Part One of the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences: The Logic

Third Subdivision: The Notion
C. The Idea

Development of The Idea
LifeCognitionAbsolute Idea

§ 213

The Idea is truth in itself and for itself — the absolute unity of the notion and objectivity. Its ‘ideal’ content is nothing but the notion in its detailed terms: its ‘real’ content is only the exhibition which the notion gives itself in the form of external existence, while yet, by enclosing this shape in its ideality, it keeps it in its power, and so keeps itself in it. The definition, which declares the Absolute to be the Idea, is itself absolute. All former definitions come back to this. The Idea is the Truth: for Truth is the correspondence of objectivity with the notion — not of course the correspondence of external things with my conceptions, for these are only correct conceptions held by me, the individual person. In the idea we have nothing to do with the individual, nor with figurate conceptions, nor with external things. And yet, again, everything actual, in so far as it is true, is the Idea, and has its truth by and in virtue of the Idea alone. Every individual being is some one aspect of the Idea: for which, therefore, yet other actualities are needed, which in their turn appear to have a self-subsistence of their own. It is only in them altogether and in their relation that the notion is realised.

The individual by itself does not correspond to its notion. It is this limitation of its existence which constitutes the finitude and the ruin of the individual.

The Idea itself is not to be taken as an idea of something or other, any more than the notion is to be taken as merely a specific notion. The Absolute is the universal and one idea, which, by an act of ‘judgment’, particularises itself to the system of specific ideas; which after all are constrained by their nature to come back to the one idea where their truth lies. As issued out of this ‘judgment’ the Idea is in the first place only the one universal substance: but its developed and genuine actuality is to be as a subject and in that way as mind.

Because it has no existence for starting-point and point d’appui, the Idea is frequently treated as a mere logical form. Such a view must be abandoned to those theories which ascribe so-called reality and genuine actuality to the existent thing and all the other categories which have not yet penetrated as far as the Idea. It is no less false to imagine the Idea to be mere abstraction. It is abstract certainly, in so far as everything untrue is consumed in it: but in its own self it is essentially concrete, because it is the free notion giving character to itself, and that character, reality. It would be an abstract form, only if the notion, which is its principle, were taken as an abstract unity, and not as the negative return of it into self and as the subjectivity which it really is.

Truth is at first taken to mean that I know how something is. This is truth, however, only in reference to consciousness; it is formal truth, bare correctness. Truth in the deeper sense consists in the identity between objectivity and the notion. It is in this deeper sense of truth that we speak of a true state, or of a true work of art. These objects are true, if they are as they ought to be, i.e. if their reality corresponds to their notion. When thus viewed, to be untrue means much the same as to be bad. A bad man is an untrue man, a man who does not behave as his notion or his vocation requires. Nothing however can subsist, if it be wholly devoid of identity between the notion and reality. Even bad and untrue things have being, in so far as their reality still, somehow, conforms to their notion. Whatever is thoroughly bad or contrary to the notion is for that very reason on the way to ruin. It is by the notion alone that the things in the world have their subsistence; or, as it is expressed in the language of religious conception, things are what they are, only in virtue of the divine and thereby Creative thought which dwells within them.

When we hear the Idea spoken of, we need not imagine something far away beyond this mortal sphere. The Idea is rather what is completely present: and it is found, however confused and degenerated, in every consciousness. We conceive the works to ourselves as a great totality which is created by God, and so created that in it God has manifested himself to us. We regard the world also as ruled by Divine Providence: implying that the scattered and divided parts of the world are continually brought back, and made conformable, to the unity from which they have issued. The purpose of philosophy has always been the intellectual ascertainment of the Ideal; and everything deserving the name of philosophy has constantly been based on the consciousness of an absolute unity where the understanding sees and accepts only separation. It is too late now to ask for proof that the Idea is the truth. The proof of that is contained in the whole deduction and development of thought up to this point. The Idea is the result of this course of dialectic. Not that it is to be supposed that the idea is mediate only, i.e. mediated through something else than itself. It is rather its own result, and being so, is no less immediate than mediate. The stages hitherto considered, viz. those of Being and Essence, as well as those of Notion and of Objectivity, are not, when so distinguished, something permanent, resting upon themselves. They have proved to be dialectical; and their only truth is that they are dynamic elements of the idea.

