Front Page Titles (by Subject) XII.: Hegelian Criticism — The Ego and the Infinite . - The Method, Meditations and Philosophy of Descartes
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XII.: Hegelian Criticism — The Ego and the Infinite . - Réné Descartes, The Method, Meditations and Philosophy of Descartes 
The Method, Meditations and Philosophy of Descartes, translated from the Original Texts, with a new introductory Essay, Historical and Critical by John Veitch and a Special Introduction by Frank Sewall (Washington: M. Walter Dunne, 1901).
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Hegelian Criticism — The Ego and the Infinite.
The attempt to Hegelianize Descartes seeks to correct him in what he said, and to bring out what he meant to say, or at least ought to have said. It refers, of course, particularly in the first instance, to his Cogito ergo sum. That has to get a new meaning, or at least aspect, before it can be accepted as final or sufficient. Let us see how the thing is to be managed. The scope, sense, and guarantee of the first principle have already been explained. What is the Hegelian view?
We are told, in Hegelian language, that the Cogito ergo sum is not a sufficiently deep or primary basis of philosophy. A mere certainty is not enough. The certainty must be primary, nothing actually, but all things potentially. The certainty which it gives does not lie at the root of things. It implies a dualism of thought and being; we must therefore go beyond it to something more fundamental. Philosophy “must penetrate to a stage where thought and being are one — to the absolute unity of both, which precedes their disruption into the several worlds of Nature and Mind. It must show us the very beginning of thought, before it has come to the full consciousness of itself.”
Now whence is this must, this necessity of penetration to an absolute unity, whatever that may mean? How is that, when we are supposed to be seeking a beginning of philosophy, we are able dogmatically to lay down its prerequisites in this fashion? Have we already a philosophy of what a philosophy ought to be? In that case, how can we be supposed to be seeking the beginning of any philosophy? Surely it is more in accordance with all rules of sound scientific and philosophical procedure to see whether we can go backward or upward to this unity, after we have studied the facts and the conceptions which they involve, than to assume that there must be such an absolute unity for philosophy; and further, that we must be able to know it, and to demonstrate all forms of reality from it as a common basis. What is this but to assume, at the outset, a particular solution of the great problem of philosophy, while a more modest and circumspect method would expect such a solution, whatever its nature might be only at the end, and after careful inquiry?
1. One is anxious to know precisely the points of the proof for this Hegelian representation of the imperfection of Descartes' doctrine and the necessity of its own. There seem to be two main grounds of proof. These are two statements or principles, which are given in a somewhat dogmatic fashion, as apparently self-evident. For it is a characteristic of this pre-suppositionless philosophy that it more than any other makes assumptions without proffering either proof or warrant of them. The one alleged principle is that, “to be conscious of a limit is to transcend it.” Or, more particularly, we are to identify “the consciousness of self as thinking with transcending the limits of its own particular being, and so with the consciousness or idea of God.” “Self-consciousness has a negative element in it,— that is, something definite, and therefore limited.” This is a statement of the principle, and also a hint of its immediate application. The other principle is the well-known Spinozistic aphorism that determination is negation,— Omnis determinatio est negatio.
The two principles now mentioned very closely coincide. The negation refers to the qualities of individual objects; the abstractions from limits refers to things as in space and time, or to things as bounded. As quality is itself a determination, it is a limit. In order to get at what is truly real, we have to abstract from the actual limits of individuals,—nay, we have ultimately to abstract from all limit whatever and we shall find the only true reality in what is then called the Infinite. Hegel is credited with bringing out explicitly the principles which governed the thought of Spinzoa.
2. The so-called principle Omnis determinatio est negatio has already been sufficiently exposed. Let us look now at the other generality which is vaunted as a principle, and, the ground of advanced philosophy. It is thus Hegel himself states the principle:—
“The knowledge which we have of a limit, shows that we already overleap the limit; it shows our infinity. The things of nature are finite by this even, that limit does not exist for them, but only for us who compare them with each other. We are finite when we receive a contrary into consciousness. But we overleap this limit in the knowledge even which we have of that contrary (other). It is only the unconscious being (der Unwissende) that is finite, for it is ignorant of its limit. On the other hand, every being which knows limit knows the limit as not a limit of its knowledge, but as an element of which it has consciousness, as an element that belongs to the sphere of its knowledge. It is only the being unknown (or of which there is no consciousness) that could constitute a limit of knowledge; while that known limit is by no means a limit of knowing. Consequently, to know one's own limit is to know one's own illimitability. Meanwhile, when we conceive spirit as unlimited, as truly infinite, we ought not to conclude that the limit is in no way in the spirit, but rather to recognize that spirit ought to determine itself, and therefore to limit itself and place itself in the sphere of the finite. Only the understanding is deceived when it considers this finitude as insurmountable, and the difference of limit and infinity as absolutely irreconcilable, and when, conformably to this conception, it pretends that spirit is finite or infinite. Finitude, seized in its reality is, as we have just said, in infinity. The limit is in the unlimited; and consequently spirit is not infinite or finite, but as well the one as the other. The spirit remains infinite in its finitude, for it suppresses its finitude. In it nothing has an existence fixed and isolated, but all is found idealized, all passes and is absorbed in its unity. It is thus that God, because he is Spirit, must determine himself, posit in him finitude (otherwise he would be only a void and dead abstraction); but as the reality which he gives himself in determining himself is a reality which is completely adequate to him, God, in determining himself, becomes in no way a finite Being. Limit is not then in God and in the Spirit, but it is placed (posited) by the Spirit in order that it may be suppressed. It is only as moment that finitude can appear in the Spirit and remain there; for by its ideal nature the Spirit raises itself above it, and knows that limit is in no way a limit insuperable for it. This is why it overpasses it, and frees itself from it. And this deliverance is not as the understanding represents it, a deliverance that is never accomplished, an indefinite effort toward the infinite, but a deliverance in which the spirit frees itself from this indefinite progress, completely effaces its limit or its contrary, and raises itself to its absolute individuality and its true infinity.”
