- Works by Kant
Source: The Metaphysics of Ethics by Immanuel Kant, trans. J.W. Semple, ed. with Iintroduction by Rev. Henry Calderwood (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1886) (3rd edition).
THE special value of the writings of Kant is so fully acknowledged, that there is no need to insist upon it here. In the literature of Moral Philosophy there is certainly nothing more important than the contributions which Kant has made to Ethical Science. Even those who hold a Utilitarian theory of morals, must wish to see the works of the great upholder of Intuitionalism placed within the reach of students. This may be readily believed when a leading representative, Mr. John S. Mill, allows that Kant “has become one of the turning-points in the history of Philosophy.”
The chief significance of the ethical writings of Kant is found in the prominence given to these two positions:—the à priori source of Moral Law,—and Freedom of Will, as essential to morality.
In making such a work as the present accessible to students, a few introductory observations, explanatory of Kant’s system, may be desirable, for the guidance of those who are just beginning the study of Moral Philosophy.
STRUCTURE OF KANT’S PHILOSOPHY.
Kant’s Philosophy is known as critical and transcendental. The former designation has reference to the method; the latter applies to the matter or materials of the system. As he insists that philosophy must proceed by a critique of the mental powers, the result is a critical philosophy; and as, in prosecuting this critique, he finds everywhere certain elements superior to experience which constitute the main features of his philosophy, it is denominated transcendental. Thus, in the terminology of Kant, the transcendental is that which transcends experience, being à priori in origin, in contrast to empirical.
When from these general features we pass to a more minute examination of the philosophic system, there is a marked distinction between the Intellectual, or theoretic part, and the Moral, or practical part. The system is not a unity, which must be wholly accepted or entirely rejected. If one part of the system fall, the whole is not thereby laid in ruins. In this will be found the permanent gain to philosophy which attends upon the use of the critical method, in contrast to the dialectic. The speculative or theoretic part of Kant’s philosophy, full as it is of the most valuable contributions to mental philosophy, ends in a negative result. The moral or practical part takes a form altogether different, and ends in high positive results, affording to the Kantian system the only deliverance from scepticism. Nothing more than a bare outline of the intellectual system can be given here.
The main feature of Kant’s philosophy is the affirmation of the presence of an à priori element in all knowledge. He holds that while all knowledge begins with experience, it always includes what is superior to experience. Knowledge thus involves two elements, the one empirical, the other pure or à priori,—the one the matter, the other the form. Knowledge is obtained through the senses, through the understanding, or through the reason; and there is an à priori element connected with all the three. The product of the sensory is intuition; of the understanding, conception; of the reason, idea. The à priori form belonging to the senses are the intuitions of space and time; the à priori element belonging to the understanding consists in pure conceptions, which are the categories; and highest of all are the ideas of pure reason. Beginning, then, with the lowest, the senses give us empirical knowledge, but this they do only under the à priori forms of time and space provided by the intellect. Rising above this, we come to judgments, among which there is an essential distinction between analytic and synthetic judgments. Analytic judgments may be described as identical judgments, gained by explication or analysis of a knowledge already possessed, as all body is extended, the notion body clearly involving the notion extended. Synthetical judgments are such as add to our knowledge, and are either à posteriori or à priori, that is to say, they are obtained either from a wider experience, e.g., some body is heavy, or from the pure reason, e.g., the law of causality. In all this it is apparent to what admirable purpose Kant has employed the critical method.
When, however, we consider the bearing of this theory on the grand question as to the certainty of our knowledge, the negative and sceptical result is painfully evident. Holding that knowledge cannot be obtained except under the forms which reason supplies, Kant accounts this as proving that knowledge is only what appears to us as beings subjected to these conditions, that is, knowledge is only of the phenomenal. What we regard as objects of our experience have no existence apart from our experience. Consequently, we can have no knowledge of things-in-themselves (noumena). Even the à priori discoveries of pure reason are only regulative of thought, not assertive of reality. Essential as they are for the exercise of human intellect, they lead into a series of paralogisms and antinomies from which there is no escape. These are the avowed negative results of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.
