HEGEL'S HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY: DESCARTES TO SCHELLING
Introduction: The opposition of the divine and the worldly was
gradually overcome in the Middle Ages, and unity came upon the
scene now as an immediate immersion in sensuality, now as eternal
truth grafted onto a dry, formal scholastic understanding.
Protestantism appeared as a more effective reconciliation of
dialectical oppositions -- of thinking and action, of the eternal
and the individual mind, and of the individual and the world.
Idealism, in general, is concerned with the reconciliation of
opposites in the infinite Idea -- the reconciliation of being and
thought, of human freedom and "necessity, good and evil, God and
Realism tries to make objectivity rise from perception and
take on universality, rather than trying to proceed to truth from
abstract thought. The English exemplified this, in contrast to the
Idealism and Realism in unison serve to make explicit in
modern philosophy the unity-in-distinction of thought and being.
Rene Descartes (1596-1650), along with Spinoza gives us a good
example of what metaphysics is all about -- thought reaching out to
grasp being and demonstrate that it is fundamentally united with
Descartes' life is a seesaw between purely theoretical
pursuits (periods of intense study and meditation) and practical
pursuits (military service and social life), between mathematics
(he invented analytic geometry) and science and pure philosophy.
Distressed by the lack of certitude in philosophy, he made a vow of
a pilgrimage to the Mother of God, if she would help him to make an
absolutely new beginning in philosophy. And this is the main thing
for which he is noted -- making an absolutely new beginning.
1) Descartes begins with the principle, "De omnibus
dubitandum est" -- you must call everything possible into
doubt, if you want to arrive at absolutely certain principles.
(This is not what is usually called "skepticism," because
Descartes' object, unlike that of the skeptics, is to arrive
at the truth.) He proceeds, then, to call into doubt the
truths of the senses, truths of the faith, and, in general,
all purely speculative truths. (Life would become impossible
if we subjected practical truths to such searching doubt.)
He assumes that we are imperfect (i.e. subject to doubt and
error), and that we do not derive truth from ourselves
(otherwise there would never be any certainty). And he hopes
to arrive at some indubitable principle which is immediately,
intuitively certain; and can serve as a starting point.
2) He notes that our nature consists essentially in
thought. We can conceive of ourselves without a body, but not
without thought. Thus the ego -- as abstract thought -- has
a certain priority about it. But what does this abstract
thought think about? About itself, primarily; about its own
being. In fact, this thought produces its own being, creates
itself. The existence of thought is created by thought, and
determined by thought. "I think, therefore I exist." This
is not a syllogism. We do not begin with a general principle,
"all that thinks exists," then go on to the minor proposition,
"I think," and finally derive the conclusion, "therefore I
exist." Rather, we start of with an immediate certainty which
is prior to all syllogisms. And this certainty is
paradoxical -- first, because it is a unity-in-distinction of
being and thought; secondly, because it is a mediated
relationship with itself -- hence immediate (non-mediated).
a) In regard to the "I think," we should note that
this signifies consciousness in the most general sense,
as prior to all other human activities. I cannot say, "I
walk, therefore I exist," because this particularizes the
content of thought too much. Thus when Gassendi asked
Descartes whether he could say "Ludificor, ergo sum" (I
am being made a fool of, therefore I exist) --
Descartes answered that existence cannot be deduced from
this or that type of consciousness, but only from
consciousness in its most general sense.
b) In regard to the "I exist," we should note that
"existence" here is not a determinate, specific content,
but the existence of thought. That is, it is purely
subjective existence, the existence of pure
self-certainty, which must be the starting point for all
statements about reality. For example, even if I say "I
do not exist," I would be presupposing that I made this
statement, and therefore that I do exist. Or, if I state
"my body exists," this presupposes that the ego which
possesses the body ("my" body) must pre-exist.
3) In order to proceed from this immediate certainty to truth,
we must first realize (says Descartes) that deception
(falsity) arises only in regard to external existence. Our
concepts only become false when we state that they exist
outside of us when they really don't. But there is one
concept we have which cannot be "false" in this sense -- and
this is our concept of a perfect Being, or God. When we say
that this concept exists outside of us (independently of our
consciousness), we have a perfect right to do so, since the
very concept of God implies necessary existence (unlike the
concept of "triangle," or "horse", etc.). This is an innate
idea, since our imperfect ego could not create the idea of
absolute perfection, or acquire that idea. The ego must have
been born with the idea.
The systematic steps by which we proceed to the proof of the
existence of God, are as follows:
a) An infinite being is more real than a finite being.
b) An infinite being implies necessary existence,
whereas finite beings imply only possible
c) a finite ego cannot have Nothing as its cause;
d) the cause of the finite ego must contain all the
perfections of the ego formally and preeminently;
e) the cause of the existence of the finite ego must be
the infinite being who exists necessarily and can
guarantee the reality of the finite being.
Thus Descartes introduces into his a priori metaphysics an
hypothesis concerning the existence of an absolute Being or non-ego
who can give a guarantee of the ultimate unity of thought and being
in an "objective" manner.
4) God is primarily the sole "necessary Being," and all
His other "attributes" are dependent upon this primary
notion. The first attribute of God, which is connected
with His existence, is His "truth" -- the revelation of the
infinite to the finite ego in such a way that the finite ego
does not fully understand how this revelation is coming about.
As long as the finite ego does not go beyond its own clear
apprehensions to say that it sees what it really doesn't see
-- God will keep it from error. Thus God supplies the
"middle" term through which the finite ego solves the problem
-- "how can I make true statements about existence?" The
answer is this: Existence is already positively united with
thought in God; and God will bring finite egos into effective
union with existence (the possession of truth), which merely
appears in the beginning as something purely negative (a
5) Descartes' res extensa is really equivalent to being-
as-the-negation-of-thought, although Descartes does not
explicitly recognize it as such. Rather, he traces extension
back to thought in a rather haphazard way, although it is
thought which gives the essential determinations to extended
being. Once we get beyond the innate ideas (which are purely
logical eternal truths), and give universal determinations to
things, we find a) that mind and body and nature are all
substances, but dependent on the system of assistance (Systema
Assistentiae) of God, who is the absolute uniter of Concept
and reality; b) that the essential sine qua non attribute
of mind is thought, while the essential attribute of body is
extension; c) that body, as effect, is less perfect than
its cause; d) that the essential extensivity of body can be
used as a hypothesis to prove e.g. that there can be no vacuum
(body without extension) or atoms (absolute indivisibles);
and e) that the secondary qualities of body -- color, sound,
motion, figure, etc. -- are produced by the sensory and
perceptual organs, and not by pure thought (Descartes does
not recognize that, in trying to distance the production of
these sense qualities from thought, he is manifesting the
negative movement of thought). Thus Descartes gives us a good
example of a philosophical strategy which subordinates
empirical data to the purposes of abstract thought. Later,
with Fichte, pure speculative cognition which outdistances the
various mixtures of philosophy and mathematical physics will
come to maturity.
6) Although Descartes' only ethical treatise is De
Passionibus, he did come to the recognition of freedom as a
certitude of having an unrestricted will. However, quite
in consonance with Descartes' general orientation, there is
never any reconciliation of freedom and divine prescience,
soul and body, etc. Rather, he conceives of organic bodies as
machines, without the least spontaneity in them. Since soul
and body are both substances, neither can be reduced to the
concept of the other. How, then, are they connected? It is
God who brings it about that the changes in the soul are
echoed in the body and passions -- just as (in Descartes'
epistemology) it is God who brings it about that existence
really conforms to my thought. Thus God appears here again
as an extrinsic third party, not as the synthesizing concept
of the reconciliation of opposites.
Spinoza (1632-1677) disengaged himself from the Jewish
community, to escape theological pressures, and refused a
professorship, to escape political pressures. He earned his living
by grinding lenses -- an occupation which seems to symbolize
Spinoza's intellectual kinship with the emphasis on light-unity to
be found in oriental religions.
He began where Descartes had left off -- at an unresolvable
independence of thought from being, of soul from body -- and
brought these into the comprehensive unity of the divine Spirit, or
"Substance," as he called it. This divine substance, as the
reconciliation of the infinite and the finite, is not just an
abstract unity, but a concrete unity which requires the divine
substance to become finite mind in order to be living, and which
gives rise to Being as real and extended (i.e. explicitly
recognized as the negative objectivity encountered necessarily by
thought). Spinoza does not give as much attention to the
individual as he might have, but he gives us an example of the
starting point of the Eleatics and all philosophers -- the
necessity of abandoning all appearances of particularity to bathe
in the pure ether of the One Substance. (And, much to his credit,
he does not obscure his philosophy by encumbering it with natural
philosophy in the wrong places -- as does Descartes.)
