The task of this chapter and the next one will be to complete our grasp of Hegel’s mature doctrine of circularity through an account of its relation to his reading of the history of philosophy. We will review first, very briefly, the relation of Hegel’s mature doctrine of circularity to history in general.
A consideration of history and the history of philosophy introduces the dimension of time. According to Hegel, the change of the historical object over time is paralleled by the development of theory. In the course of its development, a theory can be said to sublate its starting point by realizing what at first was only implicit and potential. The historical object, and history itself, constitute a process through which the potentials originally implicit are progressively realized.
Hegel maintains this view concerning both history and the history of philosophy. His corpus contains two main texts on the philosophy of history in general [Weltgeschichte]: the final paragraphs (pars. 341-60) of the Philosophy of Right, his last major work; and the series of notes covering the courses he gave a total of five times in the period from 1822/1823 to the fall of 1830/1831, at two-year intervals. These notes, which were not written explicitly for publication, since have appeared in several different versions, most recently under the title Lectures on the History of Philosophy (Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie).1
The brief comments in the Philosophy of Right indicate Hegel’s belief that history must be regarded as intrinsically rational in order to be known. In paragraph 341, he insists that there is a rational element inherent in the process of historical change. “The element of the existence of general spirit,” he writes, “... is in world history spiritual reality in its whole compass of internality and externality” (PR 216; VII, par. 341, 503). He carries this claim further in the next paragraph, where he asserts that world history presents the theater of the “interpretation and actualization of the universal mind” (PR 216; VII, par. 342, 504), the sphere in which reason can be known in externality because it is immanently present.
In the following paragraph, Hegel again insists on the presence of a rationality which is progressively manifested in, and known through the study of, world history. “This grasping,” he writes concerning spirit’s insight into history, “is its being and principle, and the fulfillment of the grasping is at the same time its externalisation and its transition to a higher stage” (PR 216; VII, par. 343, 504).
Although the general point is clear, it is not obvious how Hegel can assert that reason is indeed immanent in history. His answer seems to be that although in one sense that is a necessary presupposition, as the condition of historical knowledge, the truth of this assumption is revealed through historical phenomena. The result of this line of reasoning is a clearly circular relation between the assumption that reason is intrinsic to historical phenomena and the demonstration that such is the case.
This point is made perhaps most clearly in the Lectures on the Philosophy of History (Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte). It is well known that Hegel here differentiates three main concepts of history: the original view, the reflective view, and the philosophical view. The philosophical view is defined by Hegel as the thoughtful contemplation of history. The significance of this normative concept lies in the point that reason, which is revealed in the interpretation of the historical phenomena, is intrinsic to these phenomena. “The only thought, which philosophy brings with it,” Hegel writes, “is the simple thought of reason, that reason rules the world, that it therefore also traverses world history” (PH 52; XII, 20).
This presupposition is evidently necessary as a condition for the interpretation of the historical phenomena in rational fashion, which can yield knowledge only if they are rational and hence knowable. But the interpretation of historical phenomena has as its result the demonstration of their intrinsic rationality, which further yields the proof of the initial assumption. Hegel writes:
It is only an inference from the history of the world, that its development has been a rational process; that the history in question has constituted the rationally necessary course of the world spirit, of spirit, whose nature truly always one and the same is, which however makes its nature explicit in the existence of the world [PH 54; VII, 22]
In other words, the analysis is clearly circular, since reason can be revealed in the phenomena of history only on the assumption that it is already there.
Hegel also insists on the unified character of the rational course of history, as a manifestation of the relation of history to the life of a people. In a passage from the Philosophy of Right (par. 343), he stresses the importance of self-consciousness. In the Lectures on the Philosophy of History, the self-awareness of a people—its reflection on its own views of right and morality, in brief on the material which is the content of philosophy—is described as “the innermost unity in which spirit can be with itself” (PH 130; XII, 100).
In the same way as history is intrinsically circular, so Hegel insists on the sense in which the history of philosophy forms a single tradition, a single system; this system, developing in and through time, builds upon and makes manifest the principles present in, and ever more explicitly realized in, the historical process of philosophical change. In an important passage, Hegel writes: “The history of philosophy shows in the different appearing philosophies in part only one philosophy in different stages of development, in part that the particular principles, which underlie a system, are only branches of one and the same whole” (E 22-23; VIII, par. 13, 58).
The view expressed here is, of course, substantially identical to that presupposed in the Differenzschrift as the basis of the study of the positions of Fichte and Schelling as manifestations of a single system in its post-Kantian phase. It may seem late, however, to be interested in Hegel’s own reading of the history of philosophy. Even such sympathetic commentators as the editors of the recent Hegel edition believe it is no longer possible to read Hegel to learn about the history of philosophy, but only about his own views of it.2
This attitude is neither entirely unjustified nor wholly correct. Certainly subsequent progress in the study of the philosophic tradition has rendered many details of Hegel’s discussion obsolete. And, as noted, his influential misunderstandings of his contemporaries have been widely reproduced in the later philosophic literature, where they have contributed in a significant manner to the misunderstanding of such thinkers as Fichte and Schelling, and to an imperfect evaluation of Hegel’s own relation to his historical moment. But even if Hegel’s grasp of the history of philosophy requires correction as to detail or the interpretation of individual positions, it remains the most impressive framework for the interpretation of the history of philosophy in the widest sense since Aristotle. Even were Hegel’s grasp of the history of philosophy unrelated to his doctrine of circularity, it would be worth more than the cursory treatment it usually has received.
In the context of the present inquiry, there is a specific reason which justifies our concern with Hegel’s mature reception of the history of philosophy. For Hegel is explicit in his claims, as noted, that later philosophy must be understood as continuous with, and the result of, prior historical moments, from which it emerges and whose principles it has to carry to a higher level.
As a first step in the process of analyzing Hegel’s mature reception of the history of philosophy, it is necessary to choose an appropriate source from among several possibilities. Hegel’s writings on the history of philosophy fall into four main categories: 1) occasional comments in the context of more systematic writings, such as the wellknown remark on Spinoza’s concept of determinate negation in the Science of Logic; 2) thematic investigations of a restricted topic, such as in the Differenzschrift, Faith and Knowledge, and the important article on skepticism from the Jenaer Schriften; 3) the monumental History of Philosophy, whose present shape is due mainly to Michelet’s controversial reconstruction of Hegel’s lectures from a series of notebooks, and whose status as an authoritative statement of Hegel’s view hence must be questioned;3 and 4) the discussion of the “Attitudes of Thought to Objectivity” in the Encyclopedia.
Each of these sources of Hegel’s reading of the history of philosophy has its merits, and none should be omitted in a full-scale study of his reception of preceding thought. Nonetheless, since we are concerned here less with the fine structure than with his mature, general view as it relates to epistemological circularity, it will be useful to emphasize the latter source, supplementing it where necessary by a cautious appeal to the less certain History of Philosophy. Caution is necessary in this regard, since Hegel never prepared the History of Philosophy for publication, although it was clearly an interesting and important source of his views. Placing primary reliance on the “Attitudes of Thought to Objectivity” has the further advantage that, for the reasons given in the preceding chapter, the main source for Hegel’s mature reception of the history of philosophy will be the authorized presentation of his position as a whole.
