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planations. It is sufl&cient to point out that, while the former
does not imply the theory which Professor Seth adopts as to
the general purpose of the Logic, the latter is quite incompatible
with it.

As to the first, it is to be noticed that the attempt to convert
contingency into a logical category is not necessarily identical
with an attempt to ignore reality. " The contingent," says Hegel,
"roughly speaking, is what has the ground of its being, not in
itself, but in somewhat else.... The contingent is only one side
of the actual, the side namely of reflection into somewhat else^."
It is thus by no means the same thing as the real, which includes,
even if it does not consist exclusively of, the self-subsistent entity
or entities which have their ground in themselves, or, if that
expression be objected to, are primary and without any ground
at all. The elimination of the contingent is thus quite compatible
with the existence of factual reality.- This is confirmed by Hegel's
remark in the same section that "to overcome this contingency

1 op. cit. pp. 109, 110.

2 Enc. Section 145, lecture note.


is, roughly speaking, the problem of science." For the object
of ordinary science is certainly not to ehminate factual reality.

The same expression suggests that the elimination of con-
tingency does not, for Hegel, involve the elimination of im-
mediacy. For the object of ordinary science is not to eliminate
the data of sense, but to arrange and classify them. And this
is confirmed by the definition quoted above. Contingency con-
sists in explanation from the outside. That which can be explained
entirely from itself would not, it appears, be contingent to Hegel,
even if part of the explanation was given in the form of a mere
datum. No doubt at present all immediacy, involving as it does
presentation in sense, outer or inner, requires explanation from
outside, and is therefore contingent. But, as was pointed out
above in a different connection^, there is nothing in the nature
of immediacy which prevents us from supposing a state of know-
ledge in which the immediate data, being traced back to some
self-centred reality, should require no explanation from without,
and consequently should lose their contingency, while they
preserved their immediacy. The introduction, therefore, of con-
tingency as a category which, like other categories, is transcended,
does not fairly lead to the conclusion that Hegel believed in the
possibility of mediating thought ever becoming self-sufficient.

On the other hand, the theory that contingency is caused by
the inabihty of Nature to realise the idea^, is clearly incompatible
with an attempt to produce Nature out of pure thought. For,
if the world of Nature, as such an attempt would require, is
deduced by pure synthesis from the world of reason, and by the
free passage of the latter, how can the impotence arise? The
only possible explanation of such impotence must be in some
independent element, which the idea cannot perfectly subdue,
and this is inconsistent with the theory of pure synthesis. It
may be doubted whether this view is compatible with the general
theory of the dialectic at all. But it is certainly, as Professor
Seth admits^, quite incompatible with "an absolute philosophy"
in his use of the phrase. If this was Hegel's view of contingency,
it must be taken as a proof of the presence of an analytic element
in the process. For then the failure of thought to embody itself

1 Section 47. * Enc. Section 16. » op. cit. p. 139.


completely in nature, whether consistent or not, would not be
so glaringly inconsistent as in the other case. It might then
possibly be a casual error. But it is difficult to suppose that Hegel
could have slipped by mistake into the assertion that thought,
while producing the whole universe, was met in it by an alien

60, We must now proceed to the second charge made against
the transition from the Logic — that it involves an argument
from essence to existence. Such an argument would doubtless
be completely fallacious. Any proposition about existence must
either be directly based on immediate experience of reality, or
must be connected, by a chain of inferences, with a proposition
that is so based. The difference between the real and the ideal
worlds is one which mere thought can never bridge over, because,
for mere thought, it does not exist. As Kant says, the difference
between twenty real thalers and twenty thalers which are only
imagined to be real, does not appear in the idea of them, which
is the same whether they exist or not. The difference lies in the
reference to reality, which makes no part of the idea. If, there-
fore, we confined ourselves to thought, we should be unable to
discover whether our thalers were in truth real, or whether we
had only imagined their reality. And even if, starting from the
nature of thought taken in abstraction from sense, we could
evolve the idea of the entire universe (and we have seen^ that
without sense we could perceive nothing of the nature of thought),
it would remain purely ideal, and never be able to explain the
fact that the world actually existed. For the difference between
the real world, and a world, exactly hke it, but only imagined
to exist, is a difference which pure thought could not perceive,
and therefore could not remove. It is impossible to argue that
contradictions would drive it on, for the contradictions of thought,
as we have seen, arise from its being abstract, and can do no
more than restore the concrete whole from which a start was
made. If reality was not given as a characteristic of that concrete
whole, no abstraction from it will afford a basis from which the
dialectic process can attain to reality.