1) Some Spinozan definitions:
a) "Causa sui," the self-causing cause, is that
which cannot be thought of as not existing: if it
produces its "other," it is only producing
itself-as-other, and thus possesses self-contained
existence in itself.
b) "Finite" means: limited by other things of the
same nature, which touch it and have a common sphere with
it, but lead out of it. For example, ideas are finite,
insofar as they are bordered by other ideas; bodies are
finite, insofar as they are limited by one another. But
thought and extension are both infinite: i.e. they do not
supply determinate borders for each other, since they
have no sphere in common.
c) "Substance" is the universality of being, which
is conceived in itself, and does not depend on anything
else for its conception.
d) "Attributes" constitute the essence of substance,
and give it particularity, specificity, and (as regards
our vantage point) reality. This is not to say that an
attribute is more real than substance; but only to say
that our understanding, which lies outside of substance,
grasps the reality of substance only through the
The attributes are two in number -- thought and
extension. But the substance which we grasp through
these attributes remains a self-identical unity.
e) "Modes" are the various "affections" of substance
which are conceived of as extrinsic to reality, and as
always dependent on the reality of something else.
Spinoza depicts the modes as a kind of false
individuality, which starkly separates the particular
from the universality of substance. If he would have
been a little more flexible, he would have discovered
that the true individual is ever leading the particular
back into the universal in an infinite circular process.
But he is so intent on emphasizing universal substance,
that he derogates from the modality of individuation.
f) "Infinity" is of two kinds: 1) The sensuous
infinite or the infinite of imagination, which is
infinitely many -- e.g. the infinite number of points
which supply the "beyond" to which an actual finite line
could be reduced through the negative process of
successive divisions. 2) The infinite of thought, or the
actual infinite, which is not a negation, and not a
numerical multiplicity, and not a beyond at all; but is
a positive present containing an absolute multiplicity of
(non-quantitative, non-numerical) attributes.
Spinoza does not seem to realize that the only way
such a "positive" infinity could be reached would be
through the "negation of the negation," i.e., through
thought's negation of being's negation of thought --
which brings thought into dynamic unity with being. He
also fails to realize that his idea of the "causa sui" is
the perfect example of such an absolute infinity -- an
essence which is in continual conjunction with its
existence precisely because it continually negates that
negation which its own existence confronts it with.
g) "God" is a substance absolutely infinite, in the
second sense of infinite mentioned above.
It should be apparent by now that Spinoza's "geometrical
order" is very defective when it comes to philosophy. The "truth"
of his definitions results mostly from the defining process, and
constitutes a logical, rather than a real, content. If we follow
Spinoza, we do not proceed outward from some initial content, but
are continually turning inward, trying to discern what is the
"content" that his primordial definitions have to do with.
2) Corollary axioms and propositions:
a) There is only one substance -- God. It is
this ultimate substance which gives unity to the
attributes and modes. If there were more than one
substance, we would have to ask, "attribute of what?",
"mode of what?" -- i.e. there would be an infinite
regress. Nothing would have meaning.
This single substance is also indivisible (because
otherwise there would have to be several substances with
the same nature, or attribute); and infinite (for the
b) God contains the union of freedom and necessity.
For Him, there is no unused potentiality: He has no
thoughts which are not actualized. But rather, the
attributes and modes emanate necessarily from His
infinite power. He is not really the cause of the world,
however, because every determination is a negation: if He
determined the world according to some final cause, this
would split Him off not only from His own purposes, but
also from the world -- so that He could no longer be the
c) God, under the attribute of thought, is "the
world of understanding"; but under the attribute of
extension God is "the world of nature." These two
worlds are really identical, although they are
apprehended by us under different forms. (It should
be noted here that Spinoza uses "identity" here in a
rather haphazard way, not really deducing the necessary
connections which would clarify the identity of modes and
attributes with their substance.)
d) The two modes of the attribute of extension are
rest and motion; the two modes of the attribute of
thought are understanding (intellectus) and will. These
modes fall under the heading of natura naturata -- (the
divine substance or natura naturans, as it appears to
e) The individual human consciousness is constituted by
the idea of body (which renders it an indifferent
identity of "idea" and "body") -- but in such a way that
body does not affect idea directly or vice versa, but
they are both affections of the thinking and extended
substance of God.
f) The individual for Spinoza, is primarily a
thought-unity of various bodies. The important thing
from Spinoza's vantage point is to draw discrete things
into universal unity. He doesn't realize that
universal unity is a mere abstraction, when divorced from
the particularity of diversity.
3) Spinoza's moral doctrine:
The essence of man, as a mode of God, is to strive (Spinoza's
"conatus"). This striving, as referred to the mind, is called
"will." As referred to both the mind and the body, it is called
"desire." "Affections" in man are a confused type of knowledge, an
imperfect type of idea, which are accompanied by feelings of
diminution (sorrow) and augmentation (joy) in our faculty of
desire, and which are related to the determination of our faculty
of will through ideas.
There are three kinds of knowledge: a) opinion and
imagination, including knowledge drawn from signs, pictorial
conceptions, and memory; b) knowledge derived from general
conceptions, and adequate ideas of the properties of things; and
c) intuitive knowledge, which comes to an adequate knowledge of the
essence of things on the basis of an adequate idea of the formal
essence of certain attributes of God.
Moral perfection consists in getting beyond the contingency of
affections to see the necessary relationship of things to God,
especially through intuitive knowledge, which brings us to the
point where we view everything under the aspect of eternity ("sub
specie aeternitatis"). Thus moral perfection for Spinoza is in
large part an intellective achievement; and is not a manifestation
of freedom in the usual sense.
How do we explain evil in the world? It is true that there is
a fundamental essential distinction between the righteous and the
wicked in the world. But this distinction is caused by our way of
looking at things. In reality, evil is a privation, and has no
positive existence. Since God is only the cause of that which has
positive existence, He cannot be the cause of evil, strictly
speaking. And why (reasons Spinoza) should we have to offer an
explanation for that which doesn't exist?
4) Some afterthoughts on Spinoza:
a) Was Spinoza an atheist? The relationship between
God and the finite can be expressed in three ways: (i)
in such a way that only the finite is said to exist --
and this is what is usually meant by atheism; (ii) in
such a way that only God is said to exist, and the finite
becomes mere appearance, or phenomenon; (iii) in such a
way that we compromise between the two, and say that they
both exist. Spinoza was certainly not guilty of (i); and
it is to his credit that he did not confuse our notions
of "existence" by adopting (iii). Rather, if he is to be
called an atheist, as some have called him, it must be in
sense (ii). But in the strict sense, this second
position is an ultimate intellectual formulation of
pantheism or monotheism -- rather than atheism. In other
words, there is too much God, such that man and the world
are reduced to nothing.
b) The mathematical-propositional form of Spinoza's
philosophy is perhaps its greatest defect: First,
because such a form has to do with existent objects, not
with the concepts behind objects. Secondly, because the
"is" in mathematical propositions means something quite
different from the "is" in philosophical propositions.
For example, you can ordinarily change "S is P" to "P is
S" in mathematical propositions, but you can't do this
in philosophical propositions, where "S is P" does not
express a simple identity between universal and
particular. Thirdly, because the allegiance to
mathematical-propositional form puts Spinoza on the
defensive against negation and contradiction. Spinoza
rightly realizes that "every determination is a
negation." But then, as if in order to avoid such
negations, he develops propositions about the finite
world which refuse to recognize the determinations of
things. Rather than determinate, everything becomes just
an unsubstantial shadow of the Infinite Substance -- God.
If Spinoza could have gotten beyond the strict logical
"law of contradiction," he would have realized that
self-conscious human nature must be derived from the
negation of the divine substance; and that the "positive"
reality of God, which Spinoza emphasizes, is only
positive in the sense that it is the negation of a
c) Subjectivity, individuality, and personality,
i.e. freedom -- is blotted out in the schema of Spinoza.
"Thought" is simply the universality of the Divine
Substance, not really self-conscious, not really liberty.
In other words, everything is simply reduced to the
all-encompassing unity of God. Everything is thrown into
this philosophical abyss, but nothing ever comes out of
it. Spinoza's God is not the Holy Trinity of Persons,
neither is it a living Spirit -- it is simply an absolute
unity which does not really allow for self-consciousness
or freedom. And in refusing to allow the negation
produced by freedom, it indirectly is prevented from
being free and autonomous itself. That is, Spinoza's God
does not have the independence of the Christian God.
