The preceding chapter was concerned with the gradual emergence of the concept of circular epistemology in the discussion subsequent to the publication of the Critique of Pure Reason. This chapter will study Hegel’s reaction to that discussion in the Differenzschrift, his earliest philosophical publication. In that text, Hegel responds to the opposing lines of epistemological argument concerning the reconstruction of the critical philosophy, as developed by Fichte and Reinhold. His response may be fairly described as a Fichtean-inspired critique of Reinhold’s foundationalist approach to knowledge, for which he substitutes his own antifoundationalist, circular view of philosophy as system.
In order to understand Hegel’s own view, we need to grasp his critique of Reinhold, which occurs in the course of a reading of contemporary German philosophy, in terms of a normative concept of that discipline. It accordingly will be necessary to consider both the normative concept of philosophy Hegel proposes and his reading of contemporary German thought. But since Reinhold’s protean position was, at the time Hegel considered it, heavily influenced by Bardili’s, if we are to understand the view which Hegel criticized, we also must address its relation to Bardili’s thought.
We can begin with a consideration of Bardili’s influence on the form of Reinhold’s thought to which Hegel responds. C. G. Bardili was a minor anti-Kantian, whose own thought tended towards a pre-Kantian form of objective realism, opposed to any subjective contamination of knowledge. He sought to achieve this result through the appeal to logic as the ground of all philosophy. Today Bardili is nearly unknown, and he was certainly of little influence on the contemporary discussion. But he was well known to, although not better thought of by, Hegel in his capacity as preceptor in the Tubinger Stift during Hegel’s student years there, prior to a later appointment to a professorship in Stuttgart.
The relation between Reinhold and Bardili is difficult to elucidate. Bardili was considerably younger than Reinhold, and may well have been influenced by him, as Fichte later claimed. The converse relation is demonstrated more easily. Certainly the interest in Bardili’s concept of representation is a central theme in Reinhold’s position, both prior to and after their encounter. In a volume of letters between them, which he later edited, Reinhold notes in the preface that his review of Bardili was the first to appear.1
He begins the first letter in typically enthusiastic fashion, with the statement that for nine weeks he has been studying Bardili with an enthusiasm he never has known for any book.2 And he credits Bardili at the same time with the solution to the question preoccupying him, which was posed first by Leibniz, that is, philosophy as science.3 Again scarcely a month later, he writes of the book and of Bardili’s answering letter that he has been occupied daily with continued study of Bardili’s thought and of its new formulation.4 Indeed, already Reinhold is planning to incorporate Bardili’s thought as part of his own plan to revise Fichte’s position through a proposed “coalition” of Bardilean logic and transcendental philosophy.5 Yet only a few months later, the initial enthusiasm already has run its course, when Reinhold, in another letter to Bardili, admits that his initial enthusiasm for the latter’s view is based largely on its conflation with Jacobi’s.6
In fact, here as elsewhere, Reinhold’s interpretation of the history of philosophy is largely suspect, as a single example will show. In a letter to Bardili (January 1800) noted above, Reinhold further cites his own letter to Fichte, in which he in part suggests that Bardili’s theory is not, as he believes, opposed to Fichte’s, but rather is a wholly new exposition of the latter transcendental idealism.7
There is, to be sure, a certain similarity between Fichte’s view of absolute activity and Bardili’s idea of unlimited repetition. And it is possible, as Reinhold asserts, that Bardili’s knowledge of Fichte is largely derivative. But beyond this limited analogy, there is a basic dissimilarity apparently ignored by Reinhold. For Fichte follows Kant in making objective knowledge depend on subjective activity. As Bardili correctly realized, for Fichte, to employ the latter’s terminology, the absolute ego is merely an abstraction from the finite ego, or real human being. Indeed, that is the basis of Bardili’s own criticism of Fichte’s position. But in his refusal to permit the copresence of subjectivity and objectivity in epistemology, in his decision to make the claim for epistemological objectivity directly dependent on the absence of any subjective contamination, Bardili in effect makes a qualified return to a pre-Kantian perspective, the alleged inadequacy of which was the basic reason for the Copernican turn. That Reinhold, the Kantian, failed to grasp the basic difference concerning this cardinal point between Fichte, who followed Kant, and Bardili, who opposed the critical philosophy, is evidence for the superficial nature of his understanding of the contemporary debate.
In retrospect, it is not surprising that the book which so interested Reinhold, Bardili’s Sketch of the First Logic (1800),8 since it set itself against the critical philosophy, failed to excite interest in philosophical circles. It is in ways a typical work by a young scholar, since it promises, as the full title makes clear, to provide a fully purified version of logic devoid of the errors of preceding thought. The book is further replete with the kind of pseudoscientific formulae affected by Schelling in his philosophy of nature, which makes it highly tedious reading.
Bardili’s fundamental anti-Kantianism is apparent in the opening lines of the preface, where he quotes Kant’s famous critique of Fichte, cited above, in order to turn it against the critical philosophy. Kant, of course, wanted to denounce what he regarded as an attempt to deduce the world as given in experience from pure thought. Bardili, however, is less interested in the reproach addressed to Fichte than in the apparent factual nature of Kant’s view of logic. Misinterpreting the point which Kant urges against Fichte’s view, that is, that the material world cannot be deduced from logical principles, Bardili suggests that that in fact must be carried out if knowledge is to be possible.
The initial obscurity in Bardili’s endeavor to relate logic to knowledge and the concept of the ground is dissipated immediately if we realize that his aim is not a theory of logic as such. Rather, he is concerned with the logical conditions of the possibility of knowledge in a quasi-Kantian sense. The point seems to be that Kant has shown us that knowledge depends on its possibility in general. But neither Kant nor anyone else so far has demonstrated the deduction of the real objects which in fact are known from the pure logic by which they are conditioned. Accordingly, Bardili’s understanding of his task is twofold: to show the limitations of previous logic, or other efforts to secure the possibility of knowledge; and to demonstrate how real knowledge is grounded in the pure conditions of its possibility.
Bardili’s analysis of previous logic is superficial and hasty. With the exception of some critical study of the views of even more minor contemporary thinkers, such as the Kantians Käsewetter and Maass, prior logic merely is dismissed through an argument from authority odd in virtue of Bardili’s “critical” stance. Previous logical views may well contain true propositions, although in virtue of their contamination of pure form with content, the strength of their conclusions has merely inductive validity. That is because they depend on the critical philosophy, from whose perspective such errors could not have been foreseen.9 Kant, to be sure, in a well-known passage to which Bardili refers, writes that since Aristotle it is abundantly clear from its results that logic need not step back from where it was (see В vii-viii). But the absence of a contingent need to modify a logical doctrine is not a demonstration of its logical validity.
Bardili’s discussion of Kant’s position, necessary to bolster his point that Kant recognized the weakness of previous logic, although he did not remedy it, is considerably more detailed, but not more satisfying. Confining himself mainly to the Critique of Pure Reason, a restriction justifiable in view of the concern with the theoretical conditions of knowledge as such, Bardili criticizes various aspects of the critical philosophy, including the impurity of the categories (84ff.), an alleged confusion between constitutive and regulative ideas as concerns the concept of the supreme being (94 ff.), the problematic concept of critical realism in the thought of Kant and Fichte (98ff.), and the relation of actuality and possibility (144). Bardili’s general point, which he urges in various forms against particular aspects of the critical philosophy, is that although in principle knowledge is confined to appearance, Kant constantly seeks knowledge beyond the limits so defined.10
In order to understand Bardili’s position, it is useful here to distinguish between the criticism as stated and its significance for his own thought. It would take us too far afield to discuss in detail the various points he raises against Kant, some of which are not without merit. Certainly his suggestion that Kant’s transcendental analysis of knowledge in terms of subjectivity is circular, since it presupposes what it expects to demonstrate, ought not to be taken lightly. And he is correct to note that Kant seeks to discover whether we possess the capacity to know through a train of reasoning which precisely presupposes that capacity. But the more general point concerning Kant’s violation of the limits set by his theory cannot be conceded as formulated, even if that is occasionally the case. For as early as the introduction to his treatise, Kant is careful to specify that although knowledge begins with experience, it is not limited to experience. There is accordingly no tension in Kant’s view if, as Bardili points out, the domain in which speculative reason functions lies beyond the possibility of sensory intuition. But on the contrary, even if the criticism is unsuccessful, it is not difficult to grasp Bardili’s preference to ground knowledge in an a priori analysis.
Bardili’s own position is a radical version of the concern of the critical philosophy to guarantee the possibility of knowledge, in the direction of pre-Kantian thought, through appeal to the quasi-Leibnizian view of the principle of noncontradiction. The argument is formulated in a diffuse fashion, which can be summarized as follows: The task of philosophy is to demonstrate the conditions of the possibility of knowledge as derived from experience of objects. Now, the prior condition of sensory experience of objects is their real possibility. But only those objects are possible which are free of contradiction, by which Bardili means that they “can be repeatedly observed as belonging to the essence of thought.”11 It follows that the ultimate ground, or in Bardili’s terminology the Prius kat’exochen, of knowledge in general lies in the a priori ascertainment of noncontradiction through repeatability in consciousness.12
It is evident that Bardili’s position is problematic. He seems to be reasoning ab posse ad esse. Even if the inference from actuality to possibility is permissible, the converse line of reasoning, from possibility to actuality, is fallacious. But although Bardili’s effort to reduce philosophy to logic may appear misguided, his intent to understand the possibility of knowledge in terms of its ultimate ground influenced Reinhold’s thought, and through it Hegel’s view.