As we turn now to the “Attitudes of Thought to Objectivity,” we can note immediately that interpretation of any kind presupposes a conceptual framework, as Hegel often emphasizes. As part of the analysis of his reading of the history of philosophy, it is appropriate to locate its conceptual framework within the Encyclopedia. The point concerning the interpenetration of systematic and historical elements within the Hegelian position is illustrated here by the location of an explicit discussion of the history of philosophy within the first part of that work, in the so-called “Encyclopedia Logic.”
The initial portion of the “Encyclopedia Logic,” entitled “Preliminary Concept [Vorbegriff],” bears to it a relation like that of the introduction to the work as a whole. The “Preliminary Concept” is composed of two interrelated moments: a brief discussion of objective, or philosophic, thought, developed in systematic fashion; followed by a systematic reading of the philosophic tradition in terms of that discussion, as stages in the manifestation of objective thought on the historical plane.
In his discussion of objective thought, Hegel underlines the relation of his view of logic and metaphysics, recently discredited in the critical philosophy. It follows that his normative view of logic, and hence the reading of the history of philosophy which depends upon it, can be viewed as a renewal of the earlier metaphysical tradition, especially in the Aristotelian form rejected by Kant. Accordingly, in the analysis of Hegel’s conceptual framework for, and reading of, the history of philosophy, it will be useful to emphasize the relation between the Hegelian endeavor to renew the metaphysical tradition and the function of the concept of epistemological circularity for objective thought.
To put this point somewhat differently, Hegel’s view of epistemological circularity is doubly determined: from a systematic perspective, as noted in the account of the introduction to the Encyclopedia, through the effort to complete the argument necessary to justify the claim to know; and from the historical perspective by the inner logic of the unfolding (of the concept of objective thought. Indeed, precisely this kind of interrelation between historical and systematic aspects of the position could be expected, since, at the limit, as Hegel remarks, system and history are merely two aspects of the same process through which objective thought achieves knowledge.
The normative discussion of thought in the “Preliminary Concept,” which precedes the related reading of the history of philosophy, provides further clarification of the concept of reflection. Particularly important is Hegel’s rejection of traditional logic as the science of the form of thought, devoid of content—a point further developed in the “Doctrine of the Concept [Begriffslogik]—as a possible candidate for the science of the self-development of the content of thought. Utilizing traditional terminology, with novel intent, Hegel defines logic as “the science of the pure idea” (E 19; VIII, par. 19, 67). He rejects the view that logical concepts are valid in themselves in favor of the already noted underlying concept of totality, of which they designate mere aspects.
Rather than analytic, Hegelian logic is synthetic in nature, since it does not undertake to understand an object which is already present. It rather undertakes to bring forth the self-developing totality of laws and determinations which it gives to itself and knows, which Hegel describes as “the self-developing totality of its proper determinations and laws, which it gives to itself, does not already have and in itself finds” (E 30; VIII, par. 19, 54). The implication is clear that rather than a formal study of the laws of thought, in abstraction from all content, Hegelian logic is, on the contrary, ontologic—that is, an analysis of the internal logic of the self-development, within thought, of its own object, a general science of the knowledge of objects brought forth within thought.
After this rapid differentiation of his own view of logic from the traditional form, Hegel turns to the thought which is its content. His discussion here is reminiscent of the Phenomenology. The content of thought is the universal [Allgemeine], and thought itself is described as the self-active universal [das tätige Allgemeine]. With respect to an object, thought is a reflection upon it, whose universality, the product of the activity of thought, has the status of the essential, the internal as opposed to the external or merely contingent, and as true.
Recalling a specific argument made in the introduction to the Phenomenology, Hegel further suggests that through the medium of reflective thought, that which is merely perceived is transformed so that its true nature comes to consciousness. This point, which also is repeated in different form in the “Doctrine of the Concept,” is further significant as a demonstration—against those who would separate the Phenomenology from Hegel’s later, more logical writings—of the continuity between the logic of objective thought and of consciousness. Conversely, since the nature of the object is apparent to consciousness only through the activity through which it is produced, it can be regarded as the product of my spirit, that is, as produced by me on the level of thought through freedom.
After this account of the nature of objective thought, Hegel makes two remarks of great interest for his theory of logic, as well as for his reading of the history of philosophy. Drawing the conclusion suggested by the concern of logic, as he views it, not with form but with content, Hegel acknowledges the inseparability between logic and metaphysics. “Logic, then, coincides with metaphysics, the science of things grasped in thoughts, which therefore serve to express the essences of things” (E 45; VIII, par. 24, 81). Logic is, hence, the metaphysics of the contents of consciousness, a point also relevant to the unfortunate concern of many Hegelian students to separate logic and phenomenology in Hegel’s mature thought.
Hegel further stresses that since knowledge is by its nature unlimited, it necessarily oversteps the limit of finite forms, established in the critical philosophy, concerned only with the understanding, in order to take as its object the absolute object. In this way, Hegel again underlines the claim of logic to renew with the metaphysical tradition, which the critical philosophy had attempted to banish from the ranks of the legitimate pretenders to scientific status.
The significance of Hegel’s endeavor to renew the metaphysical tradition as the science of objective thought can be seen against the background of the historical tradition he knew so well. This book is certainly not the place to embark on a full-scale discussion of metaphysics, a complicated topic with a lengthy history. But it is common knowledge that metaphysics originates as early as Parmenides’ poem and that the term initially was applied by later Hellenists to designate Aristotle’s treatise on theology, or first philosophy. In his objection to metaphysics, beyond Leibniz and Wolff, Kant also is taking aim at Aristotle’s view of metaphysics as the science of being as such. Since it is the Aristotelian concept of first philosophy to which Kant objects and to which Hegel makes a qualified return, it will be useful to contrast Aristotle’s and Kant’s positions in this regard.
With regard to metaphysics, the contrast between Kant and Aristotle could hardly be clearer, even if Kant’s own concept of it is by no means clear. Aristotle is explicit in his view of theology as one of the three basic theoretical sciences (Meta. Epsilon 1, 1026a 18—20). As the science of first principles (Topics 100b; Post. Ana. 100b 12—17; NE VI, iii, 1—4), theology is concerned with knowledge of being, specifically that which is that it is and that which is not that it is not. Knowledge of being as such, which is not an object of experience, of that which is in Aristotle’s view most knowable, is the aim of theology. It is well known that for Kant, on the contrary, the limits of knowledge are drawn more narrowly to begin with experience only.
At least three senses of the term metaphysics can be discerned in Kant’s writings:4 1) in the widest sense, the systematic unity of pure philosophy (B 869, В 875); 2) the system of pure philosophy as opposed to critical philosophy (B 869); and 3) more narrowly, the division into speculative and practical uses of pure reason in respect to the metaphysics of nature and of morals. The former, which is rejected by Kant as surpassing the bounds of possible experience, is described by him as follows: “The former contains all the principles of pure reason that are derived from mere concepts ... from the theoretical knowledge of all things....” (B 869). But there is a tension in his view in this respect, since, in the passage where he characterizes the well-known Copernican Revolution, he writes in part: “.. whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge” (B xvi). The implication would seem to follow that the completion of the task of metaphysics, which is manifestly Kant’s intention, belongs to another, positive form of metaphysics.