It was necessary, therefore, that philosophers after Spinoza
should accentuate the moment of spiritual freedom, which Spinoza
overlooked. And two philosophers in particular did this: Locke,
who examines the conception of self-consciousness, and traces its
genesis as a mode of thought related to "otherness"; and Leibniz,
who develops the theory of the infinite multiplicity of individual
monads, in stark contrast to the theories of Spinoza.
John Locke (1632-1704), along with Leibniz, represents the
reaction against the Spinozoistic preeminence of being, nature, and
God; and also against the a priori method of definition in
Locke turned from scholasticism to Cartesian philosophy; and
also completed the study of medicine, without ever going into
general practice. Because of the political situation of his
financial patron, he was forced to flee to the Continent several
times, but he was finally established as the Commissioner of Trade
and Plantations, and wrote his famous Treatise on the Human
Locke's "philosophy", which is a sort of metaphysical
empiricism, is a) a defense of the objective actuality of concepts
through experience; and b) a defense of the freedom of the
individual against abstract monolithic conceptions of being.
However, a) he failed to recognize the unity-in-opposition of
self-consciousness and being; and b) following in Francis Bacon's
footsteps, he overemphasized the psychological phenomenon of
"deriving universal concepts from individual instances."
In regard to Locke's "innate ideas": If we understand innate
ideas to mean "implicit ideas, which are essential moments in the
nature of thought, germ-like qualities which do not exist" -- which
would be the viable signification of this term -- then the analysis
of Locke gives us an insight of rather limited value: It shows us
that there can be no determination of such ideas except through
sensuous, external conditions. However, Locke goes to the extreme
of saying that our mind is like a blank tablet, which receives all
of its impressions from external sense experience. And this
one-sided view of experience is what we must disagree with. It
fails to take into account the fact that experience means presence
to consciousness, the subjective apprehension of what is external,
the negation of external being, the connection of Being-for-another
(the outside) with Being-in-itself (the inner nature of being,
which is based on the inner nature of consciousness), and the
essential place of Being-itself in the determination of the
universality of our concepts.
In regard to thought, this is not an object, but has, as its
objective, sensuous experience, which is at the top of Locke's
hierarchy of values, and which seems to be something with a
mysterious independence, exerting an absolute power over human
Thought can be related to this objective experience either
passively or actively.
1) The passive reception of sense experience takes the
form of a) sensations of color, light, figure, rest, motion,
etc; b) reflections about sensations, leading to faith,
doubt, judgement, reasoning, the idea of thinking, the idea of
willing etc.; and c) the combination of sensation and
reflection, which leads to ideas of pleasure, pain, etc.
2) The active combination of sensations and reflections
(which is called "understanding") leads to complex ideas,
which may take on the aspect either of "pure" modes (such as
power, number, and infinitude). or "mixed" modes (such as the
idea of causality).
All of these operations of thought are only possible in a
conscious state. They do not take place while sleeping. Thus they
do not constitute the essence of the soul (since, if they were the
essence of the soul, then we would have to be always thinking, even
In regard to "primary" and "secondary" qualities (a
differentiation that we also find in Aristotle and Descartes),
Locke makes the following observations: Primary qualities are
mechanical properties like extension, solidity, figure, movement,
and rest. These really exist in corporeal objects, unlike colors,
sounds, taste, and smells (secondary qualities), which are purely
the result of our own sensory faculties. But in Locke's version
this classical distinction turns out to be very confusing. For how
can we say that secondary qualities are "less real" because they
are produced by our own sensation and consciousness, and also say
that the ultimate standard of reality is our sensory and conscious
In regard to universal ideas, Locke makes a distinction
between real essences (real species) and nominal essences (nominal
species). Our would-be object is the real essence, the thing as it
is in itself. But de facto, all we have is the nominal essence --
the conventional universal idea that we have abstracted from
particular, sensuous reality. These are not really objects, but
ways of categorizing reality. And thus it is no wonder that nature
is always breaking the universal laws that we set down for it --
e.g. by producing monstrosities. If our universal ideas were
really about nature in itself, Locke reasons, there could never be
What Locke seems to be forgetting here is that species,
besides being known by our understanding, also exist. And in the
sphere of existence they come into relationship, and conflict, with
other existent essences or species. This is why monstrosities are
sometimes produced. And this is why nature-in-itself is an
incomplete idea. In order to see it in its full significance, we
have to see it in its relationship to Spirit. Otherwise we are
left with the naked being-for-another of nature, which is seen out
of its context with being-in-itself (the true essence of nature,
which comes from the universalizing power of subjective thought).
In regard to tautologies, e.g. A = A, Locke asserts that they
are more or less superfluous. Scientists and philosophers do not
need to be told that they cannot build the edifice of knowledge on
a foundation of contradictions.
Some observations about Locke:
1) He is a good example of the English temperament in
philosophy. The English are all admirers of Isaac Newton, who
showed them the way to derive universals, laws, and forces
from material perceptions. This tendency is a good counter-
balance to the sophisticated rationalism of Spinoza. However,
there is just one problem: It is not really philosophy. It
is simply common sense, formulated into a popular philosophy,
presented in a manner which is readily intelligible. But it
is not worth intelligizing, if one is desirous of grappling
speculatively with concepts. Unfortunately the French have
not realized this; and, suffering from a scarcity of
philosophers, have been following along the Lockean road
2) Locke starts from the presupposition that universality
and thought are to be found imbedded in the content of a
concrete material world, and his main concern is to show how
universality and consciousness are derived from such material
sources. But he never addressed his attention to the really
important question -- "What is the true relationship between
particularity and universality, between existence-for-another
and existence-in-self?" Spinoza at least went into the
problems of this relationship, and worked out a value system
which showed a hierarchical preeminence of subject
(represented by God) over objects and things (represented
especially by unsubstantial "modes"). But Locke does not even
present us with a value system. In fact, his position is a
reversion to the comparatively primitive Pre-Platonic
epistemology, which had not yet risen to the insight that
there is an inseparable, reciprocal relationship between Being
and particular determinations, between the infinite and the
finite, etc. -- such that we can't consider one side without
taking the other into account. But Locke, blissfully ignoring
the contributions of Plato, establishes an isolated, single
pole -- the pole of determinate, finite, sensuous
particularity -- as the "true" -- while forgetting to
remember that truth consists essentially in the understanding
of the necessary bi-polar relationship of this pole with the
pole of infinite, universal, thought-constituted being.
In fact, Locke never even really separates the two poles;
so that the pole he concentrates on is not even really a pole.
In other words, he is in no position to reconcile objectivity
and subjectivity, because he never recognizes their separation
in the first place.
3) Locke in his enthusiasm for deriving universal complex
ideas from empirical sources, gets bogged down hopelessly in
meaningless statements, boring enumerations, and tautologies.
For example, he takes great pains to demonstrate that we get
our conceptions of space from our perceptions of distances.
But, since distance = space, all he is really saying is that
we are getting our idea of space from our idea of space. This
sort of thing explains Locke's popularity with the masses who
are looking for philosophy-made-easy; but it does not really
offer us much in the way of enlightenment.
4) Almost by accident, Locke got out of the difficulties
mentioned above, when he got to his political and social
philosophy. For the particular "objects" that one considers
in political and social philosophy are not sensuous objects
devoid of thought and universality, but human beings,
spiritual activity, universalizing consciousness. And one is
almost forced to consider the relative hierarchies of
subjective values in such a context. However, Locke himself
did not seem to realize the epistemological preferability of
his political and social philosophy over his epistemology
proper. He simply unwittingly helped launch the development
of a rational political "philosophy" in England and elsewhere
-- a political philosophy closer to philosophy than English
epistemology, but still does not precisely deserving the title
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), along with Locke, is noted for
"political philosophy" in the sense just mentioned. In fact,
Hobbes claims that the philosophy of the state began with his book,
De Cive (On the State). At any rate, he introduced some highly
original (though often superficial) views into political
philosophy, and is noteworthy for this fact, if for nothing else.
The originality of Hobbes consists in two facts: 1) At a time
when public opinion was rapidly moving away from ideas of absolute
authority, Hobbes championed a type of absolute authority, based on
the traditional English conception of the divine right of kings,
and the passive obedience of citizens; 2) however, he did not come
to his formulations on the basis of tradition or scriptural proofs
-- but tried to derive them from a study of natural desires and
wants and necessities.