§ 214

The Idea may be described in many ways. It may be called reason; (and this is the proper philosophical signification of reason); subject-object; the unity of the ideal and the real, of the finite and the infinite, of soul and body; the possibility which has its actuality in its own self; that of which the nature can be thought only as existent, etc. All these descriptions apply, because the Idea contains all the relations of understanding, but contains them in their infinite self-return and self-identity. It is easy work for the understanding to show that everything said of the Idea is self-contradictory. But that can quite as well be retaliated, or rather in the Idea the retaliation is actually made. And this work, which is the work of reason, is certainly not so easy as that of the understanding. Understanding may demonstrate that the Idea is self-contradictory: because the subjective is subjective only and is always confronted by the objective; because being is different from notion and therefore cannot be picked out of it; because the finite is finite only, the exact antithesis of the infinite, and therefore not identical with it; and so on with every term of the description. The reverse of all this however is the doctrine of Logic. Logic shows that the subjective which is to be subjective only, the finite which would be finite only, the infinite which would be infinite only, and so on, have no truth, but contradict themselves, and pass over into their opposites. Hence this transition, and the unity in which the extremes are merged and become factors, each with a merely reflected existence, reveals itself as their truth. The understanding, which addresses itself to deal with the Idea, commits a double misunderstanding. It takes first the extremes of the Idea (be they expressed as they will, so long as they are in their unity), not as they are understood when stamped with this concrete unity, but as if they remained abstractions outside of it. It no less mistakes the relation between them, even when it has been expressly stated. Thus, for example, it overlooks even the nature of the copula in the judgment, which affirms that ; the individual, or subject, is after all not individual, but universal. But, in the second place, the understanding believes its ‘reflection’ that the self-identical Idea contains its own negative, or contains contradiction — to be an external reflection which does not lie within the Idea itself. But the reflection is really no peculiar cleverness of the understanding. The idea itself is the dialectic which for ever divides and distinguishes the self-identical from the differentiated, the subjective from the objective, the finite from the infinite, soul from body. Only on these terms is it an eternal creation, eternal vitality, and eternal spirit. But while it thus passes or rather translates itself into the abstract understanding, it for ever remains reason. The Idea is the dialectic which again makes this mass of understanding and diversity understand its finite nature and the pseudo-independence in its productions, and which brings the diversity back to unity. Since this double movement is not separate or distinct in time, nor indeed in any other way — otherwise it would be only a repetition of the abstract understanding — the Idea is the eternal vision of itself in the other, notion which in its objectivity has carried out itself, object which is inward design, essential subjectivity.

The different modes of apprehending the Idea as unity of ideal and real, of finite and infinite, of identity and difference, etc, are more or less formal. They designate some stage of the specific notion. Only the notion itself, however, is free and the genuine universal: in the Idea, therefore, the specific character of the notion is only the notion itself — an objectivity, viz. into which it, being the universal, continues itself, and in which it has only its own character, the total character. The Idea is the infinite judgment, of which the terms are severally the independent totality; and in which, as each grows to the fullness of its own nature, it has thereby at the same time passed into the other. None of the other specific notions exhibits this totality complete on both its sides as the notion itself and objectivity.

§ 215

The Idea is essentially a process, because its identity is the absolute and free identity of the notion, only in so far as it is absolute negativity and for that reason dialectical. It is the ground of movement, in which the notion, in the capacity of universality which is individuality, gives itself the character of objectivity and of the antithesis thereto; and this externality which has the notion for its substance, finds its way back to subjectivity through its immanent dialectic As the idea is (a) a process, it follows that such an expression for the Absolute as unity of thought and being, of finite and infinite, etc., is false; for unity expresses an abstract and merely quiescent identity. As the Idea is (b) subjectivity, it follows that the expression is equally false on another account. That unity of which it speaks expresses a merely virtual or underlying presence of the genuine unity. The infinite would thus seem to be merely neutralised by the finite, the subjective by the objective, thought by being. But in the negative unity of the Idea, the infinite overlaps and includes the finite, thought overlaps being, subjectivity overlaps objectivity. The unity of the Idea is thought, infinity, and subjectivity, and is in consequence to be essentially distinguished from the Idea as substance, just as this overlapping subjectivity, thought, or infinity is to be distinguished from the one-sided subjectivity, one-sided thought, one-sided infinity to which it descends in judging and defining.

The idea as a process runs through three stages in its development. The first form of the idea is Life: that is, the idea in the form of immediacy. The second form is that of mediation or differentiation; and this is the idea in the form of Knowledge, which appears under the double aspect of the Theoretical and Practical idea. The process of knowledge eventuates in the restoration of the unity enriched by difference. This gives the third form of the idea, the Absolute Idea: which last stage of the logical idea evinces itself to be at the same time the true first, and to have a being due to itself alone.

(a) Life

§ 216

The immediate idea is Life. As soul, the notion is realised in a body of whose externality the soul is the immediate self-relating universality. But the soul is also its particularisation, so that the body expresses no other distinctions than follow from the characterisations of its notion. And finally it is the Individuality of the body as infinite negativity — the dialectic of that bodily objectivity, with its parts lying out of one another, conveying them away from the semblance of independent subsistence back into subjectivity, so that all the members are reciprocally momentary means as well as momentary ends. Thus as life is the initial particularisation, so it results in the negative self-asserting unity: in the dialectic of its corporeity it only coalesces with itself. In this way life is essentially something alive, and in point of its immediacy this individual living thing. It is characteristic of finitude in this sphere that, by reason of the immediacy of the idea, body and soul are separable. This constitutes the mortality of the living being. It is only, however, when the living being is dead, that these two sides of the idea are different ingredients.