The contrast between Aristotle and Kant concerning metaphysics is by no means a historical curiosity; it is, rather, a fundamental disagreement which divides two basically different concepts of the nature of philosophy. The disagreement between metaphysical and antimetaphysical perspectives, sometimes miscategorized as a conflict between positivism and the antipositivism inherent in a metaphysical point of view, echoes throughout the entire philosophic tradition. A recent example is provided in contemporary phenomenology, whose post-Husserlian phase in part can be viewed, despite Heidegger’s claims, as a revolt against the antimetaphysical strictures of Husserl’s thought.
In briefest terms, if we appeal to the most restrictive of the forms of metaphysics distinguished in Kant’s position, that is, as a science of first principles closely modeled on Aristotle’s concept, we can note an area of agreement circumscribing a basic difference of opinion. Both Kant and Aristotle believe, as did Plato, that philosophy necessarily must yield knowledge in the full sense of the term, as distinguished from mere opinion. The disagreement, which cannot be explained merely as a difference of perspective, concerns whether, as the science of first principles, philosophy provides knowledge of reality as such, as Aristotle believes, or whether, on the contrary, reality cannot be known, since knowledge is limited to mere appearance, as Kant holds.
This disagreement provides a standard against which to understand Hegel’s project. Hegel’s project can be regarded as the endeavor, characteristic of his thought, to mediate both perspectives within the compass of his own. But it must be doubted whether a genuine unity in fact can be achieved on the basis of different, indeed fundamentally opposed, points of view. Despite Hegel’s reluctance to take sides and his concern to take up into his own thought all that is of value in the preceding tradition, his own inclination here points to an earlier moment. Although he is sympathetic to the concern within the critical philosophy, in the wake of Locke, to relate knowledge to experience, there is perhaps no stronger point of opposition between Kant and Hegel than in the problem of whether knowledge is limited to experience, evident in Hegel’s reading of the critical philosophy as a form of empirical skepticism. For in his claim that through experience we in fact achieve knowledge, not merely of appearance but of reality which appears. Hegel clearly transgresses the epistemological limits drawn by Kant in order to renew the Aristotelian metaphysical claim to know reality.
The Hegelian endeavor to renew the metaphysical claim to know reality can be said to exercise a double function in his thought. From the systematic perspective, the renewal of this concept functions as a constitutive idea which Hegel seeks to incorporate into his own thought. Conversely, from the historical perspective, the concept of philosophy as metaphysics functions as a regulative idea in terms of whose realization all preceding positions in the history of philosphy are to be measured.
This metaphysical standard is largely in evidence in Hegel’s reading of the history of philosophy. Hegel here distinguishes a series of stages, or conceptual models, which he in part relates to specific positions, most extensively to the critical philosophy. Hegel interrogates these conceptual models in order to bring out the intrinsic limits in the capacity of each of them to grasp the relation of thought and being.
The relation should be noted between this typology of various epistemological approaches and Hegel’s doctrine of epistemological circularity. In simplest terms, the latter systematic doctrine, which Hegel briefly indicates in the introduction to and in other places in the Encyclopedia, as well as elsewhere, must depend for its justification upon the exclusion of other alternative strategies available in the history of philosophy. In the Differenzschrift, as noted, Hegel indicates his interest in objective knowledge in part through the rejection of Reinhold’s foundationalist form of epistemological strategy. In the mature reconsideration of the same problem in the “Attitudes of Thought to Objectivity,” Hegel provides a broader treatment in order to exclude not only Reinhold’s form of unphilosophy but the main philosophical alternatives to his own approach.
It follows that concerning the solution of the analysis of the relation of thought to objectivity, the discussion of the other approaches represented in the history of philosophy is essentially negative. Nevertheless, for a consideration of Hegel’s mature doctrine of epistemological circularity, the treatment of other attitudes of thought to objectivity is of great importance as a source of insight into Hegel’s reasons for the rejection of other strategies for knowledge in previous philosophy.
The impact of the critical philosophy on later thought, including the constitution of Hegel’s own view and his reading of the relation of the views of Fichte and Schelling, has been noted. Significantly, Hegel’s mature account of different forms of epistemological strategy represented in the history of the philosophical tradition is organized around Kant’s position. It is relevant to note that of the fifty-eight numbered paragraphs devoted here to all forms of the relation of thought to objectivity, fully twenty of them, slightly more than a third, directly concern the critical philosophy.
Here, as in his previous discussions of and lectures on the history of philosophy, Hegel continues to regard Kant as a central figure. But the emphasis has shifted to include increased attention to the centrally limited nature of his insights, especially as concerns the restriction of knowledge to mere appearance, earlier criticized in the distinction between reason and understanding. Nevertheless, Hegel’s view of philosophy, despite his increasingly critical attitude towards Kant, remains broadly Kantian, especially in his reading of the history of philosophy as a series of attitudes of thought towards objectivity, which is formulated in terms of pre-Kantian, Kantian, and post-Kantian approaches.
Since Hegel here regards the history of philosophy as providing a series of alternative epistemological approaches to objective thought, it is important to be clear about how he understands the latter concept. In the paragraph immediately preceding the initial phase of the three attitudes distinguished here, Hegel writes: “The term Objective Thoughts’ indicates the truth which is the absolute object, and not merely the goal, of philosophy” (E 57-58; VIII, par. 25, 91). This statement, which is formulated in voluntarily Kantian language, employed with anti-Kantian intent, is important. It reaffirms at a crucial point in the discussion Hegel’s oft-expressed normative belief, present as early as the Differenzschrift, that philosophy does not only strive for but in fact attains the absolute object. To make the same point in even more Kantian language, Hegel here explicitly indicates that it is not regulative but in fact constitutive of the philosophic task to reach knowledge, not of appearance but of reality as such.
Hegel’s summary statement of his view of the relation of thought to objectivity has two immediate consequences for his reading of the philosophic tradition. In opposition to Kant, to begin with, it is clear that Hegel regards philosophy as making the kind of claim to knowledge of reality, or the unlimited, which is excluded as an illegitimate employment of reason in the critical philosophy. Here we have a clear expression of a fundamental opposition between the views of Hegel and Kant. But on a more general plane, Hegel clearly indicates that the central problem of philosophy is the proper grasp of the relation of thought to objectivity, or the relation of subject and object. For this reason, the various philosophic models he examines in his review of the tradition appear as a series of ever more adequate views of the relation of thought to objectivity; and, conversely, the aim of his own position must, therefore, be to provide that analysis of the relation of thought to objectivity which carries forward and completes the work already undertaken by the preceding tradition.
In his discussion, Hegel distinguishes three broad attitudes of thought towards objectivity. He begins with the “First Attitude of Thought to Objectivity,” subtitled “Metaphysics,” which coincides roughly with that portion of the history of philosophy which Kant called prior metaphysics [vormalige Metaphysik]. Hegel here considers that form of thought which, although unprejudiced, uncritically asserts, but does not know, that through reflection objects of consciousness are known as they are. The defining characteristic of this approach, shared by all beginning forms of science, is the reliance on what may be called a theory of immediate, naive perception. “In this believing,” Hegel writes in magisterial language, “the thinking goes directly to the object, reproduces the content of sensation and intuition from it as the content of thought, and is thus as from truth contented” (E 60; VIII, par. 26, 93).