In regard to 1), Hobbes theorized that the "condition of
law" in society means the subjection of the natural,
particular will of the individual to the universal will, as
directly expressed by the will of the ruler. All law and
positive religion and civic relationships must be placed in
subjection to the state, without allowing any recourse or
In regard to 2), Hobbes bases his theory on the
hypothesis that political society is derived from a "state of
nature," in which all men are selfish, egotistical, ruthless,
and cruel, and ready to kill their fellow men at a moment's
notice. In such a state, man is living in perpetual fear,
and the "equality" of man consists in the fact that all men
are equally weak. Even those who have seized power by
force must continually be on their guard, lest this power be
wrested away from them. Thus, under impetus of fear and
weakness, men in the "state of nature" finally decided to make
a covenant among themselves, whereby they would transfer
their own unified, "universal" will into the hands of a single
representative, the political sovereign, in return for
protection and security under law. The sovereign, in the
light of this contract, had only one responsibility -- the
responsibility to uphold the universal will (which implies
that he must oppose the will of the individual).
Some observations about these theories:
1) Hobbes is criticized for having a very pessimistic view of
the nature of man. However, Hobbes himself declares that "nature"
has a double significance for man: a) the natural, wild, animal,
instinctive impulses that characterize the "natural condition" of
man; and b) the spiritual and rational existence of man, by means
of which he "went forth from his natural condition" to form the
2) Hobbes' books were attacked and banned, because they seemed
to encourage despotism and tyranny. However, when an individual
man takes on the responsibility of enforcing the universal will,
this does not necessarily lead to arbitrary and tyrannical rule.
For the universal will is rational, and if it is consistently
expressed and determined in laws, this expression and determination
constitutes an antidote to individual despotism.
3) There is a basic opposition in the constitutive elements of
Hobbes' theory: On the one hand the state is an absolute power,
enforcing its will on merely passive subjects. On the other hand,
the sum-total of subjects -- i.e. we ourselves, the citizens -- are
the ones who have actively created and determined our state, and
continue to maintain it as an absolute power. Thus the State for
him is a "state of contradiction" which must continually generate
this conflicting state of affairs.
Gottfried Wilhelm, Baron von Leibniz (1646-1716) was born in
Leipzig, Germany. For his doctorate in philosophy, he wrote a
dissertation entitled De Principio Individui (On the Principle of
Individuality) which was oriented against the monolithic pantheism
of Spinoza. He also prepared to take a doctorate in law, but was
prevented from receiving his degree, probably because of the
animosity of the lawyers who, as always, are terrified of dealing
with representatives of philosophical reflection. He engaged in a
number of assignments as tutor for distinguished houses, and also
as imperial adviser. He travelled widely, and in England made the
acquaintance of Newton and other scholars. He invented the
differential calculus in 1677, and was promptly attacked by the
Royal Society of England, who wished to give credit for the
discovery to Newton. He also invented the methods of the integral
calculus, established methods for flood-control, dabbled in
alchemy, and published some very important works in history.
One of his important philosophical works was the Nouveaux
essais sur l'entendement humain (New Essays on Human Understanding)
which was a reply to the "empirical" approach of Locke. In other
words, although he was sympathetic with Locke in upholding the
individual against the universality of Spinoza's divine substance
-- he took issue with Locke's watered-down philosophical methods.
And from our point of view, we might observe that Leibniz succeeds
in establishing, not just the external aspects of existence
for-another (like Locke), but also the internal dynamisms of
existence-for-self (both of which aspects are germane to the sphere
of individuality). Thus his "monad" is a reflection in conceptual
form of the absolute essentiality of the individual -- although
this insight falls short of the explicit and systematic recognition
of the ego in later philosophy.
Leibniz also wrote a popular quasi-systematic treatise on his
philosophy, the Theodicee, which in large part consists of a
justification of the goodness of God in spite of the evil in the
But perhaps his Principes de la Nature et de la Grace is the
treatise in which we find the most systematic exposition of his
truly philosophical thoughts.
ln general, Leibniz seemed to approach philosophy as a
physicist approaches existing data in order to explain them through
hypotheses. But the "data" that Leibniz was mostly concerned with
was the phenomenon of the existence of the world with its manifold
determinations of forces and matter -- and his "hypotheses" are
consequently general world views which take on the aspect of a
metaphysical romance, but must he judged in the last analysis on
the basis of whether or not they help clarify the essential
connections and relations to be found in the universe.
1) Leibniz' Doctrine on the Monads: In the development of
his "monadology," Leibniz shows an affinity to both Locke and
Spinoza. Like Locke, he is intent on accentuating
differentiation and individuality; but he does not allow
differences ad infinitum to simply fall apart into empirical
meaninglessness, after the fashion of Locke. Rather, in the
idealistic fashion of Spinoza, he subsumes the differences of
the monads into absolute unity; these differences, however,
are not simply dissolved as "modes" of a unified divine
substance, but the principle of substantial unity becomes
intrinsic to each monad of differentiation. This should
become clear as we explain the nature of the monad:
The monad is the bedrock of simplicity which must be
taken as the ultimate explanation for complex substances in
the world. The complex must be reducible to the simple.
Substances as complex actualities must be reducible to simple
actualities. These "monads" must be distinguished from the
conception of "atoms" as material, extended building-blocks of
matter. They are closer in their conception to the
"metaphysical points" of the Alexandrian school, to
Aristotle's "Entelechy" (ultimate actuality), or to the
scholastic notion of "substantial forms." in order to be truly
ultimate and indivisible, they must be completely immaterial
The monads do not have any causal influence on one
another. Otherwise, they would not be ultimate. In other
words, if they became involved in causal relationships, this
would involve the transmission of some really ultimate
particles of actuality -- which would imply that the monads
themselves were not ultimate.
Neither could they affect one another after the manner of
Descartes' "System of Assistance," in which by some miracle
diverse substances (extension, mind, nature) are kept in
coordination with one another. This would be to bring in a
completely extrinsic explanation, an arbitrary Deus ex
How are they connected, then? By a relation of harmony,
Leibniz answers. This is a relation between completely
independent units, shut up in themselves, which come into
coordination with each other as result of their very inward
orientation. (In order to understand this, we might offer an
analogy to Spinoza: in Spinoza's system, the two divine
attributes, extension and thought, have no direct influence
upon each other, and yet each gives a complete and adequate
representation of the divine substance, and in fact are
identical with that substance.)
But such a harmony is never such as to absorb individual
differences. Each monad must have special differentiating
qualities which no other monad has. Otherwise, if there were
any monad without specially differentiating aspects -- it
would simply be identical with some other monad; that is, it
could not be a distinct monad in itself.
The distinction of monad from monad, however, does not
consist in any external superficial differences, or
differences in spatial position, etc. It is an absolutely
intrinsic kind of distinction. That is, it consists
essentially in the fact that each monad distinguishes itself
by a natural impulse from others. We have here something
analogous to the instinct of self-preservation in animals,
which falls into the category of the maintenance of self-
From the very nature of the monads, we must conclude that
they have some kind of perception. They are conceived as a
multiplicity of differences, each in harmonious relationships
with all other differences -- and yet such a variety of
differences is locked up in the simplicity of the substance of
the individual monad. The monad is difference-in-unity, a
group of differences which maintain themselves in unity, in
the way that the ego maintains itself amidst the diversity of
thoughts. But we must not go to the extent of claiming that
each monad is thinking, i.e. conscious. For we do not assume
that the differences that are unified by each monad
approximate to the clarity and definition of the thoughts
which are unified in human consciousness. And so we merely
say that all monads have "perception" -- and that
consciousness is a further intensification of perception.
Thus the monads are conceived as immanent units of
cognition, and quasi-consciousnesses. Their essential
activity is to change (be different) while still remaining a
unity (remaining the same); and to pass from perception to
perception through "appetitus" (desire), while never ceasing
to be themselves.
What about the corporeal, material world? How can this
be constituted from purely metaphysical, ideal constituents?
Leibniz answers that what we call "matter" is a result of a
one-sided aspect of the monads -- their simplicity or unity.
When this becomes emphasized in a one-sided way, it amounts to
a reluctance to enter into the activity of perceptual
differentiation. That is, it amounts to a kind of passive
capability -- a moment of inertness or indolence -- which
appears to our perception under the aspect of "matter."
As regards the bodies that we often call "substances" --
they are mere aggregates of monads (the true substances).
But we cannot, strictly speaking, call them "substances" any
more than we can call a flock of sheep a "sheep."
Finally, as regards space, it has no existence in itself.
It exists only in our consciousness, as a way of unifying the
relations between substantial aggregates.
