Idealism after Kant.59 Kant’s criticism had been a fine dissection of the processes of knowledge. He had laid scientific knowledge open and separated it into its parts. In doing this he had acted in the spirit of his time, which had been inaugurated by Lessing. His doctrine became the point of departure of many differing systems. A modern German professor in the University of Berlin has been wont to say, “There are ten interpretations of Kant’s Critique, which are the ten kinds of philosophy at the present time.” The incoherence of Kant’s philosophy made it famous. He represented the first stage of a social movement; and like all social movements the world over, the first stage was critical, self-inconsistent, and destructive of tradition. The second stage is the one upon which we now enter, and we shall find it to be reconstructive along several lines. Criticism is always an inducement to new systematization. In Germany, after Kant, there was naturally, therefore, a great systematic movement which its intellectually virile and many-sided life was ready to express. Culture and philosophy went hand in hand. Jena was the centre of Kantianism and was in close proximity to Weimar, the centre of German culture.
At the time that the philosophy of Kant became popular, the teaching of Spinoza was resurrected from its long sleep and introduced into Germany. Kant was the “all-crushing” critic; Spinoza was the dogmatic mystic. Their opposition did not amount to a contradiction, but was of the correlative sort. Kant and Spinoza became the two intellectual foci about which revolved the thought of the generation after Kant. All the succeeding philosophers show Kant’s influence upon them, for they all accept his epistemology. They show the influence of Spinoza in varying degrees.
The philosophers whom we shall now meet may be divided into groups. The first group consists of Rheinhold, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. These took the lead in destroying the Kantian conception of the thing-in-itself and in constructing a pure idealism. The second group consists of Herbart and Schopenhauer. These tried in different ways to develop a metaphysics of the thing-in-itself. A third group consisted of the old Wolffian rationalistic school, which was, however, unsuccessful in its opposition to the spread of the doctrines of Kant and Spinoza. A summary of the leaders of the German thought of this time would not be complete without mention, lastly, of the miscellaneous group of literary Romanticists, whose writings partook of the philosophical spirit. The influence of Spinoza is especially prominent in this group. Jean Paul Richter (1763–1825) was the forerunner of this movement, and it included the names of Tieck, Wackenroder, the two Schlegels, Novalis, the two Romantic women,—Dorothea and Caroline,—Schiller, and Goethe. The poet Schiller did much to popularize Kant’s æsthetic and moral doctrines.
MAP SHOWING THE UNIVERSITY TOWNS AND OTHER IMPORTANT PLACES CONNECTED WITH THE GERMAN IDEALISTS
Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. This group of disciples of Kant can be understood sympathetically only in the light of their age. They were not philosophical adventurers, otherwise the great representative of the age, Goethe, would not have associated with Schelling and Hegel on equal terms. They stood for the revulsion of the period against all external systems, and for the realization of a spiritual realm of free spirits. They sought not a factitious and imaginary condition, but tried rather to discover the essentials of the spiritual life. They would reclaim reality spiritually, and their only defect was in their haste in carrying out their principles. Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel are sharers in one common movement. They tried systematically to present the evolution of the world as an unbroken evolution of thought. They went back to Kant, but they were bolder than he. They sought to transcend the limitations of thought which he had laid down. They would set thought free, and, gazing in upon their own spirits, they would find there the whole infinite universe. The spiritual realm seemed to them to be wider than any one had supposed. It was a self-governing realm, quite different from the world of matter. History to them is cosmic and develops under one law of progression. It is an upward movement of assertions, negations, and syntheses. Life is cosmic spirituality. For Fichte the spirit is a cosmic battle for moral ends; for Schelling the spirit is a cosmic artistic construction, which transforms the external and internal worlds into a work of living art; for Hegel the cosmic spirit unfolds in a strict and rigorous logic, whose consummation is thought of thought. But while Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel look at the world each in his own way, they are members of one common movement toward spiritual freedom, and toward the reëstablishment of metaphysics.
The Life and Writings of Fichte (1762–1814).60 Johann Gottlieb Fichte was the most notable of the immediate disciples of Kant. In contrast with the undisturbed and uneventful scholastic retirement of his master, Fichte’s life looms up as a series of conflicts, sometimes with extreme poverty and sometimes with hostile forces created by his own stubborn and irascible disposition. Fichte’s external life was throughout one of curious contrasts, both of tragedy and romance. His love for the moral and theological appears in his early youth in his voluntary self-denial and in his sermons to the geese which he was herding. Again, he made preparation to become a preacher, but his intellectual training in the university drove him to abandon it. He became a necessitarian and tried to square his life with his philosophy, although it weighed his heart down. Then came the so-called “Atheistic Controversy” when he was professor at Jena, and his defiance of the authorities and his dismissal. In the tumultuous days at Berlin he turned his metaphysics into patriotic appeals, and would have joined the army, but his death intervened. The inner development of Fichte, too, was different from that of Kant. Kant’s inner development was coincident with his long life. Fichte, on the other hand, at the age of twenty-eight had read and accepted Kant’s philosophy, and four years later had created his own. This was only slightly modified in his later years in the direction of the pantheism of Spinoza. Kant’s life was apart from the political current of his time, while his doctrine became fundamental for all future philosophy. Fichte’s life and philosophy were more expressive of his time, but less lasting in their influence. Fichte is the philosophic preacher to his time; Kant is the instructor of all time.
Fichte’s life may be divided into four periods, which are marked by certain external events.
1. His Education (1762–1790). He was the son of a poor ribbon-maker. As a boy he worked for his father, and again at the equally humble employment of herding geese. It was during this latter occupation that his wonderful memory attracted the attention of a philanthropic nobleman, who gave him means for an education. Fichte studied theology, philosophy, and philology at Leipsic and Jena; but he had to face extreme poverty again upon the death of his benefactor. In 1788 he got a position as tutor in Zurich, and here he met Pestalozzi, Lavater, and his future wife, a niece of the poet, Klopstock. During this period his philosophy was a necessitarianism, which he had evolved from the theology in which he was trained and his reading of certain books on Spinoza.
2. Discipleship of Kant (1790–1794). Fichte returned from Zurich to Leipsic, and in the capacity of tutor in philosophy he assisted a young man in the reading of Kant’s Critique. He was at once converted heart and soul to the Kantian doctrine. In 1791 he called on Kant at Königsberg and submitted to Kant his Critique of Revelation. The next year he published this work, and by some fortunate accident his name as author was omitted from the title-page. The work was attributed to Kant, and was widely read as a masterpiece by Kant. Kant had to correct the mistake, which, however, made the real author, Fichte, famous. So he returned to Zurich in 1793 to marry Fräulein Rahn, who was herself now in comfortable circumstances.
3. His Life at Jena (1794–1799). The year 1794 was another milestone in the biography of Fichte. In this year he was called to Jena, then the principal university of Germany, to succeed Rheinhold. In this year he published his philosophy in his best known work, the Wissenschaftslehre. He remained at Jena only five years. At first his popularity exceeded that of the popular Rheinhold, but he soon filled his life with controversies. He quarreled with the students and the clergy, and in 1799 the so-called “Atheistic Controversy” arose, in which charges were brought against his teaching as atheism. Brooking no criticism either of his teaching or of his official position, he defied the authorities of the university and was dismissed.
4. His Life at Berlin (1799–1814). In 1799 Fichte went to Berlin to live. At first he had no academic affiliations, but he found a large and sympathetic public, to whom he lectured. He was warmly received by the circle of Romanticists,—the Schlegels, Tieck, and Schleiermacher. His philosophical system got little development; but the influence of Spinoza appeared in his teaching. He lectured upon the ethical and religious aspects of his philosophy, and upon political and social subjects. In 1808 he delivered his famous Addresses to the German People. In 1810 the University of Berlin was founded and he was called to the chair of philosophy, but he was connected with the university only two years. For in 1812 came the call to arms, and Fichte was with difficulty dissuaded from enlisting. He remained in Berlin and preached to the soldiers in camp. His wife volunteered as hospital nurse and contracted a fever, from which she recovered. Fichte, however, who nursed her through her sickness, died of the disease in 1814.
The Influences upon Fichte’s Teaching. Any estimate of the influences upon Fichte would be distorted that did not recognize the calibre of the man himself. Fichte was essentially a puritan reformer. He was impetuous and life-loving, but withal a simple-minded man. All the philosophical influences which he was capable of feeling would naturally be turned by him into ethical and religious sermons to reach the life of men. He must be thought of as the crusader armed with abstract truths, which he wields with a giant’s strength for the moral uplift of man.