Who are the representatives of this view? Hegel does not mention any names, so we can only infer whom he has in mind. Although this form of naive realism is still present (no less so then than now), it is most widespread, as he notes, in the older, pre-Kantian metaphysics. From his appeal to the division of this attitude towards objectivity, following Kantian practice, into the realms of ontology, rational psychology, or pneumatology, cosmology, and natural, or rational, theology, Hegel seems to have in mind what Kant called the Leibnizian-Wolffian philosophy, that is, those thinkers who merely held, but were unable to demonstrate, that thought corresponds to the object. But the defining characteristic here applies equally well to other thinkers, including perhaps Plato, Aristotle, and above all Descartes. To put the same point in another way, in his discussion of previous metaphysics, Hegel seems to be adopting a perspective similar to Kant’s in the Copernican Revolution. For like the author of the critical philosophy, he classes together all pre-Kantian theories of knowledge in which the relation of thought to objectivity is not active, in which the subject does not in some sense produce what is known but in passive fashion merely observes its object, already constituted and fully independent.
The very generality of Hegel’s insight, which permits him to isolate an element common to many particular instances, renders it difficult to test its quality through comparison with any single view. Hegel, to be sure, does not insist on the parallel between thought and time, which, if interpreted rigorously, is certainly too broad. If he does have in mind here the Kantian view of active subjectivity as a standard, then we can note that a similar view is largely anticipated in Plato’s doctrine of perception in the Theaetetus.
This similarity is not surprising in view of Kant’s well-known claim to know Plato better than he knew himself. For it is difficult to imagine how one could be closely familiar with, but uninfluenced by, a great thinker. And we can note also a perhaps even closer anticipation of the Kantian view that thought can comprehend what it produces only according to a plan of its own (see B xiii) in Vico’s concept of verum et factum convertuntur,5 a position which Hegel seems not to have known. But if, as also seems likely, Hegel is less concerned with the chronological order than with the description of a particular, but unreflective, attitude of thought towards objectivity, it would seem that in the passive relation of the subject to the object, fully constituted and independent of it, he has identified a significant type of epistemology, widespread throughout the entire philosophic tradition.
Hegel then advances a series of criticisms—each of which already has appeared in earlier writings, although not necessarily in the same form—against the claim of thought to go directly to objectivity. Pre-Kantian metaphysics is, according to Hegel, in a sense more advanced than the critical philosophy, for it presupposes that being can be known through thought. But it is nonetheless naive, for instance in its supposition that abstract predicates are adequate for an exhaustive description of the object as present to consciousness.
Hegel’s rejection of abstract description, if correct, counts against any quasi-propositional approach to knowledge, such as those following from Aristotelian logic, in which the epistemological process is understood as one in which qualities are predicated of a subject. Second, this attitude presupposes uncritically that the object itself is given as already fully constituted, although the finished state within thought, the object for us, is reached only through an intellectual process. Finally, Hegel remarks, the view becomes dogmatic through its presupposition, supposedly as a result of the reliance on finite determinations, “that of two opposed assertions ... the one must be true and the other false” (E 66; VIII, par. 32, 98). In this and other passages,6 Hegel is expressing his misgivings concerning what since Aristotle has become known as the law of the excluded middle.7
Hegel’s criticism of the naive attitude of earlier metaphysics is asserted but not developed. As a result, his discussion takes the form of more the counterposition of one attitude to another, on the basis of a rival theory, than an immanent critique. In part, the abstract character of Hegel’s criticism is imposed by his concern here with a general attitude, as distinguished from its specific instances. Had he wished to illustrate his discussion, he would have been forced to abandon the lofty plane of his analysis in order to demonstrate his insight in concrete terms. As he does not, his account here is subject to the charge of abstractness which he brings against the form of metaphysics he considers here. But despite its abstract character, his criticism surpasses that leveled by Kant against the same doctrine in virtue of his insistence on the developmental character of thought through time. For the latter can only condemn without reserve the Leibnizian-Wolffian philosophy, and by extension all prior forms of metaphysics, from the unexpectedly pragmatic perspective of their essential inutility (see В 61, В 865), but Hegel’s wider perspective enables him to recognize in this attitude the initial stage which makes possible further progress in the endeavor of thought to know objectivity.
To sum up this phase of the discussion, Hegel’s point is that although initially thought claims to go directly to objectivity, this abstract, naive claim cannot be demonstrated. Hegel then turns to the second attitude, subdivided by him into empiricism and the critical philosophy. These are aspects of what he regards as a higher, but still inadequate, conceptual moment called forth by the inadequacy of the earlier metaphysics. The common characteristic, shared by both subforms of this attitude, is that the realm in which thought can legitimately pretend to relate to objectivity no longer is unrestricted but is defined as coextensive with the realm of experience.
Hegel’s brief treatment here of empiricism is important, both in itself and for the light it sheds on his understanding of the criticial philosophy. Empiricism, which Hegel regards as a reaction against previous thought, is defined as the form of theory “which instead of seeking the true in thinking, goes to fetch it out of experience, the outer and inner present [Gegenwart]” (E 76; VIII, par. 37, 107). But although the goal of empiricism, as of all forms of philosophy, is manifestly knowledge of objectivity, Hegel nonetheless regards it as a form of subjectivism.
In his appeal to the Fichtean form of Kant’s distinction between theory and practice, Hegel notes that empiricism makes a positive contribution in its insistence that, unlike the ought [Sollen], the true must appear in reality and for perception. But this approach to objectivity is doubly limited. For it fails, through its voluntary restriction of the scope of knowledge merely to the finite, to account for the existence and possible knowledge of the nonsensory, as a result of which thought remains on an abstract plane. Following Kant, Hegel here plainly is thinking of his frequent insistence, in this and other texts, that universality and necessity are the hallmarks of knowledge in the full sense. And although it is correct to distinguish between content and form, to which universality and necessity belong, since knowledge is drawn only from the perceptual sphere the claim for universality and necessity is unjustified within this attitude.
Once again, perhaps because of his concern with an attitude in general as distinguished from instances of it, Hegel does not illustrate his discussion by reference to particular thinkers, apart from an incidental mention of Hume in connection with skeptical thought. Indeed, the scope of his reference to empiricism in this text as a whole is surprisingly limited. Hume’s view further recurs in Hegel’s attempt to demonstrate the sense in which Kant’s position remains within the empiricist fold. But it is interesting to note that although their positions are described by Hegel in his History of Philosophy, with special emphasis accorded to Locke, neither Locke nor Berkeley is mentioned at all in the Encyclopedia. Yet, despite the rapidity of Hegel’s discussion, it provides a penetrating insight into the empiricist approach to objectivity on several planes.