2) There are three types of Monads:
a) Inorganic monads, constituting bodies which are
characterized by something like an external continuity
and harmony of these monadic constituents, related to one
another by space but not by any internal, intrinsic
unity. (Leibniz does not seem to realize that the
continuity which penetrates and is penetrated by the
monads would do away with the individuality of the
monads, as a fluid does away with the characteristic
features of its solvents.)
b) Organic monads, found in living bodies where one
chief monad has a formal priority over the rest, and
where there is a hierarchy of monads for the gradual
transmission of this formal priority. (But here,
Leibniz fails to see that such a formal rule of one over
the other would cancel the individual existence-in-self
of the subordinate monads.)
c) Conscious monads, which are found in certain
organic bodies, and which are distinguished by the
distinctness of their representations. The distinctness
of representations to be found in conscious (human)
monads is based (а) on the principle of contradiction,
"A = A"; and (б) on the principle of sufficient
reason, "everything has its reason."
(In regard to these ideas, we should note that
Leibniz does not seem to be aware that (i) "to
distinguish the undistinguished" is the proper
distinction of consciousness itself; (ii) "A = A" is a
useless statement in itself, but is simply a
manifestation of the distinction (through "=") of the
undistinguishable ("A"); (iii) the principle of
sufficient reason leads us to analysis of particular
entities to discover the universal constituents which
they are "identical" with. But the particular is not
really identical with the universal. And thus the
analyses of identities that are carried out on the basis
of the principle of sufficient reason are misleading --
and give a one-sided picture of reality.)
3) Reflections on Leibniz
a) Leibniz' system starts from the premise of absolute
multiplicity. Because of the preeminence of multiplicity
in his system, he downgrades unity, i.e. gives explicit
recognition only to a superficial unity, the unity of external
continuity among monads.
b) There are two types of "Being" in Leibniz' system: one
is the existence of God, the Monad of Monads, who is
apprehended as the sufficient reason, the ground of
intelligibility, for all subordinate monads. The other is
Being as the interconnection of opposites -- good and evil,
freedom and necessity. But Leibniz only touches
superficially on Being in the second sense, and devotes undue
attention to Being in the first sense, so much so that he
seems to dissolve the individuality of monads in the Supreme
monad -- and thus go against the distinctive premises of his
c) In response to the question, "why is there evil in the
world," Leibniz answers: because everything in the world is
finite, and evil is necessarily connected with finitude. But
he consoles us by saying that the evil in our finite world is
a bare minimum of evil; since God, having all possibilities
open to Him would necessarily create the best of all possible
In regard to Leibniz' answer, we might note (а) that he
evades the problem of showing connections between the finite
and the infinite; (б) that he justifies (finds goodness in)
evil and finite events because they serve as means to some
greater good -- which is like "explaining" Newton's law of
falling bodies by saying that time and space are related as a
square: To the Newtonian apologist, we might respond, "Why
couldn't they be related in cubic proportion?" To Leibniz we
might similarly respon, "Why do evil events have to be a
prerequisite for accomplishing greater goods?" (If I go to
the market and discover that the commodities there are
certainly not perfect, but are the best available -- this may
produce a kind of practical satisfaction, but it will still
not solve my doubts as to why the commodities are not perfect,
when the market is owned and managed by a perfect proprietor!)
d) God, in Leibniz' formulation becomes the chief
harmonizer. For example, a dog gets a beating; pain develops
itself in the dog; the beating develops itself into an
activity; the person who administers the beating develops
himself into a beater. All of these disconnected independent
events are harmonized into unity by the God-hypothesis.
Leibniz does not comprehend how all of these events can be
harmonized and causally related, so he brings in the
incomprehensible -- God, existing just beyond the limits of
all units-of-comparison (monads) -- as an arbitrary
synthesizing idea, a waste-channel into which one can dump all
e) The main dichotomy that needs to be "harmonized" by
Leibniz is the dichotomy of soul and body, thought and organic
being. Leibniz says that the dichotomy consists in two
laws: on the one hand, the laws of the outer world, which
proceed according to efficient causality (orientation to
purposefulness), and bring about necessary connections; on the
other hand, the laws of thought, which proceed according to
final causality (orientation to purposefulness), and bring
about the spontaneous connections of consciousness. He
tries to harmonize these two laws by comparing them to two
different clocks, which are set to the same hour, and keep the
Thus the corporeal and intellectual spheres are two
separate and independent spheres, which simply "keep in step"
with each other, to constitute one universal.
This rather evasive explanation is an offshoot of
Leibniz' notion of the soul: the soul is determined to make
thought-determinations according to the laws of thought. But
the soul doesn't formulate its own determination according to
the laws of thought-determinations. And the soul arrives
at a kind of impasse in its relationship to the outer world.
For the laws of thought are spontaneous, but don't seem to be
spontaneously connected with the passivity and otherness of
corporeal reality; and the laws of the outer world are
necessary cause-and-effect connections, but don't seem to show
their necessary connection with thought, which is necessary
for the creation of universal laws.
f) Leibniz says that the whole universe is contained
implicitly in every part. For example, a grain of sand,
although it emphasizes a certain limited number of
perfections, contains implicitly all the perfections of the
universe. That is, the grain of sand is essentially the
In regard to this statement, we might observe that the
essence of the universe is not the universe. Essence must be
related to existence, and it becomes so related through
thought. Thus the essence of the universe is not to be found
so much in a grain of sand, but rather in the thought which
develops this essence and adds determinations ad infinitum to
g) Because of Leibniz' doctrine about the nature of
monads, everything has to be considered from a dual point of
view: for example, from one point of view, a human being seems
to spontaneously emerge from himself, and to come into
encounters with otherness; that is, the human being seems to
spontaneously become a being-for-another. But from another
point of view, and (according to Leibniz) a more fundamental
point of view -- no monad, and no human consciousness, ever
emerges out of itself. Each monad contains all otherness (and
all other monads) in itself. Thus a human being does not
really become a being-for-another, but only appears to come
into contact with his other. Thus also it would be impossible
for that human being to become a being-for-himself -- since
the term, "being-for-[him/her/it]self" only has meaning in
the context of a contrast with "being-for-another."
Bishop George Berkeley (1684-1754), wrote the Theory of Vision
(1709), A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge
(1710), and Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous (1713). He
continues in the English tradition of empiricism, but with an
Berkeley's idealism is a kind of skepticism -- not the
negative skepticism of the Ancient philosophers, which called
reality into question; but a modern version of skepticism which
believed generally in reality -- but reduced reality to our ideas
about reality. Thus Berkeley is famous for his maxim, esse est
percepi ("to exist is to be perceived"). What we know, according
to him, are not objects "out there," but our own subjective ideas,
which are constructed from a concatenation of feeling-states
(extended sensations, internal sensations, imaginations, memories,
Berkeley begins where Locke ended, but departs notably from the
doctrine of Locke on two points:
a) Whereas Locke admitted the existence-in-self (real
existence outside the mind) of primary qualities like
extension and movement, Berkeley asks how it can happen that
extensions can be large or small, and movements can be slow or
fast. These are entirely relative notions, produced by the
subjective perceptions and comparisons of the mind. If the
extension and movement were absolutes, independent of mind,
they could not be characterized by such relative
b) Whereas Locke admitted the reality of substances
existing-in-themselves, Berkeley takes an extreme stand
regarding them: if the object of our mind is our own
perceptions and conceptions, these perceptions (e.g. of color,
sound, size, properties) could not exist in a material
substratum. Thought cannot come into contact with matter.
The only substance which could be a substratum for our
perceptions and conceptions would have to be a perceiving and
thinking substance -- i.e. an intelligent soul.
In regard to this same point (b), Berkeley also argues
that it would be ridiculous to claim that there is some
substance "out there" which is similar to our conceptions --
for only other conceptions can be similar to conceptions.
Some other Berkeleyan notions
1) Berkeley is embarrassed by the idea of being (or substance)
coming into contiguity with the mind. Such a thing is
inconceivable to him. But one cannot ignore being altogether. In
all of our thought, we are constantly confronting being (or
"otherness," or "objectivity," or "substance") in the fixed
determinations which we make in and through our ideas. What are we
to say about this indubitable otherness? Berkeley decided to
reduce otherness or being to something within self-consciousness
itself. Thus in Berkeley's formulation, the incomprehensible
opposites, otherness and ego, are shut up within the individual
mind, and thus rendered relatively comprehensible, insofar as their
ideas are comprehended in consciousness.
But this "solution" leads to problems and contradictions: If
being is shut up within self-consciousness, and if
self-consciousness is essentially freedom -- how
do we explain the independent, stable, inassimilable otherness of
being? Why is it not simply reduced to and assimilated by,
freedom? Berkeley brings in God, in a vain attempt to save his
system. He says that God causes these objective ideas and
perceptions, by directly impressing them on our mind. ln other
words, instead of a thing-in-itself existing "out there", we have
a new in-itself -- God, or heavenly spirits, who bring us into
continuity with objectivity. But there can be little doubt
that this "solution" of Berkeley's is more confusing than the
problem it was supposed to solve.