The single members of the body are what they are only by and in relation to their unity. A hand e.g. when hewn off from the body is, as Aristotle has observed, a hand in name only, not in fact. From the point of view of understanding, life is usually spoken of as a mystery, and in general as incomprehensible. By giving it such a name, however, the Understanding only confesses its own finitude and nullity. So far is life from being incomprehensible, that in it the very notion is presented to us, or rather the immediate idea existing as a notion. And having said this, we have indicated the defect of life. Its notion and reality do not thoroughly correspond to each other. The notion of life is the soul, and this notion has the body for its reality. The soul is, as it were, infused into its corporeity; and in that way it is at first sentient only, and not yet freely self-conscious. The process of life consists in getting the better of the immediacy with which it is still beset: and this process, which is itself threefold, results in the idea under the form of judgment, i.e. the idea as Cognition.

§ 217

A living being is a syllogism, of which the very elements are in themselves systems and syllogisms (§ § 198, 201, 207). They are however active syllogisms or processes; and in the subjective unity of the vital agent make only one process. Thus the living being is the process of its coalescence with itself, which runs on through three processes.

Organic Nature
Sensibility, Irritability, and Reproduction
§ 218

(1) The first is the process of the living being inside itself. In that process it makes a split on its own self, and reduces its corporeity to its object or its inorganic nature. This corporeity, as an aggregate of correlations, enters in its very nature into difference and opposition of its elements, which mutually become each other’s prey, and assimilate one another, and are retained by producing themselves. Yet this action of the several members (organs) is only the living subject’s one act to which their productions revert; so that in these productions nothing is produced except the subject: in other words, the subject only reproduces itself.

The process of the vital subject within its own limits has in Nature the threefold form of Sensibility, Irritability, and Reproduction. As Sensibility, the living being is immediately simple self-relation-it is the soul omnipresent in its body, the outsideness of each member of which to others has for it no truth. As Irritability, the living being appears split up in itself; and as Reproduction, it is perpetually restoring itself from the inner distinction of its members and organs. A vital agent only exists as this continually self-renewing process within its own limits.

Objective Nature
The matter which it assimilates
§ 219

(2) But the judgment of the notion proceeds, as free, to discharge the objective or bodily nature as an independent totality from itself; and the negative relation of the living thing to itself makes, as immediate individuality, the presupposition of an inorganic nature confronting it. As this negative of the animate is no less a function in the notion of the animate itself, it exists consequently in the latter (which is at the same time a concrete universal) in the shape of a defect or want. The dialectic by which the object, being implicitly null, is merged is the action of the self-assured living thing, which in this process against an inorganic nature thus retains, develops, and objectifies itself.

The living being stands face to face with an inorganic nature, to which it comports itself as a master and which it assimilates to itself. The result of the assimilation is not, as in the chemical process, a neutral product in which the independence of the two confronting sides is merged; but the living being shows itself as large enough to embrace its other which cannot withstand its power. The inorganic nature which is subdued by the vital agent suffers this fate, because it is virtually the same as what life is actually. Thus in the other the living being only coalesces with itself. But when the soul has fled from the body, the elementary powers of objectivity begin their play. These powers are, as it were, continually on the spring, ready to begin their process in the organic body; and life is the constant battle against them.

The living individual
§ 220

(3) The living individual, which in its first process comports itself as intrinsically subject and notion, through its second assimilates its external objectivity and thus puts the character of reality into itself. It is now therefore implicitly a Kind, with essential universality of nature. The particularising of this Kind is the relation of the living subject to another subject of its Kind: and the judgment is the tie of Kind over these individuals thus appointed for each other. This is the Affinity of the Sexes.

Birth, Death and Genus
§ 221

The process of Kind brings it to a being of its own. Life being no more than the idea immediate, the product of this process breaks up into two sides. On the one hand, the living individual, which was at first presupposed as immediate, is now seen to be mediated and generated. On the other, however, the living individuality, which, on account of its first immediacy, stands in a negative attitude towards universality, sinks in the superior power of the latter.

The living being dies, because it is a contradiction. Implicitly it is the universal or Kind, and yet immediately it exists as an individual only. Death shows the Kind to be the power that rules the immediate individual. For the animal the process of Kind is the highest point of its vitality. But the animal never gets so far in its Kind as to have a being of its own; it succumbs to the power of Kind. In the process of Kind the immediate living being mediates itself with itself, and thus rises above its immediacy, only however to sink back into it again. Life thus runs away, in the first instance, only into the false infinity of the progress ad infinitum. The real result, however, of the process of life, in the point of its notion, is to merge and overcome that immediacy with which the idea, in the shape of life, is still beset.

§ 222

In this manner however the idea of life has thrown off not some one particular and immediate ‘This’, but this first immediacy as a whole. It thus comes to itself, to its truth: it enters upon existence as a free Kind self-subsistent. The death of merely immediate and individual vitality is the ‘procession’ of spirit.