Hegel is correct, following Kant and others, in drawing attention to skepticism as a consequence of the empiricist standpoint, as reflected, for instance, in the position of Hume. His originality lies in his extension of the claim to include Kant. This point, which he already had discussed at length in the important article on skepticism from the Jena period, is of importance for his understanding of the critical philosophy as having drawn the limits of knowledge too narrowly so as to exclude its genuine form. We merely can note in passing that the related criticism, concerning the incompatibility of perception and necessity, which recurs in the discussion of Kant and is clearly drawn from Hume, successfully anticipates a widespread objection later brought against logical atomism.
The general defect of empiricism is that it is overly restrictive as to its admissible sources of knowledge and, like prior metaphysics, fails to justify its claims to know. Still within the compass of the “Second Attitude of Thought to Objectivity,” Hegel then turns to the critical philosophy. His account here is, it should be noted, unlike both prior and succeeding accounts of the “Attitudes of Thought to Objectivity.” Rather than a general overview of a type of philosophy, Kant’s view is studied explicitly through a careful description and criticism in a manner basically similar to earlier treatments of it, especially in the Differenzschrift and in Faith and Knowledge.
The reasons for the relatively detailed treatment Hegel here aсcords to the critical philosophy can only be inferred. He may have considered Kant’s view too important to be subsumed under a more general heading. Or he may have believed that as an original perspective, the critical philosophy was sui generis and could not fairly be regarded as the species of a higher genus. Both reasons seem likely and are compatible with each other. Indeed, the possibility that both reasons influence Hegel’s position here can be inferred from the discussion in the Differenzschrift in which Kant’s position is regarded as a central, but centrally deficient, formulation of philosophy as such from the perspective of the letter of his theory. But whether for these or other reasons, as a result of the direct attention which it alone receives among the conceptual attitudes considered here by Hegel, Kant’s thought occupies a central position fully equivalent to its central importance for the positive constitution of Hegel’s own view.
Hegel begins his consideration of the critical philosophy with two general paragraphs, which set the stage for his interpretation of specific aspects. His immediate concern is to describe the overall structure of Kant’s position, and to grasp its relation to empiricism. Hegel here makes two related points, both of which depend on a quasi-ontological interpretation of the thing-in-itself. An interpretation of this kind is suggested by Kant in his well-known remark (see В xxvi-xxvii), perhaps incompatible with his depiction of the doctrine elsewhere (see, e.g., В 566), that it is absurd for there to be an appearance without anything which appears.
On the one hand, Hegel notes that the critical philosophy shares with empiricism the restriction of the epistemological sphere to experience, which it, however, regards as a source not of truth but of knowledge of appearance. This claim, which fairly reproduces Kant’s view that experience concerns appearances, not things-in-themselves as such (see В 1, В 33), leads to the inference that since reality cannot be known, the critical philosophy does not transcend the form of skepticism already present in empiricism, especially in Hume’s thought.8
On the other hand, Hegel calls attention to the subjective character of Kant’s view. As a consequence of the inquiry into the concepts of the understanding, Kant reworks the dichotomy between subjectivity and objectivity in such a manner that both subject and object fall within subjectivity, and only the thing-in-itself is excluded. But since knowledge is a relation of thought to objectivity, in the critical philosophy it retains a subjective element. In a word, even before he has had a chance to grapple with the details of the position, Hegel’s initial statement of Kant’s thought in relation to empiricism leads him to the conclusion that the critical philosophy shares with other forms of empiricism an intrinsic skepticism, which, in virtue of the concern with an analysis of the capacity to know, is compounded with subjectivism. Since Hegel above all is concerned with knowledge of objectivity that Kant’s position doubly excludes on subjectivistic and skeptical grounds, the severe tone of his discussion of the critical philosophy is expected. Indeed, it hardly could be otherwise.
After these introductory remarks, Hegel turns his attention to exposition and criticism of the Kantian position, wholly oriented to the three Critiques. Here the objections raised on an abstract plane are restated in the closer context of successive developmental phases of the critical philosophy. Although the exposition concerns all three main Kantian works, major attention is properly given, in view of its preponderant influence on Kant’s later thought, to the Critique of Pure Reason. Kant’s examination here of the capacity for theoretical knowledge is characterized as subjective idealism. As noted, this term was borrowed from Schelling as early as the Differenzschrift to describe the views of Fichte and Kant, which lack a philosophy of nature, as philosophies of the understanding.
If we bracket the allusion to Fichte’s position, which need not concern us here, the implied criticism of Kant’s view is not adequate as it stands. Although it is correct that Kant, in a famous passage, indeed indicated that it is a scandal that philosophy is unable to prove even the existence of the external world, the point of his own “Refutation of Idealism” was to carry out this task. One can conclude only that for Kant philosophy must remain within the subjective sphere if it is presumed that the proposed refutation fails. But Hegel does not even take up this theme here. And it would not be correct to accuse Kant of subjectivity in virtue of his restriction of knowledge to appearances, since such knowledge is, he holds, wholly objective.
According to Hegel, the second, more significant side of the critical philosophy’s examination of the faculty of knowledge concerns its relation to the sphere beyond experience, which Kant notoriously held to be inaccessible to human reason. In this respect, Hegel considers Kant’s own treatment of the themes of the older metaphysics. With regard to the problem of knowledge of the soul, Hegel suggests that Kant’s discussion of the paralogisms rests on a restatement of Hume’s point, concerning, as noted, the incompatibility of necessity and perception. Hegel also takes the opportunity here to raise again his charge of subjectivism.
His evaluation of Kant’s discussion of the antinomies that arise from the endeavor to know the world is more positive. Although Kant’s attitude towards knowledge remains subjective, since the contradiction is located by him in appearance and not in reality, his awareness that contradiction arises through the application of the categories of the understanding to the objects of reason is hailed by Hegel as one of the most important modern insights. The unfortunate shallowness of Kant’s solution, unequal to his grasp of the problem, lies in his failure to grasp the immanence of contradiction within reality, as well as the restriction of it to four forms only. Once more, rather than a thoroughly immanent critique, Hegel clearly is invoking his own position as the prior standard of comparison.
Hegel then turns to Kant’s treatment of the proofs of God’s existence, which he divides into that from being to thought and the converse. He again remarks that the treatment of the cosmological proof in the critical philosophy is a restatement of the point from Hume already noted; and he accepts Kant’s well-known analysis of the ontological proof, even if in the “Subjective Spirit” doubt is expressed as to the conception of God implied therein (see par. 552). Hegel’s criticism is directed less to the analysis of the proofs than to the reduction of reason here and elsewhere in the Kantian view, as concerns knowledge of the nonexperiential, to a mere abstraction. As a result, the critical philosophy merely reproduces in its analysis the absolute unity of self-consciousness with which it begins, in the negative critique of knowledge that is missing an other than negative doctrine of reality.
Although suggestive and often profound, Hegel’s account of Kant’s critique of reason is insufficient to decide the issues which separate their two positions.9 In large part, that is because Hegel’s analysis lacks a concern to demonstrate the appropriateness of its objections to the critical philosophy. That is certainly not to deny the discussion its legitimate merits. The strength of Hegel’s discussion lies above all in the characterization of the critical philosophy as subjective idealism with a skeptical bent.