It was natural then that the two principal influences upon Fichte’s doctrine should be Spinoza and Kant. To be sure, such writers as Lessing, Rousseau, and Pestalozzi furnished him much material in his early years, and the Romanticists in his later years. His wife, Johanna Rahn, was also a source of power to him, and through her influence after their marriage his aim became clearer and his character lost much of its harshness. But the two great influences upon Fichte were the two great philosophical forces of this time, Spinoza and Kant. Fichte’s philosophy has been described as “Spinoza in terms of Kant,” and also as “an inverted or idealistic Spinozism.” The influence of Spinoza upon Fichte’s thought is seen at both ends of his life. At the beginning he was an amateurish Spinozist. He found that the theological training of his boyhood was a necessitarianism like Spinozism. He lost his faith in Christianity, and he was unhappy because he found Spinoza’s doctrine of necessity was intolerable and yet unanswerable. Then he read Kant and found a solution of his difficulty without having to change the doctrine of Spinoza. For Kant had placed behind the necessitated world the free spirit. In the last period of Fichte’s life the influence of the mystical side of Spinozism appeared, through Fichte’s intercourse with the Romanticists in Berlin.
Why We Philosophize. To Fichte philosophy was distinctly a personal problem, and we feel in all his words that he is wrestling with his own nature. He found in his mind two very different classes of ideas, and he was certain that philosophical problems arise from their antagonism. On the one hand there are the ideas about the world of physical nature, which are only our experiences under the law of necessity. On the other hand there are the ideas of the individual consciousness, which are contingent and voluntary. Which of these two classes of ideas is primal? Fichte felt that all philosophical curiosity arose from the contrast of these two classes; the solution of philosophy and the satisfaction of our philosophical curiosity would be reached only by the reduction of one class to the other. Fichte calls the philosopher a dogmatist who seeks to reduce voluntary ideas, which compose our individual consciousness, to the necessitated series. Spinoza sought to do this, and the philosophy of Spinoza depressed Fichte as intolerable. But there is the alternative to the philosopher to explain the necessitated series by voluntary consciousness. This is idealism. The moment a man begins to reflect, he must choose between dogmatism, i. e. necessitarianism, and idealism. He is always confronted by an Either-Or, a choice between freedom and necessity.
The Moral Awakening. In his early life Fichte saw to his despair no escape from the philosophy of necessity. When he read the Critique of Pure Reason a great light came to him. He flung himself immediately upon the side of idealism. He saw that necessitated events were phenomena, and therefore the creations of consciousness. Consciousness cannot be the slave of necessitated events. Kant’s philosophy was to Fichte a work of art of the free spirit. The world cannot contain man and compel him. Man may be oppressed by the world, but he can see that such oppression is not real. In his Vocation of Man (1800) he gave in autobiographical terms the story of the awakening and development of the individual mind. At first one is overwhelmed by the sight of the necessitated events of the world. Next he comes to believe that all events are mere appearances, and he is weighed down by the still greater despair that no reality whatever exists. Finally he finds the rock of hope amid the sea of appearances. He finds an ultimate and irreducible fact in the categorical imperative of duty. “Thou must” is above necessity, above the phenomena that are always reducible to other phenomena. Duty means the freedom of my inner life. That there is always lodged in me a duty to perform, shows that I am superior to phenomena, that I am a citizen of the supersensuous world. This “heaven does not lie beyond the grave, but already encompasses us, and its light dawns in every human heart.” “That I myself am a freely acting individual must be the fundamental thought of every true philosopher.”
Every one must therefore choose between dogmatism and idealism, if he would not fall a victim to skeptical despair. Two motives will determine one’s choice: one theoretical, the other practical. The primary motive is the practical one, and since dogmatism and idealism are equally consistent systems, man’s choice will depend mainly on the manner of man he is. If the individual has a high sense of duty, he will be disposed to believe in his moral control over all his experiences, however much they may seem to be necessitated. Conscious freedom will seem to him to be the only satisfactory explanation of practical life. But then there will be the additional theoretical motive. The man that chooses either dogmatism or idealism must theoretically make his world consistent. The dogmatist cannot explain the conscious facts in terms of determinism; but, Fichte thinks, the idealist can explain the necessitated facts in terms of consciousness. At any rate the idealist has the task of rethinking his scientific knowledge.
The Central Principle in Fichte’s Philosophy. How does Fichte attempt to draw up a consistent theory so that he can overcome the dualism between the necessitated facts of physical nature and the free states of consciousness? As an idealist he must rethink the knowledge of science. But how is this to be done? What principle will he place at the central point of consciousness, so to illuminate the manifold problems of life that life’s dualism will prove to be only apparent after all? Here as answer we find the outcome of Fichte’s struggle with his own nature. He believed that the principle of the true philosophy of life comes from the study of consciousness. The nature of the Ego is the subject for philosophical study. What is the essence of the Ego or the personality? It is activity, will, vitality; not intellect and changelessness. But can we not get beneath the activity of the personality and ask, Why does it act? Yes, because it ought. When we have said this we have said all. The essence of the vitality of the Ego is moral obligation. Ought is the foundation of life; it is ultimate ground of existence. If we ask why there is an ought, the only answer is, there ought to be. The duty exists that you and I shall have a duty. In order to be, the Ego must act; and it acts in response to duty. This activity is free activity. The Ego is unconditioned because it is acting out its own nature. Thus when Fichte is talking about the Ego, the ought, the moral law or freedom, he is talking about the same thing in different guises. Fichte placed moral freedom as the central principle of metaphysics and tried to rethink the world of necessitated experiences in terms of moral freedom. He attempted to construct a monistic view of life, of which the free moral personality should be its inner vitality. Monism and liberty was Fichte’s war-cry. Reality is in us; there can be no reality independent of us. The morally free Ego is the central principle of life.
Such a message to the German people would appeal to two sides of their nature. It would appeal as a metaphysics to the mysticism in their blood; it would find also a practical response in the humanitarian and revolutionary spirit of that revolutionary time. Be up and be doing, for reality is not what people commonly think it is. Your environment is only apparently an independent existence beyond your control. Reality is not static. Rethink it and make it dynamic. Not being, but acting, and free acting, is reality. Such was Fichte’s sermon to the Germans of his day. His theory can be stated in the terms of the Greek Heracleitus, “All things change,” provided the change be thought of as moral activity. To philosophize was to Fichte to think the universe as free moral activity, to see inactivity nowhere, to free ourselves from dualism and to participate in the universal freedom. Freedom is higher than truth. Existence is derived from thought in action, and thus our existence and our environment may be shaped by us. Thought is essentially action, and we shall educate the world only through our own activity.
The Moral World. Fichte had a philosophy, the principles of which he repeated over and over again as a kind of habit. He was a man of few but great ideas. He was inspired by some general conceptions which he did not carefully elaborate. His philosophy can be expressed in few words, and his point of view is not difficult to feel. Nevertheless, there is great difficulty in restating his meaning. He maintained that Kant’s early philosophy was not truly Kantian, and that he, Fichte, represented the true Kant. In taking this stand he was obliged to do two things: to explain away the thing-in-itself, and to rethink the world of necessitated nature in terms of the activity of the morally free Ego.
If we start from the heart of existence—the active Ego—the world spreads out before us as a system of reason which has been created by the activity of the Ego. On this account Fichte’s philosophy has been called subjective idealism. In such a scheme of things there is no place for the Kantian thing-in-itself. All Being is only an extended product of the active Ego and the object of its knowledge. The Ego acts because it must, and then reflects upon its activity. Its knowledge of its activity is in grades from sense-perception to complete knowledge. Now Kant had referred sensations to the thing-in-itself as their source. But this is unnecessary, since sensations are only the activity of the Ego. Sensations are the groundless, free act of the Ego. They appear to be “given,” because they appear to be foreign and coming from without. They are, however, only the lowest form of the activity of the personality—they are unconscious self-limitation of the Ego. The sensations have no ground that determines them, but as the lowest form of the activity of the Ego they are absolutely free. Thus the thing-in-itself becomes superfluous, since it is not necessary to account for sensations.