The essay by Reinhold to which Hegel responded, written under the influence of Bardili, is entitled Contributions to the Easy Survey of Philosophy at the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century. 13 It is, in fact, the initial installment of a work in three parts, the first of which was completed on November 23, 1800, and which appeared in three successive years beginning in 1801.
The initial installment is subdivided further into historical and systematic portions, preceded by an introduction. Here Reinhold’s view is described as including a normative concept of philosophy, a judgment concerning its intrinsic capacity to advance beyond its present state on the philosophical path taken by idealism, and a suggestion for an alternative course. The view itself can be summarized in terms of three interrelated statements: (1) Although the evolution of the philosophical revolution begun by Kant and continued by the later idealists has disconfirmed all views about its course, it is clear that a new turn [Wendung] is now required in order to carry out the trans formation of philosophy into science, initiated by Plato; (2) In Kant’s and in succeeding forms of transcendental philosophy, the central concept is active subjectivity; but on this basis, philosophy cannot become science, so that all such claims made for it, including those made earlier by Reinhold, must be rejected; and (3) The goal of philosophy to become science can be reached only through Bardili’s view of logic, that is, his concept of thought as thought [des Denkens als Denkens].
In the remaining portion of the essay, Reinhold develops the points summarily stated in the introduction. He begins with a brief historical discussion of philosophy from Bacon to Kant. This account, which is not deeper than any which can now be found in a reasonably detailed contemporary history of philosophy, was interesting at the time for Reinhold’s emphasis—a point later repeatedly stressed by Hegel—on the sense in which similar problems are addressed in different ways by successive philosophers. According to Reinhold, the basic task of all philosophy is to ground the reality of knowledge.14 Beginning with Bacon, whom Reinhold regards as that thinker who initially broke with the Middle Ages in his concern to establish the conditions of authentic science, Reinhold traces this concept through its various forms in later thought, from Descartes to Hume, ending in this essay with German eclecticism, supplemented with occasional remarks on later thinkers.
In a rapid shifting of philosophical gears, Reinhold turns immediately from historical to systematic considerations. In amplification of his earlier normative claim, he suggests that philosophy is an effort to ground knowledge as such.15 Now, the manner in which that can be accomplished is to establish a deductive relation between true facts and the prior ground from which they follow, which implies that knowledge as such depends on the appeal to an absolute ground.16 In this regard, the problem with Kant’s position is that it harbors an unresolved dualism of empirical knowledge and absolute conscience.17 Fichte, to be sure, has surpassed Kant in his insistence on self-objectivating activity as the principle, not only for practical philosophy but for philosophy as such.18 And Schelling has helped us to grasp the immanence of the infinite in his view of the absolute as subject/object.19 But the conceptual movement begun by Kant and continued by his successors ends in an impasse, according to Reinhold, since idealism leads to materialism, and both lead to skepticism.20
Reinhold’s view is not independent of a normative conception of philosophy. He makes this dependency clear in the discussion of the teaching of reason [Vernunftlehre]. Since philosophy can be science only if the true follows from the primordially true, its task consists in the analysis of the application of thought as thought.21 But if we seek to determine the nature of thought as thought, an answer, according to Reinhold, cannot be forthcoming on the plane of theory, but rather only in the display or utilization of this capacity.
Prior philosophy has failed so far to grasp the nature of thought, which is, however, exhibited in mathematical reasoning. That is defined here in various ways, all of which are held to be equivalent to absolute self-identity.22 But since the point of appealing to mathematical reasoning was to identify an instance of the application of thought as such, Reinhold is justified in his suggestion that the essence, or inner character, of thought consists in unending repetition, or pure identity.23
As it stands, Reinhold’s discussion is clearly fragmentary. His awareness of this fact was certainly one of the reasons which impelled him to develop his analysis of Bardili’s concept of thought as such in the second installment of his work. This topic can safely be omitted, since it was not available to Hegel when the Differenzschrift was being written and did not influence his view later. But it is doubly puzzling why no prior philosopher can be said to have analyzed thought as such, since that was certainly a primary goal of the Critique of Pure Reason, on one reading of that work. Indeed, the concept of mathematical reasoning which Reinhold obscurely suggests here seems clearly derivative from Kant’s view in that treatise. Further, the view of identity which Reinhold identifies as the essence of thought as thought is no more than a restatement, in other terms, of the position taken by Fichte in the Foundations of the Entire Science of Knowledge, as Reinhold was certainly aware.
Despite the residual obscurity of Reinhold’s view, the general intent is not difficult to perceive. Since Reinhold, like Hegel and Schelling, regarded Fichte as having carried the critical philosophy beyond Kant, it is not surprising that he situates his own view in relation to Fichte’s. That occurs in two open letters [Sendschreiben], both addressed to Fichte, where Reinhold asserts that he formerly believed Fichte’s principle of identity and Bardili’s analysis of thought as such to be the same.24 But he now understands that there is a basic distinction between the former’s transcendental idealism, which as subjective cannot aspire to objectivity,25 and the latter’s rational realism, in terms of which the intrinsic goal of idealism can be attained on an objective basis.26
Reinhold’s entire essay is an extended argument for his own reading of German idealism. But perhaps the most interesting dimension of his argument is revealed only in his brief account of “The Natural History of Pure Egology, Called Pure Reason,” in which he focuses on the concept of subjectivity. As concerns Kant’s distinction between pure knowing and pure doing, Reinhold suggests that both Fichte and Schelling direct attention to the concept of pure activity,27 in terms of which the pure ego is to be understood in isolation from the human individual.28 But in point of fact, there only are real, empirical human beings, even if the emphasis on philosophical abstraction tends to conceal this point. Reinhold, accordingly, asserts that the import of his essay is to have shown that abstraction is subtended by the real, empirical subject.29
Hegel’s response to Reinhold is contained, as noted, in the Differenzschrift. In a historical moment such as the present, when items of limited interest routinely receive extended treatment in a burgeoning secondary literature, the lack of concern with this text is indeed surprising. This essay, which is Hegel’s initial philosophical publication, is significant not only for Hegel’s view of epistemological circularity but for his wider position. Unlike so many first publications, it is, however, neither a brief notice nor a tentative comment on a matter of current concern. It is a well-thought-out statement, of considerable amplitude and surprising maturity, concerning other thinkers and the nature of philosophy. In the course of the discussion, there are both systematic and historical comments, remarks which constitute the armature of a theory of philosophy as necessarily assuming systematic form arising from Hegel’s reading of recent philosophy, and a polemical, but deeply insightful, interpretation of the status of recent thought. The exceptional interest of this text is only heightened when it is realized that here as elsewhere Hegel is faithful to his practice of long reflection prior to the statement of a doctrine which almost never is modified as to essentials in later writings.
The text itself is in fact a long article which appeared in the Critical Journal of Philosophy. The idea of a journal of this type already had been raised by Fichte in a letter to Schiller (December 2, 1800), although he did not in fact found one. However, Fichte’s suggestion was put into practice by Schelling, who was already well known as a Fichtean adherent, at a point at which he was in the process of loosening his Fichtean ties. He founded the Journal in collaboration with Hegel, who at the time was still unknown.30 Its stated aim was defined in the initial declaration of intent (apparently of Hegelian inspiration, although even that is controversial) as the critical separation of philosophy from unphilosophy in terms of the standard of the Idea. Hegel’s Differenzschrift, which appeared as an article in the issue dated September 1801, was occasional, as can be seen from its full title: The Difference between Fichte’s and Schelling’s System of Philosophy in connection with the first fascicle of Reinhold’s contributions to a more convenient survey of the state of philosophy at the beginning of the nineteenth century.31
The occasional status of the article has been the topic of some comment. The suggestion has been made that it is based on a mere pretext, because of a clear distortion, in which Hegel is manifestly unfair to Reinhold.32 But although it is not difficult to understand the desire to defend Fichte against Hegel’s reading of his position,33 the proposed reduction of the intrinsic importance of the Differenzschrift merely to an occasion which Hegel unfairly exploited would, even if it were true, represent at best an incomplete account. For the crucial problem of epistemological circularity, upon which Hegel’s reception of Reinhold turns, is not mentioned.
It would certainly be an error to overlook the occasional element in this text, its relation to its historical moment. But that is not the point at issue. Hegel, it seems clear, would be the first to concede the occasional status of his text, or indeed any other since, as he never tires of observing, it is the nature of the case that thought itself is basically inseparable from its historical moment. The problem, then, is whether one can be reduced to the other—in other words, whether thought is nothing but a reaction to its historical context.