According to Kant, in his analytic restatement of his epistemological theory (see Prolegomena, par. 58; see also B 884), his aim was to steer a middle course between dogmatism and skepticism through an objective analysis of the conditions of knowledge as such. From that perspective, Hegel’s discussion of the critical philosophy, including his account of the arbitrary assumption of the categories, can be interpreted as an indication of the inability of Kant’s position to fulfill its own goals. But the force of the alleged failure of Kant, beyond his examination of reason, to provide a positive doctrine for knowledge of reality is attenuated if (as he believes, but Hegel denies) such knowledge is in principle to be excluded.
Hegel’s treatment of the remainder of Kant’s position is more rapid and fails to break new ground. He remarks correctly that Kant’s grasp of practical reason is based on an abstract identity of the understanding, and hence remains formal. Here it will be sufficient to note that this point since has been widely accepted by students of Kant; in fact, it was closely anticipated by Fichte, prior to the publication of the Phenomenology, where it is elaborated at length.
Hegel’s immediate aim is less to reveal the intrinsic limit of Kant’s ethical view than to demonstrate its parallel to the concept of theoretical knowledge, based on the transcendental unity of apperception. Although on the plane of perception Kant once again confines the discussion to mere appearance, Hegel regards the concept of internal teleology as the sole speculative side of the critical philosophy. Once more construing the critical philosophy in a manner more congenial to his own thought, he expresses regret at Kant’s failure to develop further the concept of immanent teleology, which Hegel regards as superior to the merely mechanical approach to nature. Although this remark makes sense from the perspective of Hegel’s position, the criticism is at best external to the critical philosophy. For a concept of teleology as in fact constitutive of nature is counter to the spirit and letter of Kant’s thought.
Similarly, Hegel correctly observes that in terms of the character of the argument, for Kant the good as such reduces to the good for us, and hence remains ineliminably subjective. But it scarcely would have been possible for Kant to argue otherwise within the limits he set himself in his epistemological analysis, and which he continues to respect in his later thought.
Hegel’s discussion of Kant’s views of practical reason and judgment hardly can be held to be thorough, or even adequate, treatments of these portions of the critical philosophy, although that may not have been Hegel’s intent. But the discussion here is sufficient to achieve another purpose. For it reveals that, since these sides of the critical philosophy presuppose the earlier critique of reason, the objections raised against Kant’s view of theoretical reason also can be brought against the subsequent aspects of his position. Yet despite its intrinsic interest, the immanent criticism of various aspects of the critical philosophy is not easy to relate to the larger topic, against whose background it occurs, that is, the “Attitudes of Thought to Objectivity.” In this respect, greater significance must be attached to Hegel’s rapid but profound summary of the significance of the critical philosophy for knowledge.
In the course of his summary, Hegel makes two interesting points. In the first place, he attacks the fundamental distinction between reality and appearance which is the conceptual basis of the Kantian position. According to Hegel, the critical philosophy, like all forms of dualism, exhibits an utter inability to unite within itself what it acknowledges as in fact unified. In particular, it is inadmissible to suggest that knowledge is restricted merely to appearances (which we, however, know absolutely), on the grounds that that is the absolute limit of knowledge. For awareness of a limit necessarily presupposes that we already have transcended it. To put the point in another way, in Hegelian language, knowledge of the finite presupposes as its condition knowledge of the infinite.
This point, which is of the utmost importance for Kant’s position, is difficult to meet on strictly Kantian grounds. Kant himself sometimes holds a similar view, as witness his distinction in the Prolegomena between a limit and a bound.10 As a result, Kant is put in the difficult situation, often noted by commentators in respect to his concept of the thing-in-itself, of knowing what is unknowable, or in this case that which is nonexperienceable, as a condition of experience. In this way, Hegel demonstrates to his own satisfaction that, despite Kant’s epistemological injunction to limit knowledge to appearance, a distinction between appearance and reality cannot be made out; for we in fact do know the latter.
In the present context, it is not necessary to follow the systematic implications of this argument further, other than to remark that if correct, it would appear to undermine all forms of dualism by tending to reveal an underlying monism. In the context of the examination of “Attitudes of Thought to Objectivity,” this argument demonstrates that, on grounds conceded by Kant within the critical philosophy, knowledge of reality is indeed possible. The corollary of this point is that, despite Kant’s intention, the critical philosophy itself provides a basic reason, at the same time as it unsuccessfully strives to limit knowledge to appearance, to surpass this limit.
Second, Hegel returns to the problem of the relation of the critical philosophy to empiricism in a manner which supports the preceding point. Despite its interest in sensory perception, Kant’s position differs from simple empiricism by its insistence on a level of spiritual reality, a suprasensible world. Now, empiricism is, of course, monistically inclined in its refusal to admit anything other than expe rience. But the critical philosophy is a dualism: it combines, on the one hand, the contents of perception and reflective understanding, and, on the other, the self-critical faculty of reason, which, although similar to that of prior metaphysics criticized by Kant, is emptied of all content and, accordingly, any claim to authority.
Kant was certainly not unaware of this problem. If we interpret the different critiques of various capacities to know as aspects of human being, then, as he indicated in a later work, his entire critical enterprise can be grasped as an endeavor to respond to the question “What is man?”11 Nevertheless, it must be conceded that his repeated efforts, in terms of the faculty of judgment, to relate his views of theoretical and practical reason are unavailing. Hegel does not attend to the consequences of the unresolved dualism in Kant’s concept of subjectivity, so important for the genesis of Fichte’s thought. He merely states that the concept of a fully self-contained, wholly free reason belongs to the prejudice of the present day as Kant’s legacy. Yet, it should be noted that as Hegel interprets the critical philosophy, the concept of independent reason is necessarily self-stultifying. For even as it transcends the empirical sphere, it remains empty and hence forfeits its claim to know.
The limitation of reason within the critical philosophy, as Hegel interprets it, to make room for faith allows only for finite knowledge drawn from experience; but it consigns reason itself, as deprived of any possible content, to a purely negative role. In the last section, the “Third Attitude of Thought to Objectivity,” Hegel considers the contrary position, the denial of knowledge of the finite which through faith claims knowledge of the infinite. Once again, as is his custom here except with respect to Kant, Hegel does not attach his general analysis to specific positions, preferring instead the unrestricted freedom of pure assertion. In order to appreciate Hegel’s treatment of what he calls immediate knowledge [das unmittelbare Wissen], it will be helpful to relate this kind of attitude to specific positions.
The type of attitude which Hegel here examines is exemplified perhaps most closely among post-Kantian thinkers by Jacobi and Schleiermacher. It is possible that Hegel also has Schelling in mind, for Schelling’s early insistence that knowledge is possible only through the assumption of a featureless absolute—a view spelled out in detail in the System of Transcendental Idealism, which Hegel took as the basic statement of his friend’s thought—can be interpreted as a denial of the epistemological value of the finite in favor of the transfinite absolute.12 Finally, Hegel clearly also has Descartes again in mind, as can be seen from the direct mention of the Cartesian position. Indeed, it is well known that Descartes’s intent is to attain knowledge independent of faith. In that sense, his stress on immediate knowing, on direct cognition of the given, as distinguished from sensory perception, is the major precursor of later forms of intuitionism.
