Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy


Section Two: Period of the Thinking Understanding
Chapter I. — The Metaphysics of the Understanding

Hugo Grotius was studying the laws of nations at the same time as Locke; and in him the very same methods may be found as those already mentioned, inasmuch as he also falls into a quite empirical system of associating nations with one another, combining with that an empirical mode of reasoning. Hugo van Groot, born 1583 at Delft, was a lawyer, fiscal general, and council pensionary; in 1619, however, he was implicated in the Barneveldt trial, and was compelled to fly the country. For a long time he remained in France, but in 1634 he entered the service of Queen Christina of Sweden. In 1635 he was made Swedish ambassador in Paris, and in 1645 he died at Rostock, while on a journey from Stockholm to Holland.(1) His principal work, De jure belli et pacis, he composed in 1625; now it is not read, but at one time it exercised a very great and important influence. In it Grotius presented a comparative historical account, the material of which was partly derived from the Old Testament, of the manner in which nations in the various relationships of war and peace have acted towards one another, and what usages they held to be binding. The following may serve as an example of his empirical method of reasoning: Prisoners ought not to be killed; for the object is to disarm the enemy, and if this end be attained nothing further should be done.(2) This empirical way of connecting facts had the effect of bringing general comprehensible and rational principles into consciousness, of making them recognized, and of causing them to be more or less acceptable. Thus we see principles set forth, respecting the righteousness of a king's power for instance; for thought applied itself to everything. We are unsatisfied by such proofs and deductions, but we must not overlook what is thereby accomplished; and this is the establishment of principles which have their ultimate confirmation in the objects themselves, in mind and thought.


a. Hobbes, who was celebrated and distinguished on account of the originality of his views, was tutor to the Earl of Devonshire; he was born in 1588 at Malmesbury, and died in 1679.(3) As a contemporary of Cromwell, he found in the events of that time, in the Revolution which then took place in England, an occasion for reflecting on the principles of state and law, and in fact he succeeded in making his way to quite original conceptions. He wrote much, including a treatise on Philosophy, entitled “The Elements of Philosophy.” The first section (Sectio) of this work, De corpore, appeared in London in 1655; in it he first of all treats of Logic (Pars I.), and secondly of philosophia prima (Pars III.); this last is an ontology and metaphysic. The next subdivision (Pars III.), “On the relation between motion and magnitude,” is a system of mechanism, a quite popular system of physics; and a study of the human organs. The second section was to treat of the nature of man (De homine), and the third of the state (De cive), but the intellectual sections of the work Hobbes did not entirely finish. He says in his preface that Copernicus first opened up astronomy, and Galileo physics; before them there was nothing certain in either science. Harvey worked out the science of the human body, and physics generally as well as astronomy were perfected by Keppler. All this was termed Philosophy, in accordance with the point of view which has been already given (p. 313), since in it the reflective understanding desires to know the universal. Hobbes further says concerning the philosophy of the state (philosophia civilis), that it only dates from the publication of his book De cive.(4) This work, which appeared at Paris in 1642,(5) is, like his Leviathan, a much decried book; the second mentioned writing was forbidden to be circulated, and is hence very rare. Both works contain sounder reflections on the nature of society and government than many now in circulation. Society, the state, is to Hobbes absolutely preeminent, it is the determining power without appeal as regards law and positive religion and their external relations; and because he placed these in subjection to the state, his doctrines were of course regarded with the utmost horror. But there is nothing speculative or really philosophic in them, and there is still less in Hugo Grotius.

Before this ideals were set before us, or Holy Scripture or positive law was quoted as authoritative. Hobbes, on the contrary, sought to derive the bond which holds the state together, that which gives the state its power, from principles which lie within us, which we recognize as our own. In this way two opposite principles arise. The first is the passive obedience of subjects, the divine authority of rulers, whose will is absolute law, and is itself elevated above all other law. All this is represented in close connection with religion, and proved by examples from the Old Testament, by such stories as those of Saul and David. Criminal and marriage laws, too, for long derived their character from the Mosaic laws, or, speaking generally, from those the provisions of which possessed their value by the fact of being established by express divine command. On the other hand we have in the second place the reasoning wherein we ourselves are the determining agents, and which was called sound reason. In the movement which Cromwell made use of there was allied with this a fanaticism, which from the written letter drew opposite conclusions to the above, and this we see exemplified in the equality of property, for instance. Hobbes, it is true, likewise maintained passive obedience, the absolute freedom of the royal will and power; but at the same time he sought to derive the principles of monarchical power, etc., from universal determinations. The views that he adopts are shallow and empirical, but the reasons he gives for them, and the propositions he makes respecting them, are original in character, inasmuch as they are derived from natural necessities and wants.