As concerns the present text, that kind of inference should be resisted on several grounds. Although Hegel did seize upon the publication by Reinhold as the occasion to reply to a well-known contemporary writer, it would seem that work on this text had been underway for some time, prior to Reinhold’s own discussion.34 Further, it was to be expected that Hegel would begin to publish in order to make a name for himself as other than an associate of Schelling. Nor is there any evidence, in spite of the occasion upon which Hegel seized, that the essay itself is merely occasional in nature. Although Hegel does avail himself of the occasion provided by Reinhold, his treatment of the latter’s thought is by no means occasional; rather, it is an integral part of a more general theory of philosophy, in particular of its latest stage.
In this respect, the discussion of Reinhold offers an outstanding example of what Hegel here characterizes as unphilosophy, that form of philosophy which is of merely occasional importance. Finally, it should be noted that in his response to Reinhold, Hegel surpasses a merely negative comment on the latter’s thought. In fact, Hegel’s response is of great significance, both for his own position and for philosophy in general. Rather than a mere misunderstanding, or an evasion of the issue raised by Reinhold, Hegel’s response offers a doctrine intended to resolve—on quasi-Fichtean grounds, hence in philosophically substantive fashion—Reinhold’s problem of the systematic reconstruction of the critical philosophy.
If we turn now to the text of the Differenzschrift, we can note that it is relatively short (approximately 115 pages, depending on the edition), especially in comparison with the massive tomes published at that time. The work itself is divided into a preface and three main divisions, plus an additional division added by the editor. Here we find a normative view of the nature of philosophy as such, where Hegel discusses a series of related topics in the process of giving shape to a general idea of the nature of philosophy. This discussion is followed by an application of that idea as a standard for the interpretation of the contemporary philosophical discussion, especially as concerns the views of Fichte, Schelling, and Reinhold, leading representatives of philosophy and unphilosophy.
The complex nature of the argument Hegel will develop in detail is already apparent in the preface. There Hegel states that his immediate purpose is to provide a correct interpretation of the positions of Fichte and Schelling, which Reinhold unfairly has conflated, more than to react to the latter’s “revolution of bringing philosophy back to logic” (D 79; II, 9). Differentiating between the spirit and the letter of the Kantian philosophy, in accordance with a distinction drawn by Kant and later employed by Fichte as a standard for the proper interpretation of philosophical texts,35 Hegel suggests that Fichte, as he himself claimed, was true to the spirit of Kant’s thought.
Fichte’s position is in fact a genuine idealism, since, as concerns the deduction of the categories, it exhibits a speculative identity of subject and object, in particular through the concept of pure thinking that thinks itself in the identity of subject and object conceived as ego equals ego. But just as in Kant’s position, in which pure reason has finally no legitimate function, so Fichte’s establishment of the pure concept of reason and speculation, which renders philosophy possible, ultimately is undermined by his identification of reason with consciousness, a merely finite form. Yet Reinhold has failed to perceive either a specific contribution due to Fichte’s thought or the sense in which Schelling’s view differs from it.
This summary of Hegel’s initial statement of purpose should not be mistaken for a demonstration of his argument. It is merely an indication of the point Hegel plans to develop in the text. But although our overriding concern with this text is as it relates to Hegel’s criticism of Reinhold, even at this stage it is clear that his rejection of the latter’s philosophy cannot be considered in isolation from the remainder of the discussion. For Hegel’s critique of Reinhold is dependent upon a prior interpretation of the distinction between what he regards as the only two contemporary forms of philosophy. Now, since the endeavor to grasp the relevant distinction between the views of Fichte and Schelling is itself the result of the application of a normative concept of philosophy, it seems difficult to avoid at least some attention to this phase of Hegel’s discussion. For it is only when we have grasped what Hegel thinks philosophy to be and how this concept is exemplified in its only genuine contemporary system that we shall be able to understand his reasons for the rejection of Reinhold’s thought as nonphilosophy.
The discussion of the “Various Forms Occurring in Contemporary Philosophizing” is curiously named, although in part it is an adequate reflection of Hegel’s view. It is, in the first instance, inadequate as a characterization of what Hegel does in this section. For it suggests a descriptive account of kinds of contemporary philosophy, which appears only later in the discussion of the positions of Fichte, Schelling, and Reinhold. On the contrary, the title makes by implication a profound point upon which Hegel insists in this essay and elsewhere, and upon which his interpretation of his contemporaries turns. For implicit in the concept of forms of present philosophizing is the view that philosophy, which at any given moment assumes different shapes, is in fact necessarily one.
The section as a whole is subdivided into eight paragraphs in which Hegel treats related topics. He immediately turns to the concept of the univocal character of philosophy as such in his account of the “Historical Character of Philosophical Systems.” There he makes three observations whose importance is evident, even prior to their subsequent development in his thought. Philosophy is, to begin with, the search for knowledge. But every philosophy is capable of being assimilated and dealt with in historical fashion. Second, from a historical perspective, the originality in different positions lies not in their content, which they have in common, but rather in their form. In this respect, Hegel notes that Fichte’s view is original as concerns the particular form of his system, while Reinhold’s originality lies in the tendency of founding and grounding [Ergründungs- und Begründungstendenz] philosophy. Finally, Hegel observes, here providing the framework for the claim that different positions have a common content, that reason is speculative only when it takes cognizance of itself and entrusts itself to the Absolute which is its object. Speculation is defined as the activity of the one and universal reason upon itself.
Taken together, the significance of these three observations lies in the manner in which they provide an intellectual matrix in terms of which Hegel draws a double distinction. On the one hand, he distinguishes different forms of philosophy, which reasonably can be regarded as providing a successively more adequate grasp of their common content. On the other hand, he differentiates between true philosophy, which is by definition speculative, and nonphilosophy, or nonspeculative thought. It is clear that the twofold task which Hegel in fact endeavors to carry out in the latter part of this text depends for its success upon a prior concept of reason, or speculative thought, a concept which Hegel then proceeds to outline in a series of related paragraphs.
Hegel begins his account of speculative reason in the context of a discussion of the “Need of Philosophy,” in the course of which he draws a crucial distinction between understanding and reason. Philosophy, according to Hegel, is not innate in the human spirit but is rather a response to a need created by the rise of culture. That, in turn, generates an opposition between the appearance of the Absolute and the Absolute itself. This diremption, which is generated by the understanding, can be overcome only through reason, in which the elements are seen as related and hence revealed as relative.
Two related implications follow immediately from Hegel’s view of the utility of philosophy. It is clear that there is a deep and fundamental opposition on this point between Hegel and Kant. For whereas the author of the critical philosophy suggests that knowledge is the result of the correct employment of the faculty of the understanding, from the Hegelian perspective the appeal to the understanding is merely the prephilosophical presupposition which gives rise to the need for philosophy at all. For it reveals as relative the distinction which the understanding posits as absolute.
Hegel further makes a related point in relation to Reinhold, who, in his concern to think through the critical philosophy, strives to avoid all presuppositions, which Hegel now labels as a task located on the prephilosophical plane. As he notes, “The founding and grounding [das Ergründen und Begründen] gets going before and outside of philosophy” (D 94; II, 25). Now, although the reason which allows Hegel to make this claim about Reinhold’s view will not be fully apparent prior to the analysis of it, it is significant to note that in terms of his response to the alleged need for philosophy, Hegel feels justified in characterizing both the critical philosophy and its critical restatement by Reinhold as essentially prephilosophical from the speculative point of view.
Hegel further specifies his view of reason in a discussion of “Reflection as the Instrument of Philosophizing.” This paragraph represents a further development, or metastage, in the distinction just drawn between reason and understanding. In order to be consistent with his description of the task of reason as the overcoming of the fixed oppositions generated by the understanding, Hegel must avoid positing a wholly negative relation between these two faculties. He does so by relativizing their distinction so that the task of reason is seen not as a mere cancellation of the determinations generated by the understanding, but rather as an overcoming of them as the merely finite elements are brought together in the synthesis of the finite and the infinite within reason.
Returning to reason, in terms of the distinction previously drawn between it and understanding, Hegel comments briefly at this point on its relation to common sense. The latter is, he observes, a source of isolated truths of pragmatic value for the conduct of life. If inspected from the angle of the understanding, the truths of common sense appear distorted because of their isolation, but they are recognized as true because of an implicit reference to the Absolute. Yet common sense, on the contrary, is unable to grasp the perspective of reason, which it presupposes. For as faith, its relation of limitation to the Absolute, in which only opposition is present to consciousness, precisely excludes the awareness of the identity which is the content of speculative reason.
Hegel’s examination of common sense pretends to demonstrate that it necessarily presupposes, but is unable to comprehend, reason. So far he has defined and located reason in respect to its technical and nontechnical alternatives. His point has been that both the Kantian concept of understanding and the popular view of common sense, each of which is essentially limited, point beyond themselves towards the speculative identity which can be revealed only through reason. Now, in terms of his view of reason, Hegel considers briefly three issues arising out of the critical philosophy: foundationalism, transcendental intuition, and the postulate of reason.