The next task for Fichte is to rethink the series of necessitated events of physical nature. If we will look at these events from the point of view of the willing Ego, which is reality, they will be seen to be products of purposive action. Together they will make a world of connected rational activities rather than a mechanical system. The necessity in nature is not causal, but teleological. It is not the necessity linking the series of events together, but rather the linking of each event to the acting Ego, and thus the connecting of the whole series. Take the idealist’s position and this illuminating thought will come to you: a thing is not because something else is, but in order that something else may be. As moral beings we have tasks. As moral beings we are the impersonation of duty, and duty is reality. These phenomena that so trouble us because we think them necessitated are only contingent upon the performance of our duty. The existence of one thing is not to be explained by the existence of another, but by the existence of me, an Ego. Phenomena are little steps toward great ends. When I rethink the world I see no causal relationship, but the teleological means for the achievement of purposes by striving souls. History and nature—these are the material created by human beings for their own activity. We not only create our human drama, but we create also the stage upon which it is performed. Being is not the cause of Doing, but Being is created for the sake of Doing. Whatever is, is to be explained by what ought to be. “The world is the theatre of moral action.” “Nature is the sensible material of duty.”
God and Man. If Fichte regarded the human personality from this moral height, he would naturally give a new meaning to God, the absolute reality. God is not a substance, a something that “is.” God is the universal moral process, the moral world-order. God is the Universal Ego, a free, world-creating activity. God was conceived by Fichte as Matthew Arnold’s “something not ourselves that makes for righteousness.” When I find in myself that duty is reality and not this or that fixed and crystallized thing, when I find that my real self is moral functioning and not a tangible form of flesh and bones, then I take the next step. I then find that God is universal duty, universal moral functioning, in which I am participating. We are not only part of God—yea, we are He. As the Holy Writ says, “Ye are Gods.” The absolute Ego manifests Itself in our poor finite Egos. How dignified our humble lot is made by thinking that in our acting, God is acting! We are fighting God’s battle, and His victory is not won except as we win. Duty in us is the clarion voice of God, and we are persons so far as we express that voice. It matters little whether I speak of my own duty or the moral purpose of the world. They are the same thing.
This enjoined labor upon every rational soul to perform his duty of reaching high ideals, through his humble tasks, of “fighting the good fight and keeping the faith,” is to Fichte the meaning of coming to a consciousness of one’s self. What is myself, my real self? It is not this phenomenal existence with its appearance of necessity. It is the eternal and everlasting duty within me. What is it to think myself? It is to think my duty; and to think duty is to think God. When I come to consciousness of myself, the cosmic order is coming so far to self-consciousness. Reality is so far attained. History is the record of this process of the moral order coming to self-consciousness.
In his later teaching Fichte succumbed to the victorious Spinozism of the period. He conceived God as an Ego whose infinite impulse is directed toward Himself; he conceived finite things as products of this infinitely active consciousness. The finite products find their vocation in imitating the infinite producer, which imitation consists not in the activity of producing other finite things through the categorical imperative, but in the “blessed life” of sinking into the infinite.
What a Moral Reality involves. Since reality is this process of moral development, its conditions will arise out of itself and be its own creation. Since the world is reason coming to itself, it must develop its own conditions out of its original task. All the acts of history must be explained as the original “deed-act,” as Fichte calls it. Fichte thought that the whole business of philosophy consists in showing what is involved in this original “deed-act” of consciousness, this attempt of consciousness to think itself. Since self-consciousness is reality, this will be the same as showing what reality involves.
1. In the first place, consciousness always involves the consciousness of something else. To use Fichte’s technical language, the Ego posits itself (since it is a moral process) and in the same act it posits a non-Ego (which is the necessary object of consciousness). “The absolute Ego asserts a distinguishable Ego against a distinguishable non-Ego.” It is like a boy who feels the call to become a lawyer. He asserts himself in that call, and at the same time in that assertion he creates his life’s career. His career in the law is his non-Ego. Both the Ego and the non-Ego are creations of that absolute Ego, which is the ever surging duty or God. While both the Ego and the non-Ego are the creations of that absolute Ego, which is cosmic duty or God, yet each limits the other. Ego and non-Ego are correlative terms; both originate in the free act of God. The world is, therefore, the creation of the real self as the condition of its own activity. It even creates its sensations as the given materials of its knowledge. The world is the material of duty put into sense forms. While we create matter in order that we may be active in it, the spatial and temporal forms, its categories, limit our activities.
2. In the second place, this awakening of the Ego to a consciousness of itself involves a curious contradiction. Duty is by nature contradictory. Duty calls me to know myself and to perform my task, and yet in that call duty prevents the task from being performed. In attempting to know duty completely I am always under the condition of an opposing and limiting non-Ego. The non-Ego is essential to the Ego and at the same time thwarts the Ego’s full knowledge of itself. So long as the non-Ego exists, no complete knowledge of myself is possible. A limiting non-Ego makes the Ego limited, and therefore prevents complete knowledge and fulfillment of duty. Duty calls upon us to perform a task, but under conditions such that it cannot be performed. So long as the boy strives in his legal profession, duty appears; but so long is duty rendered incomplete. Moral progress is endless, but that only shows how contented we must be with the process of striving and not with some static condition. To strive morally is reality; the goal is nowhere. The contradiction is seen in the eternal contrast between what is and what ought to be, between the moral task and the actual performance. We are under the requirement to perform, and in the requirement is the restraint. The dialectic process is endless. First there is the stage which Fichte calls the Thesis in the call of the absolute Ego. The next stage is the Antithesis, seen in the mutually limiting Ego and non-Ego. The next stage is the Synthesis, in which some accomplishment is gained, but which becomes only the Thesis for another Antithesis; and so on infinitely. The terms Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis are important, for they are employed by Fichte’s successors, Schelling and Hegel.
Romanticism.61 “We seek the plan of nature in the outside world. We ourselves are this plan. Why need we traverse the difficult roads through physical nature? The better and purer road lies within our own mind.” (Novalis.)
Romanticism was a great European movement which lasted about a century from 1750 to 1850; and it would be perfectly justifiable to speak of the intellectual period in Germany from Lessing to Heine as Romanticism. Rousseau and the French Revolutionists, Ossian, Scott, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, and Wagner were in the forefront of this world-wide movement. The Storm and Stress Period was a phase of it; and so even was the Period of Classicism that followed. Goethe and Schiller were Romanticists, and Classicism was only an episode in their lives. The Period of German Classicism (1787–1805) was different from the Classicism of the seventeenth century, because it was thoroughly infected with Romantic germs. If one is to take account of the different phases of German thought after Lessing, one mentions first the Storm and Stress Period, then Classicism, and then the Romantic movement proper from 1795 to 1850. Some of the literary names connected with the Romantic movement have already been mentioned,—Richter, Tieck, Wackenroder, Novalis, the Schlegels, Schiller, and Goethe. Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel are the philosophers of this Romantic movement and embody its spirit in different degrees. The true philosophical exponent of it is Schelling.
Romanticism is an accidental and inadequate name for this world-wide literary and philosophical movement. In general it means the exalting of the individual, “who admits no law above himself.” The Romantic individuality is dominated by unrestrained fancy, is animated by feeling and passion, and prefers the vague and mystical to the clear and defined. In literature Romanticism is contrasted with Classicism. The Classicist emphasizes the type, the Romanticist the individual. The Classicist defers to traditional form and law; the Romanticist has no common canon even with other Romanticists except the right to disagree. The only common principle among Romanticists is subjective—the truth of the individual intuitions, which in the case of the historical Romanticists found expression in the play of fiercely egoistic wills seeking self-realization. The historical Romantic movement was a passionate and mighty reaction against the previous shallow intellectual life with its narrow conventions. Romanticism was a revolt against the period of the Enlightenment, which scorned what it could not define. These Romanticists were discontented with typical ideas and with logical reasoning about them. They challenged the universe, because it was not obedient to their egoistic cravings.
It is very clear what the dangers as well as the greatness of this German Romanticism were. The dangers of the movement lay within itself, in its aristocratic exclusiveness, its reluctance to face the forces of evil, its lack of strength and of firmness of character. Yet the age itself may be largely responsible for these. Its strength lay also within, in its deepening of self-consciousness, in its rejuvenating and ennobling the whole expanse of being, in its intellectual conception of man’s most intimate relations to himself, to his companions, and to the world around him. Sometimes, indeed, the spiritual force of this small band shows itself quite capable of strong action in the outer world. Napoleon himself ascribed his downfall not primarily to diplomacy or to the bayonet, but to the resistance of the German Ideologists.
Goethe as a Romanticist. We have already spoken of the resurrection of Spinoza’s doctrine and its acceptance as a model by this time. The Romanticists, following Spinoza, conceived of nature as a unity in which the divine manifests itself in its fullness. Nature is Reason in Becoming. So fitting, indeed, for the time was Spinoza’s pantheism that Goethe, the literary exponent of the period, made it the central principle of his poetic thought. Goethe can be understood only as the Romantic Spinoza. The philosophy that underlies Goethe’s work is noted here as an example of the Romantic movement.