61. Before, however, we decide that Hegel has been guilty

^ Section 14.



of so great a confusion, we should require convincing evidence
that his language must be interpreted to mean that existence
in reality can be deduced from the essence of thought. And the
evidence offered seems by no means sufficient.

In discussing the first charge made by Professor Seth, I have
given reasons for supposing that the analytic aspect of the method,
which Professor Seth admits to be present within the Logic, is
also to be found in the transition from Logic to Nature and
Spirit. Now we have seen above^ that the absence of such an
analytic element would not imply of necessity that the argument
is from essence to existence. But, on the other hand, the presence
of that element would render it certain that no attempt was made
to proceed to existence from essence. For the presence of the
analytic aspect in the transition means that we are working
towards the development, in explicit consciousness, of the full
value of the whole which was previously before us in implicit
consciousness, and the existence of this whole is the motive force
of the transition. If, therefore, the result reached by the dialectic
has real existence, so also the datum, of which the dialectic pro-
cess is an analysis, must have real existence. The argument is
thus from existence to existence. That a movement is in any
way analytic implies that its result is given, at any rate implicitly,
in its data. But an argument from essence to existence would
most emphatically go beyond its data, producing something fresh.
If, therefore, we have reason to reject the first charge of Professor
Seth against the validity of the transition from the Logic to the
rest of the system, the second charge falls to the ground with it.

62. In defence of his view Professor Seth, pointing out that
Hegel calls his philosophy absolute, says that "it is the character-
istic of an absolute philosophy that everything must be deduced
or constructed as a necessity of thought^," No quotations, how-
ever, are given from Hegel in support of this interpretation. And
the one definition which Hegel himself gives of the word in the
Encyclopaedia turns on quite a different point. "According to
Kant, the things that we know about are to us appearances only,
and we can never know their essential nature, which belongs to
another world, which we cannot approach.... The true statement
* Section 54. * op. cit. p. 110.


of the case is rather as follows. The things of which we have direct
consciousness are mere phenomena, not for us only, but in their
own nature; and the true and proper case of these things, finite
as they are, is to have their existence founded not in themselves
but in the universal divine Idea. This view of things, it is true,
is as idealist as Kant's, but in contradistinction to the subjective
idealism of the Critical Philosophy should be termed absolute
ideahsm^." The meaning of the epithet Absolute is here placed
exclusively in the rejection of the Kantian theory that knowledge
is only of phenomena. But the assertion that reality may in itself
become the object of knowledge is not equivalent to the assertion
that conclusions regarding reality can be reached by merely con-
sidering the nature of thought. If Absolute had this additional
and remarkable meaning Hegel would surely have mentioned it

63. Again, Hegel rejects Kant's well-known criticism on the
ontological proof of the existence of God, and, as this criticism
turns on the impossibility of predicating reality through any
arguments based only on the definition of the subject, it has been
supposed that Hegel did not see this impossibility. "It would
be strange," Hegel says, "if the Notion, the very inmost of mind,
if even the Ego, or above all the concrete totality we call God
were not rich enough to include so poor a category as Being^."
"Most assuredly" is Professor Seth's comment on this, "the
Notion contains the category of Being; so does the Ego, that is
to say, the Idea of the Ego, and the Idea of God, both of which
are simply the Notion under another name. The category of
Being is contained in the Ego and may be disengaged from it."
But, he continues, "It is not the category 'Being' of which we
are in quest, but that reality of which all categories are only
descriptions, and which itself can only be experienced, immedi-
ately known, or lived. To such reality or factual existence, there
is no logical bridge^."