(b) Cognition in general

§ 223

The idea exists free for itself, in so far as it has universality for the medium of its existence — as objectivity itself has notional being — as the idea is its own object. Its subjectivity, thus universalised, is pure self-contained distinguishing of the idea-intuition which keeps itself in this identical universality. But, as specific distinguishing, it is the further judgment of repelling itself as a totality from itself, and thus, in the first place, presupposing itself as an external universe. There are two judgments, which though implicitly identical are not yet explicitly put as identical.

§ 224

The relation of these two ideas, which implicitly and as life are identical, is thus one of correlation: and it is that correlativity which constitutes the characteristic of finitude in this sphere. It is the relationship of reflection, seeing that the distinguishing of the idea in its own self is only the first judgment — presupposing the other and not yet supposing itself to constitute it. And thus for the subjective idea the objective is the immediate world found ready to hand, or the idea as life is in the phenomenon of individual existence. At the same time, in so far as this judgment is pure distinguishing within its own limits (§ 223), the idea realises in one both itself and its other. Consequently it is the certitude of the virtual identity between itself and the objective world. Reason comes to the world with an absolute faith in its ability to make the identity actual, and to raise its certitude to truth; and with the instinct of realising explicitly the nullity of that contrast which it sees to be implicitly null.

§ 225

This process is in general terms Cognition. In Cognition in a single act the contrast is virtually superseded, as regards both the one-sidedness of subjectivity and the one-sidedness of objectivity. At first, however, the supersession of the contrast is but implicit. The process as such is in consequence immediately infected with the finitude of this sphere, and splits into the twofold movement of the instinct of reason, presented as two different movements. On the one hand it supersedes the one-sidedness of the Idea’s subjectivity by receiving the existing world into itself, into subjective conception and thought; and with this objectivity, which is thus taken to be real and true, for its content it fills up the abstract certitude of itself. On the other hand, it supersedes the one-sidedness of the objective world, which is now, on the contrary, estimated as only a mere semblance, a collection of contingencies and shapes at bottom visionary. It modifies and informs that world by the inward nature of the subjective, which is here taken to be the genuine objective. The former is the instinct of science after Truth, Cognition properly so called — the Theoretical action of the idea. The latter is the instinct of the Good to fulfil the same — the Practical activity of the idea, or Volition.

[a] Cognition proper

§ 226

The universal finitude of Cognition, which lies in the one judgment, the presupposition of the contrast (§ 224) — a presupposition in contradiction of which its own act lodges protest — specialises itself more precisely on the face of its own idea. The result of that specialisation is that its two elements receive the aspect of being diverse from each other, and, as they are at least complete, they take up the relation of ‘reflection’, not of ‘notion’, to one another. The assimilation of the matter, therefore, as a datum, presents itself in the light of a reception of it into categories which at the same time remain external to it, and which meet each other in the same style of diversity. Reason is active here, but it is reason in the shape of understanding. The truth which such Cognition can reach will therefore be only finite: the infinite truth (of the notion) is isolated and made transcendent, an inaccessible goal in a world of its own. Still in its external action cognition stands under the guidance of the notion, and notional principles form the secret clue to its movement.

The finitude of Cognition lies in the presupposition of a world already in existence, and in the consequent view of the knowing subject as a tabula rasa. The conception is one attributed to Aristotle; but no man is further than Aristotle from such an outside theory of Cognition. Such a style of Cognition does not recognise in itself the activity of the notion — an activity which it is implicitly, but not consciously. In its own estimation its procedure is passive. Really that procedure is active.

§ 227

Finite Cognition, when it presupposes what is distinguished from it to be something already existing and confronting it — to be the various facts of external nature or of consciousness — has, in the first place, (1) formal identity or the abstraction of universality for the form of its action. Its activity therefore consists in analysing the given concrete object, isolating its differences, and giving them the form of abstract universality. Or it leaves the concrete thing as a ground, and by setting aside the unessential-looking particulars, brings into relief a concrete universal, the Genus, or Force and Law. This is the Analytical Method.

People generally speak of the analytical and synthetic methods, as if it depended solely on our choice which we pursued. This is far from the case. It depends on the form of the objects of our investigation, which of the two methods that are derivable from the notion of finite cognition ought to be applied. In the first place, cognition is analytical. Analytical cognition deals with an object which is presented in detachment, and the aim of its action is to trace back to a universal the individual object before it. Thought in such circumstances means no more than an act of abstraction or of formal identity. That is the sense in which thought is understood by Locke and all empiricists. Cognition, it is often said, can never do more than separate the given concrete objects into their abstract elements, and then consider these elements in their isolation. It is, however, at once apparent that this turns things upside down, and that cognition, if its purpose be to take things as they are, thereby falls into contradiction with itself. Thus the chemist e.g. places a piece of flesh in his retort, tortures it in many ways, and then informs us that it consists of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, etc. True: but these abstract matters have ceased to be flesh. The same defect occurs in the reasoning of an empirical psychologist when he analyses an action into the various aspects which it presents, and then sticks to these aspects in their separation. The object which is subjected to analysis is treated as a sort of onion from which one coat is peeled off after another.