Like all the Romantic philosophy, Goethe’s philosophy was a personal revelation, and not a formulated doctrine for universal application. Like all the Romanticists, Goethe was a highly strung personality, and his philosophy was conceived to be true by himself only for himself. He did not look upon the trivialities and the conventions of life as mere limitations of his personality, but as a fall from truth. Truth is realized by man when he is in vital interchange with the universe. Therefore Goethe was in full agreement with Spinoza in longing for emancipation from human littleness and in his desire for the infinite. Goethe differed from Spinoza’s pantheism in his own way; for Goethe conceived man to have an independent function in the infinite. Man makes his contribution to history and does not merely passively appropriate the products of the world around himself. Man reacts upon the world, he resists it, and becomes alive to the joy of it.
To Goethe the world had a soul, because the world gives clearness to the human soul. Nature shows how closely she is related to us by disclosing to us her inmost soul. Here in Goethe is a mysticism in modern garb, an artistic view of life. Besides, the world expresses human experiences on a large scale, and the way to nature’s heart is not to go behind nature-phenomena, but through them. The facts of nature are real, and our own life is like nature. Both move in prescribed orbits, but both are empty if the connection between them is severed. We find therefore the secret of our life by returning to nature, and this is a return to the spiritual whole of things. At different times Goethe was pantheist, naturalist, and theist. He believed that all finite life is divine, and is a synthesis of opposite forces, in which individuality has a place. Humanity is ruled by necessary types, yet within them the individual is free. Such free individuals take their objects from the world, spiritually endow these objects, and thus make art and ethics very close to nature.
Romanticism in Philosophy.62 The Romantic movement was intrinsically speculative and naturally had its representatives in philosophy, which is systematic speculation. Fichte and Hegel, but especially Schelling, are the philosophical exponents of the revolutionary spirit of the age. All three were demonstrators in philosophy of the truths and dreams held by ardent souls, but Schelling’s system reflected the spiritual upheaval. Fichte belongs to the Romantic movement inasmuch as he strives for the infinite, but Fichte separates himself from that movement by distinguishing between consciousness and its content. The true Romantic spirit appears in Schelling—the impulse to revel in intuitions, in symbolism, to run riot first in nature and art, and afterwards in religion. The Romantic philosophers were friends and sympathizers of the Romanticists, living in the same city, sometimes in the same house, and were members of the same spiritual family. But it must be remembered that there was not one Romanticist leader with many imitators, but that each Romanticist followed out his own line. When we speak of Schelling as a Romantic philosopher we mean that he gives the speculative tendency of the many Romanticists his own clearer definition and formulation. The background of Schelling’s philosophy is the source of the Romanticists’ motives. It may be stated under three headings:—
(1) Man’s ideal is to expand his soul until it becomes one with God.
(2) There is no Thing-in-Itself. The finite world is only a limitation of the ego.
(3) Man and the nature world are essentially one. Man has a knowledge of nature when he has a knowledge of himself. In reading his own history he reads the history of nature. The Romanticist drew a veil from the face of nature and found there his own spirit.
The Life and the Writings of Schelling (1775–1854).63 Of Schelling’s long life of seventy-nine years, the fifteen years from 1795 to 1810 were the most important productive period. Like Berkeley, he was a many-sided genius, and began to write brilliantly in his early years. He published his first treatise at sixteen years, and before he was twenty he published several essays of distinct merit on Fichte’s philosophy, the success of which led to his call to the chair of philosophy at Jena. All his technical works were written in an academic atmosphere. After 1812 he, so fond of writing, became silent. He even ceased to deliver lectures at the University of Berlin when he found that notes of them were published without his consent. Hegel, in commenting on Schelling, said that Schelling liked to carry on his thinking in public.
Schelling and Fichte may be studied together because they are alike in developing one side of Kant’s doctrine. But their careers were very different. Contrasted with Fichte’s life of poverty, struggle, self-created antagonisms, long-delayed victory, and devotion to rigorous morality, is Schelling’s life of early academic success, prosperity, and romantic friendships. The life of Kant was one of inner development and outward routine; that of Fichte of early formulated thought and external warfare. Schelling’s life, on the other hand, does not strike us as one of development, either externally or subjectively. It was rather a series of changes. He looked upon his own philosophy as a development, but its linkage is thread-like, due to his wonderful imagination and mobility of thought. With his great suggestive power, he depended more upon analogy than logic; his argument and his philosophy lie before us as if ever in process of continuous readaptation. Schelling possessed all the fervor and insight of the Romanticists, and all their egoism and caprice. It is even more difficult to characterize his philosophy than that of Spinoza. He was monist, pantheist, and evolutionist; parallelist, theosophist, and believer in freedom; he accepted the doctrine of the Trinity; in all this he was the true Romanticist. Schelling’s philosophy of nature is intelligible only in the light of the great artistic ferment of his time and as the expression of his strong artistic personality. His ideal of artistic insight into nature became for him his idea of science. Reality is nature, and nature is a work of art, self composed and self renewing. The endeavor of Schelling was to fashion all human existence into artistic form. At first he looked upon nature as rational, but later he was impressed with its irrationality.
Schelling’s life may be divided into six periods on the basis of the changes of his thought:—
1. Earlier Period (1775–1797). Schelling was the son of the chaplain of a cloister school near Tübingen, and was educated in history and speculative science in the university of that town. After his university education he held the position of tutor in a nobleman’s family at Leipsic for two years. During this time he listened to lectures at the University of Leipsic on medicine and physics. Before he was twenty he had published several notable essays on speculative matters, among them The Ego as a Principle in Philosophy; and in 1797 Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature. These led to his call to a chair in the University of Jena. Schelling was early acquainted with the doctrine of Leibnitz, but the most powerful influences upon him at this time were Kant and, especially, Fichte.
2. The Philosophy of Nature (1797–1800). Schelling was called to Jena through the influence of Goethe, Schiller, and Fichte; and it was here that he completed what he had begun at Leipsic—the supplementation of Fichte’s philosophy with a Philosophy of Nature (written 1798). He was colleague of Fichte and afterwards a helpful friend of Hegel. Jena was then the centre of the Romantic movement, the moving spirit of which was Caroline, the wife of August Schlegel. Schelling was very successful at Jena as lecturer, and his publications at this time were very many.
3. The Transcendental Philosophy (1800–1801). While still at Jena he felt the influence of Schiller, who had united the ideas of Kant and Goethe into an Æsthetic Idealism. Under this influence Schelling reconstructed the Fichtean philosophy of the Ego on a Romantic basis.
4. The Philosophy of Identity (1801–1804). Schelling now undertook to put his recast philosophy of Fichte upon the basis of Spinozism. This caused a break between him and Fichte and Hegel. In 1803 he married Caroline, the divorced wife of August Schlegel and the idol of the Romantic circle, and the same year accepted a call to the University of Wurzburg, where he remained three years (1803–1806).
5. The Philosophy of Freedom and God (1804–1809). The doctrine of Schelling now became mystical and showed the influence of Boehme. In 1806 Schelling was called to the Academy of Munich.
6. The Philosophy of Mythology and Revelation (1809–1854). This may be well called Schelling’s period of silence, so far as publication was concerned. He who had poured forth his thoughts in print now became averse to publishing anything. He accepted the call to Munich in 1806 and remained there, excepting his seven years at Erlangen, thirty-five years (until 1841). During this time he was much under the influence of Aristotle, neo-Platonism, and the Gnostics. He had first an official position at the Academy of Munich; then he spent seven years as teacher at the University of Erlangen (1820–1827); and in 1827 he entered the newly founded University of Munich. In 1841 he was called to Berlin to counteract the Hegelian movement, and he became a member of the Academy with the privilege of lecturing at the University. He was now sixty-six, and he spent the remaining years in elaborating his system. He died in 1854.
