Limiting our discussion to a central theme in Hegel’s mature position simplifies our task by relieving us of the responsibility for a general presentation of his thought as a whole, an enormous undertaking never satisfactorily accomplished by Hegel or by any of his students since.1 The magnitude of such an enterprise is apparent when it is realized that in a sense Hegel devoted almost half his philosophical career to the composition of the various editions of the Encyclopedia, that is, to an exposition of his view in outline form. But merely to be aware of how difficult it is to present either the entire theory or an aspect of it does not relieve us of the problem of how to begin, how best to analyze an aspect of the mature position. Nor is this embarrassment specific to Hegel’s thought. For there are as yet no standards, after some two and a half thousand years of discussion, which are accepted universally or even widely for the study of a philosophy, either in whole or in part.
From the specifically Hegelian perspective, an adequate analysis must include a presentation of the result, as well as the process leading to it. In that sense, to the extent that an adequate defense for the discussion which follows can be given, it can be marshaled only after the fact. Here it will be sufficient to mention two points peculiar to the present inquiry: its restriction merely to an aspect of Hegel’s position, and the problem of how that aspect is best approached.
The problem of the relation of the part and the whole was, of course, central to Hegel’s thought on many levels. He was critical of philosophic criticism in general, on the grounds that it demonstrates nothing so much as the incapacity of the critics for philosophy. But he was specifically critical of studies which voluntarily restrict themselves to one or another aspect of a position. He held that the worst fate of philosophy was experienced at the hands of those who were preoccupied with mere judgment of a part of it (see VIII, 17). But although it is correct, as Hegel often emphasizes, that the part is to be understood in terms of the whole, so also is the whole to be grasped, indeed necessarily so, in terms of its component parts. Even if the part has significance only within the context of the entire theory, the part nevertheless must be studied also in terms of itself, lest its particular characteristics be obscured through attention directed merely to the overall theory. One needs, therefore, to scrutinize the parts of the theory closely without losing sight of the larger theoretical framework.
The more delicate point is how best to study the concept of epistemological circularity in Hegel’s mature thought. It is surely correct that a theory should be addressed in terms of its own criteria, on pain of being unfair. Although on Hegelian grounds it seems that a unique solution to the problem of how to begin cannot be specified, it does not follow that a plausible procedure cannot be suggested. If we concede that other ways of studying Hegel’s thought are possible, it nonetheless appears normal, or at least useful, to raise the problem of epistemological circularity in Hegel’s mature thought in a manner closely similar to that in which it is discussed by Hegel.
The problem of how to proceed is closely related to that of which text to select. In his own historical studies, Hegel was mainly unconcerned to justify his choice of texts, which was on occasion more than arbitrary. He frequently dealt with a part of a text or with one out of a number of possible candidates without any significant attempt, or indeed any expression of concern for the need, to explain his procedure. Despite the undoubted insightfulness of Hegel’s grasp of other positions, the result of the discussion was often based not on the whole but merely on a part thereof.
A cardinal instance is his consideration of the views of Fichte and Schelling. There is, it should be noted, no more than minor attention to Fichte’s position after the initial version of the Science of Knowledge, despite the extensive development it later underwent. Nor is there any concern with the many changes in Schelling’s thought after the appearance of the System of Transcendental Idealism, despite the highly protean nature of his position. In these and other instances, Hegel manifestly failed to observe the criterion which he desired to have applied to his own thought. But if we attempt to be fairer to Hegel than he himself was on so many occasions to others whose thought he construed, or even for procedural reasons misconstrued, we still need to determine how best to approach his writings.
Any study of a position, even a major theme in that position, ultimately must take into account all the relevant textual material. The problem which arises when there is an apparent abundance of such material is whether a single source should be accorded privileged status. This problem is, as noted, especially relevant for Hegel’s thought, in view of the different ways it is approached in different languages and literatures. But even if we at least should be aware of trends in Hegel scholarship, that awareness is not a sufficient reason to opt for a particular text.
The choice of one or another text should come not from the current mode but rather from the intrinsic nature of the Hegelian corpus. From the perspective of an adequate exposition of the view in general, or even as concerns the mature doctrine of circularity, the abundance of textual material is more apparent than real. It is significant that in a historical moment when so many philosophers publish with utter disregard for the judgment of time, Hegel published only four major works: the Phenomenology of Spirit, the Science of Logic, the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, and the Philosophy of Right.
We have Hegel’s own testimony as a reason to decline to consider either the Phenomenology or the Philosophy of Right as an adequate statement of the wider position. It is well known that he regarded the Phenomenology as an unusual early work. And the Philosophy of Right is described by Hegel, in a passage omitted in the translation (X, par. 487, Zusatz, p. 306), as a systematic account in expanded form of the remarks on objective spirit in the Encyclopedia. That leaves us with only two possible candidates between which to choose.
The choice between the Encyclopedia and the Science of Logic frequently has been decided in favor of the latter on any one of a number of vague grounds, including its intrinsic difficulty, its depth, or simply the belief that ultimately the value of Hegel’s thought must stand or fall with this work.2 But it also has been observed that a generation is insufficient to master the most difficult work of German philosophy, that the Logic represents the absolute outer reaches of thought itself, and that, finally, no one understands this book fully.3 It follows that a decision to concentrate solely, or even mainly, on that text perhaps would enable us to follow its tortuous train of dialectical thought at the same time as it effectively precluded an adequate grasp of the wider position. For it would impose the successful completion of a formidably difficult, perhaps impossible, task as its precondition.
The arguments considered thus far are too vague to be regarded as convincing. A more cogent argument for the preference of the Logic, drawn from the chronological relation between it and the Encyclopedia, can be answered through mention of the content of the two works. The Encyclopedia, which was begun during the period from 1808—1816, when Hegel was rector of the Ägidien-Gymnasium in Nürnberg, appeared in three successive editions in 1817, 1827, and 1830. It hence is later than the Logic, which was published in three installments in 1812, 1813, and 1816. Now, since Hegel was at work on a revision of the Logic at the time of his death, that would be a reason to accord precedence to that work. Indeed, the revision of the first volume was published in a second edition, dated November 7, 1831, a scant week before Hegel died.
Yet it is clear that the subject matter is such that the Logic cannot supersede the Encyclopedia, except as concerns the treatment of special topics, such as those not covered in the so-called Encyclopedia Logic. Although these and other topics in any event are covered in great, often bewildering detail in the Science of Logic, it is, as Hegel notes, in the main merely the further development of the “previous Logic and Metaphysics” (E 16; VIII, par. 9, Anm., 53; see also par. 24). It is, then, at best a part, indeed an important part, of the system, but still only that as reflected by the role it plays within the Encyclopedia, whose stated purpose is to provide a series of theses descriptive of the entire range of Hegel’s thought. Indeed, were it necessary to choose between the two texts, the balance necessarily would tip in favor of the Encyclopedia. In virtue of its extended exposition of the main lines of the entire position and its appearance in three successive editions revised by Hegel over nearly the entire mature portion of his philosophical career, it enjoys a pride of place in his corpus unrivaled by any of his other writings.
But although I shall consider the Encyclopedia as the central text in the Hegelian corpus, it will serve more as a point of reference than as a full statement either of the complete position or of the concept of circularity. Considered as a statement of the entire theory, despite Hegel’s extensive and repeated reformulation, the Encyclopedia remains intrinsically insufficient. In part, this insufficiency is due to the nature of the work and the historical accident of its composition. As Hegel remarks as early as the initial sentence of the forward to the first edition, the book appeared earlier than normally would have been the case, in response to the need to supply a guide to students enrolled in his classes.4
The result, as Hegel twice stresses, was a severely compressed discussion,5 meant to be supplemented in his courses by oral commentary—in short, not the system itself but a sketch [Grundriss] or series of theses.6 And the discussion itself is exceedingly uneven; it contains side-by-side illuminating asides to basic points, as well as lengthy digressions and allusions to figures, such as Tholuck, who since have disappeared into the obscurity of the history of philosophy, sustained in memory only by their mention in Hegel’s work. It follows that, although in principle, on Hegel’s own testimony, the aim of the Encyclopedia is to provide the mature Hegelian system, that system is contained only fragmentarily and misleadingly in this work.