§ 228

This universality is [b] also a specific universality. In this case the line of activity follows the three ‘moments’ of the notion, which (as it has not its infinity in finite cognition) is the specific or definite notion of understanding. The reception of the object into the forms of this notion is the Synthetic Method.

The movement of the Synthetic method is the reverse of the Analytical method. The latter starts from the individual, and proceeds to the universal; in the former the starting-point is given by the universal (as a definition), from which we proceed by particularising (in division) to the individual (the theorem). The Synthetic method thus presents itself as the development — the ‘moments’ of the notion on the object.

Definition, Division and Theorem
§ 229

[a] When the object has been in the first instance brought by cognition into the form of the specific notion in general, so that in this way its genus and its universal character or speciality are explicitly stated, we have the Definition. The materials and the proof of Definition are procured by means of the Analytical method (§ 227). The specific character however is expected to be a ‘mark’ only: that is to say it is to be in behoof only of the purely subjective cognition which is external to the object.

Definition involves the three organic elements of the notion: the universal or proximate genus (genus proximum), the particular or specific character of the genus (qualitas specifica), and the individual, or object defined. The first question that definition suggests, is where it comes from. The general answer to this question is to say, that definitions originate by way of analysis. This will explain how it happens that people quarrel about the correctness of proposed definitions; for here everything depends on what perceptions we started from, and what points of view we had before our eyes in so doing. The richer the object to be defined is, that is, the more numerous are the aspects which it offers to our notice, the more various are the definitions we may frame of it. Thus there are quite a host of definitions of life, of the state, etc. Geometry, on the contrary, dealing with a theme so abstract as space, has an easy task in giving definitions. Again, in respect of the matter or contents of the objects defined, there is no constraining necessity present. We are expected to admit that space exists, that there are plants, animals, etc., nor is it the business of geometry, botany, etc., to demonstrate that the objects in question necessarily are. This very circumstance makes the synthetic method of cognition as little suitable for philosophy as the analytical: for philosophy has above all things to leave no doubt of the necessity of its objects. And yet several attempts have been made to introduce the synthetic method into philosophy. Thus Spinoza, in particular, begins with definitions. He says, for instance, that substance is the causa sui. His definitions are unquestionably a storehouse of the most speculative truth, but it takes the shape of dogmatic assertions. The same thing is also true of Schelling.

§ 230

[b] The statement of the second element of the notion, i.e. of the specific character of the universal as particularising, is given by Division in accordance with some external consideration.

Division we are told ought to be complete. That requires a principle or ground of division so constituted that the division based upon it embraces the whole extent of the region designated by the definition in general. But, in division, there is the further requirement that the principle of it must be borrowed from the nature of the object in question. If this condition be satisfied, the division is natural and not merely artificial, that is to say, arbitrary. Thus, in zoology, the ground of division adopted in the classification of the mammalia is mainly afforded by their teeth and claws. That is so far sensible, as the mammals themselves distinguish themselves from one another by these parts of their bodies back to which therefore the general type of their various classes is to be traced. In every case the genuine division must be controlled by the notion. To that extent a division, in the first instance, has three members: but as particularity exhibits itself as double, the division may go to the extent even of four members. In the sphere of mind trichotomy is predominant, a circumstance which Kant has the credit for bringing into notice

§ 231

[c] In the concrete individuality, where the mere unanalysed quality of the definition is regarded as a correlation of elements, the object is a synthetic nexus of distinct characteristics. It is a Theorem. Being different, these characteristics possess but a mediated identity. To supply the materials, which form the middle terms, is the office of Construction: and the process of mediation itself, from which cognition derives the necessity of that nexus, is the Demonstration.

As the difference between the analytical and synthetic methods is commonly stated, it seems entirely optional which of the two we employ. If we assume, to start with, the concrete thing which the synthetic method presents as a result, we can analyse from it as consequences the abstract propositions which formed the pre-suppositions and the material for the proof. Thus, algebraical definitions of curved lines are theorems in the method of geometry. Similarly even the Pythagorean theorem, if made the definition of a right-angled triangle, might yield to analysis those propositions which geometry had already demonstrated on is behoof. The optionalness of either method is due to both alike starting from an external presupposition. So far as the nature of the notion is concerned, analysis is prior, since it has to raise the given material with its empirical concreteness into the form of general abstractions, which may then be set in the front of the synthetic method as definitions.

That these methods, however indispensable and brilliantly successful in their own province, are unserviceable for philosophical cognition, is self-evident. They have presuppositions; and their style of cognition is that of understanding, proceeding under the canon of formal identity. In Spinoza, who was especially addicted to the use of the geometrical method, we are at once struck by its characteristic formalism. Yet his ideas were speculative in spirit; whereas the system of Wolf, who carried the method out to the height of pedantry, was even in subject-matter a metaphysic of the understanding.