But before we conclude that Hegel has asserted the existence
of such a logical bridge, it will be well to bear in mind his warning
in the section quoted above, that in God "we have an object

1 Enc. Section 45, lecture note. ^ Enc. Section 51.

* op. cii. p. 119.


of another kind than any hundred thalers, and unlike any one
particular notion, representation, or whatever else it may be
called." In what this peculiarity consists is not clearly explained
here. But in the middle of the preceding section we find, "That
upward spring of the mind signifies that the being which the
world has is only a semblance, no real being, no absolute truth ;
it signifies that beyond and above that appearance, truth abides
in God, so that true being is another name for God^."

Now, if God is identical with all true being, he certainly has
"that reality of which all categories are only descriptions." For,
if he has not, nothing has it, since there is no reality outside him,
and the denial of all reality is as impossible as the denial of all
truth, — to deny it is to assert it. For if the denial is true, it must
be real, and so must the person who makes it. The only question
then is whether the category of Being can be predicated of this
real God, and in this case Professor Seth admits that Hegel was
quite right in his judgment that the predication could be made,
if it was worth while. It would seem then that he is scarcely
justified in charging Hegel with endeavouring to construct a
logical bridge to real or factual existence, Hegel was speaking
of something whose real existence could not be doubted except
by a scepticism which extended to self-contradiction. Thus he
considered himself entitled to assume in his exposition the actual
existence of God, and only deliberated whether the predicate of
Being could or could not be attached to this existence. To do
this he pronounced to be perfectly legitimate, and perfectly use-
less — legitimate, because we can say of all reality that it is;
useless, because the full depth of realit}^ in which all categories
can be found, is expressed so inadequately by this, the simplest
and most abstract of all the categories.

64. Kant's objections do not affect such an ontological argu-
ment as this. He shows, no doubt, that we have no right to
conclude that anything really exists, on the ground that we have
made real existence part of the conception of the thing. No
possible attribute, which would belong to the thing if it existed,
can give us any reason to suppose that it does exist. But this
was not Hegel's argument. He did not try to prove God's
1 Enc. Section 50.


existence simply from the divine attributes. He relied on two
facts. The first was that the conception of God proved that if
anything exists, God must exist. The second was that exr
perience existed, and therefore God must exist^. The important
point in the conception of God, for Hegel's purpose here, was
not that he was the most real of beings, nor that he contained
all positive qualities, but that he was the only real being. For
the existence of an ens realissimum or of an oninitndo realitatis
can be denied. But the existence of all reality cannot be denied,
for its denial would be contradictory. And, on Hegel's definition,
to deny God's existence is equivalent to denying all reality, for
"true being is another name for God."

"If, in an identical judgment," says Kant, "I reject the
predicate and retain the subject, there arises a contradiction
and hence I say that the former belongs to the latter necessarily.
But if I reject the subject as well as the predicate there is no
contradiction, because there is nothing left which can be con-
tradicted.... The same applies to the concept of an absolutely
necessary being. Remove its existence, and you remove the
thing itself, with all its predicates, so that a contradiction becomes
impossible^." But the Hegelian argument rests on the fact that
you cannot remove "the thing itself" because the statement by
which you do it, and yourself likewise, are actually existent, and
must have some ultimate reality behind them, which ultimate
reality, called by Hegel God, is the thing whose removal is in
question. Thus there is a contradiction. You can only get rid
of the Hegelian God by getting rid of the entire universe. And
to do this is impossible.