The paradoxical status of the Encyclopedia means that although it must, for the reasons given, serve as the basic source of Hegel’s mature position, it is necessary to use the text, as Hegel also did, as an initial indication of the view to be presented. In the present discussion, the account of the Encyclopedia will be supplemented through forays into other Hegelian writings, either to understand better the genesis of the view, as in the account of the Differenzschrift, or to round out the former text. In particular, it will be useful to consider a passage in the Science of Logic which both confirms and extends the view of circularity presented in the Encyclopedia. From the point of view of continuity, this text is valuable, since it is almost the last thing Hegel wrote. In sum, although the Encyclopedia will serve as the main source of the mature view, use of the relevant portion of the Logic, as well, attenuates the problem of which text is to be accorded preference.
Another difficulty concerns the exposition of the mature doctrine of circularity. Although there is no reasonable alternative to the Encyclopedia as the basic source of the mature view, it should be noted that here as elsewhere the concept of circularity never is thematized. Hegel’s failure to provide a systematic statement of this concept does not indicate its unimportance for his position. In fact, the claim that circularity lies at the heart of Hegel’s thought partially explains his failure to discuss it in detail, even in a treatise such as the Encyclopedia, whose purpose is to describe the general outline of the wider position. For to the extent that the entire position rests precisely on this concept as its conceptual underpinning, there is no convenient standpoint from which it can be considered at length. Any such vantage point would necessarily find its locus only on a remove prior to the theory. But even if the concept of circularity is mentioned no more than in passing, it is neither absent from other writings nor absent from this text. In fact, it is present in different ways on a number of levels, including the title of the work, its relation with other works within the corpus, the interrelation of its parts, in the various paragraphs, and above all in the introduction of the book.
The doctrine of circularity is suggested directly by the name which Hegel gave to the exposition of his mature system, that is, the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences. The term Enzyklopädie, like its English cognate, is derived from the French term encyclopédie, which the French encyclopédistes, especially Diderot and d’Alambert, employed in the eighteenth century to describe their attempt to provide a compendium of human knowledge. The French term has two basic meanings, both of which are present in the related German word: “the entirety of knowledge,” and “a secondary work covering all domains of knowledge.” These meanings are the result of a later differentiation of one meaning suggested by the etymology common to all three modern cognates: enkyklios paideia, or more precisely enkyklios (en = “in” + kyklos = “circle”), “in a circle, general,” + paideia, “education,” from paideuein = “to educate, bring up a child,” from pais, paidos, “child,” that is, “education running in a circle.”
From the etymology, it is obvious that the term Enzyklopädie has two root meanings: the cycle or circle of all knowledge, and the process of education running in a circle. The former meaning obviously is preserved and expanded in the later appearance of the term encyclopedia and its cognates. But the latter sense of the term, as an inherent circularity, does not seem to have been preserved in ordinary usage, in which the awareness of the relation of the term cycle with its meaning of circularity seems to have been obscured.
It hardly seems possible that Hegel was not aware of either of the meanings of the term encyclopédie which, with the word, were taken up in the German language, or of the Greek etymology. In his writings, Hegel apparently uses the term Enzyklopädie in at least four senses. First, the book of that name is the entirety of the knowledge of the philosophical sciences in outline [im Grundrisse]. Second, it is the presentation of that knowledge in the form of a secondary work. It is further an exposition of Hegel’s own system of philosophy, in which this knowledge is presented in the form of a system exhibiting necessity throughout. Finally, it is a theory which, as philosophy, is, as Hegel insists, necessarily circular. It is in this last sense that Hegel preserves in his own use of the term Enzyklopädie the primary meaning suggested in its Greek etymology, that is, the sense in which the cycle of knowledge is itself in fact and necessarily a circular process.
The emphasis on the cycle of knowledge as a process which is inherently circular, in the etymological sense, is already implicit in Hegel’s initial approach to the statement of his system of philosophy in the so-called Nürnberger Schriften. The entire text is not, as we know, an authentic Hegelian work. It is, rather, a compilation by Karl Rosenkranz of manuscripts he discovered.7 Nonetheless, even if every word is not of authentic Hegelian origin, which is incontestably the case, the general distinction drawn here between two forms of encyclopedia, which underlies Hegel’s work of that name, is important for a glimpse of the role of circularity in Hegel’s presentation of his system.
The central idea of the Hegelian form of an encyclopedia is given in the first paragraph of the Nürnberger Schriften: “An encyclopedia has to consider the entire circumscribed circle [Umkreis] of the sciences with respect to its object and its basic concept” (IV, 9). Hegel here insists on the need to elaborate the description of the cycle of sciences according to an object and concept undetermined by empirical considerations. The usual form of encyclopedia considers the sciences simply empirically (see par. 5), whereas in the philosophical kind the principle guiding its development is the necessary connection of concepts (see par. 6).
The distinction drawn in these two paragraphs is emphasized again in the next paragraph (par. 8), where Hegel stresses that although the sciences differ as to their empirical or rational form, they share the same content. We see, then, that to the extent that this text is genuine, which at least for this portion of it seems entirely likely, Hegel insists on the fact that his own encyclopedia is not a somme, not a mere compilation of what is known, but rather unfolds according to the intrinsic logic of the concepts. It hence differs from the French form of encyclopedia, which is a mere compilation, as well as from the writings of certain dogmatic German thinkers, such as Wolff, in the reliance on the immanent necessity of the concept. But since the concept itself is circular for Hegel, so also is the Encyclopedia in which it unfolds.
This kind of circularity is, it must be admitted, more implicit than explicit, depending as it does for recognition on previous knowledge of basic aspects of Hegel’s position. The concept of circularity immediately is given explicit standing, even before we enter into the main body of the work, in Hegel’s preliminary discussion of philosophy in the introduction to the Encyclopedia. This short, but exceedingly dense, text is composed of eighteen numbered paragraphs, many provided with additional written commentary by Hegel.8
By some “dialectical” quirk, it is precisely those paragraphs which deal most closely with epistemological concerns, and hence which are most relevant here, which are presented in their original stark simplicity, bereft of further comment. How difficult it is to grasp Hegel’s meaning in these several paragraphs, as well as the tortuous progression from paragraph to paragraph within the introduction, is mirrored by Hegel’s statement at the close of this short text. Hegel there stresses the general difficulty of providing an introduction, and perhaps as well his own frustration in that regard, when he writes: “As the whole science, and only the whole, can exhibit what the idea or system of reason is, it is impossible to give in a preliminary way a general impression of a philosophy” (E 28; VIII, par. 18, 63).
For present purposes it will be sufficient to comment not on the entire introduction but rather on those aspects most related to the doctrine of circularity. Now, despite the Hegelian claim that the proper way to begin is to begin, the introduction cannot begin just anywhere, in view of its particular role with respect to the exposition of the mature position. More precisely, we can infer the need for a double relation which must exist as concerns the three elements of the main text, the introduction to that text, and the first paragraph of that introduction. Just as the introduction constitutes the beginning of the exposition which is to follow and should announce its principal themes, in the same way the role of the first paragraph is to give to the introduction its basic direction by indicating the main themes to be studied there. Accordingly, there is reason to believe, even before inspecting the text, that the first paragraph should be exceptionally important for comprehension of its general lines, which justifies its study in some detail.
The crucial first paragraph is less than a page in length, twenty-seven lines in the original German. This numbered paragraph, which is divided into two indented, unnumbered paragraphs, concerns three themes. There is first a comparison between philosophy and the other sciences. This comparison is followed by another between philosophy and religion. Finally, mainly in the second unnumbered paragraph, there is a brief discussion of philosophy as such.
More generally, we are concerned here with a comparative discussion between philosophy and the two other forms of knowledge, that is, the sciences and religion, in an analysis which leads finally to the Hegelian concept of philosophy. The connecting thread, which links the three phases of the discussion in this numbered paragraph, and which at the same time enables Hegel to distinguish philosophy from other forms of knowledge, is an aspect of the problem of knowledge. For in this strategically significant point in the discussion, at the very beginning of the book in which his system is described, Hegel immediately raises again the problem of epistemological justification discussed previously by him in numerous places, above all in the account of circularity in the Differenzschrift.
The first comparison, which concerns the relation between philosophy and the other sciences, in German occupies a single sentence, formulated with unusual clarity. “Philosophy lacks the advantage enjoyed by the other sciences of being able to presuppose [voraussetzen zu können] its objects as directly given from representation as well as the cognitive method for the beginning and continuation” (E 3; VIII, par. 1, 41). The significance of this initial sentence for Hegel’s position scarcely can be overemphasized. Indeed, in a sense, fully to grasp the meaning of this apparently simple, in fact complex, claim is to grasp in large part the nature of the position advanced here and elsewhere in the corpus.