If we pause for a moment, it is perhaps surprising to note that nearly as much space is devoted to Jacobi and Schleiermacher as to the author of the critical philosophy. That is surprising in view of Hegel’s well-known belief that Fichte and Schelling are the only contemporary thinkers worthy of notice. Yet, although it must be conceded that neither Jacobi nor Schleiermacher is a thinker of the first rank, for the former, and by extension for the latter, we can infer why, as in the case of Reinhold, Hegel would find it important to deal, even in oblique fashion, with their views. In fact, it may be supposed that the reason which attracts Hegel to these three thinkers of relatively minor stature in the history of philosophy is the same in all cases. At the time Hegel was writing, their positions were significant as leading representatives of a widespread, but basically mistaken, philosophic perspective, whose error, accordingly, required demonstration.
Since the names of Jacobi and Schleiermacher are scarcely household words, it will be useful to recall the views which Hegel here opposes. As an early opponent of the critical philosophy, Jacobi rejected the view that knowledge could and indeed must be drawn from experience. He held that it was in principle impossible to develop the unlimited from the limited.13 But from his view, which Hegel did not share, that all justification is provisional and based ultimately on faith, he drew conclusions which Hegel sought to avoid. For he also held that knowledge in the full sense occurs in the form of direct revelation [Offenbarung] in consciousness which is not itself in need of justification.
According to Jacobi, the concept of direct certainty not only requires no grounds but simply excludes them, since it is in and of itself a representation in agreement with the represented thing. A similar view of unmediated, direct knowledge, despite differences in their respective positions, was held by Schleiermacher.14 In his well-known book On Religion: Talks to the Educated among Their Contemptors, he speaks of direct intuition of the universe;15 and he further defines religion as neither thought nor activity, but intuition and feeling.16
Hegel’s treatment here of the general attitude of immediate knowledge represented by Jacobi and Schleiermacher, and perhaps Schelling and Descartes, as well, is preceded by discussion of Jacobi’s position in Faith and Knowledge. This essay ostensibly is directed to the relation named in the title, which continues to recur in different forms throughout Hegel’s writings. Hegel here approaches Kant and Jacobi as representatives of opposing views inadequately synthesized in Fichte’s thought.
Jacobi shares with Kant the emphasis on absolute finitude, formal knowledge, and belief, but differs from the critical philosophy in that he accords objective status to finitude and subjectivity (FN 97; II, 333). Hegel notes that Jacobi’s attempt to reconcile individual and universe through love, which he himself had defended earlier, is the highest point that can be reached within Protestantism without abandoning subjectivity, as in Schleiermacher’s work on religion (see FN 150; II, 391). But he rejects the view that knowledge can be grounded in subjectivity. Further important, since the attitude of direct knowledge forms the final stage in Hegel’s consideration of attitudes to objectivity, is the summary at the close of the essay. There Hegel suggests that with Kant, Jacobi, and Fichte the old metaphysics has run through the full cycle of possibilities (see FN 189; II, 430). As a direct consequence, it is possible only now to advance the correct system of thought.
Hegel’s discussion of immediate knowledge in the Encyclopedia is patterned on his treatment of Jacobi’s thought in Faith and Knowledge. There it is opposed to the critical philosophy, in which the final, unsurpassable vestige of subjectivity remains in the abstract unity of the understanding, as distinguished from concrete universality. This opposing standpoint treats thought as the activity of the particular which renders it unable to grasp truth. “The opposed standpoint,” Hegel writes, “is that thinking as activity grasps only the particular, and for this reason is to be described as incapable of grasping truth” (E 121; VIII, par. 61, 148). Mediate knowledge, in this view, is confined to the finite contents of experience, but reason, which is defined as direct knowledge, or faith, gives us knowledge in the infinite, the eternal, God.
Following this brief exposition, Hegel’s discussion immediately takes the form of a direct attack on the concept of immediate knowledge as such, that is, knowledge that has been asserted but not demonstrated. Although Hegel’s main targets are Jacobi and Schleiermacher, the assault on immediate knowledge is launched in terms of an examination of the Cartesian view. Descartes himself, Hegel points out, regarded the cogito not as the result of a deduction but as a proposition from which others could be deduced (see par. 64). This interpretation, which Hegel uncharacteristically supports by quotation, is of great interest. For it would appear to undermine recent criticism of the Cartesian epistemology in terms of the so-called Cartesian circle.
But if Hegel’s interpretation is correct, Descartes’s theory of knowledge is not threatened by circularity because of the prior relation between thought, being, and appearance. Nor are mathematical truths immediately evident; or rather they provide direct knowledge only as mediated by a chain of proofs (see par. 66), so that the “immediate” is indeed mediated. And the frequent claim for direct knowledge of God, the right, and morality as essential must rest on education, as Plato has shown (see par. 67). In short, the implication follows that there are, in fact, no items of immediate knowledge which can be advanced in support of the Cartesian position or later versions of it, since immediate knowledge, strictly speaking, does not exist.
As the rejection of immediate knowledge, anticipated by Kant, has been largely followed in later thought, nothing more needs to be said on this point. Of greater interest is Hegel’s attack on the one-sidedness of a view in which consciousness, not its content, is the criterion of truth. It is this attitude which, according to Hegel, leads to the enfranchisement of every superstition, as well as knowledge that God is, not what God is, in virtue of the rejection of mediation. But it should be noted that from the kind of perspective in which a clear distinction cannot be drawn between the object in itself and for us, which Hegel often seems to presuppose, it admittedly becomes difficult to make out his objection.
Hegel further raises the problem of the internal consistency of the view of immediate knowledge as such. The principal interest of this perspective, he suggests (see par. 64, 69), is to make the transition from our subjective idea to being, for instance, from our concept of God to God as an existent being. But whereas Kant, in his well-known treatment of the ontological proof, drew a distinction between predicates and existence, Hegel is content here to make a weaker point. He notes that immediate knowledge depends on an interrelation between thought and being, which contradicts the claim of immediacy. It follows that even if, as Hegel here leaves open, through thought we can arrive at knowledge of the absolute subject, such knowledge is mediate, not immediate, since it depends on the interrelation of the concept and its object.
This point is quite general, and bears an interesting similarity to Hegel’s earlier criticism of Kant’s position. In the discussion of the critical philosophy, Hegel suggests, as noted, that the endeavor to prove the limits of knowledge necessarily requires one to overstep the limits drawn. Similarly, in the account of immediate knowledge, Hegel maintains that its immediate character presupposes the mediate relation of thought and being. The evident similarity lies in Hegel’s contention that any attempt to restrict knowledge, by eliminating either the finite or the infinite elements, fails, since it presupposes within it what in principle is excluded. The inference follows that a satisfactory relation of thought and being will comprise both finite and infinite dimensions, as well as their interrelation.
The overall judgment passed on the “Third Attitude of Thought to Objectivity” is unusually bleak in view of Hegel’s predisposition to find everywhere a positive conceptual legacy in even the most insignificant development of the philosophical tradition. The principle of immediate knowledge resides, Hegel points out (see par. 74), in the endeavor to cast off the finite knowledge of the metaphysical identity of the understanding—in a word, to distance itself from the stance assumed by the critical philosophy. But it has been shown to be factually false to assert that there is immediate, or unmediated, knowledge, since no such instance can be advanced.