The discussion of foundationalism addresses the effort to restate the content of the critical philosophy in more than apparently systematic form. Hegel’s discussion of the “Principle of a Philosophy in the Form of an Absolute Basic Proposition [Grundsatz]” is exceedingly dense but of great moment. It helpfully can be viewed as an attempt to elucidate a point that Schelling raises in a work which appeared immediately prior to the Differenzschrift. In the System of Transcendental Idealism [System des transzendentalen Idealismus], published in 1800, Schelling remarks in passing that although since Reinhold “there has been much talk of a first principle from which philosophy must start,” in fact “it is easy to see that transcendental philosophy cannot proceed from any theorem, if only because it sets out from the subjective....”36
Hegel develops this point in a manner which is highly reminiscent of Kant’s discussion in the “Nova Dilucidatio.” His argument against the possibility of an ultimate principle follows Fichte’s own objection even in its choice of terminology. It can be required, he remarks, that the Absolute which thought seeks to know be already present as its foundation [Grundsatz], as its presupposition. Yet the endeavor to provide an unlimited foundation necessarily must fail. For merely to posit such a principle is to limit it, and hence to require a further principle. Hegel’s point, then, which is the basis of his criticism of Reinhold’s foundationalism in the latter part of the essay, can be expressed as the claim that any attempt to state the ultimate principle upon which all knowledge depends necessarily must lead to an infinite regress. But although Hegel holds that his predecessors have all been uncritical in their appeal to the formal approach, as exemplified in the strategy of basing all knowledge on one of the two possible forms of identity, he does not at this time put forward his own positive alternative.
In the account of “Transcendental Intuition,” Hegel again parts company with Kant. In the critical philosophy, Kant insists on empirical intuition as the real and indeed necessary source of the contents of knowledge. But in order to exclude direct knowledge of oneself suggested in certain forms of rationalism, especially by Descartes, he denies the existence, indeed even the conceivability, of an intellectual intuition, in which such knowledge could be given (see, for instance, В 307 and В 310).
Kant’s attempt to rule intellectual intuition out of bounds is contested immediately by both Fichte and Schelling. Although Fichte agrees with Kant that there can be no intuition of a suprasensuous object, he suggests that we do indeed have immediate consciousness of our own activity; and he further suggests that it is difficult to deny intellectual intuition, since it and its sensory form presuppose each other.37 Schelling follows Fichte’s claim of immediate intuitive awareness of our activity, or productive capacity. But he further develops this claim in two ways: in his assertion that aesthetic intuition is merely the objective form of intellectual intuition,38 which is the basis of his own philosophy of art; and in the further assertion that, as he puts it, “intellectual intuition is the organ of all transcendental thinking.”39 For thought objectifies itself through freedom, and “to intuit that the producing of the object and the intuiting itself are absolutely one ... is intellectual intuition.”40
In the Differenzschrift, Hegel follows the general post-Kantian insistence on intellectual intuition, renamed here “transcendental intuition,” as well as the claim that it is a necessary condition of speculative thought, in a manner reminiscent of Fichte and especially of Schelling. The inability of the critical philosophy to proceed beyond the analytic perspective exhibited in the faculty of the understanding is due, he suggests, to the denial of transcendental intuition, in which alone the speculative identity sought as the completion of knowledge can be exhibited objectively. In fact, as Hegel now insists, utilizing the term postulate in the Kantian sense of an absolutely necessary condition (see В 661) against the Kantian view, transcendental intuition is precisely a necessary condition which must be satisfied in order for there to be objective knowledge in the fully speculative sense of the word.
In the final paragraph of the section, entitled “Relation of Philosophizing to a Philosophical System,” Hegel provides a coherent, but extremely compressed, statement of the standard which he will employ to judge other systems of philosophy. It follows, it is clear from his concept of speculative thought, that there is a need to suppress fixed separations of any form in a higher unity, or synthesis, which is in fact an objective totality. Hegel then makes two points in this regard:
In this self-production of Reason the Absolute shapes itself into an objective totality, which is a whole in itself held fast and complete, having no ground outside itself, but founded [begründet] by itself in its beginning, middle and end. [D 113; II, 46]
The initial point concerns the self-contained and hence self-justifying status of the objective totality which issues from speculative reason. Hegel’s language, especially concerning the reference to the self-production of the Absolute, seems voluntarily to imitate Schelling. But the view expressed points beyond him to Fichte and further points to the problem of the systematic reconstruction of the critical philosophy. The result of genuinely speculative thought is, Hegel clearly states, a self-contained system which is hence entirely independent of any principle external to it for its justification. By implication, then, genuinely speculative thought can be said to yield the completely adequate system placed on the intellectual agenda by the publication of the Critique of Pure Reason. Second, Hegel once again speaks to the problem of the kind of identity provided by genuinely speculative reason, which he describes as both absolute and relative. In fact, every synthesis of reason, as he writes, “as identity of the conscious and the non-conscious is for itself in the Absolute and infinite. But at the same time, the synthesis is finite and limited, insofar as it is posited within the objective totality and has other syntheses outside itself” (D 113; II, 46).
In terms of the need for speculative reason to be both absolute and relative within an objective unity, Hegel then anticipates the kind of criticism which he will develop of other views. His analysis here, although brief, is of the highest interest as much for the specific points he shortly will raise against his contemporaries, as concerns at least one such criticism which is explicitly formulated only later, and as a yardstick accepted by him in terms of which to measure the extent to which his own position can realize its self-assigned tasks. Genuine speculation can, as Hegel says, go astray in two ways: because it fails to manifest itself fully in its system; or, if the view of system does not coincide with the system proposed, if the system tends to cancel opposition but fails to attain complete identity.
After his differentiation of two ways in which speculative thought can go astray, Hegel qualifies his discussion in two interesting observations. Transcendental philosophy can, he remarks, become dogmatism, from which it otherwise is distinguished, if, as it passes into system, it fails to preserve the relative identity. This comment, which is made in passing here, is surely a clear anticipation of his criticism of Schelling’s concept of the Absolute, which becomes explicit only later, in the famous simile in the Phenomenology.
It is in this respect interesting to note, in regard to Hegel’s critique of Fichte from the perspective provided by Schelling’s thought, that Hegel’s own later criticism of the latter’s view is in effect a restatement of Fichte’s earlier objection to Schelling’s desire to improve on Fichte’s transcendental philosophy. In his review of Schelling’s system of identity, entitled “On the Exposition of Schelling’s Systems of Identity” (“Zur Darstellung von Schelling’s Identitätssysteme”), Fichte states, in reference to the latter’s concept of the Absolute, that it is even worse not to see that the unitary, absolute reason, which is supposedly all-inclusive, cannot be the indifference of objectivity and subjectivity without also being their difference.41 Second, if a causal relation between appearance and the Absolute is introduced, both appearance and transcendental intuition become subordinate to it. This point, which in part manifests a reliance on Schelling’s view of intellectual intuition, is the basis of the general objection Hegel raises against Fichte—that in the latter’s system the identity of subject and object is merely subjective.
That ends Hegel’s normative discussion of philosophy. Before we turn to his consideration of his philosophical contemporaries, it will be useful to comment on the relation of the normative discussion to his view of epistemological circularity, which will be developed from a Fichtean perspective in the critical treatment of Reinhold’s foundationalism. Hegel’s concern to supplement understanding by reason makes clear his intent to surpass the finite in the direction of infinite knowledge. But his rejection of the Reinholdian attempt at foundationalism suggests that reason is to be demonstrated in a nonfoundationalist mode whose outlines as yet are unspecified. If philosophy is in fact to become system, it can be only through a self-grounding, which would in fact attain Reinhold’s aim in a manner which avoids the quasi-rationalist recourse to an absolute first principle.
The general lines of Hegel’s understanding of antifoundationalist epistemology are translated into a specific epistemological doctrine of circularity in the course of his reading of contemporary philosophy in the remainder of the Differenzschrift. This reading of contemporary thought, which is based on the normative conception of philosophy already elaborated, is divided into three unequal parts: a relatively lengthy account, in the context of this essay, of Fichte’s thought as system, that is, with respect to the letter of the view as distinguished from the genuinely speculative spirit Hegel attributes to it; two shorter sections, of roughly equal length, which taken together are slightly longer than the account of Fichte’s thought; and an untitled section on Reinhold’s position, where Hegel criticizes a contemporary form of foundationalism and proposes his own circular, antifoundationalist view of knowledge.
The account of Fichte’s position is critical, and is based on prior acceptance of Schelling’s view, itself adopted here uncritically. The implicit justification of this approach is that despite their manifest differences, Hegel regards both Fichte and Schelling as representatives of the same system, which he also accepts, the fundamental principle of which is intellectual intuition. The comparative discussion of the positions of Fichte and Schelling is devoted mainly to an inquiry into the significance of the differences between them for a completed philosophical system. Finally, the discussion of Reinhold’s position, which closes the circle by returning to the occasional pretext for the essay, is nominally directed towards exposing the latter’s incapacity to comprehend the thought of his great philosophical contemporaries. But it is, in fact, perhaps most significant in regard to Hegel’s comments on the supposed attempt to reduce philosophy to logic.