The sense of the claim Hegel makes here can be brought out against the background of the history of philosophy he has constantly in view. Certainly the result of the statement that philosophy can assume nothing is to range the Hegelian position, as Hegel was fully aware, within the Platonic tradition, broadly conceived. In the philosophical tradition, at least since the Republic, there has been the persistent and widely held conviction that philosophy differs from all other forms of science through its insistence on, and indeed ability to provide, full justification of the claim to know because of its anhypothetical status. Such justification concerns the other sciences, to which philosophy is conceptually prior and which are incapable of justifying themselves, as well as philosophy itself.
This point requires additional comment; for it is basic to Hegel’s view of philosophy and, accordingly, to any interpretation of it. In order to see what is at stake, it is important to emphasize the continuity in the philosophical tradition between modern and ancient views of knowledge and its attainment. It is well known that the Cartesian view of knowledge as absolute and philosophy as a presuppositionless science dominates later thought. It is perhaps less widely known that this view is not specifically modern. For the concept of knowledge as necessarily perfect is already apparent much earlier, for instance in Parmenides.
It should further be noted that the association of perfect knowledge with presuppositionlessness is well established in Greek thought. This point can be demonstrated both linguistically and conceptually. The specific vocabulary was already extant in ancient Greek. Hegel’s term for presupposition [Voraussetzung], from the verb voraussetzen (voraus = “in front of, in advance, beforehand” + setzen = “to place, to put”), widely current in German thought, means “to take as given.” It can be construed literally as “to place before” what follows. Voraussetzung is the strict German equivalent of the Greek hupothesis, from the verb hupotithemi (hupo = “under, beneath” = tithemi = “to put, to place”).
The Hegelian claim that philosophy must be presuppositionless science is formulated clearly by Plato, especially in the Republic, that work which more than any other determined the course of the later discussion of the problem of knowledge.9 In the famous discussion of the divided line (Republic, Bk. VI), Plato distinguishes between the spheres of the sensible and the intelligible before writing:10
In such a way that in one section the soul, using as images what before were models, is compelled to investigate from hypotheses [eks hypotheseon], proceeding from these not to a first principle [ouk ep’archen], but to a conclusion [epi teleuten]. The other section, which leads to a first principle that is not hypothetical [to ep’archen anupotheton], proceeding from a hypothesis [eks hypotheseos] without using the images of the other section, by means of the Forms themselves and proceeding through these. [510.8]
The crucial distinction is drawn here between hypothetical and anhypothetical approaches to knowledge. The latter is the higher, indeed the highest, and only adequate form. This distinction is underlined again by Plato in a slightly later passage, in the discussion of dialectic (in Bk. VII). Here Plato says that dialectic differs generically from other forms of study in its concern with things as they really are (see 533 B). He then writes:11 “Now dialectic is the only subject which travels this road, doing away with hypotheses [tas hupotheseis anairousa; from anaireo, Lat. tollere = “to sublate”] and proceeding to the first principle where it will find certainly [ep’auten ten archen hina bebaiosetai; bebaio = “to confirm, establish]” (533 C).
Beyond its obvious influence on the later history of philosophy, the Platonic doctrine of philosophy as presuppositionless science is specifically relevant to the present discussion.12 Hegel’s qualified return to a Platonic view of philosophy is doubly interesting. On the one hand, if philosophy is necessarily presuppositionless, which Hegel interprets with Fichte against Reinhold as meaning “without a foundation,” then it must be circular. For it is only in this way that the result can justify its beginning point. On the other hand, as circular the initial presupposition can be “confirmed” so that the inevitable initial dependence of the theory upon its beginning point can be sublated in a quasi-Platonic sense.
This result points, as early as the first sentence of the Encyclopedia, to an important elaboration of the doctrine of epistemological circularity in the mature position. In the first formulation in the Differenzschrift, this doctrine was advanced as an alternative to the quasi-rationalist form of justification invoked by Reinhold, but not further justified. In the context of a qualified return to a Platonic concept of philosophy as necessarily without presuppositions, Hegel then provides a form of justification for the doctrine of circularity. For the wider significance of this doctrine is not that it represents an alternative to Reinhold, but that it now appears as a consequence of the concept of philosophy itself as a necessarily presuppositionless science.
After this single sentence on the character of philosophy as such, Hegel proceeds to a comparison between philosophy and religion, a theme already evoked in several other texts, notably in the final chapter of the Phenomenology. In the context of the intial paragraph, this further comparison constitutes the second stage of the attempt to situate philosophy in respect to other forms of knowledge, in terms of a general doctrine for the justification of claims to know. In order to elucidate this phase of the analysis, it will be convenient to divide it into two parts, concerning the comparison as such and the lesson which Hegel draws from it.
The parallel between philosophy and religion is that both treat the real infinite, which is God, from the vantage point of the finite world. There is, hence, a parallel concerning the immediate finite object and the true, ultimate infinite. In effect, for Hegel philosophy and religion concern the same object, the same reality, and are therefore inseparable in this sense. There cannot, however, be a conflict between them, except in case of error. For in view of the fact that both means of knowledge aim at the same object, they must agree. On the contrary, Hegel stresses elsewhere, as we know, the enormous difference between philosophy, which justifies itself through reason and is therefore conceptual, and religion, which is based on faith and is nonconceptual. For Hegel, then, religion is a primitive form of philosophy, and philosophy is a more highly perfected form of religion.
We still do not know how philosophy effects the transition between the study of the finite and the true infinity. Hegel now tells us in drawing the lesson of the parallel sketched in order better to understand philosophy. The central idea is simple enough. It can be stated as the claim that we need to presuppose an awareness of, and interest in, the contents of consciousness, which then is transformed into concepts. Hegel’s meaning can be summarized in a series of three propositions, the last of which tells us how the transition is to be made.
In the first place, Hegel properly insists on the need to distinguish between an epistemological presupposition, which relates principally to the fashion in which knowledge is attained, and a preepistemological presupposition, which concerns the presence of an object to be known. It seems that Hegel does not contradict himself, since he still has not allowed an epistemological presupposition. Second, he calls our attention, as Fichte already has done, to the difference between the attitudes of daily life and of philosophy. The former, which is strictly a prephilosophical attitude, is the necessary condition for the birth of philosophy. On the former level, there are not as yet concepts but only thoughts, since philosophy has yet to begin. The work of philosophy, then, can be described as the transformation of the preconceptual content into properly philosophical content, or concepts.
We have arrived by this train of thought at the Hegelian definition of philosophy. According to Hegel, philosophy is the activity of the thinking mind. More precisely, it is the activity which transforms the immediate given of consciousness, the images which come to us from the study of the finite world, in order to arrive at the true infinity. We understand why Hegel criticizes those philosophers who believe that it is possible to arrive at truth directly by a sort of intellectual intuition (e.g., Jacobi and Schleiermacher). According to Hegel, the search for truth necessarily must pass through the state of the apprenticeship with the finite. And we understand also the difference between philosophy and religion, since the latter lacks a conceptual dimension.
The comparison between philosophy and religion leads up to the third stage of the discussion, the description of philosophy as such. In this phase, Hegel insists on three themes: that which is to be demonstrated, the general justification of philosophy as a discipline, and the basic methodological problem that follows from his concept of philosophy. Turning first to the thinking mode of the study of the object, he insists clearly on the need to prove its content, that is, both its being and its mode of being. In regard, then, to the critical philosophy, for which it is a scandal that philosophy is unable to demonstrate even the existence of the external world, Hegel insists that philosophy can and must carry out the task which Kant undertook in his attempted “Refutation of Idealism.” Second, Hegel responds to the question as to why philosophy is necessary by a formal exclusion of any other possibility of arriving at knowledge in the full sense. With respect to the preceding portion of the discussion, the new element here is the assimilation of mere assurances of all kinds to presuppositions which philosophy cannot admit.
This concept of philosophy imposes a heavy methodological burden, as Hegel is aware. In the last sentence of this paragraph, he completes the circle by returning to the problem posed in the initial sentence in the distinction between philosophy and the other sciences. “The difficulty of making a beginning arises at the same time since a beginning as immediate makes a presupposition [Voraussetzung] or rather is itself one” (E 4; VIII, par. 1, 41). The meaning of this statement is easily understood if we remember that in order to pretend to knowledge of the truly unlimited, nothing can be presupposed.