From this Critique, Kant passes to another, the Critique of Practical Reason, by means of which he reaches a certainty unattained in the earlier. Practical Reason reveals the Moral Law as a categorical imperative, discovering the dignity of man as a Person. From this Categorical Imperative, by transcendental deduction, and not as a thing known in conscious ness, he reaches the Freedom of the Will. In this relation it is discovered that man is both phenomenon and noumenon,—he belongs at once to the sensible state, and to the supersensible or cogitable,—in the former he is necessitated, in the latter he is free,—a moral being,—a personality. In all this we have a philosophy rich in critical results, and full of the most suggestive thought, though not cleared of the evil influence of those negative elements which cling to the preceding intellectual system. Into this Practical Philosophy of Kant, the student is here introduced.
CHARACTER OF KANT’S ETHICAL WRITINGS.
The tone of Kant’s ethical writings is of the loftiest kind. A perusal of the present volume may explain how it should have happened, that in his own country he was charged with writing in a manner too abstruse, and at the same time developing a system of morals too lofty and stern. The general character of his Moral Philosophy may be inferred from such affirmations as these:—A good will is the only thing which is absolutely and altogether good. Nothing is dutifully done which is not done under a regard to duty. The moral law is a categorical imperative, leaving no option to the will. The moral law has no exceptions. The moral law makes self-esteem dependent on morality; it elevates our worth as intelligences, and yet derogates infinitely from self-conceit, inevitably humbling every man.
The fundamental positions of Kant’s Moral Philosophy may be stated in these three propositions:—First, Goodness of Will is the only absolute good on earth; Second, Practical Reason, as the revealer of moral law, is the governor of will to constitute it good; Third, Will is essentially free in order to goodness. From these positions it will be seen, that with Kant freedom of will is the grand essential for morality.
CONTENTS OF THE PRESENT VOLUME.
The work now reprinted under the name of Metaphysic of Ethics was not published by Kant in the form in which the translator presented it to English readers. The first part, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Ethics (Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, Sämmtliche Werke, Rosencranz, Th. viii.), was published in 1785. The second portion of the book, that on the Will, constitutes part of the Critique of Practical Reason (Kritik der Praktischen Vernunft, Sämmtliche Werke, Rosencranz, Th. viii.), published in 1788. The third part is the Introduction to the Metaphysical Elements of Jurisprudence (Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Rechtslehre, S. W. Rosencranz, Th. ix.) published in 1797. The last portion is the Metaphysical Elements of the Doctrine of Virtue (Metaphysische Anfansgründe der Tugundlehre, S. W. Rosencranz, Th. ix.), also published in 1797.
As a consequence of gathering into one volume portions of the writings of Kant, published so far apart from each other, there will be found at times a repetition of arguments and doctrines. This, which is apt to be disagreeable to a mere reader, will not prove unsatisfactory to students who wish to compare different statements made by the same author on the same questions.
The translation is reprinted as it at first appeared, with the exception of slight verbal alterations.
KANT’S PLACE IN THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY.
The position of Kant in the history of philosophy may be briefly indicated.
In the seventeenth century Hobbes had reduced morality to political expediency, and Locke, despite the valuable labours of Descartes, regarded all knowledge as empirical. On the other hand, Malebranche, stimulated by the writings of Descartes, was developing a higher philosophy, in which work he was followed by Leibnitz, who rejected the philosophy of Locke. The systems of Malebranche and Leibnitz were, however, burdened with hypotheses which ensured their downfall.
In the early part of the eighteenth century the philosophy of Locke was triumphant in Britain. Condillac was promulgating the same philosophy in France; while Leibnitz, under serious and self-created difficulties, was supporting in Germany a philosophy of a different type. In Britain, Shaftesbury, Butler, and Hutcheson maintained a Moral Philosophy based on a foundation antagonistic to the psychology of Locke. But the writings of these philosophers contained little more than a protest from the ethical side of mental science, against the results of Locke’s system. Then it was that Hume appeared to apply sceptical tests to the popular philosophy. Hume’s success occasioned temporary dismay. Scepticism proved potent to raze the Sensational Philosophy to its foundations. Occasioning thus, however, a demand for something more durable, it prepared the way for the most important contributions to mental science of which recent times can boast. Reid set himself in a plain, common-sense way to meet the claim. With philosophical caution, high ability, and much sagacity, to which the criticisms of Kant hardly do justice, he performed his task, though within a limited area, and in a manner singularly unsystematic. Kant, according to his own express acknowledgment, was awakened from dogmatic slumber by Hume’s criticism of the common philosophic faith. Thus awakened, he gave himself to profound thought, the results of which were poured from the press with amazing rapidity. In a series of volumes, wonderful for their rigidly philosophic style, and far-reaching insight, Kant has given us at once more to be rejected, and more to be retained, both in method and in doctrine, than any other thinker of modern times.