Hegel’s criticism of Fichte’s position is not wholly immanent. It is determined by several external factors, including his own normative view of philosophy, which serves here as a general yardstick against which to measure Fichte’s thought; and Schelling’s prior criticism of his colleague, which Hegel here follows in detail. After a period in which, according to Fichte, Schelling incorrectly maintained the identity of Fichte’s position and his own, Schelling began to distinguish between the two views.
The roots of Schelling’s interest in the philosophy of nature [Naturphilosophie], which is the basis of the distinction, can be glimpsed as early as 1797 in his initial account of this domain in Ideas towards a Philosophy of Nature (Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur). But the shift in emphasis becomes explicit only in the System of Transcendeutal Idealism, in which Schelling attempts to widen the general Fichtean approach through insistence on the need to supplement the subjective standpoint of transcendental philosophy with the objective perspective provided by the philosophy of nature. Neither science is prior to the other, and both are necessary for a fully developed position; both are further united in a perspective which is neither subjective nor objective, and hence not finite but infinite, which Schelling later called the indifference point [Indifferenzpunkt].
Schelling further developed this perspective in open criticism of Fichte in his An Exposition of My System of Philosophy (Darstellung meines Systems der Philosophie, 1801). Although published in the same year as the Differenzschrift, Hegel refers to this text at several places in his essay, both implicitly and, on at least one occasion, explicitly.42 In agreement with Fichte as to the subject-object correspondence as the necessary condition of knowledge, he then draws a further distinction between a “subjective” correspondence on the level of mind, based on reflection, and an “objective” correspondence on the level nature, based on production. Fichte’s position, from this perspective, can be understood as subjective idealism, a point on which Hegel insists even as he extends this criticism to Kant.
Hegel’s objection can be understood as an extension of Schelling’s, although he goes further than his younger colleague. Whereas Schelling argues that Fichte’s position was inadequate as formulated, Hegel makes the further claim that the subjective perspective employed by Fichte necessarily must fail as a result of its intrinsic limitation. At this time he does not yet extend his criticism to englobe the founder of the critical philosophy, which he does as early as the next year in Faith and Knowledge. His basic point is that Fichte’s position, like Kant’s, suffers from the intrinsic limitation that, since its goal is the exploration of human consciousness, it never can go beyond subjectivity to the objectivity in which awareness and knowledge must be grounded.
The relation of Hegel’s criticism of Fichte to Schelling’s view is apparent in the general complaint that Fichte’s position is a subjective form of idealism, since it never surpasses the subjective identity of subject and object which is the ego, as well as in specific points concerning the philosophy of nature and the indifference point. Fichte’s position, according to Hegel, follows from a theory of intellectual intuition, in terms of which the attempt is made to deduce empirical consciousness from transcendental consciousness. But although the self-identity of the ego is the principle of speculation, Fichte is not able to demonstrate the identity sought. Indeed, the distinction between the subjective ego (= ego) and the objective ego (= ego + nonego), or, otherwise stated, the difference between Idea and intuition, reverberates throughout Fichte’s position: in the Foundation of the Entire Science of Knowledge, where nature can be deduced neither theoretically nor practically; in the opposition between nature and reason in the philosophy of right (Rechtslehre); and in the difference between freedom and determinism in the treatise on ethics (Sittenlehre).
In an enterprise such as Hegel’s, the problem of interpretation, in particular the fidelity of his interpretation of texts he criticizes, must be borne in mind. Clearly the force of his objections in part must depend upon his reading of the texts. This problem is of special moment as concerns Hegel’s thought. While there is no question that his penetrating approach to other figures in the philosophical tradition is unusually incisive, it sometimes seems to depend upon an inadmissible manner of construing the positions in question.
A case in point is the criticism of Fichte’s position as subjective idealism. Indeed, it is precisely because Hegel’s influential interpretations of his philosophical contemporaries have seemed increasingly tendentious that there recently has been growing interest in revising his readings of the views of Fichte and Schelling. If we concentrate merely on Hegel’s criticism of Fichte and bracket all concern with its accuracy, the objection still requires some elucidation.
Despite the closely Schellingian manner in which the points are made, and the utilization of Schelling’s view as a standard of comparison, as noted, Hegel already has begun to separate his own position, not only from Fichte’s but implicitly from Schelling’s, as well. From the vantage point afforded by his own concept of reason, Hegel’s criticism can be reformulated as the assertion that the perspective of the finite ego is inadequate to reach the infinite, as witness Fichte’s inability to demonstrate the unity of subjectivity and objectivity through the derivation of the latter from the former. But since, in view of the failure of the proposed derivation, the identity of thought and being cannot be established from a position located solely within thought, it is necessary to supplement the merely epistemological perspective represented here by a further ontological perspective, in terms of which the problem of their relation becomes a central concern.
Despite Hegel’s emphasis on the manner in which succeeding positions build upon their predecessors, it is interesting to note that, historically speaking, his criticism of Fichte represents a reversal of his own view of historical progress through the appeal to an earlier portion of the philosophical tradition. In his rejection in principle of Fichte’s approach, Hegel simultaneously rejects by implication the line of epistemological strategy initiated by Kant, which is continued in Fichte’s position, in favor of a qualified return to a quasi-rationalist approach.
This point can be illustrated in terms of Hegel’s treatment here of Schelling. Hegel purports to consider Schelling’s position in comparison to that of Fichte, although in an important sense that task already has been accomplished in the preceding critique of Fichte’s position from a Schellingian perspective. Perhaps for this reason, the supposedly comparative discussion is scarcely comparative at all, but is devoted mainly to study of the quasi-rationalist problem of the relation of thought and being.
Hegel here presents Schelling’s position in terms of the same principle accepted by Fichte. It follows that although there are indeed two distinct positions, the distinction is merely relative. For there is only one system of philosophy, to which both philosophers subscribe. Hegel makes this point evident in the employment of the word system in the singular in the title of the essay. The system, if there is one, is of course the system of idealism, the genuinely speculative form of which originates not in Kant but in Fichte, and in respect to which Schelling’s view is more a correction than a fundamental new departure. And there is the additional implication to be drawn that since the two positions are, in Hegel’s opinion, only two different versions of the same system, neither is sui generis, and, more important, it can fairly be claimed that one of them has gone further than the other upon the same road.
Hegel’s discussion of Schelling begins with some epistemological reflections which clearly prefigure the later break between them over the allegedly abstract character of the latter’s concept of the Absolute. Hegel states, in quasi-Schellingian language which seems finally closer to his own position than that he is interpreting, that the Absolute must present itself by turn in the subjective subject/object of consciousness, in the objective subject/object of nature, and in the synthesis of both. So far he is close at least to the spirit, if not to the letter, of Schelling’s view.
But there is an important distinction which he now draws. “Both of them, therefore,” Hegel comments relative to the opposition of subjectivity and objectivity, “must be posited in the Absolute, or the Absolute must be posited in both forms while yet both of them retain separate standing” (D 157; II, 97). In other words, reason must preserve as merely relative the distinctions of understanding, rather than causing them simply to disappear, although it is Schelling’s incapacity to preserve distinction within his featureless Absolute which later precipitated the break between them.
The discussion of Schelling’s thought underlines the dualism inherent in his concern to go beyond Fichte’s view within the framework prescribed by its basic principle. As noted, according to Schelling, neither transcendental philosophy nor philosophy of nature can supersede the other, since they are located on different planes, attained only by abstraction from the basic thesis of the opposing point of view. Thus, transcendental philosophy begins from subjectivity, and the philosophy of nature starts from objectivity. Nor can the contradiction between them be more than apparent, since each is a self-contained perspective, independent of the other, developed from a separate angle of vision. But from the perspective of the Absolute, both transcendental idealism and philosophy of nature are seen to be one-sided and relative to that which they are concerned to know. It is, hence, permissible to state that each is a stage in the progressive self-construction or evolution of the absolute.
In view of Hegel’s concern to transcend dualism, his reaction to Schelling’s strategy to overcome this dichotomy is of particular interest. Although it is obvious that forms of dualism are prominent in the philosophical tradition as early as the ancient Greeks, especially in Plato, Schelling is reacting in the first instance to Fichte’s position. Fichte’s view, in fact, contains no fewer than three analyses of the kind of dualism Schelling is faced with, that is, that between subjective and objective approaches to knowledge. These approaches appear in Fichte’s position under the headings of idealism and dogmatism, or theory and practice.
With respect to his problem, in discussions perhaps not wholly consistent with each other, Fichte maintains that 1) since the quarrel between idealism and dogmatism is about first principles, it can be settled only on a prephilosophical basis; 2) neither idealism nor dogmatism can refute each other, but the latter is inadequate as an explanatory principle; and 3) each approach calls for its completion in the other, as theory naturally turns towards practice, and from the angle of practice one necessarily is led towards theory.