Again; “To be annulled by and in its contrary there is the dialectic which makes the finitude of preceding spheres. But it is the Spirit, the notion, the eternal in itself which effaces this image (simulacrum) of existence, in order to accomplish within itself the annihilation of the appearance.”
We find the principle of this passage repeated in Hegelian literature as apparently not requiring proof. We are told that “to know a limit as such is to be in some sense beyond it;” “the consciousness of a limit implies the consciousness of something beyond it;” and as applied to reality, it is said to follow that “the dualism of mind and matter is not absolute, and thought transcends the distinction while it recognizes it.” We find it asserted that “if the individual is to find in his self-consciousness the principle of all knowledge, there must be something in it which transcends the distinction of self and not-self, which carries him beyond the limit of his own individuality.” Subjective consciousness passes into objective in the consciousness of God. “ It is because we find God in our own minds that we find anything else.” Finally, the result of the doctrine of the transcending of limit is that “our consciousness of God is but a part of God's consciousness of himself, our consciousness of self and other things is but God's consciousness of them, and there is no existence either of ourselves or other beings except in this consciousness.”
3. As applied to the Cartesian position, the correction it yields may be summed up as follows: —
The being conscious, or the finite, is an illusion or pure negation, if me-being or me-conscious is viewed as a being or reality in itself, and having an existence distinct from, or even in opposition to, a non-self in the form either of God or Matter — extension. I conscious do not exist apart from my being consciously God himself— an infinite self-consciousness—or at least a part of him, or an individual included under him as a part of his consciousness in which I partake. It does not seem to be affirmed that I, the individual conscious Being, am really God, in the sense of being convertible absolutely with his Being or consciousness. He passes in me and over me, if he does not trample me out. I am affirmed, however, to be a part or a moment in his consciousness, whatever that may mean; so that I cannot be conscious of myself without being conscious that, so far as I am conscious, I am God, or his consciousness is my consciousness, or my consciousness is his; only my being conscious does not exhaust his consciousness. The moment, however, that I conceit myself as anything but an indissoluble part of the consciousness of God, I deceive myself, raise illusion to the rank of reality. The only reality is the Infinite; and I am in his development. That is all I can lay claim to. This is true also of all the individual consciousnesses of the universe; they are not really individual consciousness in the sense of being consciousnesses separate from the Divine consciousness; they are simply moments in his consciousness: his consciousness is theirs, and theirs is his. The Divine wave of consciousness flows through all humanity—indeed through all the universe; for the different ascending stages of being are but moments in the Divine consciousness as it moves upward and onward from its dim unconscious potentiality to self-consciousness in man, and to the transcending of things in the absolute Spirit, which, in knowing itself to be all, is all.
Several questions thus at once arise. The first of these is the historical one as to whether it is the doctrine of Descartes. This comes very much to inquiring as to whether his statements, collateral with his main principle, give reasonable hints of it.
I. There can, I think, be little doubt that this identification of finite self-consciousness and an infinite self-consciousness, or consciousness of Deity, is a totally different conception from that of Descartes. He no doubt holds, that alongside the finite self-consciousness there is an idea of the Infinite—an idea which is positive, which possesses more reality than the idea of the finite. This idea is suggested to us, or it arises into actual consciousness, through the conception of our own finitude, limitation, or imperfection. It is, in fact, the correlate of the intuition of self and its limitations; but it is not, in Descartes' view, an intuition of being, as our self-consciousness is; it is not, properly speaking, a consciousness of being at all; it is not, as it has been improperly regarded, the consciousness of God on the same level with the consciousness of self — it is simply an objective or representative idea in the consciousness of the finite being. The idea and the reality of God are so far from being identical, that the principle of Casuality is called in by Descartes to infer the Being from the Idea. There is no identification here of the finite self-consciousness as an intuition with the idea even, far less with that which is totally separate from the idea — the Being or consciousness of Deity. We could not properly, on the Cartesian doctrine, even speak of the consciousness of God, as we can of the consciousness of ourself; for, in the latter case, we are the reality — in the former we are not even face to face with it.
1. But Descartes makes a further statement on this point. He tells us that the idea of the Infinite is not only positive, but “in some sense prior” to the consciousness of the finite — to my self-consciousness. This, of course, would be contradictory to his main doctrine, that self-consciousness is the first principle of knowledge, if we did not remember that the priority “in some sense” of which he here speaks, is the priority, not of actual consciousness, but of latency. He is giving, in fact, an instance of his doctrine of Innate Ideas. These, according to him, mean not ideas actually elicited into consciousness, but ideas somehow prior to and conditioning our actual consciousness, while appearing in it. And the idea of the Infinite had, according to Descartes, a special claim to be regarded as innate, because, unlike the ideas of sense, it was not dependent for its actuality on physical conditions. This was not, however, a priority of knowledge, but of potentiality or latency. This statement cannot, therefore, be relevantly adduced as proving actual knowledge before finite or self-conscious knowledge.
2. We fortunately have a perfectly precise explanation of the matter by Descartes himself: “I say,” he tells us in explanation, “that the notion which I have of the infinite is in me before that of the finite; for this reason, that from this alone, that I conceive being or that which is, without thinking whether it is finite or infinite, it is infinite being which I conceive; but in order that I may be able to conceive a finite being, it is necessary that I retrench something from this general notion of being, which consequently ought to precede.”
Two things are clear from this: a. That Descartes confused the mere indeterminate of thought, what is as yet not laid down as either infinite or finite, with the true conception of infinity, b. That he cannot be cited as having consequently countenanced the doctrine that the finite is a mere negation of the infinite; for the simple reason that he was not speaking of the true infinite, or of what he in other places described as such. The finite might, as a determinate notion, be a step further than the mere state of non-predication; but it cannot be represented as in any proper sense of the term a negation, far less a negation of the infinite. And certainly it is ludicrous to say, in such a case, that the so-called infinite or indeterminate has more reality than the finite or determinate. It is truly void of any attribute or predicate whatever.