A Brief Comparison of Fichte and Schelling as Philosophers. We have already spoken of the relation of Fichte and Schelling to the Romantic movement. What is their relation as philosophers? Fichte’s idealism is commonly called subjective because of his emphasis upon the Ego at the expense of the non-Ego. In non-technical terms Fichte gave no adequate philosophy of nature; for his assumption was that nature is only material for the reason. Nature to Fichte was only the stage upon which the reason could act. Fichte’s keen insight into human affairs blinded him to the meaning of nature. The contribution of Schelling to the philosophy of nature was not therefore unwelcomed by Fichte; for he saw that such a philosophy could easily be developed from his point of view, provided nature be regarded as a unity in the service of the reason. In brief, the development of Schelling over Fichte was this: (1) Schelling added a science of nature to Fichte’s science of mind; (2) Then he transformed Fichte’s philosophy of mind into an æsthetic philosophy of mind; (3) Then he tried in several successive attempts to find a common metaphysical ground for his own philosophy of nature and his recast philosophy of mind. While the method of Schelling was not different from that of Fichte, his general motive was different; for to Schelling the universe must not be regarded as the creation of an active moral Ego, but as having an existence of its own. While for Fichte to think is to produce, for Schelling it is to reproduce. To the investigating mind of Schelling experience and observation are the sources of knowledge; yet it must not be inferred that Schelling’s philosophy was inductive or that he derived the Ego from the non-Ego, as if the Ego had been evolved from the non-Ego. These were the days before the modern theory of evolution. Mind does not have its source in nature; on the contrary, mind and nature have a common source in the Reason. They have a parallel existence and develop according to the same law. Nature is existing Reason, mind is thinking Reason.
Schelling’s Philosophy of Nature. Schelling started with Kant’s early conception of nature as dynamic—that matter exists through the interplay of the forces of attraction and repulsion. The human organism is the highest expression of such dynamic activity. In the world there is nothing dead. Matter is the lowest expression of dynamic activity; the vegetable is next, the animal next, and the human brain is the consummation of this process of productivity. Thus matter on the one hand and mind on the other are the two poles of reason in nature. Everything is life movement; everything is the oscillation between two extremes, the interplay of contrary but correlative forces. In romantic terms, nature is the Self in Becoming. Nature is a living whole which manifests itself in an ascending scale of rich and varied forces between matter and mind.
Such a conception met consistently the demands of this Romantic period.64 The high expectations of the physicists of the previous century had been unfulfilled, for they had not succeeded in obtaining a purely mechanical explanation of the derivation of life from matter. Darwin was still to come. Medicine, which was at that time showing great progress, offered no argument for the mechanical conception of the world. There had, however, been many discoveries at this time in electricity and magnetism; and these mysterious qualities seemed to repudiate the mechanical theory. Vitalism thus usurped the place of mathematics. Spinoza rather than Galileo was the model of the time. Nature must be conceived as a unity in which the Divine manifests itself in its fullness.
All these influences appear in Schelling’s first philosophical undertaking. He states philosophically what Goethe states poetically. Nature is not to be described in quantities nor measured by rule. It transcends measurement. It is to be truly understood only as productivity having organic life as its goal. Nature is rational life, not mechanism. Everything has its logically determined place. Schelling used the natural science of his time to show how the connection of forces and their transformation into one another were the manifestation of divine cosmic purpose. The gaps he filled in with teleological conceptions. He used morphology with the same purpose as Goethe. He felt the same need of a deeper meaning of nature than mathematics can give—the need of a rational purposeful meaning. Goethe shows this in his “Theory of Colors” when he looks upon colors not as atomic movements, but as something essentially qualitative. Schelling, too, was not an evolutionist in the modern sense, and he did not regard one species as derived from another. He thought of species in an ascending scale, to be sure; but he saw in each only the preliminary stage to the next, and all as the divine expression. One accomplishment of nature merely precedes another in time.
The nineteenth century looked back on this Romantic science as merely a fit of excessive sentiment that has impeded the modern work of serious investigation. Yet it may safely be said that the nineteenth century has not settled the question, and that nature will always need a rational as well as a mechanical explanation.
Schelling’s Transcendental Philosophy. The Philosophy of Nature ends with the explanation of sensitivity; and it is there for Schelling that the philosophy of knowledge begins. When three years later Schelling was ready to reconstruct Fichte’s philosophy of mind—when he was ready to break with Fichte—he was influenced by the great change that had come over the thought of the Jena idealists. This change was due curiously enough to the philosophy of the intimate friend of Goethe, the poet Schiller. Here again the proximity of Weimar and Jena was the cause of the reciprocal influence of philosophy and literature. Schelling was the first to give this new thought its philosophical expression. The theory of Schiller is an æsthetic idealism in which the artistic function supplants the moral law of Fichte and Kant, and is the fundamental reality of life.
When Schiller65 reshaped Kant’s moral philosophy he was not concerned, as might be supposed, merely with æsthetic results, but with conduct, history, and the whole system of metaphysics. The problem always uppermost in Schiller’s mind was the place of art and beauty in the whole system of things. So when he tried to reconcile Kant’s theoretical reason and Kant’s practical reason, he naturally looked to art for such reconciliation. What is there that is both necessary and free? Beauty! “Beauty is freedom in phenomenal appearance.” Æsthetic contemplation apprehends the beautiful object, and yet in so doing it transcends all the trammels and bonds of experience. The artistic ecstasy is freedom in necessity. It is independent of moral as well as intellectual rules. Beauty is as little an object of sense as of will. It does not have the quality of need that belongs to sense phenomena, nor of earnestness that accompanies morality. Sense is obliterated; the stirrings of the will become silent. That which appears was called by Schiller the “play impulse.” Toward the education of man Schiller thus offered art, while Kant had presented religion. Art refines the feelings, tempers the sensuous will, and makes room for the moral will. Yet the moral will is not the end; for art is not only the means of education, but the goal as well. Complete life comes when the conflict between morality and sense disappears in artistic feeling. “Only as man plays is he truly man.” The ideal that Schiller formulated for this Romantic age was the “schöne Seele.” While in the soul of man the Kantian rigoristic moral law exists when sense stands in opposition to duty, the “beautiful soul” does not know conflict because its nature is ennobled by its own inclination. This æsthetic humanism Schiller expresses for his time in antithesis to Kant’s and Fichte’s rigorism. Goethe impersonated this ideal in his life and represented it in his works. The Romanticists carried this conception to its extreme both in their practice and in their literary productions. Thus they came to stand for an aristocracy of culture, and in them “ethical geniality” culminated. The Romanticist contrasted himself with the “Philistine” who lives according to rules. The Romanticist would live out his own individuality as valuable in itself. He substituted the endless play of the imagination for Fichte’s moral law, and was frequently very wayward and capricious. This is seen in Schlegel’s Lucinde. Schleiermacher the preacher tried to preserve the purity of Schiller’s doctrine.
In his construction of his own philosophy of mind Schelling adopted completely Schiller’s theory of the æsthetic reason in what he called Transcendental Idealism. He looked upon the Fichtean antithesis between theoretical and practical reason as the same as that between the unconscious and the conscious activity of the Self. Theoretically, or from the point of view of the understanding, consciousness is determined by the unconscious; practically, or from the point of view of the will, the unconscious is the creation of consciousness. The practical or willing Self re-shapes the products of the nature world. For a thinking being is not merely a reflector or re-presenter of events as they occur in the nature world—as nature produces them. Thinking man is not merely passive. He re-shapes and transforms nature through the freedom of his morality.
But neither the series of passively apprehended events, nor the series of events transformed by the active moral will, is ever complete. Neither as a passive product of nature nor as a moral will is man a perfected being. In either condition man perpetually feels the contradiction, since he is neither wholly passive nor wholly active. The antagonism between will and sense is ever present. Man realizes the fullness of his Ego, when he transcends both will and sense, both morality and science, in the conscious-unconscious activity of artistic genius. This is the highest synthesis. In Schelling’s lectures delivered at Jena on the philosophy of art, after he had written his Transcendental Idealism, he developed and applied this theory and it determined the subsequent development of æsthetics in the Jena circle. Kant had previously defined genius as intellect that works like nature; Schiller had defined it as playing; Schelling looked upon it as æsthetic reason and the climax of the philosophy of mind. Art, and not logic, is the instrument by which the reason develops. Artistic reason is the goal toward which the reason aims.