Any theory necessarily begins somewhere or other, wherever that may be. But we must avoid having the truth of theory depend on its undemonstrated initial principle. How is that possible? The response which Hegel gives here, already foreshadowed in the discussion of Reinhold in the Differenzschrift, is a brilliant attempt to go beyond the simple requirement that philosophy be presuppositionless in now suggesting how that is practically possible. Since philosophy cannot justify itself through its deduction from its initial principle, its beginning, which itself is not justified, it must be the case that the result of the theory justifies its beginning. In other words, the beginning of a theory cannot already contain in merely implicit form the proof which follows from it. On the contrary, it is the result which justifies the entire reasoning process, including its onset. In a word, philosophy, which must justify itself in part and in whole, can carry out this process only through a return to itself in the form of a circle.
I have dwelt at some length on the initial paragraph of the Encyclopedia for two reasons: as the beginning of the description of the system as a whole, and because in this strategic moment in the discussion Hegel reaffirms his doctrine of epistemological circularity. It remains now to indicate more briefly the way in which the initial statement of the concept of epistemological circularity is developed further in the introduction to this text through selective commentary on those aspects most related to the doctrine of circularity.
In the same way as the remainder of the initial paragraph serves to bring out the concept of philosophy as necessarily circular, expressed in its initial sentence, so the remainder of the introduction further elaborates the theses expressed in the first paragraph. Hegel turns first to the form of philosophy and, immediately, to the description of philosophic activity in relation to its object. The activity of philosophy is described as “this thinking study of things.... (E 4; VIII, par. 2, 41) Although it often has been said that the difference between human beings and animals lies in the former’s capacity for thought, not every instance of it is properly philosophic. To highlight this point, Hegel then introduces a distinction between feeling, intuition, and representation [Vorstellung], forms of thought [Denken] which exhibit consciousness of an object. These forms of thought are now contrasted with Reflection [Nachdenken], which, as self-consciousness, has thought itself as its object in the relation of thought upon thought. In this respect, philosophic activity is said to consist in the transformation given to thought by subsequent reflection upon it, that is, in the replacement of mere representation by thought, categories by concepts.
As important as these remarks are, they do not break new ground, but are rather an expansion on the already implicit distinction between the immediately given representation and the mediation of philosophic thought, which recurs below. Where Hegel does break new ground, but in a less happy manner, is in his brief remarks on the relation of the representation to the concept and concerning the intelligibility of philosophy, both topics outside the immediate scope of this essay. It will be sufficient to note that representation is a kind of metaphor which points to the concept it cannot grasp, but which it necessarily includes within itself. This point again emphasizes the manner in which philosophy differs from, but builds upon, more mundane forms of experience and thought.
After this further qualification of his concept of philosophic activity, Hegel returns at once to the comparison between it and ordinary modes of thought and religion. As concerns the former, philosophy must demonstrate its reason for being. As concerns the latter, it must prove its own need and justify any difference in the two perspectives. Both of these statements are merely further affirmations of philosophy’s acknowledged requirement to make no presuppositions.
Hegel further refines the distinction between philosophic and nonphilosophic modes of thought in a reference to the “old saw” that the truth can be attained through reflection only. He remarks that a failure to respect the implicit distinction is apparent both in the view of some that no prior preparation is needed to do philosophy, here in a reference above all to Jacobi and perhaps Schleiermacher; and in the recent popularity of a theory of immediate knowledge, “the theory of immediate or intuitive knowledge” (E g; VIII, par. 5, 46). Each of these approaches can be ruled out of bounds as the result of a failure to observe the distinction between philosophy and other forms of thought already drawn.
After these remarks on form, Hegel then turns (par. 6) to content in a series of comments relating to actuality, experience, and appearance which are as illuminating as they are brief. These rapid observations, which are important to connect the Encyclopedia with other parts of his corpus, are by no means a simple expansion of his earlier remarks. Philosophy, we are told, must understand that its content, which is restricted to what comes into the world in the inner and outer contents of consciousness, is actuality itself [Wirklichkeit]. In this way, Hegel insists (properly so) on the continuity between the position outlined here and that of the Phenomenology, since actuality is circumscribed by the contents of consciousness which we call experience [Erfahrung].
Hegel further restates the doctrine of the Phenomenology when he distinguishes between the concept of actuality and mere appearance [Erscheinung]. This doctrine is addressed here in the Zusatz to the remarks in the introduction to the Philosophy of Right. He further takes a stance against those who see a rupture between philosophy and experience. Referring again to the distinction in form between philosophy and other kinds of thought, he stresses the need for philosophy to agree with actuality and experience. Indeed, this agreement is not only a least external measure of the truth claims of philosophy; and one further can say that the entire aim of science is in fact to bring about through the knowledge of this agreement “a reconciliation of the self-conscious reason with the objectified reason [mit der seienden Vernunft], with actuality” (E 10; VIII, par. 6, 47), in other words, to provide in actuality the total identification of thought and being which is the central theme of the Phenomenology and, according to Hegel, all philosophy.
In terms of its place within the introduction, this phase of the discussion has a double function: to reaffirm the need of philosophy to be entirely self-sufficient and hence fully self-justifying, against those who would submit it to a higher arbiter; and to stress the constitutive role of experience for philosophy in terms of the distinction between actuality and mere appearance. Taken together, these points are, despite their intrinsic interest, further qualifications of the Hegelian view of philosophy as reflection, mentioned as early as the second paragraph. Hegel again qualifies this view in a series of limitative comments on the relation between philosophy and experience just invoked.
He begins with a historical remark, which anticipates his later criticism of British empiricism. Reflection, we are told, already existed, albeit in abstract form, in Greek thought. When it reemerged in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, thought then revealed a new interest in the phenomenal world, in terms of which philosophy has come to be understood as an endeavor to determine the stable element in the flux of experience. In a passage which has important political overtones, whose consequences can be seen in the Hegelian view of the relation of the individual and the state, Hegel writes of “the principle of Experience,” which is the demand that through either external sense or internal thought or consciousness the subject be directly present so that “we must find such content in unity and combined with the certainty of itself” (E 12; VIII, par. 7, 49). The clear parallel here between epistemological and political doctrines takes on added significance in the light of Marx’s critique of the Philosophy of Right. Hegel’s interest in the immediate context lies merely on the contemporary epistemological plane.
Hegel notes that sciences which observe this principle are frequently called philosophy, especially in England. This understanding of the term is, as Hegel quickly adds (par. 8), overly restrictive, since however successful the pursuit of knowledge within this sphere might be, it excludes consideration of such topics as freedom, spirit [Geist], and God. In this way, Hegel in principle rejects any attempt to restrict philosophy to experience, which he will criticize elsewhere in his discussion of the philosophic tradition. This rejection of an overly simple, sensationalistic criterion is further evident in his interesting remarks on the relation between spirit and experience.
But as Hegel notes in the next paragraph (par. 9), from the perspective of his normative view of philosophy empirical science is doubly deficient as concerns the criterion of necessity: on the one hand, there is an unresolved duality between the universal and the particular; and on the other hand, there is everywhere the depiction of the beginnings of this approach in terms of immediacy, givenness, and presuppositions. Now, again asserting the preeminence of philosophy without further explanation, Hegel writes: “Hence reflection, whenever it sets itself to remedy these defects, is speculative thinking, the thinking proper to philosophy” (E 15; VIII, par. 9, 52), which moves properly in concepts only. Although in the Zusatz Hegel makes an interesting remark on speculative logic as a further development of previous logic and metaphysics as supplemented through categories, the bare, unsupported claim of the priority of philosophy with respect to other sciences, which follows directly from the definition of reflection, does not advance the argument.
The consequence of Hegel’s refusal to equate the realms of philosophy and experience is that the problem of justification is posed anew. For if philosophy is wider than experience, the claims of the former cannot be supported merely through an appeal to the latter, even if philosophy cannot remain indifferent to it. Hegel’s answer to this problem, which he clearly recognizes, is in effect a plea for its postponement to a later date. “This thinking of philosophical modes of knowledge [Erkenntnisweise] itself requires to be justified [gerechtfertigt zu werden] as well with respect to its necessity as its capacity to know the absolute objects [die absoluten Gegenstände zu erkennen]” (E 16; VIII, par. 10, 80-81).
But any satisfactory, that is, philosophic, answer is forthcoming within philosophy itself only on pain of failure to meet philosophic standards. This reply is, to be sure, in itself a response, although only of a preliminary kind. For instead of resolving the problem at hand, it has three other consequences. In the first place, it again affirms the Hegelian doctrine that the justification of a theory lies in its results. Second, it affirms the correlative doctrine, dependent on that just evoked, that a provisional characterization of philosophy is not possible without embarking upon it. Taken together, these two points can be restated as the claim that no practice, including philosophy, can be justified in a provisional manner prior to engaging in it, since the practice is itself its only possible justification. There is an unmistakable echo here of the Aristotelian doctrine that there are some practices for which knowledge can be acquired only by engaging in them. Third, Hegel applies this point as a standard for the evaluation of recent discussion tending to justify claims to know by Kant and Reinhold.