3. But if we look at the matter closely, we shall see that there is no true contradiction in the two positions of Descartes, that knowledge begins with the Cogito ergo sum, and that in a sense the idea of God is in us prior to the intuition of the Ego cogitans. For he quite distinctly regards the knowledge of self and the knowledge of God as of two different orders. In the one case we have an intuition,— the reality is in consciousness, in a sense the reality is the consciousness. The knowing and the known are for the time convertible. In the other case, we are distinct from the reality; we know it only representatively or by idea; the existence of the object is not the idea of it, the idea even is not commensurate with the reality. And whatever be the mode in which we may reach a guarantee of the reality itself, this is not by direct knowledge or intuition of it, as in the case of the Ego cogitans. The direct knowledge of the conscious ego is actually the first.
4. It ought to be observed that while Descartes holds the idea of the infinite to be true, real or positive, and to be “clear and distinct,” he does not hold it to be adequate or commensurate with the reality. He holds, in fact, along with these positions, that the infinite is incomprehensible by us. Nothing can be more explicit than his statement on this point: —
“The idea of a being supremely perfect and infinite is in the highest degree true; for although, perhaps, we may imagine that such a being does not exist, we cannot, nevertheless, suppose that his idea represents nothing real, as I have already said of the idea of cold. It is likewise clear and distinct in the highest degree, since, whatever the mind clearly and distinctly conceives as real and true, and as implying any perfection, is contained entire in this idea. And this is true, nevertheless, although I do not comprehend the infinite, and although there may be in God an infinity of things which I cannot comprehend, nor perhaps even compass by thought in any way, for it is of the nature of the infinite that it should not be comprehended by the finite; and it is enough that I rightly understand this, and judge that all which I clearly perceive, and in which I know there is some perfection, and perhaps also an infinity of properties of which I am ignorant, are formally or eminently in God, in order that the idea I have of him may become the most true, clear, and distinct of all the ideas in my mind.”
Our knowledge thus is so far from being identical with the being of God or the Infinite that it is not even adequate to the reality of that being. The being of the Infinite may be a consciousness, but it is not our consciousness, nor is ours related to it as the part to the whole, or in any way necessary to it. God is to Descartes “ a substance infinite, eternal, immutable, independent, all-knowing, all-powerful, by which I myself, and every other thing that exists, if any such there be, were created.” But our knowledge of him is not adequate to his actual infinity or reality; it is, in fact, but an analogical knowledge, which does not contain all that he is or may be, and which can at the best grasp his perfections not formally but eminently.
So far, then, as the doctrine of Descartes itself is concerned, there is no proof that he in any way identified the finite and infinite consciousness. At the very time that he says there is greater reality in the idea of the Infinite than in that of the Finite, and that the former is in some sense prior to the latter, he distinctly infers an actual Infinite, who is the cause of the Idea in the finite, and thus makes as complete a dualism as if he had laid down the material non-ego as an object of direct perception. The true dualism of Descartes is that between the finite and infinite, the imperfect and the perfect; and this is as repugnant to Hegelianism as a dualism between thought and extension.
II. But the question arises — Can such a doctrine as this be made self-consistent? Is it coherent, or even intelligible?
1. Being is consciousness — these are convertible. My consciousness is, and it is not. It is not while I think it as mine; but when I conceive it as also the consciousness, infinite consciousness, of God, it is. The infinite consciousness or consciousness of God is, and it is not. It is not apart from my consciousness; it is when I am conscious. Infinite consciousness and finite consciousness thus exist only as they exist in each other. They are not co-factors — for neither is real by itself; but each is real in relation to the other. In fact, reality is in neither of the co-factors; each taken by itself is an illusion; but let the infinite go out into the finite, or let the finite rise to the infinite, and both become real. There is just one slight difficulty about this doctrine, and it is this — that it gives up too much, and can get too little for its requirements. If the infinite consciousness is by itself an illusion, and the finite consciousness is by itself an illusion—a mere non-entity—how does the illusory infinite consciousness pass into or add on to itself the finite? and how does the illusory finite consciousness rise to the infinite? We must either suppose that the co-factors— the infinite and finite consciousness — had each an independent existence before they became one,—in which case their reality does not lie in their unity; or we must suppose that what was simply unreal and illusory had the power of becoming what is both real and true: or we must hold that there was something beyond them which constrained them to unite, or rather created them in union — in which case, however, there was being beyond consciousness.
2. Infinite self-consciousness is not (does not conceive itself to be), unless it is (or conceives itself to be) finite self-consciousness; finite self-consciousness is not, unless it is (or conceives itself to be) infinite self-consciousness. In bare formula, A is not, unless it is not-A (or B); not-A (or B) is not, unless it is A. Strictly taken, neither the one nor the other is; only if either is, the other is: if one is conceived, the other is conceived. Neither is by itself; both are, if they are at all. Up to this point, no statement is made except that of a hypothetically necessary relationship. Exception even might be taken to the validity of the alleged necessary relation. But waiving this meanwhile, the question now is — Can this hypothetical relationship be realized or fulfilled? Do the terms of it not preclude the possibility of its absolute assertion? I hold that they do, and that the problem as put is ab initio null. We have merely a hypothetical see-saw. The one term—viz, finite self-consciousness—is not, unless it is the other term, infinite self-consciousness. There is, therefore, no starting-point for determination. If the one is not, until or unless it is the other, I can never say that either the one or the other is, or that they both are. If I had before me two exclusive alternatives, or even correlates, equally coexistent, I could absolutely say, This is, therefore the other is not; or, This is, therefore that is also. If it had been said infinite self-consciousness and finite self-consciousness are necessary correlatives, I could have concluded that, when I got the one I had the other. But if I say, as this formula does, the one is not unless it is the other, I can determine nothing. For my finite self-consciousness is not, until that infinite self-consciousness which is said to be inseparably it, is also; and so the infinite self-consciousness is not, until my finite self-consciousness which is inseparably it, is also. I must, therefore, always beg the very thing which I am called upon absolutely to establish, before I can assert or infer it. I shut myself up in an absolute petitio principii.