In the line of antagonism to a philosophy based exclusively on experience, there have followed, Stewart, Hamilton, and Cousin,—Stewart expounding and amplifying the teaching of Reid; Hamilton blending the doctrines of Reid and Kant, there by complicating the discussion, as by independent research he has cleared it; Cousin supporting Reid, and at one time criticising, at another time upholding, both Kant and Hamilton. In the line taken by Kant in his speculative writings as to the relation of the subjective and objective, and specially as to the absolute, there have followed him in Germany, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. The theories of these philosophers come directly and visibly as developments out of the speculative philosophy of Kant. In these successive theories, as I venture to think, philosophy runs itself out, by running up to abstractions in the effort to attain a philosophy of real existence. Germany, in order to make a fresh start in philosophy, must return upon the way by which she has recently advanced, and abandon the dialectic method of Hegel, notwithstanding the splendid combinations which the Hegelian Logic presents. From Hegel, we must, I think, still return upon Kant, seeking fresh hope for Philosophy in a continued use of the critical method.
QUESTIONS SUGGESTED BY THE WRITINGS OF KANT.
The leading questions which the student of Kant’s works must endeavour to answer are these:—How far has Kant, in the Critique of Pure Reason, been successful in seeking a philosophy capable of resisting the assaults of scepticism? In the search for a Moral Philosophy, how far has he escaped the negative result of his intellectual system? Is Practical Reason not also Pure Reason; and if it be, how does the ethical theory of Kant stand related to the speculative? (v. pp. 130-132.) If Freedom of Will is by Kant set in its proper place in Moral Philosophy, is the doctrine legitimately established by him? And, as fundamental to all, what is the true doctrine of Consciousness? Such questions as these remain to be answered by the student, who may set to work on the writings of Kant, with the assurance of being amply repaid for all the labour required in subjecting them to rigid scrutiny.
PLAN OF STUDY FOR THIS VOLUME.
For explanation of terms, and general guidance towards an accurate understanding of the author, the student may turn first to the Introduction to the Metaphysical Elements of the Doctrine of Virtue, from page 158 to page 176; and, in conjunction with this, to the Prerequisites of a Moral Nature, from page 215 to page 220. In the last-named passage, special attention should be given to the explanation of the nature of Moral Sense and of Conscience.
After these preliminary portions have been taken, the main points in the theoretic part of the work are the Categorical Imperative, or the Moral Law; and the Freedom of the Will, as the essential feature of a moral nature. These are to be studied as developed first in the Groundwork, Book I.; next in the extract from the Critique of Practical Reason, Book II.; and lastly, in the Metaphysical Elements of the Doctrine of Virtue, Book IV., 193-231. These should be taken successively in the order named; and, as they were published at different dates, it will be of consequence to compare carefully the statements bearing on the leading features of the theory.
After these parts, with the addition of the portion treating of Law and Jurisprudence, the more simple and popular division of the book, dealing with Applied Ethics, under the heads Elementology and Methodology, will be found very valuable, not in only itself, but as throwing fresh light on the more abstruse theoretical dissertations.
necessity of a logical suicide.
We might ask a question as to what an infinite selfconsciousness 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 worldspirit.
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 harmonizesthe 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 socalled 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.
- 1.Now, with regard to the first point, it is incorrect and unfair to represent origination or creation by freewill as an arbitrary act. It is to be regarded as an arbitrary act only in the sense in which any act of free resolution is an arbitrary act, this and nothing short of it. And we need not go into the question of free-will to know that will, the highest and best form of resolution conceivable by us, is that regulated by a conception of what is most fitting and best in the circumstances, or, if you choose to employ a vague phrase, by reason. To say that resolution is necessarily arbitrary, is itself a mere arbitrary statement. So far from creation which depends on an act of free-will, regulated by thought, evidencing only an external or accidental relationship, it is in fact analogous to the very closest, most intimate of all the relationships of our own consciousness. For the closest tie which we know in our inward experience is just that which subsists between me willing and the resolution which I form. I relate resolution to myself in a way in which I relate no other mode of consciousness, neither feeling, desire, nor thought itself. It is mine in the sense of being truly my own creation; and it is to me the most fitting of all analogies for the mysterious fact of Divine origination itself. The finite as thus related to the Infinite is truly the passage of the Divine power into actuality or realization. It is only a purely verbal logic, founding on verbal assumptions, which can regard it as “external” or “accidental.” If it is to be comprehended at all by us, it must be in some such way as this, and by some such analogy. Will, the expression of personality, both as originating resolutions, and as molding existing material into form, is the nearest approach in thought which we can make to Divine creation.