Hobbes maintained that “The origin of all society is to be found in the mutual fear of all its members;” it is hence a phenomenon in consciousness. “Each association is thus formed in its own interest or for its own renown, that is, from selfish motives.” All such matters as security of life, property, and enjoyment, are not to be found outside it. “But men have in all dissimilarity of strength a natural similarity as well.” This Hobbes proves by a characteristic reason, viz. that “each individual can make away with the other,” each is the ultimate power over the others. “Each can be supreme.”(6) Thus their similarity is not derived from the greatest strength; it is not, as in modern times, founded on the freedom of the spirit, or on an equality of merit and independence, but on the equal weakness of mankind; each man is weak as regards others.

b. Hobbes further takes up the position that this natural condition is of such a nature that all possess the desire to rule over one another. “All in their natural condition are possessed of the will to injure others,” to tyrannize over other men; each has thus to fear the other. Hobbes looks at this condition in its true light, and we find in him no idle talk about a state of natural goodness; the natural condition is really far more like that of the animals — a condition in which there is an unsubdued individual will. All thus wish to “secure themselves against the pretensions of others, to acquire for themselves advantages and superior rights. Opinions, religions, desires, arouse strife; the stronger bears away the victory. The natural condition is consequently a condition of mistrust on the part of all toward all; it is a war of all against all (bellum omnium in omnes),” and the endeavour of one to overreach another. The expression nature has a double significance: In the first place the nature of man signifies his spiritual and rational Being; but his natural condition indicates quite another condition, wherein man conducts himself according to his natural impulses. In this way he conducts himself in conformity with his desires and inclinations, while the rational, on the contrary, is the obtaining supremacy over the immediately natural. “In the condition of nature a certain irresistible power grants the right to rule over those who cannot resist; it is absurd to leave those whom we have in our power to become free and strong again.”

From this Hobbes draws the conclusion that “man must go forth from the natural condition.”(7) This is true; the natural condition is not what it should be, and must hence be cast off.

c. Hobbes finally passes to the laws of reason which preserve tranquillity. This condition of law is the subjection of the natural, particular will of the individual to the universal will, which, however, is not that of all individuals, but is the will of the ruler; this is consequently not responsible to individuals, but is directed against this private will, and to it all must be obedient.(8) Thus the whole matter is now placed on quite another footing. But because the universal will is made to reside in the will of one monarch, there nevertheless proceeds from this point of view, which is really correct, a condition of absolute rule, of perfect despotism. The condition of law does not, however, mean that the arbitrary will of one man constitutes absolute law, for the universal will is no despotism, being rational, inasmuch as it is consistently expressed and determined in laws.

Rixner (Handbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie, Vol. III. p. 30) says: “Law to him is nothing but the sum of the conditions of peace extorted by iron necessity from the original wickedness of mankind.” We might add that in Hobbes we at least find this, that the nature and organism of the State is established on the principle of human nature, human desire, &c. The English concerned themselves greatly with that principle of passive obedience, in accordance with which it is said that kings receive their power from God. This, in one aspect, is quite true, but in another it is falsely taken to mean that they have no responsibility, that their blind desires, their merely subjective will, is what must be obeyed.


Cudworth wished to revive Plato in England, but to do this after the manner of the demonstrations which we met with in Descartes, and through a trivial metaphysic of the understanding. He wrote a celebrated work: “The true intellectual System of the Universe,” but the Platonic ideas expressed are often in a clumsy form and mingled with the Christian conceptions of God and angels — all regarded as particular existent things. What in Plato is mythical, is here taken as reality in the form of existence; this is reasoned about just as we reason respecting a matter of ordinary fact, such as whether it is probable that the French seek to effect a landing in England, and if so, whether they will successfully accomplish it. The Christian intellectual world is dragged down to the form of ordinary actuality and consequently it is ruined.