I do not exist only in the consciousness of God; and God does not exist only in my consciousness, and in the consciousness of other minds. I have not merely a universal existence; and God has not merely a distributive existence. At least these are propositions I am never able to affirm, for the reason that I can never ex hypothesi, even be until I am not myself, but God; and God can never be until he is not himself, but me. Or I can never be conscious until I am conscious as God; and God can never be conscious until he is conscious as me. I therefore can never know God's consciousness; and he can never know mine. As consciousness and being are identical, for the same reason neither God nor I can ever be.
3. But what precisely is the extent of the statement that my consciousness is God's consciousness, and God's consciousness is mine? Is this the human consciousness in all its modes or moods, thoughts, feelings, desires, volitions—in all their limitations and imperfections — in all their purity and impurity, their foulness and their fairness? Is this God's consciousness, at least temporally? Is it his consciousness passing through man? Then what sort of Divine consciousness is this? What of injustice, falsehood, and slander? Is this the Divine consciousness in man? At any rate, we need not deal much with its ethical results. These are tolerably apparent. Had we not better take refuge in Dualism? Or is it only that my consciousness is God's consciousness in the sense of logical or generic identity?—in the sense, that is, of the two consciousnesses being the same in essential character and feature? So that we know at least, as Ferrier put it, what God is, if we do not know that he is. In this case, we have no real identity or identity except in thought. We have the same identity which we have in any classification. But this implies a duality of perception or intuition. And we have not yet reduced all consciousness— i. e., all being—to one.
4. Although Hegelianism seeks to make the principle of non-contradiction of very little effect in its system of doctrine, we are at least, in the first instance, entitled to try any doctrine it advances by this principle. For I presume even Hegelianism, in establishing its own positions by proof, must in the first place assume these positions to be what they are alleged to be, and distinguish them from their contradictory opposites. Self-consistency, accordingly, must be postulated for any series of doctrines which even it may lay down. Otherwise perfectly opposite conclusions might be drawn from the same principle, and thus all reasoning and all consistency of thought be abolished. Now, applying this test merely, we have the me-being conscious, or the individual self-consciousness which we suppose we find by reflection in our experience pronounced to be ultimately only an illusion. It seems to us to be real. There is self with an attribute or series of attributes, which is distinguished by us from any infinite self-consciousness which we may chance to apprehend or know in any way, as it is distinguished from other individual self-consciousness, which we may find or conceive. If it be only individual or independent in appearance or seeming to itself, how can this seemingly illusory entity afford a process of proof or ground of reason for detecting the true reality, which it, considered as independent, is not? If my consciousness be in the first instance illusory, fortified as it is by the law of non-contradiction, regarding the nature and reality of my own being,—how can it be trustworthy, in the second place, regarding the true or ultimate reality of my own being and of this infinite self-consciousness? Let it be observed, consciousness is the only reality; there are not both consciousness and being in separation. These are one and the same. Well, the only consciousness I as yet know is my own; it asserts itself as such, and it is impossible for me to doubt it. It asserts, as is admitted, its own independent individuality, as opposed alike to the Infinite self-consciousness, to other individual finite self-consciousnesses; but in doing so, it deceives itself. Can it any longer, after that, be accepted as a reasonable trustworthy ground for determining the true reality? Can the illusory consciousness be trusted to rise to the true infinite abiding self-consciousness? Such a deceitful consciousness is obviously too rotten a foundation on which to build either philosophy or theology.
5. But it may be said the Idea here comes to our aid, the idea in the march of “the immanent dialectic.” This comes in to correct the ordinary consciousness, which is irreflective and superficial. It seems clear that the consciousness of individuality, of which we here speak, though common, has been dealt with by Descartes and others in neither an irreflective nor a superficial way. It has been tested and analyzed as far back as analysis within the limits of human intelligence will go. It has been found to assert itself under pain of self-annihilation, of the annihilation of thought or consciousness itself. I suspect no other philosophy can give another or at least a deeper guarantee for its first principle. At least one would like to see it produced. But this immanent dialectic of the idea, wherein does it appear? How does it make itself known or felt? I presume in consciousness, and within my consciousness, within some individual consciousness; otherwise it is not and cannot be anything to me or to any one conscious. But then my consciousness, my individual consciousness, is pronounced and confessed to be illusory. It is deceitful in its very root; in holding itself to be what it most intimately believes itself to be, in what it is absolutely constrained to think itself. How, then, does the immanent dialectic of the idea, as at least in the first instance, and as in knowledge, a form of consciousness, escape the taint of this illusory consciousness in which it appears? How can I trust it when I cannot trust the deliverance of the same consciousness regarding my own individuality? This dialectic may be called necessary, a necessary evolution of the idea, and looked up to as the march of omnipotence. But not less necessary and indisputable is the self-assertion of consciousness, and yet it is but illusion. Why may the necessity of the immanent dialectic not be an illusion of the same consciousness? How, in fact, on such a principle, can we think it to be anything else? If the spring of knowledge be poisoned at its fountain, what can purify its waters? Or if our intelligence be a faulty and illusory prism, how can we expect it to transmit or reflect the pure light of truth?.
III. After what has been said of the inherent inconsistency of the theory, it is hardly necessary to inquire whether such a doctrine can be admitted as the necessary and logical supplement of the view of Descartes. But it may be well to examine the alleged ground of its proof. This touches on a question regarding the nature of consciousness, which has important general bearings.
We have, in the passage quoted from Hegel, one statement which is tangible enough to be grasped and examined, and it is the principle of the whole. It seems that the consciousness of a limit overleaps or transcends the limit,—in plain words, that when conscious of a limit, say an opposite, contrary or contradictory, I necessarily transcend that limit, and apparently take it up into myself as a part of me — abolish it by absorption. The reason of this which is given seems to be that, as an object of consciousness, it is within my knowledge or consciousness; and whatever is so, ceases to be a limit or contrary to me. It is fused with me in the unity of knowledge, and loses its character as an opposite or contrary. I, the conscious thinker, become both myself and the limit which restricts me to myself-being.