- 2.With regard to the second point, the so-called essential or necessary relationship of reason, the first thing to be noted is, that the finite material or mental world, which arises in this way, is and must be the only possible world. If the Infinite is under a necessity of development, he will develop in one definite way, and in no other; and if he has developed in time, that development is the one possible, and no other. Are we prepared to take this consequence? Do the facts of experience warrant it? Does the physical or moral quality of the world warrant it? Can we ascribe to the finite material world which we find in experience more than a purely hypothetical necessity? No one, I think, will venture rationally to do more than this. Mechanical and chemical laws depend ultimately on atomic existence, proportion, combination, and collocation. Organization and life are somehow also connected with those circumstances. But is it not conceivable that those ultimate material constituents of the universe might have been different in various points of constitution and adjustment? Will it be maintained that the actual order which we know has arisen is the only possible order—the single necessary and essential development of the Infinite Power at the root of things? Further, does not the element of evil in the world imply a contingency which is entirely incompatible with the supposition of a single possible best evolution from an absolutely perfect Infinite? At any rate, can we with our lights prove this to be the absolutely best even in the long-run?The theology resulting from these principles may be summed up, in these words of Leibnitz, in two propositions—“What does not happen is impossible; what happens is necessary.”
- 3.But let us first take this necessary development of the Infinite or Absolute. Is it speculatively self-consistent? The finite comes from it necessarily—nay, it is, as it originates the finite, material and spiritual. Its reality is, therefore, dependent on its necessary development and relation to the finite: the finite is as necessary to it as it is to the finite. Yet this prior term of a mere relation is an absolute — an infinite, self-sufficient, as such needing nothing but itself for its existence! The term absolute or infinite has no longer the slightest application. The prior term here is a relative — pure and simple, a mere relative, dependent for its meaning—nay, its reality — on a development which it can no more control than the body which gravitates can regulate or reverse its own movement. A god who is only as he must be, producing the contents of space and time — who is only a means to these contents, is about the lowest form of mechanical agency ever set up for man to worship. But further, if an infinite or absolute cause is necessarily at work, must not the effect be an infinite or absolute one? If the cause works necessarily, without let or control, must not its whole power pass into act in the single given operation or moment of action? Then, what have we here? Not a finite result, surely, but a result infinitely or absolutely great, and, therefore, coequal with the infinite or absolute power at work. But what an absurdity does this land us in? Either the absolute perishes in the act of necessary development, and we have a new absolute in its effect— Deity has perished in creation, or we have two absolutes — an absolute cause and an absolute effect—coexisting in the universe. This is an inherent absurdity; and further, what then becomes of our absolute monism?
- 4.But have we considered the full effect of the statement that the finite is as necessary to the infinite as the latter is to the former? I am quite willing to take the finite here spoken of as the finite in some form — not the actual finite of space and time. Let it be any finite form of being whatever. Deity, in order to be, must produce this actual finite. His reality is dependent on it. What kind of Deity is this? A Deity waiting for his reality on the finite thing which he cannot but produce? The cause dependent for its reality on the effect? We are accustomed to think of Deity as possessing existence in himself — necessary and self-sufficient; and if he have not this, he has no more or other reality than any finite thing which arises in the succession of causalty. But here, forsooth, he waits on necessary production for his reality ! Is this conception at all adequate or worthy of God? Is not the self-conscious I, with its free power of will, higher than this? a better and more elevating way of conceiving of God? Is it not a higher perfection than this to be able to say I will, or I do not will—yet I retain my individuality: I am the center and the possessor of powers which I can use, or not use, as intelligence directs me, and as moral interests require? Is not this a higher grade of being than a something which depends on the necessary production of a given effect for its reality, and. which, further, must also depend for the continuance of its being on the continuance of the given effect? For this is the logical result of the doctrine, even granting it the most favorable terms. For unless the effect continues, which is not provided for by the theory, the producing power might quite well be supposed to pass away with its own necessary effort. And this is to be our advanced conception of Deity!