It must be noticed, however, that this form of the ontological
argument can only prove the existence of a God who is conceived
as the sole reality in the universe. If we ourselves, or anything
else, are conceived as existing, except as parts of him, then the
denial of his existence does not involve the denial of all reality,,
and has therefore no contradiction contained in it. Kant's
refutation will stand as against all attempts to prove, by the
ontological argument, the existence of a God not conceived as

^ Note to Second Edition. The two preceding sentences have been altered.
* Critique of Pure Reason, Book ii. Chap. m. Section 4.


immanent in all existence. It will also be conclusive against all
attempts to demonstrate, by means of the ontological argument,
any particular quality or attribute of God, unless that attribute
can be shown to be essential to his all-inclusive reality, in which
case, of course, we should, by denying it, deny the reality also.
Kant was right in holding that the ontological argument could
not establish the existence of a God, as conceived by his dog-
matic predecessors, or as conceived by himself in the Critique
of Practical Reason. Hegel was right in holding that it was valid
of a God, defined in the Hegelian manner.

65. Professor Seth also relies on Hegel's treatment of the
individual character of existence. "He adroitly contrives to
insinuate that, because it is undefinable, the individual is there-
fore a valueless abstraction^." And he quotes from the Smaller
Logic, "Sensible existence has been characterised by the attri-
butes of individuality, and a mutual exclusion of the members.
It is well to remember that these very attributes are thoughts
and general terms.... Language is the work of thought, and hence
all that is expressed in language must be universal.... And what
cannot be uttered, feeling or sensation, far from being the
highest truth is the most unimportant and untrue^." Professor
Seth calls this "Hegel's insinuated disparagement of the indi-
vidual." But, if anything is disparaged, it is not the individual,
but sensible existence. When we say that individuality is not a
quality of sensible existence, but depends upon thought, this
diminishes the fullness and reality of sensible existence, but not
necessarily of individuality. And it is of vital importance which
of these two it is which Hegel disparages. For "the individual
is the real," and an attack on individuality, an attempt to make
it a mere product of thought, would go far to prove that Hegel
did cherish the idea of reducing the whole universe to a mani-
festation of pure thought. "The meanest thing that exists has
a life of its own, absolutely unique and individual, which we can
partly understand by terms borrowed from our own experience,
but which is no more identical with, or in any way like, the
description we give of it, than our own inner life is identical with
the description we give of it in a book of philosophy^." But to
^ op. cit. p. 128. ^ Enc. Section 20. ^ Hegelianism and Personality, p. 125.


deny the importance of the sensible element in experience, taken
as independent, is justifiable.

It is no doubt perfectly true that we are only entitled to say
that a thing is real, when we base that judgment on some datum
immediately given to us, and also that those data can only be
given us by sense, — inner or outer. But it does not at all follow
that the sensible, taken by itself, is real. Thought also is essential
to reality. In the first place it would be impossible for us to be
self-conscious without thought, since mere unrelated sensation
is incompatible with self-consciousness. Now without self-con-
sciousness nothing would be real for us. Without self-conscious-
ness sensations could not exist. For an unperceived sensation
is a contradiction. Sensations exist only in being perceived ; and
perception is impossible without comparison at the least, which
involves thought, and so self-consciousness.

Mere sensation may surely then be called unimportant — even
Kant called it blind — since it has no reality at all, except in a
unity in which it is not mere sensation. It is as much an abstrac-
tion as mere thought is. The importance lies only in the concrete
whole of which they are both parts, and this reality is not to
be considered as if it was built up out of thought and sensation.
In that case the mere sensation might be said to have some
reality, though only in combination. But here the sensation, as
a mere abstraction, must be held not to exist in the concrete
reality, but merely to be capable of distinction in it, and thus to
have of itself no reality whatever.

It is of course true that it is only the immediate contents of
experience which need mediation by thought to give them reality,
and not self-subsistent entities, — such as our own selves. But
Hegel's charge of unimportance was made against sensations,
which are not self-subsistent entities, but simply part of the
content of experience.