We might ask a question as to what an infinite self-consciousness really means. It is an exceedingly ambiguous phrase, a phrase into which it is hardly possible to put a consistent meaning. The only rational analogy through which we can conceive any meaning in it is that of extending our self-consciousness to the universe. We know that we are conscious all through the bodily organism until we meet with a limit to the sphere of our sentiency. This is the true and ultimate distinction between the finite Ego and the material non-Ego. We may carry this analogy with us, and suppose that there is an Ego who is conscious of himself all through the universe of being, as we are conscious all through our sentient bodily organism. But this is as yet to us nothing more than a conception or ideal. We have no warrant, simply because we are self-conscious within a certain sphere or limit, to suppose that there is an all-pervading consciousness which appropriates to itself as its own sphere of sentiency both all finite minds and all matter. Yet what else does an infinite self-consciousness properly mean? And will it be maintained that we have an equal intuition of a being of this character with that of our own individual existence within the sphere of sentiency? Is it not the height of unreason to maintain further that we can make this conception reconcilable with the individuality of finite minds? or that in this case the so-called reality of finite minds can be construed by us as anything but a mere dream? The self-conscious being who conceits himself as real, is merely a thing to which the infinite all-pervading consciousness permits a passing moment of self-illusion.
But what are the terms in which the Infinite or infinite being, is represented? It appears that we conceive of the Infinite Being by the very fact that we conceive of being without thinking whether it be finite or no. We may take this as an explicit statement of what is meant when there is talk of the infinite being. But what truly does this mean? Would any one acquainted with the discussions on this point accept such a statement as a correct description of what we suppose we mean when we speak of the infinite being? To be conscious of being, without thinking whether it be finite or no — this is thinking being infinite. Then, in that case, simply because We reach the indeterminate in thought — neither finite nor the reverse, we have got the infinite! We do not predicate of the notion being, therefore our notion of it is infinite! The cessation of predication is the infinite! Well, such an infinite is not worth the paper it is written on. But is this consistent with other statements that the infinite is an infinite self-consciousness — that it is spirit, and so on? Certainly not. This so-called infinite is the mere vague indeterminate of thought. It is worse as a terminal description of the infinite than even the indefinite of Mill. The true infinite, if there be a positive infinite at all, in knowledge, is that of being in one or other of its forms — that is, intelligible being raised to such a height of conception that we are able on grounds of evidence to say that it is an entity absolutely without bounds. This abstinence from thinking the object as either finite or not, is not a conception or statement, even in terms, of infinity or the infinite; it is a mere indeterminate possibility of thought.
IV. But let us look for a moment at the bearings of this doctrine on Finite Reality, especially the Personality and Individuality of man. What is its fair logical consequence? Is it consistent with the facts of our experience?
1. Individual realities, if the expression be allowable, are the most vain and passing things in the world. They have no true reality; they are, but they are only as passing forms of the outpour of the infinite substance. They are as raindrops to vapor; the partial manifestations of the ultimate reality — again, perhaps, to return to vapor. All that can be said is, that this infinite substance individualizes itself only again to take the individual, perhaps, up into itself, or to let it pass into other individuals; but the idea of anything more than some necessary individualization need not be admitted. The whole sphere, therefore, of human individuality and personality, is swept away, so far as any distinctiveness or permanency is concerned. Each individual is I, Thou, He, at a particular point of time; but these Egos, or Selves, or Personalities have little or no meaning or concern in the Universe. These are simply forms in which the infinite substance must individualize itself. But that is all. Any other ego or self besides me and thee and him will do equally well, provided simply it is an ego. We pass away from time, and other egos come in our place — equally emanations of the infinite substance — and thus the evolution or issue of this infinite substance is fulfilled. As to why and how I am here, except that the infinite necessarily evolves itself, I know not and need not care. As to where I am going, and whether I am going anywhere, this is equally left unaccounted for, except that probably I shall return into that infinite or indefinite being—that neutrum of Personality and Impersonality from which I came. It might seem necessary here even to call in the common experience or consciousness of mankind, and to ask whether this is an adequate representation of reality as we find it in experience, or as we find it suggested in experience. A philosophy of this sort does not meet, it shirks essentially the questions of highest and most pressing interest to human life. Some development in things, a development even of a particular sort, and according to particular laws — it being indifferent all the while what are, whence are, and whither go the individualities, the conscious personal existences of the universe — except as accidentally filling up the scheme of things which alone subsists in the Eternal Substance or Reason, this is a system which can satisfy only when faith and hope have fled from the breasts of men, and they are convinced that existence blossoms and comes to highest fruit only in the passing aggregate of human self-consciousnesses.
2. But consciousness by a man of his being merely a relative in the correlation of finite and infinite, really makes him to be — constitutes his being. No man, therefore, who does not attain to this consciousness, ever is. Who among men in the past have attained to this consciousness? Who of the actors, the speakers, even the thinkers, of the world? Who in history have really ever realized this within their own consciousness? I say none — not one — none until Hegel himself, if he did this — in formulating certain phraseology. It follows, therefore, that all men before his time, believing, as they did, in their independent individuality, have really never existed. They were not; they were a mere illusion to themselves. They never rose to the speculative consciousness; they never, therefore, rose to mere being. Their lives are to be set aside as merely side-waters, having nothing to do with the main stream of life. They cannot even be said to be moments of the eternal being; for they were never conscious of their true relationship to it, and therefore never existed even as moments of it. Hegel could thus quite consistently, yet inhumanly, say that justice and virtue, injustice, violence, and vice, talents and their deeds, passions small and great, guilt and innocence, the grandeur of individual and of national life, the independence and the fortunes of states and individuals, have their meaning in the sphere of conscious reality, but that with these the universal or world-history has no concern. It looks only to the necessary moment of the idea of the world-spirit.