Hegel’s remarks on Kant are well known. The subtle criticism of Kant’s endeavor to provide a justification of the conditions of the possibility of knowledge whatsoever is summed up in the widely cited statement, as noted, attributed to a scholastic, in which the critical philosophy is compared to a scholastic’s decision “before venturing into the water to learn to swim” (E 17; VIII, par. Zusatz, 54).
One should not minimize the significance of this attack, which shakes the foundations of the critical approach to philosophy. For it represents an implicit rejection of the basic Kantian distinction between the a priori and the a posteriori without which the critical approach cannot be pursued. But although Hegel is surely correct that the discussion of knowledge is itself part of the knowing process, it does not follow, as Dewey incorrectly later concluded, that the problem of knowledge therefore disappears. Rather, this problem is merely transported within that process, as a moment of it, as Hegel himself notes elsewhere in his comments on skepticism.
As Hegel recognizes, his summary rejection of the Kantian solution to the problem of epistemological justification does not dispose of it. In a further comment, he then turns briefly to Reinhold. Hegel’s treatment here of Reinhold is much more rapid than in the Differenzschrift, but similar in intent. Reinhold understood the difficulty just identified with respect to the critical philosophy. In his own thought, he proposed that one should proceed cautiously, as Hegel says, “to begin in a prliminary manner [vorläufig] with a hypothetical and problematical philosophizing and to continue in this, one knows not how, until it finally results, that one arrives by such a route to the primordially true” (E 17; VIII, par. 10 Zusatz, 54).
The obvious similarities between this new, briefer treatment of Reinhold’s view and the earlier, more extensive discussion include concentration on the phase influenced by Bardili, acknowledgment of the genuine importance of the problem even as the proposed solution is rejected, and the suggestion that the process of knowledge is self-justifying. And although at this point Hegel does not feel the need to justify this latter doctrine in terms of detailed discussion, the basic doctrine is clearly continuous with that expressed in the Differenzschrift.
The passage on Reinhold is part of the larger account of the relation between reason and its philosophical comprehension. The result of Hegel’s remarks concerning the asymmetry between philosophy and experience can be evaluated from two perspectives. Certainly the comments on the history of philosophy, beyond their interest in clarifying the outlines of Hegel’s view, serve here to open the way for further criticism of others from this perspective, such as in this work in the discussion of the “Attitudes of Thought to Objectivity” and elsewhere. But from the systematic perspective it does not appear that this passage brings Hegel closer to the goal of demonstrating that philosophy can fulfill its assigned task of self-justification. In this respect, the single positive result lies in the suggestion that the necessary justification is not forthcoming on an initial plane.
Fortified by what can be regarded only as a justification of why a justification cannot now be provided, Hegel temporarily abandons this problem to address the need for philosophy. The innermost self, Hegel tells us, is thought, which develops in and through the resolution of contradictions. “In this business it happens,” Hegel observes concerning thought, “that thought entangles itself in contradictions, that is, loses itself in the rigid non-identity of thoughts, so that instead of reaching itself, rather it remains embarrassed in its opposite [in seinem Gegenteil befangen bleibt]” (E 18; VIII, par. 11, 55).
The point, clearly of Fichtean inspiration, that philosophy is essentially a response to experience then is developed further in a series of paragraphs (pars. 12-14). Hegel returns first to the problem of the relation of philosophy to science, already raised in the first paragraph. Going beyond Aristotle’s claim that philosophy begins in wonder, he asserts that the stimulus for philosophy is to be found in a specific problem, whether in ordinary experience or in the realm of the various empirical sciences, as a result of which philosophy assumes against itself a negative attitude. Philosophy hence takes up the role of bringing about a peaceful resolution of the many conflicts which arise in experience of the day, a point Hegel also makes elsewhere in the famous definition of philosophy as its own time comprehended in thought.
The purpose of the application of philosophic reflection to the contents of experience is that by raising understanding to the level of reason, necessary connections between them are thereby revealed. Applying this general concept to the realm of philosophy, Hegel redevelops an important point about the nature of philosophy and of its relation to the prior tradition. It is possible to demonstrate necessity only within empirical experience. Similarly, although the history of philosophy seems to be composed of a myriad of positions related merely by chance, and containing irreconcilable principles, it is in fact the record of the stagewise manifestation of the single spirit.
After his remarks on the relation of any position, including his own, to the preceding tradition, Hegel returns to the nature of philosophy. The immediately preceding comments (pars. 11-13) serve to locate the development of philosophy in relation to experience as given in time and space. Hegel then abstracts from the historical element just discussed in order to consider the development of thought merely within the element of thought.
In a series of observations on the nature of philosophy, Hegel makes two points related to themes previously discussed. To begin with, he notes that concrete thought, which he also previously has called the concept, can be called Idea or Absolute, as well. This point is left in suspense, since what a concrete thought might be is not made clear either here or in preceding sections of the introduction. But an immediate result is to reinforce the relation of this work to the Phenomenology through the latter’s discussion of the Absolute, as well as to reemphasize the sense in which philosophy, like religion, is preoccupied with truth as such. Hegel’s second, perhaps more imposing, point consists in the assertion that as science philosophy is essentially a system of the whole that develops through the unfolding of concrete thought. “The science [of concrete thought—T.R.] is essentially system,” Hegel writes, “because the true as concrete can only as such be in itself developing and in unity comprising and holding, that is, it is a totality, and only through differentiation and limitation of its differences can the necessity and the freedom be” (E 24; VIII, par. 14, 59).
This point already has been raised obliquely, both here and in the Differenzschrift, for instance in the account of the relation of part and whole. A full discussion of the concept of the whole, or totality, which here emerges into clear view, would take us too far afield. Here it can be noted that the implications of this concept for knowledge seem rarely to have been perceived, and then mainly by Marxists.13 But it should be emphasized that although Hegel states this principle clearly only at this late date in the introduction, it follows closely from the earlier discussion, particularly from the constant emphasis on necessity as the hallmark of philosophy. This principle is further important, in the introduction, to the account of circularity, to which Hegel then turns.
The remarks in this paragraph (par. 14) close the parenthesis which Hegel opened immediately after the declaration that the only justification of philosophy can be given within philosophy itself (par. 10), which is in turn a further qualification of the claim that philosophy can presuppose nothing. In fact, that remark was misleading, since, despite the implied difference between philosophy and nonphilosophy, the introduction is elaborated throughout on an appropriate philosophic plane. The result is to render it difficult, and perhaps not possible, to separate the introduction from the system to follow, which it introduces and of which it forms an integral part.
It is, thus, not entirely clear whether Hegel is correct in his assertion that the justification of philosophy must be postponed to a later date, since the justification of the postponement is, as noted, a philosophical argument. In this sense, Hegel would seem to be engaged here in philosophizing prior to philosophy. Were that the case, it would further count against the objection to the critical philosophy raised earlier (in par. 10). But although Hegel does not return here or elsewhere in the introduction to the problem of justification as such, after the close of the parenthesis mentioned, he does focus his attention once again on epistemology (see pars. 15-17) in a manner which indirectly illuminates this problem.
Hegel then provides a metaphorical further description of philosophy in quasi-geometrical terms in a passage which extends the earlier comparison between theory and circularity in the Differenzschrift. Each part of philosophy, Hegel states, is a whole, or self-contained, circle. Hegel’s meaning seems to be that each part of philosophy is itself a self-contained unity, articulated within a specific context.
This claim can be justified in various ways, such as by the preceding remarks on the concept of the whole, as well as those concerning the relation of philosophy to experience in general, in particular to the empirical sciences. Each of the latter, for instance, could be said by analogy to possess a particular, or specific, content and to constitute itself as a self-enclosed whole which evolves according to its own rules. But if, as Hegel suggests in quasi-Platonic fashion, the empirical sciences are not self-justifying, at the same time as each is a closed unity it also appeals implicitly to a higher plane for which it serves as content.
If we now transpose this point to the relation of empirical science and philosophy, following Hegel we can say that although self-enclosed, an empirical science founds a higher form of generality, or, as Hegel says, that each circle breaks through the limits of its special domain, or again, still following the circle metaphor, gives rise to a wider sphere. But if we return for a moment to the relation of philosophy and the empirical sciences, the result is a wider totality which includes both as elements of a whole structured, or articulated, through a relation of necessity. In an important passage, Hegel then writes: “The whole produces itself as a circle of circles, of which each is a necessary moment, so that the system constitutes the entire idea of its particular elements, which even so appears in each” (E 24-25; VIII, par. 15, 60).