The name of Clarke is likewise famous in connection with his proof of the existence of God. There were quite a number of other English philosophers, whom we do not, however, require to notice; for Clarke, Wollaston, and others carry on their speculations within forms such as belong to a very commonplace metaphysic of the understanding. The manifold systems of moral philosophy which we find taking their rise in England are drawn up from this same mental standpoint; in them the implicitude of mind appears in a form of natural existence, namely, of desires and feelings. Their principles are found in moral sentiments, benevolent desires, sympathy, &c. That form alone is worthy of notice which, on the one hand, represents duty as something which is not foreign, given, commanded, but as clearly belonging to self-consciousness, even while, on the other hand, it represents this property as a natural, unconscious, unspiritual, and irrational existence. Impulse is blind, a solid existence which cannot get beyond itself like thinking self-consciousness. It is indeed true of impulse that its pure activity or its process, and the content, are, as in thought, immediately posited as the same; it has its content in itself, and this is not dead and passive, but self-acting and impelling. But that unity has the form of immediacy only as existent; in the first place it is not a knowledge, it is not necessary, for it is only taken from inward perception; in the second place, it is a determinate which does not abrogate itself, beyond which we cannot get, and which thus is not a universal. Impulse is no more an infinite than is the fixed category of force. Such reasoning takes the impulses in their determinate character from experience, and expresses the appearance of necessity in the same as an inward existence, as a force. For instance, the social instinct is a moment which is found in experience, because man derives all manner of utility from society. Wherein does the necessity of the State, of society, find its basis? In a social desire. This is cause, just as in the physical world a formal interpretation such as this is always to be found. The necessity of any existent fact, such as what pertains to electrical phenomena, finds its basis in a force which brings it forth; it is merely the form of returning from the external to an inward, of passing from the existent to what is thought, which is again in turn represented as an existent. Force is necessitated by reason of the manifestation, we must argue from the latter to the former. On the other hand, the manifestation takes place through the force, for it is the cause of the manifestation; we hence have force in one place as reason, and in another as cause. But in all this there is no realization of the fact that in respect of form there is a transition from the Notion into Being and the other way, while in respect of content there is a perfect contingency of manifestation; we look at electricity in the same way as we look at the fact that men have social instincts, sympathetic inclinations, and so on.


In the struggle to give to just and equitable relations in the State an independent basis of their own, and to found a judicial system of government, reflective thought put forth its efforts; and this became to it a real interest and concern. And, as in the case of Grotius, it was also true of Puffendorf, that the instinct of mankind — that is, the social instinct, &c. — was made the principle. Samuel von Puffendorf was born in 1632 in Saxony; he studied public law, philosophy, and mathematics at Leipzig and Jena; in 1661, as a professor at Heidelberg, he made natural and civil law for the first time academic studies; in 1668 he became tutor in a Swedish family, which office he later on exchanged for the service of the House of Brandenburg, and in 1694 he died at Berlin as a privy councillor. He wrote several works on political law and history; we must specially mention his work, De jure naturæ et gentium, Libr. viii., Londin. Scan. 1672, 4; and also his compendium De officio hominis, published at the same place in 1673) 8, and Elementa jurisprudentiæ, universalis.(9) While the divine right of kings was here still recognized — whereby they rendered account to God alone, or, at all events, were still bound to take counsel of the Church — the impulses and necessities present in mankind were now considered as well. These were regarded as the inward principles for private and political law, and from them the duties both of the government and of rulers were deduced, so that the freedom of mankind might not be interfered with. The basis of the state in Puffendorf's view is the social instinct: the highest end of the state is the peace and security of social life through the transformation of inward duties as prescribed by, conscience into external duties as compelled by law.(10)


The other side is that thought likewise applied itself to nature, and in this connection Isaac Newton is famous by reason of his mathematical discoveries and his work in physics. He was born in 1642 at Cambridge, made a special study of mathematics, and became professor of the same at Cambridge; later on he was made president of the Royal Society in London, and he died in 1727.(11)