In the Introductory Chapter, in which the passage quoted
above is found, Hegel was merely trying to prove that thought
was essential, not that it was all-sufficient. It will therefore
quite agree with the context if we take this view of what it
was to which he denied importance. It would certainly have
made his position clearer, if he had, at the same time, asserted


the abstractness and unimportance of thought without sense,
as emphatically as he had asserted the abstractness and un-
importance of sense without thought, but the former is implied
in the passages^ by which the dialectic is made to depend on
experience, and explicitly affirmed in the passage from the
Philosophy of Spirit^ in which the logical idea is declared to be
dependent on Spirit, and to be mediated by it. For in Spirit we
have the union of the two sides which, when separated, present
themselves to us as the mediating thought and the immediate

66. We are told also that the tendency of the whole system
is towards the undue exaltation of logic and essence, at the
expense of nature and reality. In support of this it is said that,
although Hegel "talks (and by the idiom of the language cannot
avoid talking) of 'der absolute Geist' (the absolute spirit) that
by no means implies, as the literal English translation does, that
he is speaking of God as a Subjective Spirit, a singular intelligence.
. . .The article goes with the noun in any case, according to German
usage; and 'absolute spirit' has no more necessary reference to
a Concrete Subject than the simple 'spirit' or intelligence which
preceded it^." It may be the case that Hegel did not conceive
Absolute Spirit as a single inteUigence. Indeed it seems probable
that he did not do so, but the point is too large to be discussed
here. But even in that case, it does not follow that the Absolute
Spirit cannot be concrete. If it is conceived as an organism or
society of finite intelligences, it will still be a concrete subject,
although it will possess no self-consciousness or personality of
its own. If it is regarded as manifested in an unconnected
agglomeration of finite intelligences, it may not be a subject,
but will still be concrete, since it will consist of the finite in-
telligences, which are certainly concrete. No doubt, if a definition
or description be asked for of Absolute Spirit, the answer, like
all definitions or descriptions, will be in abstract terms, but a
definition, though in abstract terms, may be the definition of
a concrete thing. Even if the Absolute Spirit was a singular
intelligence, any explanation of its nature would have to be made

^ Sections 33-42 above. ^ Section 43 above.

' Hegelianism and Personality, p. 151.


by ascribing to it predicates, which are necessarily abstract

And against this asserted tendency on Hegel's part to take
refuge in abstractions we may set his own explicit declarations.
He continually uses abstract as a term of reproach and declares
that the concrete alone is true. Now it cannot be denied that
Nature is more concrete than the pure idea, or that Spirit is
more concrete than Nature. This would lead us, apart from other
considerations, to suppose that the logical prius of the universe
was to be looked for in Spirit, which is the most concrete of all
things^, and not in the Idea, which is only imperfectly concrete,
even in its highest form.

* Philosophy of Spirit, Section 377, p. 3.


67. The question now arises, whether the dialectic as sketched
in the last two chapters, is a valid system of philosophy. The
consideration of this question here must necessarily be ex-
tremely incomplete. Some seventy or eighty transitions from
one category to another may be found in the Logic, and we should
have to consider the correctness of each one of these, before we
could pronounce the dialectic, in its present form at least, to
be correct. For a chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and
if a single transition is inconclusive, it must render all that comes
beyond it uncertain. All we can do here is to consider whether
the starting-point and the general method of the dialectic are
valid, without enquiring into its details.

We shall have in the first place to justify the dialectical pro-
\ cedure — so different from that which the understanding uses in

^ the affairs of every-day life. To do this we must show, first, that

the ordinary use of the Understanding implies a demand for the
complete explanation of the universe, and then that such an
explanation cannot be given by the Understanding, and can be
given by the Reason in its dialectical use, so that the Under-
standing itself postulates in this way the validity of dialectic

Online LibraryJohn McTaggart Ellis McTaggartStudies in the Hegelian dialectic → online text (page 8 of 26)