The description of philosophy here as the circle of circles represents a notable advance over the comparison between philosophy and circularity in the Differenzschrift. The emphasis in that text on progressive self-justification is now widened in several respects. One such respect concerns the emphasis on the relation between the various sciences and philosophy in a manner which reinforces the mature view of philosophy as necessarily presuppositionless. Hegel’s view of philosophy as the circle of circles is now seen to agree with Plato’s in another sense. For the two concepts share the stress on the fact that the individual sciences are not self-justifying, and hence depend on philosophy, which, as the science of sciences, justifies both itself and all other claims to know.
The description of philosophy as the circle of circles goes beyond the Differenzschrift in another respect. Hegel earlier left open the problem of how the claim for theory to provide knowledge could be justified through the relation of part to whole. It already has been noted that this topic is alluded to in paragraph 6, in the claim that theory must agree with reality and experience. From this perspective, the idea that philosophy is the circle of circles is doubly suggestive.
On the one hand, Hegel here brings out the relation of philosophy to the other sciences, as noted. On the other hand, he stresses that philosophy cannot depend on its starting point for its claim to provide knowledge. It follows that the final touchstone of evaluation must be the ability of self-enclosed theory to explain reality and experience. He thus goes beyond his earlier view of the justification of the elements of the theory in terms of the entire theory by providing what is obviously a pragmatic standard for the theory as a whole.
Taken together, these two points suggest that in virtue of its circular character, philosophy must be evaluated as a single conceptual unity independent of the relation of a theory to its starting point. But since any theory, including Hegel’s, must begin somewhere, it remains to be seen how the element of contingency, which hence is inevitable, can be defused. Hegel, who was aware of this problem, did not respond to it at this time but turned first to a brief comment on the Encyclopedia to follow (see par. 16), before returning to epistemological matters (in par. 17) and a final word on the Encyclopedia (in par. 18).
In his comments on the Encyclopedia, Hegel is above all concerned to limit the legitimate expectations of his readers. Once more returning to the relation between philosophy and the particular sciences it can be held to include, which has just been given definite form in the description of philosophy as the circle of circles, he writes: “As Encyclopedia the science will not be expounded in detailed development of its particularity, but is limited to the beginnings and fundamental concepts of the particular sciences” (E 25; VIII, par. 16, 60).
In view of the previous discussion, this statement is clear. Also clear is the comment on it in the Zusatz to the paragraph, where Hegel once again recalls the role of necessity within philosophy as a distinguishing trait, and accordingly excludes various sorts of fortuitous relations from the Encyclopedia in which the system is sketched. Of particular interest here is a series of remarks on positivity [Positivität], a concept already evoked elsewhere, particularly in the Phenomenology, as concerns sciences which are not fully self-justifying. The force of this passage is to underline again the quasi-Platonic view of philosophy Hegel proposes here.
Hegel then continues his discussion of the problem of knowledge in an important passage which summarizes and further clarifies the relation he has established in the introduction between the problem of the beginning and the circular character of philosophy. In a manner similar to the earlier allusion to the difference between philosophy and religion (in par. 1), Hegel begins with an observation concerning the asymmetry between philosophy and the other sciences. It may seem as if philosophy, like the other sciences, can start only with a subjective presupposition, such as taking thought as the object of thought. But in fact the beginning is a free act of thought through which philosophy produces and gives to itself its own object.
The claim that philosophy is unrestrained and hence free follows from the earlier insistence on its conceptual priority with respect to all other sciences. But it is unclear in which sense thought, which endeavors to know being absolutely, as is the case for philosophy, is unhindered by the social being in which it arises. (Hegel also raises this point elsewhere against earlier forms of philosophy, for instance in the Phenomenology and in the History of Philosophy.) Nor is it apparent at this point how philosophy is able to avoid the merely subjective presupposition of the other sciences.
Hegel, who is sensitive to this point, responds by once again drawing attention to the circular character of philosophy described above. The answer is that since the immediate presupposition with which philosophy starts returns at the end, as its result, in mediated form, philosophy can be said to form a circle which is bereft of a beginning in the ordinary sense. As the immediate presupposition is mediated through the process to which it gives rise, the theory is freed of dependence on its initial point, and accordingly the initial point is freed of its merely subjective status. In other words, the beginning point remains subjective in its relation to the subject, but not as concerns its relation to the position to which it belongs. In a passage which sums up this line of reasoning, Hegel writes:
Further the very point of view, which appears as immediate becomes within science its result, and truly its final result, in which science has its beginning in the manner of other sciences, so that the beginning has only a relation to a subject, which as such wants to decide to philosophize, but not to science as such. [E 28-29; VIII, par. 17, 63]
This point is, as Hegel recognizes, of utmost importance if philosophy is to preserve its unique claim to self-justification. Perhaps for this reason, Hegel then seems to abandon the intellectual reserve he has displayed since postponing the problem of justification (see par. 10) in order to insist on the sense in which the relation of the beginning point and circularity suffices to protect the edifice of knowledge. Now extending the earlier description of philosophy as reflection in circular form, he adds that the entire philosophical process is directed solely towards grasping the object of contemplation in order to arrive at the concept of the concept, that is, to attain self-consciousness, and hence to achieve its own return and satisfaction.
Hegel’s choice of apparently ethical, or perhaps even religious, language at this important point in his analysis is significant, since he is so careful in his choice of terminology. Several times in this paragraph where one might expect the verb sein, he employs the verb müssen in an impersonal form in order to express obligation. Examples are the requirement that philosophy must be self-reflective, that its starting point must appear as the result of the thought process, and that philosophy must grasp its own concept as science. But although Hegel already has made clear in the prior discussion why his concept of philosophy requires the self-sublation of its beginning, he has not yet shown how this requirement can be met. Hegel’s use of the imperative formulation is accordingly significant, since it can be construed as an indication that he is aware of the distinction between the requirement specified by his normative view of philosophy and its fulfillment.
The concluding paragraph of the introduction has a double role: to bring to a close that portion of the work in which it functions as a limit, and to provide a link between the introduction and the work to follow. This selective account of some main themes of the introduction is, as noted, neither complete nor intended to be. But it is sufficiently detailed to enable us to draw some conclusions regarding the mature doctrine of circularity. Although the mature doctrine is in no sense inconsistent with its initial formulation, its restatement expands and alters its significance for the position as a whole.
In comparison with the Differenzschrift, at least five significant differences can be detected in the manner in which epistemological circularity is described in the Encyclopedia. To begin with, in the mature position the doctrine of epistemological circularity is central, and not merely eccentric to the normative description of philosophy. In the Differenzschrift, the account of epistemological circularity occurs in a virtual appendix to the text, in what may be regarded as its most occasional, and least integral, portion. But in the Encyclopedia, this doctrine arises in a central portion of the work, as a principal theme in the first paragraph, in fact in the initial sentence.
Second, there is a change in the apparent relation of circularity to the historical context. In the original statement of the doctrine, its relation to Reinhold’s response to the critical philosophy is clear. But in the restatement of the position, Hegel effectively conceals the relation between the systematic doctrine and the problem in the history of philosophy towards which it counts as a solution. Although Hegel insists in the Encyclopedia and elsewhere on the inseparable relation between a result and the process it brings to a close, the occasional context which led to the concept of circularity is not indicated here.
A third difference already has been implied in the discussion of epistemological circularity in terms of a normative view of philosophy as presupposing nothing. This point is of interest, since in the restatement of philosophy as the traditional, quasi-Platonic concept, Hegel provides a retrospective justification of the earlier rejection of Reinhold’s foundationalism in favor of an alternative model. Self-justifying theory is now revealed as more than a mere alternative, in fact as the authentic restatement of the normative view of philosophy which has been central to the entire philosophic tradition.
A fourth difference concerns the elaboration now of epistemological circularity in the description of philosophy as the circle of circles. The interest of this metaphor is that the original relation of the part to the whole has been widened to reflect the relation of the other sciences to philosophy. This more inclusive view of circularity now includes the original relation of the parts of the theory to the theory, as well as that of philosophy to other forms of knowledge.