The abuses which these methods with their formalism once led to in philosophy and science have in modern times been followed by the abuses of what is called ‘Construction’. Kant brought into vogue the phrase that mathematics ‘construes’ its notions. All that was meant by the phrase was that mathematics has not to do with notions, but with abstract qualities of sense-perceptions. The name ‘Construction (construing) of notions’ has since been given to a sketch or statement of sensible attributes which were picked up from perception, quite guiltless of any influence of the notion, and to the additional formalism of classifying scientific and philosophical objects in a tabular form on some presupposed rubric, but in other respects at the fancy and discretion of the observer. In the background of all this, certainly, there is a dim consciousness of the Idea, of the unity of the notion and objectivity — a consciousness too that the idea is concrete. But that play of what is styled ‘construing’ is far from presenting this unity adequately, a unity which is none other than the notion properly so called: a perception is as little the concreteness of reason and the idea.

Another point calls for notice. Geometry works with the sensuous but abstract perception of space; and in space it experiences no difficulty in isolating and defining certain simple analytical modes.

To geometry alone therefore belongs in its perfection the synthetic method of finite cognition. In its course, however (and this is the remarkable point), it finally stumbles upon what are termed irrational and incommensurable quantities; and in their case any attempt at further specification drives it beyond the principle of the understanding. This is only one of many instances in terminology, where the title ‘rational’ is perversely applied to the province of understanding, while we stigmatise as irrational that which shows a beginning and a trace of rationality. Other sciences, removed as they are from the simplicity of space or number, often and necessarily reach a point where understanding permits no further advance: but they get over the difficulty without trouble. They make a break in the strict sequence of their procedure, and assume whatever they require, though it be the reverse of what preceded, from some external quarter — opinion, perception, conception, or any other source. Its inobservancy as to the nature of its methods and their relativity to the subject-matter prevents this finite cognition from seeing that, when it proceeds by definitions and divisions, etc., it is really led on by the necessity of the laws of the notion. For the same reason it cannot see when it has reached its limit; nor, if it have transgressed that limit, does it perceive that it is in a sphere where the categories of understanding, which it still continues rudely to apply, have lost all authority.

§ 232

The necessity which finite cognition produces in the Demonstration is, in the first place, an external necessity, intended for the subjective intelligence alone. But in necessity as such, cognition itself has left behind its presupposition and starting-point, which consisted in accepting its content as given or found. Necessity qua necessity is implicitly the self-relating notion. The subjective idea has thus implicitly reached an original and objective determinateness — a something not-given, and for that reason immanent in the subject. It has passed over into the idea of Will.

The necessity which cognition reaches by means of the demonstration is the reverse of what formed its starting-point. In its starting-point cognition had a given and a contingent content; but now, at the close of its movement, it knows its content to be necessary. This necessity is reached by means of subjective agency. Similarly, subjectivity at starting was quite abstract, a bare tabula rasa. It now shows itself as a modifying and determining principle. In this way we pass from the idea of cognition to that of will. The passage, as will be apparent on a closer examination, means that the universal, to be truly apprehended, must be apprehended as subjectivity, as a notion self-moving, active, and form-imposing.

[b] Volition


The subjective idea as original and objective determinateness, and as a simple uniform content, is the Good. Its impulse towards self-realisation is in its behaviour the reverse of the idea of truth, and rather directed towards moulding the world it finds before it into a shape conformable to its purposed End. This Volition has, on the one hand, the certitude of the nothingness of the presupposed object; but, on the other, as finite, it at the same time presupposes the purposed End of the Good to be a mere subjective idea, and the object to be independent.

§ 234

This action of the Will is finite: and its finitude lies in the contradiction that in the inconsistent terms applied to the objective world the End of the Good is just as much not executed as executed, the end in question put as unessential as much as essential, as actual and at the same time as merely possible. This contradiction presents itself to imagination as an endless progress in the actualising of the Good; which is therefore set up and fixed as a mere ‘ought’, or goal of perfection. In point of form however this contradiction vanishes when the action supersedes the subjectivity of the purpose, and along with it the objectivity, with the contrast which makes both finite; abolishing subjectivity as a whole and not merely the one-sidedness of this form of it. (For another new subjectivity of the kind, that is, a new generation of the contrast, is not distinct from that which is supposed to be past and gone.) This return into itself is at the same time the content’s own ‘recollection’ that it is the Good and the implicit identity of the two sides — it is a ‘recollection’ of the presupposition of the theoretical attitude of mind (§ 224) that the objective world is its own truth and substantiality.