- 5.But, further, finite being as an evolution of infinite being is certainly variable as to content. We need not again point out the absurdities of the necessary development of infinite being. Is the finite being or development not variable in content at the will — the reasonable or righteous will, it may be—of the Infinite one? Then what becomes of his infinity? Can we conceive a Being as infinite who is restricted to a single development of finite being? But if he is not so restricted, but may evolve several forms of finitude, how can it be said that the finite as a given form is equally necessary to the infinite, as the infinite is to the finite? If a conscious personality is possessed of free will, how can it be said that a given resolution which he forms is as necessary to his power of free-determination as free-determination with all its possibilities is to it? Such a position can be maintained only on the suicidal basis that a given finite is as necessary to the infinite, as the infinite with all its inherent possibilities is to it.
- 6.Then, further, there is the point to be established that we have any conception, thought, or notion of the Infinite which is at all adequate or truly distinguishable from what is strictly an analogical notion,— whether, in fact, the Infinite, in any form, is so comprehensible by us as to be the basis of a necessary evolution of thought. For even although it be admitted that finite and infinite are as thoughts correlative, it has yet to be shown that they are of the same nature, positive content or reality. Unless this character can be vindicated to the Infinite as a notion, it cannot be made the basis of a necessary evolution in thought — of the actual finite, or anything with positive attribute.
- 7.Then this evolution, even if compassable by our thought, is but a process of thought. It would be the ideal mode in which the Divine Power was supposed to work; but it would fall far short of any actual realization of the ideal in time. It is, after all, but a process of reasoning, in which the Infinite is assumed as major notion, and in which, accordingly, we have but a hypothetical conclusion. But we have really no guarantee that the process either represents or is identical with anything in time, or that it is adequate to or convertible with the evolution of that finite world which we know in experience. The mode or ideal of Divine Power, however distinctly conceived, leaves us wholly in the dark as to whether the Power was ever exercised or not This can only be guaranteed on the assumption that the process of necessary consciousness through which we proceed is identical with Divine action—that, in fact, our thinking, sublimated to the impersonal form of thought, is God's act in Creation. This is but a part of the larger assumption that the real is the rational —or rather, that reality means certain so-called necessary processes in the human consciousness, call it reason or by what name you choose. This assumption, as unproved as it is unprovable, is contradicted by the fact that the whole concrete world of the sciences of nature and of mind is utterly untouched by it. It is incapable of yielding a single fact or general law of nature or of mind as manifested in consciousness. Hegel's “Philosophy of Nature” and his “Philosophy of Spirit” have been long ago generally given up as utter failures in point of consecutive thinking or fair evolution. They are the mere manipulations of a harlequin logic, which borrows in the premises under one guise of words what it brings out in the conclusion under another.
- 8.But what, on such a philosophy, is Deity? Or rather, where is the place of Deity at all? If we look at the first stage of the development, he is the most abstract conception possible, the Idea in itself, what may be identified with nothing, yet credited with the power of motion. This first moment is not even real. The Idea becomes real or actual only in the development, in the process. But this, again, is not absolute reality. We find this the highest stage only in the Idea when it becomes absolute Subject or Ego, and contemplates itself as everything that is. In other words, the unconscious abstraction called thought, not at first God, not God even in the process, becomes absolute self-consciousness in the end. He is dependent even for this consciousness, that is, for his reality, on retracing the steps which he has somehow taken into the realm of nature, where he was “out of himself,” and so in the end finding himself in his own supreme conscious identity. This result may be translated into intelligible language by saying that Deity is ultimately the highest point which human consciousness can reach in the way of evolution or development. He is the most which I can think him — nay, he is I when I have in consciousness transcended myself, and identified myself with him. Of course it will be said I, the individual ego of this or that conscious moment, am not God. But then I, the individual ego, am necessary to his existence, as he, the infinite ego, is necessary to mine. His reality lies in the conscious relation which I, the individual, think as connecting me and him. This relation is matter of my thought or consciousness. It is not, unless in the consciousness of some one. Deity, therefore, at the best or highest, is a process of my consciousness. As I think, God is; and what I think, God is. The step from this to the degradation of Deity to the actual sum or the generic conception of human consciousness is easily, and has been properly, taken. The Hegelian Deity is really man himself — regarded as the subject of a certain conscious relationship.