3. To represent the world of human thought, feeling, and volition as in itself a mere negation; to do the same regarding the world of extension, resistance, color, sound, and all the manifold variety of sensible experience; to hold all this as a negation of an infinite something, which has never itself truly come within our consciousness at all, is not to elevate but to degrade our view both of man and the world. These are the most positive objects we know; and if aught else be positive or real, it is because these are positive and real, and we know them to be such. So far from there being an infinite which is the only reality, there can be no infinite which is a reality at all, if these be not in themselves, as we experience them, what our consciousness testifies they are, distinctive existences. Man's spirit, so far, as it is a negation, is a negation of the non-existent and the unconscious; and the world, so far as it is a negation, is a negation of infinite vacuity in time and space. These are the notions negated, if we are to talk of man and the world as negatives. The negation is of the previous absence of being, by the position of being — of consciousness and material reality. The true correlation is between the definite of time and space and the indefinite of both or either. But this is an unequal correlation; it is not the subordination of man and the world to a higher reality; it is not the negation of a higher reality; it is not the evolution of these from it: it is simply the statement of the real as opposed to the unreal, which must be the limit and condition to us of any conception of reality at all.
4. Hegel himself no doubt imagines that he harmonizes the reality of the finite with the infinite, as he thinks that he conciliates realism and idealism. The ordinary view of the reality of God and man is, according to him this: “God is, and we are also.” “This,” he says, is a bad synthetic combination. It is the way of the Representation that each side is as substantial as the other. God has worship and is on this side, but so also finite things have being (Seyn). Reason, however, cannot allow this equipollence to stand. The philosophical need is therefore to grasp the unity of this difference, so that the difference is not lost, but proceeds eternally out of the substance, without becoming petrified in dualism.” Again: “Phenomenon is a continual manifestation of substance by form. Reality is neither essence or the thing: in itself, nor phenomenon; it is neither the ideal world nor the phenomenal world, it is their unity, their identity, the unity of force and its manifestation, essence, and existence.”
The conciliation of infinite and finite thus given is simply to substitute for both a process, an ongoing or outcoming of the infinite, or indeterminate, called at a certain stage substance and spirit. Reality is thus simply movement — movement in the phenomenal world. This phenomenal movement, for there is here really no phenomenal world, is all that is either of the material world or of finite spirit. It is represented as an eternal process of creation and absorption. It is a creation which creates only that it may destroy; a creation which simulates a dualism which never really is at any point of time or space. A dualism which never exists in time is no dualism; a dualism which exists in thought only to be abolished or trampled out by that in which it exists, is a mere passing illusion. This is not a conciliation of realism and idealism; it is the annihilation of everything corresponding to reality, either in the material or the mental world. It is the resolution of both into a shadowy pageantry of a process in which nothing proceeds. There is not the slightest ground for representing dualism as an absolute opposition; and not the slightest approach is made to a conciliation of the finite and infinite by fusing both into a process or relation between terms the distinctive reality of each of which is denied. The pantheism which openly identifies God with the sum of all phenomena may be false; it is not an absolute or inherent violation of the laws of intelligibility.
5. But why speak of the phenomenal or of actual reality at all on such a system? The finite mind is simply in -the process; it is the process. In that case to what or -whom is there a phenomenal, an apparent? How has it any meaning unless there be a distinct finite intelligence who apprehends it? Again, is it phenomenal to the Infinite Spirit? This, however, is as much in the process, or the process itself, as the finite spirit is. And if it were phenomenal to an infinite spirit, how is the phenomenal to it known to be identical with the phenomenal of experience? The truth is, that the Hegelian reality may perfectly fairly be translated by the serial impressions of Hume, which, having substratum neither in. God nor in man, are the merest passing illusion of reality.
6. The fallacy of the whole logic, and the main result of the system, in its bearing on reality, may be summed up in a few sentences: —
“Thought” is used in two diametrically opposite meanings— unconscious and conscious thought; while the former is so far spoken of in terms of the latter. First of all, it is thought without consciousness; and yet it is spoken of as in itself, i. e., it is credited with self-hood, and also with power of movement into what is called its opposite, and then with the power of gathering up itself and its opposite in a third, which is itself enriched. In other words, terms and phrases entirely without meaning, unless as found in conscious thought, are applied to this unconscious thought; it is made, in short, to act as if it were conscious thought.
Secondly, at a later stage of its begged development, it becomes conscious thought, a self-conscious ego, which goes through several stages, turnings, and windings, until it becomes a self-consciousness above the finite consciousness and all finite reality: for it is both infinite consciousness and finite consciousness; it is neither the one nor the other, but the fusing of both.
That the unconscious passes into consciousness is assumed, not proved: the way in which it does this is sought to be shown by clothing the unconscious in consciousness or its terms; and thus the disputed fact is established only by a petitio principii. The ground of the whole process is a form of vulgar realism which identifies the unconscious with being; and the result of the whole is a nihilism of contradiction in which both positive thought and positive being disappear. The so-called idealism is truly a veiled form of irreflective realism; the so-called concrete or positive result of the system is merely nihilism, or at the utmost phenomenalism.
V. Let us look for a moment at the Theological bearings of the doctrine. It is adduced as a corrective of prevailing views regarding the Divine Reality and Nature. There are some positions regarding Deity which this advanced thought thinks itself competent to interpret in its own way, and to correct. It is said, first, that if the world or the finite material universe be regarded as originating in the free-will of Deity, called arbitrary, its connection with him is to be regarded as “external,” “accidental,” and as having no proper or necessary relationship to him. It is said, secondly, that in order to give a reasonable character to this relationship, the finite world must be regarded as somehow emanating from him by a necessary connection, which stands clear out in the light of reason. This, when fully examined, is found to mean, not only that there is such a necessary connection, but that it is deducible from the very notion of Deity itself, regarded as the Infinite; and further, that this is deducible by us as a process of thought or consciousness.