It is beyond the scope of this discussion to attempt to reconcile Fichte’s several comments on this problem, which may not finally be self-consistent. Here it is sufficient to note that his basic point, which does seem consistent, seems to be that the perspectives of subjectivity and objectivity are equally fundamental and interrelated. In this respect, Schelling’s position seems to presuppose, but surpass, Fichte’s view in the assertion that the purported epistemological relation is grounded in the status of each perspective relative to an underlying ontological identity. For as Hegel seems to recognize (see D 166; II, 106), in order to relate thought to being, Schelling returns to a quasi-Spinozistic approach in which each can be regarded as parallel through their joint status as aspects of a third thing.
There can be no doubt that Hegel here endorses Schelling’s concern to relate thought and being through reinterpretation of the Fichtean concept of the Absolute as a fruitful innovation with respect to the Fichtean view of knowledge. But it would be a mistake to exaggerate the dependence of Hegel, even at this early stage in his career, on his younger contemporary. As Hegel observes, there is an important distinction to be drawn between simple suspension of the difference in perspective between the two sciences, which he labels as merely negative (see D 170; II, 112), and its supersession in a real synthesis. Consistent with his basic distinction between reason and understanding, Hegel suggests that a real synthesis can be attained only through a viewpoint which, as neither subjective nor objective, includes, yet transcends, either form of finitude. Referring again to the contrast between these two perspectives, Hegel writes: “Ordinary reflection can see nothing in this antinomy but contradiction; Reason alone sees the truth in this absolute contradiction through which both are posited and both nullified, and through which neither exists and at the same time both exist” (D 174; II, 115).
Clearly Schelling has gone part of the way in the necessary direction. He at least takes the negative step of suspending the antipathy between the two sciences, although in all fairness it would seem that Fichte also did so. But Schelling here, and arguably later, as well, remains unable to perform the crucial task of uniting these two strands in a real synthesis. Hence, despite his avowed intent, as Hegel later argued in the History of Philosophy, although Schelling takes a step in the right direction he fails ultimately to surpass the plane of the philosophy of the understanding already inhabited by Kant and Fichte.
The reading of the positions of Fichte and Schelling as advancing different versions of a single, correct system is highly significant for Hegel’s later interpretation of the history of philosophy; it is further significant for his reception of Reinhold’s position, which he characterizes, in opposition to the single correct system, despite the latter’s concern with system, as unphilosophy. In this regard, Hegel’s account of the relation of the views of Fichte and Schelling is helpful, since it indicates his concern with objectivity as opposed to subjectivity in a manner which eschews any hint of dualism. In a sense, the rejection of foundationalism in favor of theory which is circular, and hence self-justifying, or self-grounding, is meant to avoid the dualistic dependence on any principle external to it.
In part because Reinhold’s name is now known mainly to historians of philosophy, little attention seems to have been directed to his influence on the constitution of Hegel’s initial position and mature thought. At the time Hegel composed his essay, he was as yet unknown; but Reinhold was certainly better known than Schelling, which lends a certain plausibility to Hegel’s utilization of the appearance of the former’s work as the pretext for his own discussion. It would be unwarranted to devote such attention to one who was completely unknown.
Within the context of his essay, Hegel, in a manner of speaking, closes the circle by turning to Reinhold’s view after prior consideration of those of Fichte and Schelling, which here function in that respect as a kind of prolegomena. But beyond the immediate pretext, other factors which conceivably may have impelled Hegel to consider Reinhold here include the latter’s rejection of intellectual intuition, which Hegel regards as the basic premise of speculative philosophy in all its forms, as well as the supposed conflation of the positions of Fichte and Schelling subsequent to his more basic inability to treat them as philosophy. In effect, the supposed conflation constitutes a denial of Hegel’s concern to point to, and argue for, the significance of a difference between two versions of the same philosophical system.
If Reinhold is correct, then Hegel is certainly wrong to maintain that Schelling’s departure from Fichte’s thought represents an essential step forward in the progress of the line of argument which issues from Kant’s position. In this sense, the study of Reinhold presents a form of hermeneutical counterpoint by means of which Hegel is able to reinforce his basic thesis about the development of post-Kantian philosophy through refutation of one of the principal opponents of his own reading of the modern tradition. Thus, even if, as noted, Hegel later maintained, in his History of Philosophy, as he does here, that Fichte and Schelling are the only genuinely important modern thinkers, there is warrant for his critical handling of Reinhold’s thought instead of simply ignoring it.
Hegel’s analysis takes the form of a scathing refutation of this form of Reinhold’s thought in whole and in part. Yet in view of the largely negative characterization, the amount of space Hegel devotes to this phase of the discussion is interesting. Although the thrust of this essay is to argue for the nature and significance of the difference between the positions of Fichte and Schelling, which allegedly was overlooked by Reinhold, Hegel devotes almost as much space merely to setting out Fichte’s position as he does to Schelling and Reinhold combined, and equally as much space to a theory he basically accepts at this point as he gives to a view he strongly rejects.
It is, however, not difficult to infer why Hegel accords so much space to Reinhold’s view. For although he dismissed (and, it must be conceded, rightly so) the claims of the latter to be a major thinker, he took seriously indeed at least some of the problems with which Reinhold sought to deal, above all the question of the justification of the claims to know. Indeed, that is the reason why, despite the negative character of the discussion here, Hegel returns to Reinhold in Faith and Knowledge, again in the Encyclopedia, and once more in an important passage at the beginning of the Science of Logic. For even if Reinhold could be dismissed as a serious thinker, the problem of foundationalism which he raised in connection with the systematic reformulation of the critical philosophy remained very much on Hegel’s mind.
The extent of Hegel’s preoccupation, beyond the substance of Reinhold’s position, with this problem raised by it is apparent in the manner in which it is discussed. Hegel’s treatment of Reinhold principally concerns both his reading of the positions of Fichte and Schelling and the discussion of his own view. In fact, the discussion is concerned mainly with the latter, although comments on Reinhold’s interpretation of various positions are scattered throughout this portion of the discussion.
Hegel here makes three general points about Reinhold’s grasp of his philosophical contemporaries. In the first place, he simply does not understand that the views of Fichte and Schelling are anything other than pure transcendental idealism. The implication of this point is that Reinhold, rooted as he is in the critical philosophy, has failed to appreciate, or even to perceive, the development of the philosophical tradition subsequent to the appearance of the Critique of Pure Reason. Second, his interpretations are questionable, as witness his account of Schelling merely in terms of the introduction to the System of Transcendental Idealism, which he, however, misunderstands. Finally, he fails to perceive what is common to the views of Fichte and Schelling as speculative philosophers, since in his interpretation they appear as mere peculiarities [Eigenthümlichkeiten].
Hegel’s comments on Reinhold’s interpretation of the history of philosophy are limited here to the latter’s discussion of his philosophical contemporaries. A wider account would not have been out of place, since, as noted, in his Contributions (Beyträge) Reinhold deals in some detail with the history of modern philosophy. This discussion is particularly interesting as concerns Reinhold’s view of the importance of the rationalist model for the reformulation of the critical philosophy.
As Reinhold interprets this period, the relevant distinction between Bacon and Descartes is that the former is interested in knowledge in general, whereas the latter is concerned only with philosophical knowledge. Reinhold thereby seems to miss the relevant point that in a fundamental sense for Descartes only philosophical knowledge is worthy of the name, since all other forms of knowledge are parasitic upon it. But one can understand why Hegel would feel satisfied to confine his account of Reinhold’s reading of the history of philosophy merely to the latter’s interpretation of the contemporary period. For his discussion of Reinhold as a historian of contemporary thought is only a pretext to reinforce the central lesson of his own essay, that is, that despite the fact that Fichte and Schelling are representatives of a single philosophical system, the differences between their positions are significant.
In order to discuss Hegel’s treatment of Reinhold’s position, we need to distinguish between Hegel’s summary of it and his reply, since this distinction is not always clear in the discussion. We need further to separate Hegel’s analysis of the central problem, or the attempted reduction of philosophy to logic in order to ground philosophy, from further discussion of related considerations. And finally, we must differentiate Hegel’s rejection of Reinhold’s proposed strategy for the solution of the problem from the positive doctrine which Hegel here puts forward to the problem which Reinhold has raised.
Hegel initiates his account of Reinhold’s own position, as distinguished from the latter’s reading of the history of philosophy, by noting that although the attempted reduction of philosophy to logic is only the latest phase, it is an excellent statement of the tendency to found and to ground philosophy [die Begründungs-und Ergründungstendenz] prior to philosophizing (see D 179; II, 122). The suggestion is clear that, beyond the question of the relation of the latest phase of Reinhold’s thought to his overall position, a question which temporarily is left in abeyance, his own particular concern to ground philosophy is representative of a more general strategy.