While Intelligence merely proposes to take the world as it is, Will takes steps to make the world what it ought to be. Will looks upon the immediate and given present not as solid being, but as mere semblance without reality. It is here that we meet those contradictions which are so bewildering from the standpoint of abstract morality. This position in its ‘practical’ bearings is the one taken by the philosophy of Kant, and even by that of Fichte. The Good, say these writers, has to be realised: we have to work in order to produce it: and Will is only the Good actualising itself. If the world then were as it ought to be, the action of Will would be at an end. The Will itself therefore requires that its End should not be realised. In these words, a correct expression is given to the finitude of Will. But finitude was not meant to be the ultimate point: and it is the process of Will itself which abolishes finitude and the contradiction it involves. The reconciliation is achieved when Will in its result returns to the presupposition made by cognition. In other words, it consists in the unity of the theoretical and practical idea. Will knows the end to be its own, and Intelligence apprehends the world as the notion actual. This is the right attitude of rational cognition. Nullity and transitoriness constitute only the superficial features and not the real essence of the world. That essence is the notion in posse and in esse: and thus the world is itself the idea. All unsatisfied endeavour ceases, when we recognise that the final purpose of the world is accomplished no less than ever accomplishing itself. Generally speaking, this is the man’s way of looking; while the young imagine that the world is utterly sunk in wickedness, and that the first thing needful is a thorough transformation. The religious mind, on the contrary, views the world as ruled by Divine Providence, and therefore correspondent with what it ought to be. But this harmony between the ‘is’ and the ‘ought to be’ is not torpid and rigidly stationary. Good, the final end of the world, has being, only while it constantly produces itself. And the world of spirit and the world of nature continue to have this distinction, that the latter moves only in a recurring cycle, while the former certainly also makes progress.

§ 235

Thus the truth of the Good is laid down as the unity of the theoretical and practical idea in the doctrine that the Good is radically and really achieved, that the objective world is in itself and for itself the Idea, just as it at the same time eternally lays itself down as End, and by action brings about its actuality. This life which has returned to itself from the bias and finitude of cognition, and which by the activity of the notion has become identical with it, is the Speculative or Absolute Idea.

(c) The Absolute Idea

§ 236

The Idea, as unity of the Subjective and Objective Idea, is the notion of the Idea — a notion whose object (Gegenstand) is the Idea as such, and for which the objective (Objekt) is Idea — an Object which embraces all characteristics in its unity. This unity is consequently the absolute and all truth, the Idea which thinks itself — and here at least as a thinking or Logical Idea.

The Absolute Idea is, in the first place, the unity of the theoretical and practical idea, and thus at the same time the unity of the idea of life with the idea of cognition. In cognition we had the idea in a biased, one-sided shape. The process of cognition has issued in the overthrow of this bias and the restoration of that unity, which as unity, and in its immediacy, is in the first instance the Idea of Life. The defect of life lies in its being only the idea implicit or natural: whereas cognition is in an equally one-sided way the merely conscious idea, or the idea for itself. The unity and truth of these two is the Absolute Idea, which is both in itself and for itself. Hitherto we have had the idea in development through its various grades as our object, but now the idea comes to be its own object. This is the noisis noiseos which Aristotle long ago termed the supreme form of the idea.

§ 237

Seeing that there is in it no transition, or presupposition, and in general no specific character other than what is fluid and transparent, the Absolute Idea is for itself the pure form of the notion, which contemplates its contents as its own self. It is its own content, in so far as it ideally distinguishes itself from itself, and the one of the two things distinguished is a self-identity in which however is contained the totality of the form as the system of terms describing its content. This content is the system of Logic. All that is at this stage left as form for the idea is the Method of this content — the specific consciousness of the value and currency of the ‘moments’ in its development.

To speak of the absolute idea may suggest the conception that we are at length reaching the right thing and the sum of the whole matter. It is certainly possible to indulge in a vast amount of senseless declamation about the idea absolute. But its true content is only the whole system of which we have been hitherto studying the development. It may also be said in this strain that the absolute idea is the universal, but the universal not merely as an abstract form to which the particular content is a stranger, but as the absolute form, into which all the categories, the whole fullness of the content it has given being to, have retired. The absolute idea may in this respect be compared to the old man who utters the same creed as the child, but for whom it is pregnant with the significance of a lifetime. Even if the child understands the truths of religion, he cannot but imagine them to be something outside of which lies the whole of life and the whole of the world. The same may be said to be the case with human life as a whole and the occurrences with which it is fraught. All work is directed only to the aim or end; and when it is attained, people are surprised to find nothing else but just the very thing which they had wished for. The interest lies in the whole movement. When a man traces up the steps of his life, the end may appear to him very restricted: but in it the whole decursus vitae is comprehended. So, too, the content of the absolute idea is the whole breadth of ground which has passed under our view up to this point. Last of all comes the discovery that the whole evolution is what constitutes the content and the interest. It is indeed the prerogative of the philosopher to see that everything, which, taken apart, is narrow and restricted, receives its value by its connection with the whole, and by forming an organic element of the idea. Thus it is that we have had the content already, and what we have now is the knowledge that the content is the living development of the idea. This simple retrospect is contained in the form of the idea. Each of the stages hitherto reviewed is an image of the absolute, but at first in a limited way, and thus it is forced onwards to the whole, the evolution of which is what we termed Method.