A fifth difference, which also has been noted, concerns the evaluation of theory in terms of experience. In calling attention to this relation, Hegel clearly goes beyond the original, Platonic concept of philosophy, which disdains the realm of the mutable. For the problem of justification is now seen to possess a third dimension, beyond that of the relation of the part to the whole, or of other forms of science to philosophy. Philosophy’s claim to provide knowledge must further be tested on a third level of circularity, the circular relation between theory and experience. It is this latter relation between thought and being which is the most significant change in the view of circularity. By addressing this relation, Hegel provides a fundamental new dimension for his view of circular justification at the same time as he specifies the standard by which all views of epistemology, including his own, must be evaluated, that is, in the circular relation between thought and the experience of being.
That brings to a close the discussion of the introduction from the perspective of circularity. Although it might be thought that more could be learned by according an equal amount of attention to other texts, such is not the case. Among the mature texts, the references to circularity in the introduction to the Encyclopedia constitute the most extensive consideration of the doctrine as an integral part of the argument, as distinguished from illustrative appeals to it. For this reason, it seemed useful to provide a careful, if incomplete, account of this doctrine in the context of the basic outline of the mature position.
It remains now to round out our understanding of circularity in Hegel’s mature thought. As already noted, discussion of circularity in the introduction to the Encyclopedia is systematic, and not historical. To complete this systematic approach to Hegel’s mature doctrine, it will be useful to consider rapidly other systematic allusions to circularity in the body of the Encyclopedia and a single, important passage in the Science of Logic. An account of the relation of Hegel’s mature doctrine of circularity to his mature reading of the history of philosophy will be postponed to the following chapter.
In the text of the Encyclopedia, the doctrine of circularity, although not always in epistemological dress, can be detected in at least the following numbered paragraphs: 119, 154, 181, 189, 235, 266, 270, 329, 337, 346, 387, and 574-79. Our task now will be to examine these references to circularity in order to determine whether they cast any new light on it.
The Encyclopedia is divided into three main sections. In the first section, entitled the “Science of Logic” (also known as the “Encyclopedia Logic” or “Lesser Logic” to distinguish it from the so-called “Greater Logic,” or simply “Logic”), there is a clear reference to circularity in the account of mediation. In the course of a remark on the opposition between identity and nonidentity, Hegel notes that a circle is not yet a concept, and then writes: “In the concept of a circle, center and circumference are equally essential; both marks belong to it and yet center and circumference are opposite and contradictory to each other” (E 221; VIII, par. 119, 245). This passage is an obvious restatement of the metaphor used in the Differenzschrift in the discussion of Reinhold. The substitution of the word Zirkel here for Kreis and the failure to mention the inherent circularity of theory can both be explained by the fact that Hegel is here thinking of geometry and not of philosophy.
A perhaps more relevant allusion occurs in the discussion of essence, in the account of reality, where Hegel insists that the development of externality is “a circle of the limitations [Bestimmungen] of possibility....” (E 266; VIII, par. 147, 288). The view that an existent being forms a totality is restated twice in close succession: in the next paragraph (par. 148), where Hegel writes of “the complete circle of conditions” (E 272; VIII, par. 148, 292); and in the succeeding paragraph (par. 149), where he mentions necessity as mediated through the “circle of the surroundings” (E 273; VIII, par. 149, 294). The result is to add another level of circularity to the view of knowledge, which now includes inherently circular objects, studied by self-enclosed, or circular, sciences, and known in the full sense by philosophy as the circle of circles.
A different aspect of circularity is in evidence in paragraph 154, where, in the transition to the concept of reciprocity, Hegel notes that from this perspective endless progress is sublated “in that the rectilinear movement out from causes to effects, and from effects to causes is bent around and back into itself [in sich um- und zurückgebogen ist]” (E 279; VIII, par. 154, 300). Theory, then, by implication, shares with causal reciprocity a similar interrelation—not, however, of causes and effects, but of conceptual moments.
The description of the object as circular is supplemented by a series of passages in which thought is similarly qualified. In the discussion of the syllogism, Hegel ends his initial description of this form of reasoning with the statement “The actual is one, but also the diverging of the conceptual moments, and the conclusion of the circulation [Kreislauf] of the mediation of its moments, through which it posits itself as one” (E 163; VIII, par. 181, 332). Thought and being resemble each other in their intrinsic circularity. From the vantage point of the history of philosophy, Hegel is restating the original pre-Socratic doctrine, which is the basis of his own rejection of “linear” forms of epistemology.
Other passages record an insistence on the circularity of thought. In paragraph 189, in a discussion of the full development of mediation, Hegel reports that that can occur in only one manner, “that is, as a circle of opposing, presupposing mediations....” (E 323; VIII, par. 189, 340). That is a further specification of the claim that the syllogism is inherently circular. Finally, in the discussion of the Idea, which immediately precedes the account of the Absolute Idea, Hegel provides a preliminary definition of the latter concept as the result of the overcoming of distinction through further unfolding of the concept: “This life which has returned to itself out of the difference and finitude of knowing and becomes identical with it through the activity of the concept is the speculative or absolute Idea” (E 373; VIII, par. 235, 387-88).
The references to circularity in the Philosophy of Nature, the middle section of the Encyclopedia, although relevant to Hegel’s account of nature, do not always concern epistemology. More than once circularity is invoked merely as an illustration. In the account of the finite form of Mechanics, referring to Newton’s Principia, Hegel follows Newton in illustrating centripetal motion through the example of a stone in a sling which “moves from the hand in circles” (PN 52; IX, par. 266, 70). Hegel again refers to Newton, in particular the Newtonian law of gravitation, when he writes that a body in a gravitational field describes “not a circle or in place of it a conic section, but is only the ellipse” (PN 66; IX, par. 270, 86). This passage, like the preceding reference to circularity, has no obvious relation to the epistemological form of that concept. It is, however, interesting as a correction to Hegel’s youthful discussion of circular orbits in his Habilitationsschrift, as noted.
Other allusions to circularity do have more general epistemological significance. In the latter portion of the Philosophy of Nature, Hegel returns to the theme of being as circular, which he illustrates on various levels. In a remark on the physics of total individuality, concerning chemical processes, Hegel invokes the image of concentric circles in his description of chemical processes as composing “a circle of particular processes, each of which is the presupposition for the others....” (PN 241; IX, par. 329, 298). The metaphor further contains a difficult analogy between processes and theory which is itself presuppositionless.
A similar remark occurs in the discussion of organic physics, where Hegel describes the real totality of the body as the unending process in which “the individual defines itself as particular or finite and this at the same time negates and comes back into itself, in the end of the process reconstituting the beginning....” (PN 373; IX, par. 337, 337). This account of the realization of the idea in existence is further restated in the discussion of geology, where Hegel discusses the growth of plants as the process of the external manifestation in roots and leaves “in which each simultaneously relates itself to the exterior, and preserves its inner circulation [Kreislauf]” (PN 322; IX, par. 346, 394).
In the final portion of the Encyclopedia, the Philosophy of Spirit, the concept of circularity is evoked in two places: near the beginning in the account of subjective spirit, and in an important passage, spread over several paragraphs, on the nature of Hegel’s system. In a remark on the self-differentiation of spirit into different stages, Hegel distinguishes between spirit and culture [Bildung], or education [Erziehung], when he comments about the former: “This circle relates itself only to the individual subjects as such, that the general spirit in them is brought into existence” (PM 26; X, par. 387, 39). Beyond the obvious reference to circularity, the importance of this remark is that Hegel here differentiates the progress of individual spirit from that of spirit as such, thus elucidating in passing his famous allusion to the “we” [wir] in the Phenomenology.
Of the various references to circularity in the main body of the text, by far the most significant occurs in the final paragraphs of the work, in a connected argument. Echoing now his view that that syllogism is circular, Hegel indicates that his own system is composed of three syllogisms. Each of the conclusions, which is in each of the three cases a different major division of the work, is derived from premises composed of the other two divisions of his thought. In the first syllogism, the conclusion has “the logical as its beginning point and nature as its middle....” (PM 314; X, par. 575, 393). The following syllogism from the perspective of spirit, “which the mediator of the process is, presupposes nature and binds it together with the logical” (PM 314; X, par. 576, 394). Finally, in the third stage we have the idea of philosophy, “which has the self-knowing reason, the absolute-universal as its middle....” (PM 314; X, par. 577, 394). In effect, at the close of the summary description of his mature system of philosophy, Hegel attempts to close the circle opened by his metatheoretical discription of philosophy as presuppositionless science, and therefore circular, by showing that his own system in fact meets this standard.