If Hegel has a general tendency in mind, beyond this phase of Reinhold’s thought, it should be possible to identify its leading representatives. The obvious candidates are the critical philosophy and rationalism, two forms of thought which correspond closely to this description and which are further conjoined in Reinhold’s earlier endeavor to restate Kant’s position systematically. For if we abstract from earlier versions of Reinhold’s thought, in which this intent was clearly present, we can note that even now the central problem of philosophy, which is at the center of rationalist thought, is to ground knowledge. As he says in a passage on Descartes, the Meditations above all are explicitly concerned with the first philosophical task, and begin immediately with the grounding of knowledge [Ergründung der Erkenntnis].43 And beyond Reinhold, it is clearly the case that despite their differences, the critical philosophy and rationalism are united in their common concern to specify and to satisfy the conditions of knowledge on an a priori plane. For these reasons, Hegel seems entirely justified in the study of the latest phase of Reinhold’s thought as representative of a wider philosophical tendency.
Hegel’s summary of this phase of Reinhold’s position is both accurate and rapid. There are three presuppositions: 1) the love of truth and certainty; 2) faith in truth as truth; and 3) the presupposition of the primordially true [Urwahre]. The third, which is both the fundamental presupposition and the only one discussed here in any detail, is defined by Reinhold—in a passage which, Hegel suggests, reproduces Jacobi’s language, although not his insight44—” as the primordial ground of everything ... outside of its relation to the possible and the actual in which it manifests itself, as the absolutely inconceivable, the absolutely inexplicable and the absolutely unnameable” (D 184; II, 127). There is further, one can note, a clear echo in this passage of Jacob Böhme’s mystical view in the utilization of the term Urgrund in reference to an uncognizable first principle.
Hegel’s response combines subtle interpretation with a critical intent that effectively exposes the weakness of Reinhold’s present view. In this position, the true or Absolute is already constituted. Accordingly, reason does not produce that which it knows, but rather only establishes contact with it. The problem, then, is how that which is already constituted in isolation from the knowing subject is to be known. For Reinhold’s view leads in this respect to a clear “antinomy,” since it contains the requirement that the Absolute is uncognizable and primitively true, although if that is the case, it cannot be known. As Hegel perceptively notes: “If the presupposition of philosophy were the primordially true that is inconceivable, then the primordially true would be announcing itself in its opposite, that is, falsely, if it were to announce itself in something conceivable” (D 185; II, 128).
In the context of the discussion of Reinhold’s attempted reduction of philosophy to logic, Hegel also addresses two related issues: the relation of the endeavor to Bardili’s position, and the further relation of this phase of the evolution of Reinhold’s thought to his thought as a whole.
As concerns the relation between Bardili and Reinhold, Hegel’s judgment is based on a sensitive and ultimately negative evaluation of the line of argument which Reinhold pursues at this time. Hegel’s basic criticism, as noted, is that Reinhold’s line of argument founders on the reef of dualism. Sensitive, however, to Reinhold’s intent, although critical of its result, Hegel comments that Reinhold in his book has not availed himself fully of the resources contained in Bardili’s work on logic. Reinhold fails to attain the level of Bardili’s discussion, since he does not take into account such features as Bardili’s insistence on the postulated suitability of the material content to thought; and he further passes over in silence the sense in which there is finally an inherent resistance of materiality to conceptual assimilation.
The remark that Reinhold fails to avail himself of the resources placed at his disposal by Bardili is doubly interesting. It is abundantly clear that even if Hegel does not carry the discussion of the relation between Reinhold and Bardili further, he is constantly aware of the latter’s thought. Indeed, even were Hegel not as deeply informed about the history of philosophy, including its latest phase, as he undoubtedly is, that much could be expected in view of the personal association of Bardili and Hegel at the Tübinger Stift.
Second, there is an inference concerning Reinhold’s relation to various contemporary thinkers. Bardili’s thought is obviously less original than derivative in nature. But just as in prior phases of the development of his position, when he was subject in rather rapid succession to the influence of Kant, then Fichte, and later Jacobi, so in the present phase, largely inspired by Bardili, Reinhold continues to fall below the level already attained by the position from which he draws intellectual sustenance. Now, that is not in itself unusual. Disciples of all kinds generally, indeed routinely, are lesser figures. But in a way, that is just the point, since Reinhold’s claim to be an original thinker is, as Hegel implies, indeed negated by the nature of his relation, to Bardili and, throughout his career, to the sources of his thought.
Hegel does not dwell at length on Reinhold’s relation to Bardili. He does accord more attention to the problem raised by the latest phase of Reinhold’s thought than to the position as a whole. That takes the form of a comparative analysis of Reinhold’s view as now stated in comparison to the Attempt at a New Theory of the Human Capacity of Representation (Versuch einer neuen Theorie des menschlichen Vorstellungsvermögens, 1798), the first mature statement of the elementary philosophy, with reference also to Bardili’s Sketch of the First Logic. The relatively extensive treatment of this question is not unexpected. The problem only recently had been raised by Fichte in two separate contexts: in his review of Bardili’s book45 and in his subsequent semipopular response to the publication of Reinhold’s Contributions.46 Further, the problem of the relation of successive moments of Reinhold’s position to it is obviously significant, since it bears on his claim to effect a genuine philosophical revolution, presumably in the manner of Kant, in the latest version of his view.
Hegel’s approach to this question differs significantly from Fichte’s, although the conclusion he reaches is nearly identical. The problem of discipleship is obviously a frequent bone of contention in the history of philosophy. Plato was, of course, unable to deny Kant’s statements about his position in the critical philosophy, even if Kant was quick to object to Fichte’s similar claim to a superior grasp of the critical philosophy. Fichte, in turn, suggested that his own disciples, including Schelling and Reinhold, did not follow his thought adequately.
Despite the effort to stake out a third standpoint between those of Fichte and Jacobi (in much the same manner as that already had been attempted by Reinhold), according to Fichte Bardili does not understand the transcendental philosophy, and his position is merely another version of Reinhold’s elementary philosophy.47 Reinhold’s latest view manifests a loss of all traces of the influences of Kant and Fichte, even if he never has understood the latter’s thought; but in his acceptance of Bardili’s influence, who is already under Reinhold’s influence, Reinhold contrives a disguised return to his earlier position.48
Hegel, who is obviously unconcerned to defend Fichte’s view in the manner of its author, nonetheless agrees with his opinion of Reinhold’s position. After a comparison of a number of points in Reinhold’s Contributions with Bardili’s Sketch, Hegel remarks that Reinhold’s satisfaction with the present state of his thought, the proposed reduction of philosophy to logic, is like that of someone who is entertained with the contents of his own (wine) cellar (D 190; II, 134). That is, in substance, to concede Fichte’s point concerning the real sense in which, despite his belief to the contrary, Reinhold’s position has not evolved further in its latest statement, but merely returned to its origins in the elementary philosophy.
As if to underscore his agreement with Fichte, whose discussion of this question was obviously familiar to him, Hegel then further enumerates three additional errors supposedly committed by Reinhold: the felt need to abandon the so-called middle standpoint between the views of Fichte and Jacobi; the recognition that despite an earlier belief to the contrary, the positions of Fichte and Bardili are indeed incompatible; and the failure to perceive the incompatibility of Bardili’s Sketch with Fichte’s thought.
In the context of the overall discussion in the Differenzschrift, the implication of Hegel’s analysis of Reinhold’s relation to Fichte is significant. In his stress on the incompatibility of Reinhold’s reduction of philosophy to logic and other views, Hegel does more than merely draw attention to the undeniable weakness of the latter’s ability to interpret various positions. In the context of Hegel’s conviction that Fichte and Schelling are the only authentic contemporary philosophers, the effect of the denial of the compatibility between Reinhold’s thought and Fichte’s, beyond a vindication of Fichte’s own reaction, is to draw an important distinction between philosophy and unphilosophy. In other words, in view of the manifest incompatibility between Reinhold’s views and Fichte’s, despite his claim to represent a giant step forward in philosophy, Reinhold must be said to stand outside the philosophical pale on the terrain of nonphilosophy.
Beyond his rejection of Reinhold’s position, Hegel further considers the more general problem raised by it. This phase of the discussion is an expansion and application to Reinhold’s view of the brief remarks on the absolute axiom [Grundsatz] in the initial portion of the Differenzschrift. Hegel now supplements his earlier rejection of the concept of an absolute axiom, inspired by Fichte, through a positive view of circularity. He remarks that the strategy of standing outside philosophy and yet philosophizing, which he finds exemplified in Reinhold’s proposed reduction of philosophy to logic, is useful but perilous. For there are no longer any constraints as to the possible standpoint to be assumed by reflection.
From a historical angle of vision, this remark is relevant to a cardinal difference between the positions of Fichte and Kant. It is well known that Kant’s concern to specify the conditions of the possibility of knowledge whatsoever through a transcendental inquiry is limited, if not rejected, by Fichte, who, in a famous passage, suggests that one’s approach to philosophy is unavoidably a function of who one is. Fichte’s insistence on an ineliminable subjective element in even the most objective train of argument is rejected implicitly by Hegel, even as he also rejects the more Kantian approach to securing philosophy once and for all in a strongly rationalist sense.