Newton was indisputably the chief contributor to the popularity of the philosophy of Locke, or the English method of treating of Philosophy, and more especially did he promote its application to all the physical sciences. “Physics, beware of metaphysics,” was his maxim,(12) which signifies, Science, beware of thought; and all the physical sciences, even to the present day, have, following in his wake, faithfully observed this precept, inasmuch as they have not entered upon an investigation of their conceptions, or thought about thoughts. Physics can, however, effect nothing without thought; it has its categories and laws through thought alone, and without thought it does not effect any progress. Newton was mainly instrumental in introducing to physics the determinations respecting forces, which pertain to reflection; he raised science to the standpoint of reflection, and set the laws of forces in the place of the laws of phenomena. Regarding matters as he did, Newton derived his conclusions from his experiences; and in physics and the theory of colour-vision, he made bad observations and drew worse conclusions. He passed from experiences to general points of view, again made them fundamental, and from them constructed the individual; this is how his theories are constructed. The observation of things, the discovery of the law immanent therein, and the universal which is found within them, has become the real point of interest. In this way, Newton is so complete a barbarian as regards his conceptions that his case is like that of another of his countrymen who was surprised and rejoiced to learn that he had talked prose all his life, not having had any idea that he was so accomplished. This Newton, like all the Physicists, indeed, never learned; he did not know that he thought in, and had to deal with Notions, while he imagined he was dealing with physical facts: and he presented the extremest contrast to Boehme, who handled sensuous things as Notions, and, by sheer force of mind, obtained entire possession of their actuality and subjugated them. Instead of this Newton treated Notions like sensuous things, and dealt with them just as men deal with wood and stone. And this is even now the case. In the beginnings of physical science we read of the power of inertia, for instance, of the force of acceleration, of molecules, of centripetal and centrifugal force, as of facts which definitely exist; what are really the final results of reflection are represented as their first grounds. If we ask for the cause of there being no advance made in such sciences, we find that it is because men do not understand that they should apply themselves to Notions, but make up their minds to adopt these determinations without sense or understanding. Hence in Newton's Optics, for instance, there are conclusions derived from his experience which are so untrue and devoid of understanding, that while they are set forth as the finest example of how men can learn to know nature by means of experiments and conclusions derived from experiments, they may also serve as an example of how we should neither experiment nor draw conclusions, of how nothing at all can be learned. A miserable kind of experience like this itself contradicts itself through nature, for nature is more excellent than it appears in this wretched experience: both nature itself and experience, when carried a little further, contradict it. Hence, of all the splendid discoveries of Newton in optics, none now remain excepting one — the division of light into seven colours. This is partly because the conception of whole and part come into play, and partly from an obdurate closing of the eyes to the opposite side. From this empirical method in Philosophy, we shall now pass on to Leibnitz.


1. Brucker. Histor. critic. philos. T. IV. P. 2, pp. 731-736, 743-745.
2. Hug. Grot. De jure belli ac pacis, B. III. chap. xi. 13-16 (Ed. Gronov. Lipsiæ, 1758, 8vo), pp. 900-905; chap. iv. 10, pp. 792, 793.
3. Buhle: Geschichte der neuern Philosophie, Vol. III. Sec. 1, pp. 223, 224, 227.
4. Hobbes. Epistola dedicatoria ante Elementor. philos. Sectionem primam (Thomæ Hobbesii Opera philosophica, quæ latine scripsit omnia, Amstelod, 1668, 4to), pp. 1, 2.
5. Cf. Brucker. Histor. crit. philos. T. IV. P. II. p. 154.
6. Hobbes, De cive, chap. i. 2, 3 (Oper. phil. etc. Amstel. 1668), pp. 3, 4.
7. Hobbes, De cive, chap. i. 4-6, 12-14, pp. 4-8; Leviathan, chap. xiii. (Oper.), pp. 63-66.
8. Ibidem, chap. v. 6-12, pp. 37-38; chap. vi. 12-14, pp. 44-46.
9. Buhle: Geschichte der neuern Philosophie, Vol. IV. Sec. 2, pp. 519-523; Rixner: Handbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie, Vol. III. p. 29.
10. Rixner: Handbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie, Vol. III. p. 31; cf. Puttendorf: De jure naturæ et gent. II. 2, 5-7 (Francof. ad Moenum, 1706, 4), pp. 157-161; VII. 1, 3-7, pp. 900-909.
11. Buhle: Geschichte der neuern Philosophie, Vol. IV. Sec. 1, pp. 107, 108.
12. Buhle: Geschichte der neuern Philosophie, Vol. IV. p. 115; cf. Newtoni Optices, P. III. (Londini, 1706, 4) p. 314.

Hegel-by-HyperText Home Page @ marxists.org