2) Berkeley continuously presupposes an empirical "content,"
in the usual sense of that word -- i.e. things and events having
properties and aspects and colors and movements, etc. But he fails
to show how our concepts come to encompass such a content, or how
antagonisms and conflicts can develop within such a content.
He enunciates a formal principle, that such a content is identical
with our perceptions. But he fails to show how this can be so. In
other words, his statements about content are themselves without
content, i.e. are formal guidelines which are never established or
3) Finally. we might note that Berkeley reaches an interesting
impasse with regard to questions about space. Space, in his
formulation, is the sensuous manifold after it has taken on the
aspect of universality, and thus is ready to be subsumed into
thought. But since sensation and thought are so constantly
confused with each other in Berkeley, he never gets beyond the
sensuous universality of space, to the pure universality which
could be attained in the thought of space (that is, if Berkeley
were willing to examine space under the aspect of thought, or in
its relationship to thought).
David Hume (1711-1776) was another English philosopher who, like
Berkeley, took up where Locke had left off.
He was man of the world, who spent long periods in diplomatic
assignments, but also wrote some notable books on history and
philosophy. His historical works are more notable than his
philosophical -- but, since we are concerned with the latter, we
might mention that his main philosophical writings are A Treatise
of Human Nature (1790), and Essays and Treatises on Various
Subjects, 2 Vols. Vol. I (1742) contained "Essays Moral, Political,
and Literary," while Vol. II (1748) contained "An Inquiry
concerning Human Understanding," a further development of ideas
adumbrated in Locke's Treatise of Human Nature.
Hume, like Berkeley, is a skeptical idealist. He is not
very important in himself as philosopher, but is important in the
history of philosophy because of the influence he had on Immanuel
Some chief features in his doctrine:
1) Hume distinguishes thoughts or ideas from sensuous
perceptions ("impressions") by using a simple criterion: the former
are less forcible, less vivid than the latter. Our mind is
concerned directly with combining and interrelating these thoughts
and impressions -- not with understanding some thing "out
2) Locke and others had seemed to take for granted that
"necessity" was to be found amidst the contingencies of sense
experience. For instance, if we come to form a necessary law from
experience -- e.g. the Newtonian law that "every action gives rise
to an equal and opposite reaction" -- the necessity of this law
must be derived from experience. It certainly could not be derived
a priori from human intelligence (a very non-British type of
philosophical derivation). Thus (they concluded) if we know
anything about this necessity, it must be derived from
sense-experience since all our knowledge is based on such
Hume denies this. We have come to think that there are
necessary cause-effect relationships in sense experience. But this
is the result of habit. For example, we habitually connect the
idea of fire with the idea of melting ice, the idea of decapitation
with the idea of death. But we cannot say for sure that fire
necessarily causes ice to melt, nor that decapitation necessarily
causes death. And in general, we cannot say that any x necessarily
3) Hume lodges a similar criticism against the presupposition
that there is universality in our experience. We cannot obtain
universal ideas from our sense experience, because the sense
manifold presents itself to us as completely undetermined,
indistinct, certainly not conforming to this or that universal
(Hume seems to forget that the "indeterminateness" of sense
experience is itself a determination of sense experience; and
likewise is only one aspect of sense experience existing alongside
the other aspect -- the aspect of determinateness or
determinations. But he is right, of course, in observing that no
determinateness of sense experience could come from the sense
3) Our ideas of justice and morality are similarly based on
habitual associations in experience. For example, in regard to
the idea of stealing, I experience the feeling or sentiment that it
ought to be punished, and others in my society feel likewise.
Therefore we erect our feelings into a moral law, "thou shalt not
steal." But we can never justify the supposed necessity or
absoluteness of such a law. For different people and different
nations may at different times think differently about this
"law." And, in fact, studies in anthropology prove that there
are cultures which do not disapprove of stealing.
4) In regard to notions of immortality, God, etc. -- such
metaphysical conceptions are based on premises which are
customarily admitted by individuals. If a large number of people
come to customarily admit them, we say that they are "universal"
premises, and we go on to talk about the "universal" assent to the
existence of a God or immortality. But there is no real
universality here. There are in fact whole nations which do not
believe in the existence of a God.
5) Finally, Hume recognizes in human nature an antagonism
between instinct and reason. Where reason is in doubt, we have an
instinct to stick to instinct. If reason had some criterion for
understanding the antagonism between reason and instinct -- we
might have some way out. But we don't. And therefore we are
doomed to an existence which unfortunately can never quite be
Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) gives us a good example of the
tendency of French philosophy in the 18th century to throw aside
all chains of authority and superstition and presupposition in
order to establish concrete, living thought in its rightful place
in human culture.
He states that the distinguishing feature of man is
freedom. In order for the state or any other institution to be
truly human, it must be freely created by individual wills, and be
oriented to fostering and perpetuating human freedom for all. Thus
the true political state is the result of a "social contract" which
the individuals, who make up the state, have entered into.
If Rousseau is interpreted as meaning that "the majority
rules" -- this is a misunderstanding. The universal will existing
in the state is not the result of the sum total of whims and
caprices of a majority of individuals in that state. Rather, the
individuals who enter into the "social contract" go beyond their
individual wills to affirm the basic, universal human freedom which
is the only context in which the freedom of the individual can be
Rousseau will also be misunderstood if we interpret him to
champion freedom, in contradistinction to thought. Freedom in
this sense, would be merely the impulse to realize my thoughts in
existence. But this is an incomplete notion of freedom. Freedom,
in its more complete sense means the unity of thought with itself -
- the attainment of which will give an infinite strength to man,
since it is an absolute self-generating self-possession on the part
This realization of absolute and infinite freedom by means of
the self-possession of thought supplied the natural springboard to
the philosophy of Kant -- which is largely concerned with thinking
about thinking, understanding of the understanding, consciousness
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) lived and died in K”nigsberg, Germany
without ever having left his native town. Among other books, he
wrote a famous trilogy: The Critique of Pure Reason (which examines
our faculty of theoretical knowledge), The Critique of Practical
Reason (which examines our faculty of will) and The Critique of
Judgement (which establishes the faculty of judgement as a middle-
ground, connecting theoretical knowledge with will). In the course
of his writings, Kant continually repeats the same thing over and
over from different points of view. But this stylistic
idiosyncracy at least has the advantage of solving our doubts as to
what are his main points.
To begin with, we might compare Kant with a few of his
predecessors: Whereas Descartes in his cogito, ergo sum realized
the unity of ego and existence, Kant concentrates on the ego, or
subjectivity, as distinct from objectivity, and as being
responsible for all distinctions, all distinguishing, all finite
determinations. Whereas Hume raised the question, "how can there
be universality and necessity?" Kant merely asks, "how can there be
universality and necessity in external things?" In other words, he
accepts universality and necessity as originating in the mind.
Whereas Rousseau and the French philosophers extolled a negative
self-moving free thought which was ready to destroy all established
political and religious structures; Kant extolled this same
independence of thought in the theoretical sphere, being ready to
challenge all the traditional principles of metaphysics and
theology. Finally, whereas Christian Wolf (his immediate
predecessor) was concerned with analyzing the finite determinations
of the objective world, Kant was careful to show that such
determinations really only had a subjective significance.
Here are some preliminary observations about Kant's
a) He was primarily concerned with demonstrating how our
own subjectivity is responsible for the determinations that we
seem to find in the objective world. Being and beings are
reduced by Kant to activities of the ego. Being disappears
into the ego. (One would expect that, as a result, we might
find being within the ego, in Kant; but this is not the case.)
b) He attacks the determinations of objective
metaphysics, but ends up with a subjective dogmatism with new
c) He hits upon the infinite unity of thought and
being only in an indirect, negative way. He fails to realize
the positive significance of this infinite unity, because he
is too concerned with the functions of the finite
understanding in creating finite thought-determinations.
d) He argues -- "knowledge is our instrument for
investigating reality. Before we can come to the truth, we
have to first criticize this instrument for discovering
truth." He seems to forget that to criticize our
"instrument" of knowledge is to know it. We can't criticize
our instrument without using our instrument. Thus Kant is
like the philosopher who refused to go into the water until he
had first learned how to swim!
e) One of the major problems for Kant is, "how can we
have synthetic a priori judgements" -- i.e. judgements which
connect opposite concepts with each other? He doesn't
realize that he is implicitly raising a greater question: why
doesn't Kant himself recognize the connection (unity-in-
distinction) of the two major opposites -- thought and Being?
f) Kant gives us a good example of his barbarous
terminology with his explanations of the difference between
"transcendental and transcendent." To try to make some
sense out of this distinction we might go to geometry for an
example: The circle consists of an "infinitude of straight
lines". To represent the circle as straight is to pass beyond
the geometric category of circle -- i.e. to transcend this
category. So also, since cause and effect, existence and
necessity, quality and quantity, etc. -- are just the result
of our subjective categories of understanding, we are
transcending these categories when we say that external
reality actually contains causes and effects, etc. And
likewise, since the proper use of these categories is to
regulate our sensuous experience, we are transcending this
proper use of the categories if we use them to talk about
things beyond our experience, such as God or immortality.