The System of Identity. Schelling published his Transcendental Idealism in 1800. In the next year he published his System of Identity in the hope of finding some common ground for his two preceding points of view. For Nature is not absolute, but is a limited objective Ego; and Mind is also not absolute, but is also limited, although subjective. The Self perceives the object as other than itself, and in subsequent reflection it sees the object as a form of its own deeper Self. Subject and object, mind and nature, are one in reality. The question then is, Does the absolute Self exist? Yes, but outside the conditions of existence and beyond all contradictions. It is itself the highest condition, the unconditioned condition. But what is the basis of these two antithetical aspects of life? The most suitable name that Schelling could give it was Identity or Indifference; for other names would imply conditions. In this attempt to construct an absolute Idealism, Schelling shows the influence of Spinoza. Identity reminds us of Spinoza’s substance,—a reality that is absolutely indifferent to both mental and nature phenomena, and yet is the reality of both. It is absolute reason undetermined in its content. It was this turning to Spinozism on the part of Schelling, that made Hegel break with him and call his Identity “the night, in which all cows are black.” Schelling even came so much under the influence of Spinoza as to imitate Spinoza’s form of presentation in the Ethics. But Schelling regarded the objective and subjective worlds not after the manner of Spinoza as independent of each other. On the contrary he looked upon every phenomenon as both ideal and real, and as having its logical place according to the degree in which the two elements are combined. Differences are what constitute phenomena; the Absolute is the Indifferent. Schelling illustrates this by the magnet, which is itself an indifference of opposite poles of varying intensity.
In the nature series the objective factor predominates, and in the mental series the subjective factor. The universe is the most perfect work of art, the most perfect organism, and the best expression of God.
Schelling’s Religious Philosophy. Romanticism took a religious turn at the beginning of the eighteenth century under the influence of Schleiermacher.66 The motive of this movement was the thought that religious feeling lies below art. Reason can be completed only in religion, by which is meant not dogma, nor morality, but an æsthetic relation to the world-ground, a pious feeling of absolute dependence. It is the feeling of being permeated by the Absolute. Schleiermacher taught in the true Romantic spirit that religion is an individual matter and is different from church organization. Thus in this time of quickly passing shades of imaginative thought Schiller idealized Greece and Schleiermacher the Middle Ages. Susceptible as he was to every idea of his time, Schelling embodied this teaching of Schleiermacher in his later teaching. With the other Romanticists he expected that the concept of religion would furnish a final basis for the solution of all problems, overcome all antitheses in an inner harmony, and bring about the eternal welfare of all.
Schelling now no longer called the Absolute Indifference, but God or Infinity, and he conceived Him as possessing modes and potencies. In the development of this new line of thought he introduced the neo-Platonic doctrine of Ideas as God’s intuitions of Himself, and as intermediaries with the world. Later Schelling passed through another change, and this doctrine grew under his hands into a theosophy and a theory of the irrational. The influence of Schelling was eclipsed by Hegel after Schelling retired to Munich; and Schelling saw his rival in control of German academic thought for many years. But he had the satisfaction in his old age of being called by the authorities to Berlin as the official spokesman against the Hegelian doctrine.
Hegel and the Culmination of Idealism. We have divided the philosophers after Kant into two groups; (1) Fichte, Schelling and the Romanticists, and Hegel; (2) Herbart and Schopenhauer. In this first group, which we have at present under our eye, Fichte is the ethical exhorter, Schelling the Romantic nature-lover, and Hegel the intellectual systematizer. Fichte’s conception of Reality is always an ethical ideal unrealized, in whose cause men are called to fight for conviction’s sake. Schelling points to the beauty of nature’s productivity as a reality that lies hidden in mystery. Both these theories show profound insight into life and both are expressive of the period in its attitude toward life. Fichte is the type of the Puritan idealist; Schelling the type of the sentimentalist. Yet both, even from the point of view of the Idealism of the period, were partial expressions. Idealism was a social movement; and like all social movements must run its course. It would not stop until it had culminated in a full and systematic formulation. This was found in the philosophy of Hegel. The social forces of the eighteenth century had been gathering a momentum, which naturally came to a magnificent climax. On its political side this movement culminated under the leadership of the greatest of all political idealists, Napoleon Bonaparte, in 1815 at Waterloo. On its intellectual side it reached its completion in the philosophical system of Hegel. Hegel died in 1831, and his intellectual kingdom, like the political kingdom of Napoleon, was immediately shattered. But the observer of the currents of history will find much significance in the stubborn persistence of the intellectual phase of the Idealistic movement long after its political dominance had gone. Hegel ruled the intellectual world of Germany from Berlin for sixteen years after the battle of Waterloo, and his philosophy was officially recognized by the Berlin authorities. This stubbornness of the realm of ideas can be exemplified throughout history, for it requires more than one political earthquake to demolish a well-organized intellectual theory.
Hegel may be said to have drawn the scattered threads of the preceding idealists into a system. Like them, he firmly grounded his philosophy on the Kantian epistemology. Like them also, he sought to find absolute reality by means of the conscious Ego. This only means that all three were idealists. But Fichte’s conception of the Ego was only partially formed. It could not be an absolute reality, since it needed to be confronted by a non-Ego in order to assert itself and live. Hegel was discerning enough to see that Reason was more fundamental than either action, purpose, or consciousness itself. To him both the Ego and the non-Ego were in essence Reason. The Ego could not know that it had created the non-Ego unless the Ego was in the beginning rational. To distinguish the Ego from the non-Ego, there must be some ground of similarity upon which both are based. In his search for this ground Hegel at first allied himself with Schelling. The brilliancy of Schelling’s thought dazzled him. Then he saw that Schelling only led back to the abstract universal of Spinoza. A mystical “black night” Identity was not actual nor did it explain anything actual. It merely said that the Absolutely Real is unknowable. This is too easy a solution of the complexity of life. Having neither meaning nor actuality, it cannot explain the actual concrete and meaningful things. The Absolutely Real must be a universal, but it must also be concrete. History has been the Reason in its toil and travail. The Absolutely Real must include history and it must be Reason. With Fichte the “deed act” had primacy, with Schelling the æsthetic feeling, with Hegel the Reason as an articulated series of concepts.
Why Hegel remains to-day the Representative of Kant. There were several reasons why Hegel remains the representative of Kant:—
1. He had more learning and ability than the other post-Kantians.
2. His own interpretation was an interpretation of facts. By the other post-Kantians things are not represented as they are, but as they have been transformed. Hegel, however, was a respecter of things as they are. Hegel was possessed of no sentiment. He was a satirist; although a romanticist, he was an encyclopædic historian as well. He was a philosopher in that old-time sense of wishing to know the nature of things.
3. He was fortunate in his application of Kant’s doctrine to evolution. It proved to be the beginning of the movement which appeared later in Darwin. People were going to be evolutionists in the nineteenth century, and Hegel played into their hands and helped evolution.
4. Hegel gave to his philosophy the air of orthodoxy. In the nineteenth century there was a desire for Christianity that was orthodox. Hegel offered no objection to allowing that interpretation to be placed upon his philosophy.
The Life and Writings of Hegel (1770–1831).67 The slow movement of Hegel’s diction is paralleled by his gradual development in thought. He was the most painstaking metaphysician that ever completed a philosophy. While he was lacking in the painful hesitation that made Kant consume so much time in introductions as to have little for the body of his discourses and none for the completion of his philosophy, he was nevertheless a plodding, careful, and prosaic thinker. As a boy he showed these traits without showing any predominant taste or capacity. “He was that uninteresting character—the good boy who takes prizes in every class, including the prize for good conduct.” As a man he was shrewd and reserved, overbearing to his inferiors and opponents, and even patronizing to his superiors. He was the type of the pedantic teacher who brooks no opposition. Like Kant’s, his life was entirely academic, but unlike Kant’s, his experience was in many university circles—Tübingen, Jena, Heidelberg, and Berlin. His thirteen years at Berlin were remarkable, not only for his philosophical dominance, but for his influence in society and court. The official recognition of his philosophy by the Berlin authorities was a detriment in the end; for immediately after his death, in 1831, it lost its influence. Hegel had succeeded Fichte at Berlin, and by the irony of fate, Schelling, already an old man in Vienna, was called by the Berlin authorities to combat Hegel’s influence. Hegel’s followers, after his death, became engaged in angry disputes over their interpretations of their master’s philosophy. His philosophy was attacked by Herbart. The intellectual world turned away from him to empirical discoveries and the doctrine of evolution. In twenty years Hegel’s influence was insignificant, and to-day his name is scarcely mentioned in the lecture room of a German university. His influence is, however, growing and powerful in England and the United States. Still it must be said that even in Germany no one has so dominated the direction of jurisprudence, sociology, theology, æsthetics, and history (a science which Hegel himself created). Hegel’s erudition, his ability to systematize, his power of discrimination, are sufficient to explain such influence. The illumination that his philosophy gives, lies less in his metaphysical theory than in his application of it to history and tradition. He won adherents, not by his abstruse arguments that so few can understand, but by illustration; not by his demonstration of the Absolute, but by showing how that Absolute is what the religious devotee seeks, what the moralist presupposes and the historian recognizes. In carrying out his theory in detail he arbitrarily fitted his facts to his theory, especially in the philosophy of nature, the history of philosophy, and history. In the realm of pure thought, where conceptual facts are dealt with, this is not so apparent. He was successful, for example, in the science of æsthetics.