§ 238

The several steps or stages of the Speculative Method are, first of all, (a) the Beginning, which is Being or Immediacy: self-subsistent, for the simple reason that it is the beginning. But looked at from the speculative idea, Being is its self-specialising act, which as the absolute negativity or movement of the notion makes a judgment and puts itself as its own negative. Being, which to the beginning as beginning seems mere abstract affirmation, is thus rather negation, dependency, derivation, and presupposition. But it is the notion of which Being is the negation: and the notion is completely self-identical in its otherness, and is the certainty of itself. Being therefore is the notion implicit, before it has been explicitly put as a notion. This Being therefore, as the still unspecified notion — a notion that is only implicitly or ‘immediately’ specified — is equally describable as the Universal.

When it means immediate being, the beginning is taken from sensation and perception — the initial stage in the analytical method of finite cognition. When it means universality, it is the beginning of the systematic method. But since the Logical Idea is as much a universal as it is in being — since it is presupposed by the notion as much as it itself immediately is, its beginning is a synthetic as well as an analytical beginning.

Philosophical method is analytical as well as synthetic, not indeed in the sense of a bare juxtaposition or mere alternating employment of these two methods of finite cognition, but rather in such a way that it holds them merged in itself. In every one of its movements therefore it displays an attitude at once analytical and synthetic. Philosophical thought proceeds analytically, in so far as it only accepts its object, the Idea, and while allowing it its own way, is only, as it were, an onlooker at its movement and development. To this extent philosophising is wholly passive. Philosophic thought however is equally synthetic, and evinces itself to be the action of the notion itself. To that end, however, there is required an effort to keep back the incessant impertinence of our own fancies and private opinions.

§ 239

(b) The Advance renders explicit the judgment implicit in the Idea. The immediate universal, as the notion implicit, is the dialectical force which on its own part deposes its immediacy and universality to the level of a mere stage or ‘moment’. Thus is put the negative of the beginning, its specific character: it supposes a correlative, a relation of different terms — the stage of Reflection.

Seeing that the immanent dialectic only states explicitly what was involved in the immediate notion, this advance is Analytical; but seeing that in this notion this distinction was not yet stated, it is equally Synthetic.

In the advance of the idea, the beginning exhibits itself as what it is implicitly. It is seen to be mediated and derivative, and neither to have proper being nor proper immediacy. It is only for the consciousness which is itself immediate, that Nature forms the commencement or immediacy and that Spirit appears as what is mediated by Nature. The truth, indeed, is that Nature is posited by Spirit, and Spirit itself in turn, uses Nature as its presupposition.

§ 240

The abstract form of the advance is, in Being, an other and transition into an other; in Essence showing or reflection in the opposite; in Notion, the distinction of individual from universality, which continues itself as such into, and is as an identity with, what is distinguished from it.

§ 241

In the second sphere the primarily implicit notion has come as far as shining, and thus is already the idea in germ. The development of this sphere becomes a regress into the first, just as the development of the first is a transition into the second. It is only by means of this double movement, that the difference first gets its due, when each of the two members distinguished, observed on its own part, completes itself to the totality, and in this way works out its unity with the other. It is only by both merging their one-sidedness on their own part, that their unity is kept from becoming one-sided.

§ 242

The second sphere develops the relation of the different to what it primarily is — to the contradiction in its own nature. That contradiction which is seen in the infinite progress is resolved (c) into the end or terminus, where the difference is explicitly stated as what it is in notion. The end is the negative of the first, and as the identity with that, is the negativity of itself. It is consequently the unity in which both of these Firsts, the immediate and the real First, are made constituent stages in thought, merged, and at the same time preserved in the unity. The notion, which from its implicitness thus comes by means of its differentiation and the merging of that differentiation to close with itself, is the realised notion — the notion which contains the relativity or dependence of its special features in its own independence. It is the idea which, as absolutely first (in the method), regards this terminus as merely the disappearance of the show or semblance, which made the beginning appear immediate, and made itself seem a result. It is the knowledge that the idea is the one systematic whole.

§ 243

It thus appears that the method is not an extraneous form, but the soul and notion of the content, from which it is only distinguished, so far as the dynamic elements of the notion even on their own part come in their own specific character to appear as the totality of the notion. This specific character, or the content, leads itself with the form back to the idea; and thus the idea is presented as a systematic totality which is only one idea, of which the several elements are each implicitly the idea, while they equally by the dialectic of the notion produce the simple independence of the idea. The science in this manner concludes by apprehending the notion of itself, as of the pure idea for which the idea is.

§ 244

The Idea which is independent or for itself, when viewed on the point of this unity with itself, is Perception or Intuition, and the percipient Idea is Nature. But as intuition the idea is, through an external ‘reflection’, invested with the one-sided characteristic of immediacy, or of negation. Enjoying however an absolute liberty, the Idea does not merely pass over into life, or as finite cognition allow life to show in it: in its own absolute truth it resolves to let the ‘moment’ of its particularity, or of the first characterisation and other-being, the immediate idea, as its reflected image, go forth freely as Nature.

We have now returned to the notion of the Idea with which we began. This return to the beginning is also an advance. We began with Being, abstract Being: where we now are we also have the Idea as Being: but this Idea which has Being is Nature.

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