In contradistinction to such examples of "transcendence,"
Kant says that his philosophy is "transcendental" -- concerned
merely with demonstrating those universal and necessary
elements in understanding which give rise to such perverted
attempts at transcendence as we have mentioned above.
I. Kant's theoretical philosophy:
Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason develops his analysis of
knowledge in an empirical, psychological manner. He starts at
sensuous consciousness, makes a transition to understanding, and
ends with reason, at the ultimate limits of consciousness.
A. Sensuous Consciousness:
The term, "aesthetic," is usually connected with beauty; but
Kant's "transcendental aesthetic" has nothing to do with beauty.
It is concerned rather with analyzing our external and internal
feelings, to discern what is universal in these subjective
intersections with the sense manifold. And he discovers that the
universal element, the "otherness" which supplies a context for all
such sensuous experience, is our a priori perception of space and
time. We have a pure perception of space and time, which is not
derived from experience, experience itself being completely void
and empty, and requiring an external projection of sensuous
determinations in order to receive a content.
In regard to these a priori forms of space and time, the
following observations are in order:
1) Kant argues that space and time are not concepts
derived from outward sense experience. This is true. But
we could show the same thing about any concept. There is no
concept which it would be possible to experience in the
2) Kant says that space and time are necessary for, and
universal in, all sense experience. This is undeniable.
However, he concludes from this that our consciousness must
have space and time present in it, just as we have mouth and
teeth, as instruments for dealing with reality. And we end up
with a rather unbelievable picture: outside of us there are
things-in-themselves devoid of space and time, while inside of
us there is a space which is not a space for anything, and a
time which is not a time for any particular thing. What Kant
fails to realize is that the universality of space and time
does not prevent them from being external universals.
3) Kant says that space and time are not concepts.
If they were concepts, they would be like our concept "tree,"
which refers to an infinite number of individual and separate
trees. But "space" does not refer to individual and separate
spaces, nor does "time" refer to disparate times. There is
only one space, one time. Therefore we do not have a
"concept" of space or time, strictly speaking, but a "pure
What Kant seems to forget is that there are many concepts
that do not refer to individual and disparate units. For
example, our concept of "blue" (a concept of a property, not
of a substance) does not signify an infinity of individual
blues. There is only one blue, to which we relate the concept
of blue. And so also, there is only one space, to which we
refer the concept of space.
4) Kant gives yet another argument why space and time are
not concepts: all concepts are thought-determinations which
refer to individual instances, but don't actually contain
these instances. For example, "man" refers to all men,
but doesn't actually contain them. But "space" is a unity
which actually contains all spaces. Therefore space is not a
concept in the above-mentioned sense.
We may agree with Kant that space is not a "thought-
determination." But as soon as we have a concept of the fact
that space is not a thought-determination, we have a concept
of space. In other words, in order for us to have a concept of
the fact that space is not a "concept", we must have some
concept of space.
5) Finally, Kant states that space contains a priori
synthetic propositions. For example, "space has three
dimensions," "a straight line is the shortest distance between
two points," "5 plus 7 equals 12." These propositions are "a
priori," because they cannot be derived from individual
contingent perceptions. And this we can agree with. But
also: these propositions are allegedly "synthetic" because
they are concerned with combining opposite sensuous
determinations into a unity. And this we cannot agree with.
We cannot even apply them in ordinary perception unless we
already have a concept of their unity. In other words, they
are not synthetic propositions, but analytic. Simply by
analyzing the concept of "7 plus 5," I can come to the concept
of "12, and then make applications of the concept to perceived
reality; simply by analyzing the concept of a "straight line,"
I come to the concept of "the shortest distance between two
points," and can then apply it; and so forth.
While sensuous consciousness is the passive faculty whereby we
receive sense-data from outside, understanding is the act of
spontaneity by which we organize and unify the sense manifold.
This unification process takes place through the
"transcendental unity of apperception." This transcendental unity
differs from the passivity of perception, insofar as it is the
transplantation of percepts into the simple unity of the ego.
There are twelve modes in which this unification takes place,
giving rise to twelve "categories" -- unity, plurality, and
totality; reality, negation and limitation; substance, causality,
and reciprocity; and possibility, existence and necessity.
These twelve modes correspond to the twelve types of judgement in
logic: Universal, particular, and singular; affirmative, negative,
and infinite; categorical, hypothetical, and disjunctive;
problematic, assertive and apodictic.
Thus we carry about in our own understanding these twelve
modes or categories for the unification of the sense manifold.
These modes are pure a priori concepts, just as space and time are
pure a priori forms of sensibility, not derived from experience.
And just as the pure subjective forms of space and time unify the
outer sense manifold, so also the pure categories of the
understanding unify the presentations of space and time, in order
to formulate ideas of universal species and of the laws of
The connection of the categories with the forms of space and
time is brought about through the "schemata of the imagination" --
various instrumentalities for bringing about the connection of the
categorial with the "aesthetic."
These operations of the understanding constitute "knowledge"
proper. These can be no knowledge which does not consist in the
joining of categories with sense data. But we should not think
that knowledge consists in understanding objective "things-in-
themselves." Rather, we only know phenomena, and the subjective
laws which govern the connection of perceptions. And the
objectivity of our knowledge comes from the categories. (It is
only through the application of the categories to individual sense
data that the sense data become "objective.")
Kant's philosophy, insofar as it deals primarily with the
determinations of the mind, calls itself "idealism." But Kant
takes pains to distinguish his idealism from the empirical idealism
of Berkeley, which denies the existence of an external world.
Since Kant's categories are determining elements, they have to have
something to determine -- the passive, determinable element, or
"sense manifold." Neither of these two poles (the internal and the
external) would have meaning without the other. "Concepts without
sense intuitions are empty; sense intuitions without categories are
blind," as Kant puts it.
In regard to the above doctrine on the understanding, we
1) Kant's "transcendental unity of apperception" is in
reality just the ego, but it is very difficult to recognize
the ego in Kant's formulation of it.
2) Kant fails to show how the pure categories are deduced
from this transcendental unity of apperception, or how the
various empirical categories are derived from them. His
reference to the twelve types of judgement in logic is hardly
a "deduction." His deficiency here is comparable to his
deficiency with regard to the "forms" of space and time, which
are not deduced, but picked up arbitrarily from experience,
because of their practicability.
3) Since "objectivity" (existence-in-self) is claimed by
Kant to reside in the pure categories, and since the pure
categories are purely subjective, the categories are not
really objective. And neither is the knowledge which results
from the union of category and sense content anything
objective, because it is only a knowledge of phenomena (things
as they appear to us, not as they exist in themselves).
4) Kant's "schemata of the imagination" function
beautifully to bring knowledge into function -- creating
perceptive understanding, and understanding perception. If
Kant would have carried this idea a little further, he would
have realized that this resultant unity is a true thing-in-
itself -- that special thing-in-itself which constitutes the
essence of all reality and all we can say about reality.
5) Although Kant gets beyond the confusion of ego-and-
perception which we find in Berkeley, he never does get beyond
the confusion of ego with individuality. In other words, he
fails to find true universality within the ego, since even his
universal categories are construed in a purely subjective way.
6) Finally, we should note that the twelve categories are
four sets of triads, and that the third member of each triad
is a synthesis of the first two -- which is an admirable
reintroduction of the method of "triplicity" which we find in
the Pythagoreans and Neo-Platonists, and in Christianity.
Just as Kant by fumbling around in the soul's bag came up with
sensuous consciousness and understanding, so now he rummages around
a little more and comes up with a new faculty -- "reason."
Kant is the first one to distinguish reason from
understanding. "Reason" is contrasted with the
"understanding," in Kant's construal, insofar as it does not have
to do with the finite union of universal category with the
particularity of sense phenomena -- which is a "conditioned" type
of knowledge. Rather, it has to do with universal "unconditioned"
principles, independent abstract "ideas," which are known "in
themselves," and receive their particularity and determinateness
not from sense phenomena, but from themselves. For example, we
encounter the ideas of God, of the substantiality of the soul, of
the infinity of space, etc. All of these "ideas of reason" go
beyond sense experience to produce a kind of ultimate theoretical
abstract unity -- analogous to the heavenly world of Forms depicted
in Plato's Republic.