VI. Hegel no doubt talks frequently of Religion, religious ideas, and Christianity. He professes indeed to comprise them in his system. His system is the essence, the true reality, of which religious and Christian ideas are merely the symbols. He has revealed the reality; all else is mere representation. The truth is, there is not a single term either in Natural Theology or in Christianity which is not perverted by Hegel from its proper sense. The whole burden of his effort is, so far as Christianity is concerned, to convert what is of moral import in Christian ideas into purely metaphysical relations,— and these of the most shadowy and unsubstantial kind.
1. The aspiration after moral union with God is at the root of all true ethical life, as it is of all religious life. This means the harmony of the will of the individual with the divine will. But the Hegelian conception of this relation has nothing moral in it at all. For a moral harmony he substitutes an identity of being or essence,— an identity of the human and the divine consciousness. The dualism implied in a God distinct from man and the world is with him a mere superstition. This metaphysical identity may be a solid doctrine, or it may be repugnant to every principle of reflective thought. It is certainly not a moral union; and it is not Christianity. It is a doctrine, moreover, incompatible with any proper conception either of Sin, of Righteousness, or of Worship. It is of a piece with the translation of the Atonement into a consciousness of identity with God, and the consequent freedom from fear and terror; and with the doctrine that in getting rid of our subjective individuality in Deity we get rid of the “old Adam.”
2. There were two points in particular on which, we are told, Hegel was always reticent in public — viz, the Personality of God and the Immortality of the Soul. In this he showed that good ordinary common-sense which he ignorantly mistook for the organon of philosophy professed by some; for he knew shrewdly enough the only view on these points possible on his philosophy. It is on these points especially, as well as the historic character of Christianity, on which the schisms of his followers or clientèle have taken place. We have three sections at least, all more or less holding by his method and phraseology. These have been called the Right, the Centre, and the Left. The Right retains but the phraseology of the master. We have the Centre party, represented, perhaps, best by Michelet of Berlin. This is the party of conciliation and compromise.
The most opposite dogmas on the ultimate questions of metaphysics and theology are held together. True to the principle of the identity of contradictories, we have pantheism and theism. The unconscious and impersonal Deity necessarily produces the world; and he becomes conscious in man. A common or collective immortality of man is necessary; because the Infinite must to eternity develop itself. But an immortality of each man or of the individual is by no means guaranteed; it is not necessary. As is has been put by Michelet, “ the soul is immortal in God only, and God is personal in man.” Christianity is true and perfect; yet its real truth is only in the Hegelian philosophy. Therein its true essence is to be found. We have seen what that essence is. How much of the essence of Christianity remains, we find in Feuerbach's formula, “Let the will of man be done!”
Contradictory dogmas held in this fashion must in the end prove too strong for the slender thread of identity with which they are sought to be bound. And so history has shown. Even the unconscious absurdity of the logic must ultimately lead men to choose one or other side; and we can readily see which alone is possible on the principles of the system. Hence there very soon arose a left party in the school, and an extreme left. As to Deity, the shadowy distinction between the Spinozistic and the Hegelian original of things — substance and subject—readily became obscured and obliterated.
“An absolute personality,” Strauss tells us, “is simply a piece of nonsense, an absurdity.” What of the Infinite Ego after this? And why? “Because personality is an Ego concentred in itself by opposition to another; the absolute, on the contrary, is the infinite which embraces and contains all, which excludes no thing.” So far he is quite right; we cannot literally conceive of an absolute personality, as our own is a personality. Such a conception is utterly incompatible with even one finite personality, to say nothing of the totality of finite personalities. But what then? Does his solution help us, or must we take it? “ God is not a person beside and above other persons; but he is the eternal movement of the universal making itself subject to itself; he only realizes himself and becomes objective in the subject. The personality of God ought not then to be conceived as individual; but as a total, universal personality, and instead of personifying the absolute, it is necessary to learn to conceive it as personifying itself to infinity.”
Now what really does this mean? God is the eternal movement of the universal making itself subject to itself! What may the universal be? one might ask. But apart from this, he or the universal is not a personality, to begin with; yet he becomes one and many personalities. He is a process, a movement; but what of its origin, law, progress, or term? What is this but a simple abstract statement that God means the on-going of things, and that the only personality he is or reaches is that in collective humanity? Can we properly retain the name of God after this? Are we to bow the knee to a juggle of words?
3. We speak of the attributes of God in ordinary language. We even believe in them. How do we now stand? Can an everlasting process have attributes? It is something working up to personality in finite beings. Has it attributes? The very name is meaningless. The groping process to have goodness, wisdom, and love! It has not yet even self-consciousness. Yet I am asked to call it God ! That I cannot do. The Ego which or in which the process becomes self-conscious is alone God. It never possessed an attribute till now; it was formerly simply a creature of necessary generation — though how it should be so much, nobody can tell.
4. Strauss, in the Leben Jesu (1835-6), had for his aim to exhibit the essence of Christianity, to deliver it from its external, accidental, and temporary forms. This was a true Hegelian conception. But it was clear that the historical character of the books and actors could not logically remain on the principles he assumed. Not only the historical character, but the distinctive doctrines, rapidly disappeared in the development of the school, in the writings of Ludwig Feuerbach, Bruno Bauer, and Arnold Ruge.
The movement was entirely in the line of diminishing, in fact abolishing the supernatural or divine, and equally the matter of fact or historical. The shadow of being in itself and pure thought to which the Divine had already been virtually reduced, naturally gave place to a deification of humanity — not merely an anthropomorphic god. Humanity itself having no true divine substratum, lost both the knowledge of its origin and the hope of immortality. The movement which began on the height of the loftiest idealism thus issued, as might have been anticipated, in a hopeless naturalism,—in the simple identification of all things with God and ethically in an intellectual arrogance which conceits itself as the depository of the secret of the universe, while it is too narrow to know even the facts.