The reason for the rejection is given in a general argument directed against epistemological foundationalism. The task for philosophy, as Hegel understands it, is, of course, to produce an articulated conceptual unity. But the concern to found philosophy from a vantage point prior to it necessarily is related to the production of a series of unresolved and unresolvable dualities. For it fails to reach its middle point, that is, the Absolute in terms of which the relation between inner and outer, essence and appearance, or in this case the appearance of philosophy and philosophy itself, can be understood.
Now, it is true that the attempt can be made to produce a false middle point in the guise of a popular philosophy, whose claim to truth is, however, undermined through its inherent endeavor to do philosophy prior to entering into it. Hence, for the same reason for which he later will reject the Kantian form of transcendental argument as an in-principle impossible endeavor to swim without going in the water, so Hegel now rejects, in a manner entirely consistent with the later, more mature phase of his view, any attempt at foundationalism.
It is absolutely crucial to note that Hegel does not reject the concern to justify the claim to know absolutely. His positive doctrine, which is meant to substitute for foundationalism that requires philosophizing prior to philosophy, is contained in a passage which must be quoted at length. Immediately after his description of the proposed reduction of philosophy to logic as a clear statement of the founding and grounding tendency, Hegel writes:49
Philosophy as a whole grounds itself and the reality of its cognition, both as to form and as to content, within itself. The founding and grounding tendency on the other hand, with all the crowded press of its corroborations and analyses, its becauses and insofars, its therefores and ifs, neither gets out of itself nor into philosophy. To the rootless worry that grows ever greater the busier it is, every investigation is premature, every beginning is rashness, and every philosophy is a mere preparatory exercise. Science claims to found itself upon itself by positing each one of its parts absolutely, and thereby constituting identity and knowledge at the beginning and at every single point. As objective totality knowledge founds itself more effectively the more it grows, and its parts are only founded simultaneously with this whole of cognitions. Center and circle are so connected with each other that the first beginning of the circle is already a connection with the center, and the center is not completely a center unless the whole circle, with all its connections, is completed: a whole that is as little in need of a particular handle to attach the founding to as the earth is in need of a particular handle to attach the force to that guides it around the sun and at the same time sustains it in the whole living manifold of shapes. [D 179—180; II, 122]
This passage, which consists of four complex sentences, contains at the same time a characterization of foundationalism as a tendency which Hegel, in virtue of his view of the absolute presupposition, rejects, as well as a statement of his own novel, circular form of justification. If we read this passage in the context of his examination of Reinhold’s reduction of philosophy to logic as a form of foundationalism, we see that Hegel’s point is that even if philosophy cannot be grounded prior to philosophizing, it nevertheless can achieve the same goal through a justification of itself in itself. From this perspective, every other attempt at the justification of philosophy must be abandoned. For if we attempt to justify philosophy before embarking upon it, then, as Hegel notes elsewhere, the problem of the run up (see D 181; II, 123),50 that is, the problem of getting over the ditch, becomes the only problem and the whole of philosophy. We cannot, accordingly, reach philosophy itself, since we must remain forever in the vestibule but unable to enter the house.
The initial two sentences in the quoted passage serve to indicate Hegel’s belief that philosophy must provide its own justification in itself, in terms of which he rejects foundationalism. In the remainder of this passage, he specifies, first in general and then through a decisive metaphor, the sense in which philosophy can be said to justify itself on a non-a priori basis. The claim of science to be self-justifying rests in its positing [setzen] of an identity between knowledge [Wissen] and each of its parts. Each element of science, in other words, is an element of knowledge, which develops in the form of an objective totality. Individual claims to know, the elements of knowledge, are justified in terms of the relation of identity with parts of science. For the justification of knowledge resides in the justification of science, with which it posits an original identity.
In drawing attention to a postulated identity of science and knowledge, Hegel justifies the claim to know and provides for the growth of knowledge in terms of the justification of science. He immediately turns to the sense in which science can be said to be justified through its own growth. A circle, he notes, has the peculiarity that center and circumference are related from the beginning of the latter, even if the middle point as a whole is finally constituted only by the completion of the circle.
If we transpose this comment about the circle to the problem of how science can justify itself, we see at once that Hegel holds that each part of a science, including its beginning point, implies the fully constituted science in terms of which it is justified, but which is fully justified only when it is fully completed. For science justifies itself through the relation of the actually existing part to the at-first only implicit whole; and conversely, when the science is fully constituted, the result justifies the parts in terms of the whole and, as constituted by them, itself as well. Hegel’s positive doctrine, then, is that science justifies itself not prior to engaging in it, but progressively through its development and finally through its completion.
The significance of Hegel’s recourse to a geometrical image requires some comment. Certainly, as noted, the image of the circle was in the air at the time. It also was appealed to by Reinhold in the introduction to his Contributions, where he describes the transcendental movement in philosophy as limited to a curve [Kreislinie] around the sole possible middle point [Mittelpunkt] of subjectivity, which is made secure and completed by Fichte’s and Schelling’s development of the critical philosophy.51
This passage is helpful in that it suggests, beyond the general awareness of circularity, that Hegel may have been thinking of Reinhold’s utilization of the circle as a metaphor. This suggestion is further supported by Hegel’s recourse at the end of this passage to the famous simile of the Copernican Revolution. But the deeper significance of the recourse to the image of the circle lies not in the allusion but in the revolution in philosophic strategy which Hegel here introduces.
In reference to Reinhold’s demand that philosophy found itself in order to justify its claims to knowledge, and Fichte’s denial that philosophy can found itself in virtue of its intrinsic circularity, Hegel brilliantly proposes a third strategy. In effect, he reverses the reversal established by Fichte. For he accepts the Fichtean claim for the circular character of philosophy at the same time as he proposes to provide a full justification of it. He thus preserves the traditional demand of philosophy to yield ultimate knowledge on the basis of a circular form of argumentation. The enormous audacity of this argument is surpassed only by the extraordinary skill of Hegel’s analysis, which permits him to preserve the traditional concept of philosophy by in effect defusing one of the most powerful arguments to have been directed against that very possibility.
Since the problem for which Hegel’s view of circularity counts as a solution is at least proximally of Kantian origin, a word should be said about the relation of this doctrine and the critical philosophy. In view of the tendency in the discussion about Hegel to oppose his position to Kant’s, it is important to emphasize that the doctrine in question is thoroughly Kantian. Reference already has been made to Maimon’s claim, against Reinhold, that in the critical philosophy a principle can be established only through its use in explaining experience. Now, this point is, to be sure, a paraphrase of Kant’s own view. In the Critique of Pure Reason (see B 765 and B 357), Kant remarks that through concepts of the understanding, pure reason successfully establishes secure principles in indirect fashion through their reference to possible experience in terms of which they are apodictically certain. In other words, the proof of the principles is given pragmatically by that which they explain.
Hegel’s doctrine of circular justification properly can be regarded as an extension of precisely this Kantian point. Just as Kant suggests that isolated principles are established in terms of their capacity to explain experience, Hegel now extends this argument to cover the science, or system of such principles, including its development. It follows that the argument Hegel advances to justify philosophy as science in terms of itself in order to resolve the problem generated by the critical philosophy is not directed against the latter; it is, on the contrary, a creative, indeed brilliant, extension of Kant’s own view.
There can be little doubt that Hegel was aware of the significance of the argument he was making. A strong indication is given by his use of an astronomical simile to suggest that no other justification for science can be given and none is necessary. Beyond an implicit reference to his own discussion of the orbits of the planets as circular in his recent Habilitationsschrift, Hegel certainly had in mind a famous reference to astronomy in recent philosophy. There can be little doubt that Hegel was subtly, but unmistakably, suggesting, through an allusion to the Copernican world view, that in his own reply to foundationalism he had brought to a close the problem of system posed by the critical philosophy, itself dependent upon the famous Copernican Revolution, in another and final philosophical revolution.
The aim of this chapter has been to demonstrate that the view of circularity which Hegel proposes in the Differenzschrift can be regarded as his attempted resolution for the problem of justification raised in the discussion of the critical philosophy. It has been suggested that although Hegel rejects Reinhold’s position, he takes seriously the problem raised by the attempted reduction of philosophy to logic. Despite his rejection of foundationalism as a source of unresolved dualism, Hegel, following Fichte, proposes a doctrine of circularity intended to provide a justification of traditional claims to know in an absolute sense. He in effect turns Fichte’s doctrine of epistemological circularity against Fichte’s position at the same time as he defends a point closely related to Kant’s own thought.
Now, it might be objected that the account of epistemological circularity is rather brief, especially in view of the long running start needed to appreciate it in the context of Hegel’s discussion. But, then, the explicit indications of this doctrine, which is initially formulated in this text and developed only in subsequent writings, are also unhelpfully sparse. Indeed, that is undoubtedly one of the reasons why this side of the position mainly has been overlooked, despite its fundamental importance for Hegel’s view of knowledge. After this initial account of Hegel’s view of epistemological circularity in the context of his initial philosophical text, we need to look further at the fate of this doctrine in his later writings, particularly in his mature thought.