Hegel’s literary style is difficult, and his technicalities are almost barbarous. He uses philosophical and common terms with meanings to suit himself. He loves paradoxical phrases, and is pedantic in his insistence on systematic arrangement.
1. Formative Period (1770–1796). Hegel was born at Stuttgart in 1770, and in the years between 1788 and 1793 he studied philosophy, theology, and the classics in the University of Tübingen. Among his companions there were Schelling and Hölderlin. From 1793 to 1796 he was a tutor in Switzerland, where he made a further study of Kant.
2. Formulation of his Philosophy (1796–1806). Hegel formulated his philosophy for the first time in the four years (1796–1800) of his life at Frankfort, where he was acting in the capacity of tutor. In 1801 he became privat-docent at Jena through Schelling’s recommendation. He edited a philosophical journal with Schelling, and the two were friends so long as Hegel found Schelling’s assistance of value to himself. When, in 1803, Schelling left Jena, Hegel began to criticize his former friend’s philosophy. Hegel was appointed professor of philosophy at Jena in 1805.
3. Development of his Philosophy (1806–1831).
1806. He wrote the Phänomenologie, which was published in 1807.
1807. The university was discontinued after the battle of Jena, and Hegel went to Bamberg to edit a newspaper.
1807–1815. Hegel was at Nuremberg as teacher in its gymnasium, and in 1811, at the age of forty-one, he married.
1812–1813. He published his Logic.
1816–1817. He was professor of philosophy at Heidelberg. He published his Encyclopædia, which consists of three parts: Logic, Philosophy of Nature, and Philosophy of Mind. This was enlarged in 1827.
1818. Hegel succeeded Fichte at Berlin, where he met with marked success, and where he exercised a very wide influence. When Hegel came to Berlin his philosophical theory was already formulated, and his thirteen years at Berlin were spent in illustrating and verifying it in history.
1831. At the height of his fame, he died of cholera.
Realism, Mysticism, and Idealism. It will not be amiss at this point to contrast three of the great types of human thought,—Realism and Mysticism with the Idealism of which Hegel was the consummate expression. The Idealistic Period of European thought is confined within the forty-one years between 1790 and 1831. Moreover it is a world-wide movement, the philosophical expression of which is restricted to the German people. Mysticism and Realism represent the civilizations of longer periods and of many peoples. Mysticism is, for example, the attitude of mind frequently found in the Middle Ages in Europe, and may be roughly said to be the philosophy of the Oriental peoples. Spinoza was a belated mystic and its best European exponent; and against the revival of Spinoza’s Mysticism during this period Hegel as an idealist took his stand. Realism has been a popular philosophy in all civilizations at all times, and it was the irony of fate that Realism followed directly upon Hegel’s long period of dominance as an idealist. Modern science is based on Realism, and so, on the whole, was Greek civilization. In contrast to Realism, Idealism represents a few years of history and has been confined to a limited civilization, yet for profundity of insight into the meaning of life Idealism is the consummation of human reflection.
Since “philosophy lends itself to extended discourse,” it is quite impossible to contrast these theories briefly in more than a crude way. From the mystic’s point of view, absolute reality is that which can be immediately apprehended. However, since immediate intuition is always undetermined, the mystic’s reality is a very vague and abstract thing, although for him it is none the less real. Such a reality is not usually sought in the “world of nature”; for nature objects are very definite, besides being very transitory. The mystic’s world of reality is within; therefore God to the mystic is to be found within the soul and is to be contrasted with the unreality of the world of sense. There is only one reality, and that is within the soul; all else is an illusion. Reality is gained by direct knowledge and never by the process of logical reflection. Mysticism is frequently allied with æsthetics; the love of God is apparently the same as the love for a work of art; the immediate intuition that the soul has of God apparently is the same psychological process as the artistic ecstasy over a thing of beauty. Both result in the absorption of the soul in its object, and in the presence of either all else seems illusory. Now Realism is a theory that is more easily defined than Mysticism. It is simply the conception of many realities independent of one another and of the thinking mind. Reality is not one, it is a plurality of independent things, all of which are independent of the thinking process. Such realities are not undefined. As in Idealism, our knowledge of them is a definite matter of reflection; but against Mysticism, such definite knowledge is proof of their reality.
This can be illustrated by the series 1 + ½ + ¼ + ⅛ … 2. Let the number “2” represent the reality or meaning of the infinite series, which, however far extended, never reaches “2.” Let the series itself represent the definite processes of phenomenal nature. The Realist would say that only the increasing series is real, and the “2” is an unknowable. The Realist admits that the series is fragmentary and incomplete, but it is quite definite and certainly the best we can do. It is at least exact and scientific; and the goal of scientific knowledge belongs to the realm of the attainable. On the other hand the Mystic maintains that, since exact knowledge attains only the changing and phenomenal, exact knowledge is illusory. When we cannot attain the real by effort and sense knowledge, why waste our time in seeking to do so? Reality is right at hand—in one’s self. To the Mystic the infinite series of fractions is unreal, because it is and always will be incomplete. The ideal “2” can be got by direct and intuitive knowledge. Thus to the Realist the infinite series is real and the goal ”2” is unreal, while to the Mystic the “2” is real and the fractions of experience are unreal.
Hegel felt profoundly convinced that neither Realism with its definite realities nor Mysticism with its undefined goal was an adequate explanation of the world and life. The truly real must not only be definite, but it must also be all-inclusive. It must not on the one hand be incomplete, nor on the other must it be vague. It must be both the number “2” and the infinite series leading to “2.” A truly and absolutely real must be the explanation of everything that happens,—joy, evil, necessity in nature, every least event and change. In the light of the idealism of Hegel the solutions of the Mystic and the Realist seem to fade in importance, and the problem of life seems to grow in significance and meaning.
The Fundamental Principles of Hegel’s Idealism. In contrast with Mysticism and Realism, as well as with the doctrine of Fichte and Schelling, Hegel tried to formulate a conception of the universe that would include everything and yet be an organic whole. In what terms can this world of richness and variety, of coördinations and contradictions, be conceived as a single whole? How can it be one and still be many? Hegel saw clearly that this was his problem. The truly absolute must be a unity, and still be absolute.
There are two fundamental principles upon which his doctrine rests: (1) The world must be conceived in terms of consciousness. To any one who has studied the principles of psychology, or who has followed Kant’s epistemological analysis, it is clear that the only real unities are conscious unities. The characteristic of consciousness is synthesis. This is what we mean by consciousness, and consciousness is unique in this. (2) The world as a conscious whole must be essentially a world of contradictions. We must accept contradiction and not consistency as the fundamental and explanatory principle of life. In science and our ordinary human problems we try to get results that are logically consistent. This is useful, but in doing so we do not get a full explanation. We omit in such calculations life’s negations and incongruities. But do not inconsistencies and negations and incongruities exist? They certainly do; everything has its opposite; and if we will take the pains to observe the processes of thought, we shall find that thought is fundamentally inconsistent. Why do we usually regard thought as a self-consistent process? Because our methods of formal logic are such. In formal logic we reason smoothly and consistently from the premises to the conclusion. If we look more deeply into thought, we shall find that such consistency is made possible by ignoring the inconsistencies necessary to the very being of thought. The question therefore is not, Can the cosmic whole be conceived as consistent? but What is the law of its inconsistencies?
Let us consider these two principles of the Hegelian philosophy more in detail.
The Cosmic Unity. Hegel insists on the old truth that thought is self-operating within us. Thought belongs to our nature, yet it controls our nature. Thought develops consequences without regard to the will and demands that contradictions shall be solved. It is not correct to say that we think, but rather that thinking goes on within us. Thought is the life of the world. Thought is a process which embraces all things and projects them. Hegel emancipates thought from all the limitations of human minds. He would make thought objective and transform reality into thought.