VII. The representation of the doctrine of Dualism made by Hegel and his followers is thoroughly incorrect. Dualism is, of course, the great bugbear, whether it relate to the finite realities of consciousness and extension, or to the contrast of the finite and infinite realities. The predicates in these cases are said to be held as fixed and insuperable by the ordinary doctrine of dualism, whereas Hegelianism introduces identity, even the identity of contradictories. In particular it is insisted on (1), that on the ordinary dualistic presupposition, as it is called, there is an absolute opposition between the infinite and the finite; and (2), that this is unphilosophical, for the finite in this case must be regarded either as something independent of the infinite — and this involves an obvious contradiction—or it must be regarded as absolutely a nonentity. Statements of this sort abound in Hegelian writings.
One preliminary point to be noted here is, that the doctrine of the absolute opposition of finite and infinite is to be set down as unphilosophical, because it would involve a transparent contradiction. As contradiction is a legitimate moment in the Hegelian dialectic, the opposition must so far be right enough; and even if the opposition be absolute, the absurdity is not greater than the alleged identity of the two terms, by which it is sought to solve it. The consistent coexistence in thought of finite and infinite is certainly not a greater absurdity than a supposed concept in which the two become identical. Contradiction, according to criticism of this sort, must be absurd when it is regarded as fixed, and rational when it is regarded as superable. In the latter case, the only mistake is that there was no contradiction to begin with. But is this a true representation of the position of a dualistic philosophy in the matter? Is a dualist shut up to hold either the absolute independence of the finite or its nonentity? Why what is the opposition between the infinite and finite which the dualist really alleges? It is not an absolute opposition in the nature of things. It is an opposition merely in the act of knowledge. And the dualist is entitled to say this with a view to vindicate the position, until it is proved that all the opposition we think is identical with all the opposition which exists, or that these are convertible. For the Hegelian to assume this is to miss the whole point at issue between him and the dualist. The dualist does not accept the convertibility of knowledge and existence, and it is only on this assumption that he can be shut up, and then only on his own principles of logic, to the alternative of a contradiction between finite and infinite, or of the nonentity of the former, or for that matter, of the latter also. But no reasonably intelligent upholder of dualism, or, which is the same thing, the relativity of knowledge, would allow that the opposition which he finds in consciousness between finite and infinite is an absolute opposition, or one implying a fixity or absoluteness in the nature of things. In fact, the very phrases, limit of knowledge or relativity of knowledge, imply that the fixity or invariableness of the limit is in the thought or consciousness. When we speak of a limit to the understanding, we speak of the extent of our power of conceiving things; but we do not necessarily imply that the things conceived are really permanently and invariably fixed or determined by, or as is the capacity of, our thought. It is said for example, the thought of finite existence, say myself,— renders it impossible for us to think or conceive as coexisting with it an infinite self or being. For the sphere of being the finite self occupies, the sum of our being, is excluded from that sphere or sum possessed by the infinite self whom we attempt to conceive, and he is thus conceived as limited. But in doing so we do not affirm that a conciliation of this inconceivable is impossible, or that in the nature of things, the finite and infinite reality which we vainly attempt to conceive together are really incompatible. It is, therefore, nothing to the point to talk of the predicates of the understanding being regarded as fixed, permanent, or invariable, in the doctrine of the limitation of knowledge; for this is, after all, but a subjective limitation which is maintained, and is in no way inconsistent with the possibility of being, transcending conception. We say merely that we cannot conceive the compatibility of an infinite being with our own finite existence. We do not say or allow that what we conceive is necessarily convertible with what is, or with the possibilities of being. We are not, therefore, shut up to maintain the absolute opposition, and consequently the absolute contradiction in reality, of infinite and finite. Nor are we therefore compelled to regard the finite as a nonentity in the interest of the infinite, nor the infinite as a nonentity in the interest of the finite. For despite the limitation of our knowledge, in some way unknown to us as to process or ground, the co-reality of finite and infinite is, after all, compatible. Nay, in a transcendent sense, all being may be one. It is not even necessarily maintained on the doctrine of limitation that the finite is more than temporally distinct from the infinite. Evidence to decide those points must be sought for outside the theory of limitation. The real question at issue between absolutism and the theory of limitation is not as to the possibility of being out of and beyond limit, or being that surmounts limit — for the former is constantly loudly proclaiming this, and proclaiming it even as the only real being, but as to the possibility of our knowing such being, and connecting it conceivably and rationally with the being we know in consciousness. Relativist as well as absolutist maintains being above limit; they differ simply as to whether this can come within consciousness, in a sense in which it is to be regarded as truly and properly knowledge, and as to whether we can so relate the definite knowledge and being we have in consciousness with this transcendent something called knowledge and being. If what has been already said be at all well founded, we can rise above the temporal contrast of finite and infinite in thought only by sacrificing knowledge, by becoming the absolute identity of the two we are supposed to know. In this region we may expatiate at will among the “domos vacuas et inania regna” of verbalism; but we shall not gather from it either what is fitted to increase the reverence of the heart, or what may help us to read more intelligently the lessons of the past, or guide us better in the conduct of life.
All that the doctrine of limitation requires to make it consistent and valuable is, that whatever happens in the future of the universe, nothing shall occur in absolute contradiction of what we now rationally know and believe. Our present consciousness may be, probably will be, modified—in some sense, perhaps, transcended. But it must not be contradicted. Our analogical knowledge of God, even if raised to the stage of intuition, will receive greater compass, directness, and certainty; but this will not be at the expense or the reversal of a single thoroughly-tested intellectual or moral conviction.
PREFATORY NOTE BY THE AUTHOR.
Ifthis Discourse appear too long to be read at once, it may be divided into six parts: and, in the first, will be found various considerations touching the Sciences; in the second, the principal rules of the Method which the Author has discovered; in the third, certain of the rules of Morals which he has deduced from this Method; in the fourth, the reasonings by which he establishes the existence of God and of the Human Soul, which are the foundations of his Metaphysic; in the fifth, the order of the Physical questions which he has investigated, and, in particular, the explication of the motion of the heart and of some other difficulties pertaining to Medicine, as also the difference between the soul of man and that of the brutes; and, in the last, what the Author believes to be required in order to greater advancement in the investigation of Nature than has yet been made, with the reasons that have induced him to write.
DISCOURSE ON METHOD.