- 9.Deity, as standing in necessary relation to man, is dependent on man for his reality; man, as standing in necessary relation to Deity, is dependent on Deity for his reality. The reality in either case is equal: Deity has the reality which man has; man has the reality which Deity possesses. They are two terms of one relation, and they exist only in the relation. If the reality of Deity be interpreted as necessary existence, so must the reality of man; Deity has no advantage in this respect over man. If the reality of man be interpreted as a contingent reality, dependent on the constitution of a relation in consciousness, so must the reality of Deity be construed. Either thus existence, necessary and selfsufficient, applies equally to God and man, or existence, contingent and precarious, applies equally to man and God. In the former case, man is God — he is God developed; in the latter case, God is man — he is man developed. In a word, we have Pantheism on the one hand — we have what may be called Phenomenalism on the other. God sinks to the level of a manifestation of human consciousness, reaching reality only when the speculative reason chances, in the course of things, to develop into his notion.“A theory,” says Trendelenburg, “that the thinking human mind is what makes the hitherto unconscious god conscious of himself, could have arisen only under the influence of a logical view, according to which comprehensive thought conceives the content from itself, receives no rational ready-made content from without, but produces the determinations of being from itself. It could have arisen only under the influence of a logic, at whose foundation lies the entire presupposition that human thought, when man thinks purely, is as creative as divine thought, and in so far is the divine thought itself. Yet we do not, indeed, understand what the conception of God at all means, and what God signifies to man. since it is only man that makes him conscious of himself, and since God, though not like an idol, the work of hands, before which the same hands that made it are folded in adoration, is after all a product of thought, which can hardly be adored and worshiped by the same thought which woke it from its sleep, and enabled it to pass from blind inertness to consciousness.”
- 10.As to Christ, he is nothing more than any man in whom the speculative consciousness is developed. He can but be God, by being God consciously — as he can be man but by being man conscious of himself as God. This any man can be — for the speculative reason is, if not a universal property, at least a universal possibility; and consequently the incarnation has no special significance. Any man can be God incarnate; every man is God, if only he knew it. The complete abolition here not only of all theological, but of all moral distinctions between man and God need not be emphasized. Strauss and Feuerbach are the true consequent Hegelians.
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 clientele 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 Lcbenjesu (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 Feucrbach, 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 (i), 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 tmphilosophical, 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 cither 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.
[*]Professor Hurley, Lay Sermons.— ‘Descartes,’ p. 339
[*]All that is stated here wttl be found proved and illustrated in the Appendix to the present volume. Notes I., II., and VI. These are now reproduced exactly as they appeared in the Appendix to the Translation of The Meditations, published in 1853. The information therein contained, and the relative passages, have since been generally utilized by writers on Descartes and Cartesianism; and not unfreqnently the quotations are credited to those who thus make use of them as introduced for the first time into our Cartesian literature.
[†]His writing appeared from 1674 to 1715. Spinoza lived from 1633-1677. His writings appeared from 1663 to 1677. Malebranche, u in some respects nearer in doctrine to Deacartes, is firtt considered.
[*]He speaks of “a certain Greek philosopher named Aristotle” (Tractatus, c. vii.); and Bacon is “a little confused.”
- 18th Century British Moral Philosophy
- Cicero on Friendship
- Cicero on Moral Duties
- Cicero on Old Age
- Confucius: Influence and Doctrines
- Descartes: LIfe & Works
- Emerson on Montaigne
- Epictetus' Philosophy
- Fordyce’s Moral Philosophy
- Herbert Spencer, Principles of Ethics (1887)
- Hobbes' Philosophy
- Hodgskin on the Natural Right to Property (1832)
- Home on Criticism
- Hospers and the Socratic Spirit
- Hume the Pihlosopher
- Hume’s Essays
- Hutcheson and the Passions
- Hutcheson on Liberty and Happiness
- Hutcheson on Logic, Metaphysics & Sociability
- Hutcheson’s Annotated Table of Contents to Philosophiae Moralis
- Hutcheson’s Moral Philosophy
- Kant and Education
- Kant’s Critique of Judgement
- Kant’s Philosophy
- Kant’s Position as a Philosopher
- Maimonides & the Perplexed
- Mencius: Opinions and Influence
- Paley’s Moral Philosophy
- Passmore on the Perfectibility of Man
- Plotinus: A Conspectus of his Philosophy
- Pufendorf on the Duty of Man
- Rhazes’s Spiritual Physic
- Scottish School of Common Sense
- Shaftesbury’s Aesthetics & Moral Philosophy
- Turnbull and Liberal Education
- Upanishads and Philosophy