That ends the review of the main passages concerning circularity in the body of the Encyclopedia. On consideration, we can see that, taken together, these passages are all consistent with, and often supplement in important ways, the doctrine of circularity set forth in the introduction to the book. The most important result of our brief review of such passages is the disclosure of a significant expansion of the present epistemological thesis. The double thesis presented in the introduction, which is that philosophy is both circular and the circle of circles, is supplemented here by the further point that the object is itself circular. The result is twofold. On the one hand, we can perceive a triple circularity, encompassing the object, the nonphilosophical sciences, and philosophy. On the other hand, we perceive the return by Hegel to the pre-Socratic doctrine, further exemplified in Plato’s thought, according to which both thought and its object are circular. But the doctrine remains specifically modern in the further circle between thought and experience.
The discussion of the mature doctrine of circularity has been limited so far to the Encyclopedia. Although reasons have been advanced as to why it is the preferred source of the mature position as a whole, it would be a mistake to overlook the Science of Logic. Although the Encyclopedia was revised twice, the first volume of the Logic was, as noted, the last work revised by Hegel. Hence, it is of interest to examine this text. But rather than study the entire work, it will be sufficient to concentrate on a single passage in the chapter, “With What Must the Science Begin?” It is Hegel’s latest and final statement of the vexed problem initially considered in response to Reinhold in the Differenzschrift, and later restated in the introduction to the Encyclopedia (in par. 10).
This chapter has no direct equivalent in the Encyclopedia Logic. Accordingly, it should be regarded not as an expansion of other theses but as a further addition to the mature view. It occurs in a strategically important place in the work as a whole, immediately after the introduction and immediately prior to the general division and discussion of being. The point of the chapter is to analyze the question of the beginning of science in order to provide a transition for the discussion of being, through a demonstration that science can begin at this point only.
Now, although it is common practice to approach the various works in Hegel’s corpus, including this one, as if they were self-contained, there are at least two presuppositions in this phase of the discussion which clearly refer beyond this book: to the passage in the Ρhenomenology from immediate consciousness to pure knowledge [zu reinem Wissen], as a result of which the discussion of pure knowledge in the Logic can occur; and to the prior, normative definition of philosophy as presuppositionless science in the Encyclopedia.
The latter presupposition, which, unlike the former, is not acknowledged here, is the more important of the two. For it is only because philosophy cannot employ presuppositions that the problem of the beginning point for pure knowledge arises in this context. Hegel’s analysis of this problem is complex. After a statement of it, he offers what purport to be two separate arguments for being as the initial point for a discussion of pure knowledge, followed by critical evaluation of other possibilities. After stating that the problem of finding a beginning for philosophy has recently been noted, Hegel writes: “The beginning of philosophy must be either mediated or immediate, and it is easy to show that it can be neither the one nor the other; thus either way of beginning is refuted” (SL 67; V, 65).
By stating the problem in this manner, Hegel appears to accept the distinction between mediacy and immediacy as exclusive alternatives, and further appears to accept the view that neither of the two alternatives is viable. Were that the case, the problem of how to find the beginning of philosophy, more precisely how the beginning of science must be made, would become an insoluble difficulty. But Hegel’s manner here of stating the problem is misleading. Although he does not challenge the distinction between mediacy and immediacy as an exhaustive account of the possible approaches to determine the beginning point, his suggestion is that the concept of immediacy, which he shows to be identical to pure being, provides the necessary solution.
Hegel’s overall claim for immediacy, as distinguished from mediacy as the necessary starting point of science, is based on two arguments, which he apparently regards as separate. The first argument is that in order to be acceptable, the beginning point must be objective and first in the choice of thought; logical, since it concerns pure knowledge; and absolute, since it presupposes nothing. From this enumeration of the three characteristics which the beginning point must possess, Hegel concludes that it must be immediacy as such, or pure being. The unexamined assumption in this chain of reasoning, for which Hegel argues elsewhere, is, of course, that there is an identity, which he does not demonstrate, between thought and being, that is, between the initial concept in the analysis and pure being. In the second argument, which is presented here more rapidly, Hegel merely says that if we abstract from consideration of all determinations of being in order to make a pure beginning, nothing is before us but being, and we see what it is.
Hegel also considers, as noted, two alternatives to his suggestion. One proposal he examines is Reinhold’s suggestion, which he already has analyzed elsewhere, that philosophy must begin with a hypothetical and problematic truth. It follows that to philosophize is the process for the seeking, as distinguished from the finding, of what is sought. Although the account of this phase of Reinhold’s position is summary in comparison with the earlier account in the Differenzschrift, yet fuller than that in the Encyclopedia, Hegel here provides nearly the same analysis of Reinhold’s thought as he has provided elsewhere.
Hegel concedes that Reinhold’s suggestion presents a real interest for the speculative nature of the philosophical beginning point, which is merely another designation of that perspective. He then remarks that the consequence of Reinhold’s approach is “that progress [Vorwärtsschreiten] in philosophy is rather a retrogression and a grounding, or establishing by means of which we first obtain the result that what we began with is not something merely arbitrarily assumed but is in fact the true, and also the primary true” (SL 70-71; V, 70).
In other words, the significance of Reinhold’s suggestion is to provide a response to the difficulty which arises, since the absolute is a result which presupposes an initial truth. For the initial truth is established as such by the double movement in which forward progress is a return to the beginning, and a grounding of the theory, whose beginning hence is revealed as true. Hegel expresses the point at issue when he writes in part: “It must be admitted ... that the advance is a return into the ground, to what is primary and true, on which it depends and, in fact, from which it originates, that with which the beginning is made” (SL 71; V, 70).
This statement, indeed the entire rapid review of Reinhold’s later thought, adds another dimension to Hegel’s argument. In order to argue for being as the necessary beginning point, Hegel here makes two claims: that the process of the development of science is inherently circular, and that the intrinsic circularity suffices to establish the truth of the starting point. Both of these points are restatements of views Hegel has held consistently since the initial treatment of Reinhold’s thought.
What is perhaps most surprising is that even though this passage was revised after the last edition of the Encyclopedia, as concerns circularity it falls below the level of that work. For no mention is made here of the important point that philosophical science must justify itself through an appeal to experience. The result is a tension in the account presented here of science. “The essential requirement for science,” Hegel writes, “is not so much that the beginning be pure immediacy, but rather that the whole be within itself a circular process [Kreislauf] in which the first is also the last and the last is also the first” (SL 71; V, 70). But this point is incomplete, since a theory could well be of this type and yet fail the test of experience, in terms of which the claim to provide knowledge must be justified.
In a manner consistent with his tendency to appropriate all that is of value in the preceding tradition, Hegel’s treatment of Reinhold’s suggestion here is not an outright rejection but rather a qualified acceptance of it. He is less charitable in his reception of the other alternative he considers, the suggestion to begin with the self [Ich]. Hegel’s treatment of this suggestion, although consistent with his thought since the Differenzschrift, is not directly related to his doctrine of circularity and hence need not detain us long.
Although he does not enter into detail, Hegel probably has in mind Fichte, primarily, as well as Kant and certainly Descartes, as representatives of the ego philosophy, or views of science which begin from the subject and accordingly privilege subjectivity above objectivity. Hegel willingly concedes that from the perspective of the self, one arrives at the standpoint of pure knowing. But he objects that that is only in terms of a subjective postulate, since the necessity inherent in the movement from immediate consciousness to pure knowledge has not been shown. The pure self is, then, merely the pure knowing which results from the absolute act of self-elevation of the individual consciousness, but nothing more than that. It follows that the advantage which supposedly results from this perspective disappears. What we have here, then, is a cryptic restatement of Hegel’s frequently repeated earlier criticism of Kant and Fichte, and by implication Descartes, as philosophers who, through the transcendental analysis of the ego, remain imprisoned within it, unable to progress beyond subjectivity to objectivity.
This chapter has been concerned with providing a sketch of the doctrine of circularity in Hegel’s mature thought. Its results can be summarized in terms of the difference in the treatment of this doctrine in the Encyclopedia and the Logic. The latter phase of the discussion reveals a basic continuity with the initial version of the doctrine, whereas in the Encyclopedia it is, as noted, expanded considerably. In this respect, three main ways can be noted in which the mature view of epistemological circularity expands on earlier discussion. There is, to begin with, a realization by Hegel that in a fundamental sense the claim of philosophy to provide knowledge must rest on its intrinsic circularity. Second, there is an extension of the doctrine to include not only philosophy but also nonphilosophical science and the objects of knowledge. Third, Hegel now clearly associates the justification of the claim for inherently circular, because presuppositionless, science to provide knowledge to its capacity to meet the test imposed by experience.