvantages in the reaction against all Idealism
which has taken place since his death. For the transcendental
form becomes necessary when the attacks of scepticism have to
be met, and its absence, though due chiefly to the special char-
acter of the audience to whom the philosophy was first addressed,
has led to the reproaches which have been so freely directed
against Absolute Idealism, as a mere fairy tale, or as a theory
with internal consistency, but without any relation to facts.

The same causes may perhaps account for the prominence of
the synthetic over the analytic aspect of the dialectic, which may
be noticed occasionally throughout the Logic. The criticism of
idealists would naturally be devoted more to the internal con-
sistency of the system than to its right to exist at all, on which
point they would probably have no objection to raise. To meet
such criticisms it would be necessary to lay emphasis on the

^ Note to Second Edition. I have omitted a sentence which implied that
Hegel's arguments were transcendental in the Kantian sense.

M.H. 4


synthetic side of the process, while to us, who in most cases
approach the whole question from a comparatively negative
standpoint, it would seem more natural to bring forward the
analytic side, and to show that the whole system was involved
in any admission of the existence of reality.

46. Hegel speaks of his logic as without any pre-supposition.
This is taken by Trendelenburg as equivalent to an assertion that
it has no basis in experience. But we have seen that the only
postulate which Hegel assumed was the validity of the category
of Being — that is, the existence of something. Now this, though
not directly proved, can scarcely be said to be assumed, if it is
involved in all other assertions. And a system which requires
no other postulate than this might fairly be said to have no pre-
supposition. The very fact that the argument exists proves that
it was entitled to its assumption, for if the argument exists, then
the category of Being has validity, at any rate, of one thing —
the argument itself. And this is compatible with all the relation
to experience which the dialectic needs, or will admit.

A parallel case will be found in Hegel's criticism of Kant's
refutation of the ontological argument^. He there treats the
actual existence of God, who for him is equivalent to the Absolute
Reality, as a matter which can be passed over in silence, since
its denial — the denial of any reality in the universe — is suicidal.
It is really the same fact — the existence of some reality — which,
under another aspect, is assumed at the beginning of the Logic.
We may reasonably suppose that Hegel treated it in the same
way, holding that a postulate which could not be denied without
self-contradiction need not be considered as a pre-supposition
at all. From all more particular pre-suppositions he doubtless
claims that his logic is free. But this claim is not incompatible
with the relation of the dialectic to experience, which was
suggested in the last chapter.

It must also be noted that Hegel says of the proofs of the
existence of God which are derived from the finite world "the
process of exaltation might thus appear to be transition, and to
involve a means, but it is not a whit less true that every trace
of transition and means is absorbed, since the world, which
1 Cp. Sections 63, 64.


might have seemed to be the means of reaching God, is explained
to be a nullity '^Z' And in Section 12, in the passage quoted above,
he tells us that philosophy is unfairly said to be the child of
experience, since it "involves a negative attitude to the initial
acts of the senses." Now in the Logic the result certainly stands
in a negative relation to the beginning, for the inadequacy of
the category of Being to express reality has been demonstrated
in the course of the dialectic. The category of Being would then,
in Hegel's language, have been absorbed, and it would be unfair
to say that the dialectic depended on it. Under these circum-
stances it is only natural that he should not call its validity a

47. There is, then, a constant relation to experience through-
out the course of the dialectic. But, even if this is so, does that
relation remain at the end of the process? It has been asserted
that, although throughout the Logic Hegel may treat thought
as mediate, and as only existing as an element in a whole of which
the other element is an immediate datum, yet, when we reach
the Absolute Idea, that Idea is held to be self-centred and capable
of existing by itself in abstraction from everything else. It must
be admitted that such a transition would be unjustifiable^, but
I am unable to see any reason to suppose that Hegel held any
such belief.

We must discriminate between those characteristics of the
immediate element of experience which are indispensable if
experience is to be constituted at all, and those which are not
indispensable. The essential characteristics may all be summed
up in immediacy. All thought that we know, or that we can
conceive, has its action only in mediation, and its existence
without something immediate on which it may act would be a
contradiction. On the other hand it is not essential that this
immediate should be also contingent. "The contingent may be
described as what has the ground of its being, not in itself, but
in somewhat else^." Now it is quite possible that, in a more
advanced state of knowledge, we might be able to trace back all
the data immediately given in experience till we had referred

1 Enc. Section 50. ^ Cp. Chap. ra. Section 99.

' Enc. Section 145, lecture note.


them to an individuality or organic whole from the nature of
which they could all be deduced. Contingency would be here
eliminated, for all experience would be referred to a single unity
and determined by its notion. The only question which could
then arise would be, "Why was the ultimate nature of reality
thus and not otherwise? " The question would, no doubt, be one
to which no answer could be given. This would not, however,
render the nature of reality in any way contingent. For such
a question would be meaningless. Enquiries as to the reasons of
things have their place only within the universe, whose existence
they presuppose. We have no right to make them with regard
to the universe itself. Thus in the case we have supposed con-
tingency would be entirely eliminated, yet immediacy would
remain untouched. We should still know reality, not by thought
alone, but because it was given to us.