Hegel now asserts, although he does not here demonstrate his claim, that it is factually false to hold that knowledge cannot rid itself of its mediate status. He thus refutes, at least to his own satisfaction, the principal claim of immediate knowledge. But since, through the rejection of finite knowledge within this view, we are left only with the abstract relation of thought to itself, or the abstract identity, as the criterion of truth, Hegel observes that, despite its intention, the theory of immediate knowledge does not differ significantly from, and in fact coincides with, the critical philosophy. “Abstract thinking (the form of the reflecting metaphysics) and abstract intuiting (the form of direct knowledge),” he writes, “are one and the same” (E 137; VIII, par. 74, 164). To put the point somewhat differently, the attempt to correct the error of the critical philosophy through a theory of immediate knowledge results in a position not significantly different from, and in fact relevantly similar to, that which it rejects.
The bleakness of Hegel’s evaluation of the post-Kantian attitude of thought to objectivity, considered as such, is justified by its alleged inability to furnish knowledge of the kind proposed, its internal inconsistency, and its failure to demarcate itself from the critical philosophy. More generally, Hegel suggests that the deeper error lies in the interest simply to negate the results of prior thought in an attitude which, since it is incompatible with his own way of reading the prior tradition, is certainly responsible for his failure to provide a more positive evaluation of it.
Hegel in fact challenges the claimed discontinuity of immediate knowledge in respect to the prior tradition. For in this form of immediate knowledge, the tradition makes a qualified return to its beginnings in the “First Attitude of Thought to Objectivity,” so-called unprejudiced metaphysics, as exemplified in modern times in the Cartesian position. Hegel suggests (see par. 76) that these views share a common stress on the inseparability of thought and being, the indivisibility of the concept and existence of God, and the attitude towards sensory consciousness.
Despite the evident similarity between the attitude of immediate knowledge and that of unprejudiced metaphysics, it is the differences which are more significant. Descartes begins from unproven and unprovable assumptions through a method which has been found widely useful in modern science. But when the representatives of immediate knowledge argue that a finite method can lead only to finite knowledge, they thereby take up a position similar to Anselm’s; and they similarly refuse the Cartesian and all other methods in favor of a merely arbitrary approach. The inference is clear that from the comparative perspective, the latest “Attitude of Thought to Objectivity” falls below that to which it makes a qualified return. But although the Cartesian view (and traditional metaphysics in general) is in this sense superior to later philosophic developments, Hegel again points out that it is not acceptable as such. For it begins from assumptions, whereas it belongs to philosophy as such that it can presuppose nothing (see par. 78).
The purpose of this discussion of Hegel’s analysis of the “Attitudes of Thought to Objectivity” has been to understand his mature view of the problem which the concept of epistemological circularity is intended to resolve. If, as I have suggested, the Encyclopedia is the official source of the mature position, any discussion of Hegel’s later reading of the history of philosophy must begin at that point. In the analysis of the “Attitudes of Thought to Objectivity,” Hegel studies three prominent strategies in the modern philosophical tradition concerning the problem of knowledge. In the course of his inquiry, each of the three strategies is rejected for reasons already given in the initial formulation of his normative view of philosophy in the Differenzschrift, which, however, lacks a systematic account of alternative strategies. Thus, prior metaphysics is held to go to the object in an uncritical manner, and empiricism is said to result in dualism. Further, the concept of immediate knowledge is merely asserted but not demonstrated. Nor can it be demonstrated, or even exist, since knowledge can only be mediate.
If we reflect now on Hegel’s accounts of the “Attitudes of Thought to Objectivity,” its limitations are apparent. The paradox has been noted that although the Encyclopedia is the official version of the mature position and as such the primary source for it, in an important sense that position is not wholly contained in this text. An analogous point must be made about the problem of knowledge, which Hegel approaches through the relation of thought to objectivity. His concept of epistemological circularity clearly is intended as an analysis of this relation which succeeds where other strategies fail. But his account of this problem in the “Attitudes of Thought to Objectivity,” where any discussion of his mature view of it must begin, is severely flawed by its formulation in terms of the critical philosophy. Although it is correct, as the Differenzschrift clearly shows, that Hegel’s own thought is intended to bring to a close the revolution in philosophy begun by Kant, but in a wholly critical manner, the discussion of the epistemological problem in the Encyclopedia is severely foreshortened.
To state this point differently, in centering his discussion of the epistemological problem around Kant’s position, we have at best a discussion of its treatment in modern philosophy, but not within the wider philosophical tradition. In this sense, although in the Encyclopedia Hegel indeed develops further the philosophical terrain surveyed earlier in the Differenzschrift, above all through broadening it to include Descartes and the empiricists, he remains within roughly the same compass. For he still surveys only the modern moment, but not the entire history of philosophy.
A reflection on Hegel’s discussion of the “Attitudes of Thought to Objectivity” reveals a peculiar deficiency: the absence of any analysis, direct or indirect, of Greek thought. This absence is even more remarkable in view of Hegel’s known fondness for, and immersion in, this philosophical moment. Certainly an account of the epistemological problem would be incomplete without a substantive analysis of the Greek phase of the philosophical tradition unless it were held that Greek philosophy as such is not concerned with objectivity. Yet there is no reason to believe that that is, in fact, Hegel’s view. But within the framework of his discussion, Greek thought could fall only under the heading of pre-Kantian, dogmatic metaphysics.
Now, in a sense that is indeed its correct place within Hegel’s rubric. For with respect to Kant’s position, it is both chronologically and conceptually precritical, and hence by definition dogmatic as well. But even if Greek thought is not critical, it is not clearly dogmatic in the sense that Kant employs this term to refer to his predecessors in the modern portion of the philosophic tradition. Nor is there reason to believe that Hegel here attempts to assimilate Greek thought to pre-Kantian, modern metaphysics.
If this point is correct, two inferences immediately can be drawn. It follows, in the first place, that Hegel’s account of the “Attitudes of Thought to Objectivity” can fairly be regarded as a systematic restatement of the main attitudes in the modern portion of the philosophical tradition, but not as an analysis of the entire preceding tradition. That is the case even if, as seems likely, the mature exposition of his own positive philosophical view in this work presupposes, in fact is influenced by, his reading of the entire history of philosophy, especially including its Greek portion. To put this point more strongly, consideration of Hegel’s discussion of the “Attitudes of Thought to Objectivity” from a general perspective will show that the problem with which he is concerned in the discussion of contemporary philosophy is older, and that it is of Greek origin.
Second, it follows that to understand completely Hegel’s mature grasp of the epistemological problem, it is necessary to venture beyond the safety of the official version of the mature position to consider the less reliable, unofficial series of manuscripts published as the History of Philosophy. As will be seen in the next chapter, this source does not, as concerns the problem of knowledge, contradict our prior understanding; rather, it provides a more extensive version of that analysis which aids in understanding the epistemological problem the concept of circularity is meant to resolve.