Thus Hegel conceives that this self-operating thought within us is essentially the reality of the universe. Thought is the great cosmic undercurrent that includes all things in its sweep. Indeed, the universe cannot be conceived as a unity unless the universe is conceived as a cosmic consciousness or reason. The true study of the nature of the world is cosmic logic, and philosophy becomes in Hegel’s hands panlogism,—universal logic. Kant restricted the categories of thought to the human understanding; Hegel universalizes them and they become categories of the cosmos. For if the reality of the world is conscious reason, the categories are not only the forms of thought, but also the modes of being. The categories are, therefore, more comprehensive than Kant supposed. To use a term from the Middle Ages, they are “substantial forms.” They are at one and the same time the forms that mould thought and the stages of eternal creation. The knowing process and the cosmic process are one and the same—one writ small and the other writ large. They are not separate from each other, but are the transformations of one Being. If we would study the cosmic forms, let us study thought-forms. Logic is really ontology; the study of the genealogy of thought is the study of Being. The real is reason, and the reason is real. By reason Hegel does not mean intuition or even immediate perception, which Fichte and Schelling claimed to be the fundamental principle of the mind. The reason which Hegel is talking about is the concept or general notion. All actuality is the development of the general notion in a necessary and self-creative movement. History, matter, and thought are exhibitions of the divine Idea. “All Being is thought realized and all Becoming is a development of thought.”
Hegel’s philosophy is a monism of reason,—a universalized concept, in which everything has its divine place. It is an all-embracing system, moulding every department. Mind and matter are not aspects of a reality which is behind them, but are the modes of that reality. The cosmic reason is successively mind and matter, and not the principle of mind and nature. In Schelling things proceed from the absolute. In Hegel they are the absolute. The absolute does not exceed things, but is wholly in them as their organic unity. Everything is under the conceptual labor of thought. The important thing is to refer all our complex states to the unifying cosmic concept and have one illuminating idea. Absolute reason is absolute movement—the perpetual movement of life. Yet this absolute reason—the reason that refuses to change according to our likes and dislikes—is its own law and goal. The cosmos is the law of reason and has as its end its own unfolding self-consciousness. It is not the purpose of philosophy, according to Hegel, to tell what the world should be, but to recognize its nature as rational.
We must, therefore, be careful to distinguish Hegel’s conception of the unity of God from that other conception of Him as a quantitative, single, and isolated unity. An isolated and single Being would imply the existence of other isolated Beings. Such an individual would be limited by others and dependent upon them. In technical terms sameness with one’s self implies difference from others. A good example of the conception of an isolated God can be found in modern theology; such a God is a unity, but He is only the greatest of the several powers in the universe. Such an One is not an absolute, for the One to be absolute must be all that there is. Limitation implies something else. Das Wahre ist das Ganze.
But Hegel does not mean by the Oneness of God an aggregation of parts, nor does he mean a system or arrangement of parts. An aggregation of parts, however big, is never complete and cannot include all that there is. An aggregation, even if it includes the past and the present, is not Absolute. The temporal series points to something else to give it meaning; and yet Reality must not stand outside any part of the temporal series. The Absolute Reality must include the temporal series, and yet the temporal series is not in itself Reality. Neither does Hegel mean that Reality is a system or society of individuals, whose knowledge and will imply one another; for such an organization of individuals also has its meaning in something below it.
The Absolute Reality is a spiritual individual. It is a unifying consciousness, which is self-moving, subjective, and active. “It is the Idea that thinks itself and is completely self-identical in its otherness.” It cannot be abstract thought like Spinoza’s God, for the Absolute must be actual. Nor does Hegel mean by Reality merely life or vitality, as Haeckel has conceived it in modern times; for these, too, are only abstract terms. “It is pure personality which alone through the absolute dialectic encloses all within itself.” Reality is an Absolute Cosmic Spirit engaged in its self-discovery and self-appropriation by means of its own movement; and this movement is revealed in art, religion, and philosophy. The Absolute is, as Shelley makes the Earth picture man in Prometheus Unbound,
“One harmonious Soul of many a soul,
Whose nature is its own divine control,
Where all things flow to all, as rivers to the sea.”
The panorama of history is the progressive knowledge of the Absolute appearing under successively more adequate forms. Morality is the Absolute in ever enlarging social relations. Religion is the Absolute in personal relations to man. Philosophy is the Absolute in reasoned apprehension of himself. The Absolute is not to be conceived in anthropomorphic terms, but is the world-process realized as an individual self-consciousness. It is cosmic consciousness become more significant. It is Being regarded as an individuality and including all development.
The Cosmic Law. If the cosmic unity is a cosmic synthetic consciousness, it must be subject to the law of reason which is fundamental in consciousness. The process of consciousness is an unfolding. It is an evolution, but an evolution that is an unfolding. Ordinarily biological evolution restricts itself to the particular type under consideration. It does not take account of the fact that the growth of one type means the destruction of another. It does not view nature in a universal way and consider construction and destruction, action and reaction, equal. It looks upon development as a process along a tangent or like the infinite series of numbers. But the destructions, the defeats, the reciprocal retrogressions, must be accounted for in a truly Absolute consciousness. Evolution is not therefore an upward advance, but a closed circle. The Absolute is not therefore a consistency, but includes contradictions; and evolution cannot truly be interpreted in quantitative but in qualitative terms, as the unfolding of consciousness. The only way to include everything in the Absolute is to think of the Absolute as coming to a consciousness of itself. The Absolute Reality is the same at any temporal beginning or ending. Its meaning is becoming clearer to itself alone. Such clearness appears in the clearness with which the categories which are the forms of any consciousness become related. The task of philosophy is not to understand these forms together or seriatim, but as moments of a unitary development. They are the links in the development of Spirit, God, the Idea, or the Absolute.
What is this law of spiritual circular development? What are the categories of the cosmic Ego? How can the cosmic organism take account of the contradictions as well as the consistencies of life? The three necessary categories or three fundamental conceptions of the cosmic consciousness are “to be,” “to be denied,” “to be transcended,”—Thesis, its Antithesis, and the Synthesis of the two. In other words they are Assertion, Contradiction, and Return-to-itself. The cosmic law is the Law of Negativity. It is a dialectic process in the union of contradictories, of extremes meeting, of the equality of action and reaction. In Hegel’s hands contradiction becomes the very principle of cosmic harmony. It is the struggle of thought to comprehend itself by using its own contradictory and created experiences for such comprehension. “The phenomenon is the arising and passing away which itself does not pass away, but exists in itself. It constitutes the movement and reality of the life of truth.” The law of human consciousness is this: Assume the truth of any doctrine. Examine it and you will find it in some detail asserting not only its own contradiction or opposite, but also the relation between its assertion and its contradiction. The truth lies in the assertion that transcends the two opposites. The law of the cosmic consciousness is the same. Any stage of history appears in the conscious assurance of the truth of the principles upon which history is founded. But any such assertion by any epoch arouses opposition; and the next stage in historical development is the assertion of principles that synthesize the assertion of the previous epoch and the opposition to it. The law of consciousness drives history to oppose its own self-assertions and then to a deeper apprehension of itself in a higher assertion, until it finds rest in the knowledge of the Absolute Idea—that Absolute Truth is continuous contradiction. Perhaps Hegel’s most notable contribution to modern thought was his emphasis upon the tremendous power of negation and the stimulating force in contradiction. Spiritual advance is made through opposition.
Hegel’s Application of his Theory. Formulating his theory in 1800, Hegel spent the most of his literary career in exemplifying it. The Phänomenologie (1807) is an attempt to show the natural history of thought in experience. He shows there the series of stages through which the mind passes,—stages corresponding to logic, to the growth of the individual, and to society. In the dialectic movement, consciousness views the world in an external way until it becomes self-conscious; then reason is evolved as a synthesis of the two: i. e. of external consciousness and self-consciousness. Reason then develops by continually turning back upon itself into an ethical, religious, and, lastly, an absolute reason. Hegel wrote his Logic (1812) as an application of his theory to thought—regarding thought as consisting of general concepts. Then came his Encyclopædia (1816), containing his Philosophy of Nature and Philosophy of Mind. In his Philosophy of Nature, nature is regarded as revealing the same dialectic as logic, but in the external world. Nature, therefore, stands to logic as its antithesis. The Philosophy of Mind places mind as the synthesis of logic and nature, and elaborates the subject as mind, objective mind, and the synthesis of the two, or Absolute mind. Thus the dialectic of the Logic is repeated and applied to the Philosophy of Nature and the Philosophy of Spirit. Logic and history are therefore parallel. The content is always the same in both; and the development is always in logical forms. The Absolute Idea by differentiation with itself comes to itself: (1) in Logic through Being, Essence, and Idea; (2) in Nature through matter, individual forms, and organism; (3) in Spirit through consciousness, self-consciousness, reason, right, morality, social morality, art, religion, philosophy. Logic is the Spirit an-sich; nature is the spirit für-sich; mind is the Spirit an-und-für-sich.