48. It seems probable that Hegel did suppose that the Absolute
Idea, when completely realised, involved the elimination of the
contingent, w^hich indeed he treats^ as part of a lower category,
which is, of course, transcended in the highest. It may certainly
be doubted whether human knowledge could ever attain, as a
matter of fact, to this height of perfection. In particular, it may
be asked whether such a state of knowledge would not require
other means than our present senses for the perception of reality
outside ourselves. But whether the elimination of Contingency
is or is not possible, the point which is important to us here is
that, should it take place, it does not involve the elimination of
the immediate, and therefore does not prove that Hegel had any
intention of declaring thought to be self-sufficing, even when it
reached the Absolute Idea.

In the stage immediately before the Absolute Idea — that of
ordinary cognition and volition — it is evident that the idea is
not self-sufficing, since it is certain that we can neither think
nor resolve in every-day life without some immediate data. Now
the point of transition between this category and the Absolute
Idea is stated to be "the unity of the theoretical and practical
idea, and thus at the same time the unity of the idea of life with
that of cognition. In cognition we had the idea in the shape of
1 Enc. Section 145.


differentiation. The process of cognition has issued in the over-
throw of this differentiation, and the restoration of that unity
which, as unity, and in its immediacy, is in the first instance
the Idea of Life^." In this there is nothing which tends to the
elimination of immediacy, or to the self-sufficiency of thought,
but only the complete discovery in the outside world of the pure
thought which is also in us.

Again, in the idea of Life, thought is certainly not self-sufficing,
since one of the essential characteristics of this category is that
the soul is in relation to a body, which involves, of course, sensa-
tion. Now the Absolute Idea is a synthesis of this category and
the category of Cognition. Thought is mediate in both of these.
How then can it be immediate in the synthesis? The correction
of inadequacies in the Hegelian logic comes by the emphasis of
one side in the thesis and of the other in the antithesis, the
synthesis reconciling the two. The synthesis, throughout the
entire dialectic, can only advance on the thesis and antithesis
on points in which they disagree with one another. On points
in which they agree it can make no change. And when, in
Absolute Spirit, Hegel reaches that which he unquestionably
believes to be self-mediated and self-sufficing, he only does so
because it is a synthesis of the mediating logic and the element
of immediacy or "givenness" which first occurs in nature. But
within the logic there is no immediacy to balance the admitted
mere mediacy of the finite categories, and the distinction of
mediacy and immediacy cannot therefore, within the logic, be

49. We find no sign again of transcended mediation in the
direct definition of the Absolute Idea. "Dieses aus der Dif^erenz
und Endlichkeit des Erkennens zu sich zuriickgekommene und
durch die Thatigkeit des Begriffs mit ihm identisch gewordene
Leben ist die speculative oder absolute Idee. Die Idee als Einheit
der subjectiven und der objectiven Idee ist der Begriff der Idee,
dem die Idee als solche der Gegenstand, dem das Objekt sie ist;
ein Objekt, in welches alle Bestimmungen zusammen gegangen

The second sentence of the definition asserts that the idea is
1 Enc. Section 236, lecture note. ^ Enr. Sections 235, 236.


the "Gegenstand und Objekt" to the notion of the idea. This
cannot, it appears to me, be taken as equivalent to a statement
that thought here becomes self-subsistent and self-mediating.
It seems rather to signify that that which is immediately given
to thought to mediate, is now known to be itself thought, although
still immediately given. In other words, the Absolute Idea is
realised when the thinker sees in the whole world round him
nothing but the realisation of the same idea which forms his own
essential nature — is at once conscious of the existence of the
other, and of its fundamental similarity to himself. The expression
that the idea as such is the object to the notion of the idea seems
rather to support this view by indicating that the idea as object
is viewed in a different aspect from the idea as subject. If im-
mediacy was here gained by thought, so that it required no
object given from outside, it would have been more natural to
say that the idea was its own object, or indeed that the dis-
tinction of subject and object had vanished altogether.

If this is the correct interpretation of this passage, then
thought remains, for Hegel, in the Absolute Idea, what it has
been in all the finite categories. Although the content of all
experience contains, in such a case, nothing which is not a mani-
festation of the pure Absolute Idea, yet to every subject in whom
that idea is realised, the idea is presented in the form of immediate
data, which are mediated by the subject's own action. The
fundamental nature of subject and object is the same, but the
distinction between them remains in their relation to one another.

No doubt Hegel regards as the highest ideal of the dialectic
process something which shall be self-mediated, and in which
mediation as an external process vanishes. But this he finds in
Absolute Spirit, which is a synthesis of the Absolute Idea with
the element of immediate presentation. The Absolute Idea is
still an abstraction, as compared with the whole of Absolute
Spirit, and is not self-mediated.

50. We have now to consider the third objection which has
been raised to the theory of Hegel's meaning explained in the
first chapter. This objection is that Hegel has ascribed ontological
validity to his dialectic to a greater extent than this theory
admits, and that he has attempted to account by pure thought.


not only for the rationality, but also for the entire existence of
the universe. This is maintained by Professor Seth, who objects
to the system chiefly, it would seem, on this ground. He says,

Online LibraryJohn McTaggart Ellis McTaggartStudies in the Hegelian dialectic → online text (page 6 of 26)