Kant seems to presuppose (a) that particularity comes only
from sense data (although it is obvious that each universal
category is a particular "universal category," and each universal
unconditioned idea is a particular "universal unconditioned idea");
and (b) that unconditioned, infinite ideas such as God would have
to be verified in sensuous experience in order to be "real" (which
shows that Kant has an extremely limited idea of what the "real"
world is -- namely, a candlestick standing here, a snuff box
sitting over there, etc.).
Since what Kant calls the "Ideals of Reason" fall into three
divisions -- the paralogism, the antinomies, and the Ideal -- we
will consider each of these separately:
1) The Paralogism
The essential paralogism is this: We have no objective
experience of the soul, but only come to know of it
indirectly, through our thoughts, which impress forms on
experience. But we tend to think in terms of categorical
syllogisms of the form, S = P: John is a man, Africa is a
continent, etc. And so in like manner, we tend to think of
the soul as a subject-with-predicates, (as "John" is a subject
with the predicate, "humanity"). But the soul is not a
subject like other subjects in the world. That is, it is not
a concrete, material substance. And therefore it is invalid
to formulate an idea of the soul as a "substantial" subject,
a "being". Only things are beings. But the soul is not a
thing, i.e. a stable unity "out there" in the world, which we
can experience through the senses.
Kant thus seems to deny that the thinking ego is real.
For all practical purposes, the ego seems to be an unreal
"thought" possessed by a self-consciousness essentially
immersed in the sensuous world, the world of being.
What Kant does not realize is that his category of
"being" (the 7th category) is a very poor type of being.
Being in its ultimate sense is to be found in the thinking
soul, in its moment of immediate, abstract self-identity.
This is the ultimate "in-itself," from which we derive all
subordinate notions of beings, or things-in-themselves.
2) The Antinomies
The antinomies result from trying to make the finite,
conditioned phenomenal world become infinite and
unconditioned, like our ideas. As a result, we get into
contradictions, or antinomies between the categories of
"limited" and "unlimited", which are supposed to be applied
only to phenomena within the world, not to the world as an
abstract idea of the sum-total of all phenomena (i.e. as a
kind of thing-in-itself).
Kant enumerates 4 antinomies (although he could have
a) In regard to space and time, if we consider
space or time as totality, it seems to be
unlimited; but if we consider it according to
spatial or temporal progressions, it must have some
beginning (i.e., it must be limited).
b) In regard to the ultimate constituents of
matter, if we consider composite substances as an
existent totality, they must be reducible to some
ultimate indivisible actual parts, i.e, atoms; but
if we consider composite substance as infinitely
divisible, there can be no ultimate indivisible
c) In regard to causality, if we consider
causality as a totality including man and his
ideas, we come up with the notion of "free"
causality (i.e., a different kind of causality
which limits the range of the "law of causality");
but if we consider causality in terms of individual
phenomenal cause-effect reciprocities, all
causality is necessary (not free).
d) In regard to the existence of the world --
if we consider it as a totality, it must appear as
self-necessitating, or as being caused by some
Necessary Being; on the other hand, if we consider
the world as process, there is no
self-necessitation, and all cause-effect
relationships are "necessary" relationships of
In regard to these 4 antinomies, it should be noted that
they result from misapplying subjective notions, such as
space, time, infinity -- to external phenomena. Kant implies
that these apparent contradictions in the external world are
reducible to contradictions in the mind. Thus, just as
previous philosophers had reduced all contradictions to God,
so also Kant reduces them all to self-consciousness.
We only wish that Kant could have shown as much sympathy
for self-consciousness as he does for the external world. But
he doesn't. He simply leaves self-consciousness deranged and
disordered, in the throes of a contradiction. ln order to
solve this contradiction he would have to have shown how the
infinity of the idea-in-itself and the finitude of the
category determining phenomena -- are mutually complementary,
each contributing to the truth of the other, in a relationship
which might be described as a unity-in-distinction.
However, since this unity-in-distinction is not made clear, it
takes on the appearance of a simple conflict or contradiction.
3) The Ideal
The 3rd "Idea" of Pure Reason, is called the "Ideal" -- which
means, "an idea which is actually existing." It refers to the
concept of God, which gives actuality and "existence" to our idea
of the sum-total of all possibilities.
Kant turns his attention to Saint Anselm's "ontological" proof
for the existence of God, which was elaborated also by Descartes
and Spinoza: We have the concept of a perfect being. "Perfection"
includes real existence. Without real existence, a being would
certainly be imperfect. Therefore God who is conceived by us as
the most perfect being -- must have real existence.
Kant gives his famous answer to this: The concept for a real
hundred dollars, and the concept for an imaginary hundred dollars
-- are the same; but please let me have first choice between the
two! In other words, in technical Kantianese, a real hundred
dollars adds something to the mere concept of a hundred dollars.
For in a real hundred dollars, the concept is actually synthesized
with sensuous, factual existence.
In regard to this answer of Kant's, we might observe that:
a) Kant treats of concepts as if they were completely
separate from existence. He stands helpless in the face of
sensuous existence, hoping at the most to add it to his
concepts, but despairing of ever becoming really one with it.
Kant would do well to consider the example of hungry animals,
who never stand dumbfounded in the face of food, but simply go
into action and eat it up. Or better yet, he should
consider the example of the average human being, who doesn't
rest in the mere imagination of concepts, but brings them into
existence through his activity. In other words, Kant should
realize that concepts are not autonomous fictions, padlocked
forever in the cell of subjectivity but are simply one aspect
of a dynamic movement -- the movement towards being or
existence. And when we encounter the specific problem of the
concept of the necessary existence of God we are implicitly
encountering the general problem of the relationship of
concept to existence.
b) Descartes would deny that a real hundred dollars
manifests a synthesis of concept with existence. All finite,
sensuous objects in the realm of extension (in Descartes'
formulation) are transitory materials, which show no necessary
unity with thought or concept. For Descartes, a real hundred
dollars would be existence divorced from thought; just as for
Kant, an imaginary hundred dollars would be thought divorced
from existence. Thus, if Kant really wants bring the problem
into the context of Descartes' doctrine about God -- he is
using the wrong kind of example.
c) The common logic that Kant uses is like Issachar the
strong ass in the Bible (Gen. 49:14). Just as this ass could
not be made to move from the spot where it was, so also Kant
treats sensory existence as something mean and good-for-
nothing, a type of existence which can never hope to come into
the realm of thought (just as many Christians in their pride
hold onto a false humility which is satisfied with abjectness
and refuses to rise into the realm of the divine.)
-- All in all, with regard to all three above-mentioned
"Ideas" of Pure Reason -- we should notice that Kant
formulates "Reason" as something purely subjective, an
abstract self-identity which can do nothing more than order
our ideas, and which is entering forbidden territory when it
tries to bring unity into psychological and physical and
ontological existence. It is altogether a rather pitiable
II. Kant's Practical Philosophy
The theoretical philosophy of Kant looked outward for truth,
for the in-itself. We are dependent on this "other" (sensuous
experience from outside). Without it, we can have no real
The practical philosophy of Kant, on the other hand, begins
with freedom in Rousseau's sense, as the abstract self-identity of
self-consciousness. Self-consciousness is the in-itself. It
contains the criteria for truth within itself (if it will only dig
deep enough). Thus it is fully independent.
Practical reason (which is identical with "will," in Kant's
philosophy) has three postulates:
A. It is self-causality, or self-determination (freedom).
We begin with the will as pure universality, i.e., as pure
self-identity (which involves the law of non-self-
contradiction, the cornerstone for all logical universality).
But since the will consists of 1) the pure will, and 2) the
empirical will (needs, inclinations, and desires -- which are
determined from outside self-consciousness), it is rather
difficult for it to remain in its pure self-identity. For
example, the law of benevolence says, "give your possessions
to the poor;" this appears to be non-self-contradictory, but
if you carry this out to the letter, you have nothing left to
give to the poor; therefore benevolence destroys benevolence,
it is self-contradictory. Or again, the law of private
property says, "respect everyone's property." This is
certainly a self-identical statement, since "property" is
"that which one should respect." But all we are really saying
is, "if property exists, then it exists" -- which does not
really advance the frontiers of knowledge very much. And
in general, Kant's moral philosophy consists in this pure
formal universality, and the final undigested lump which it
leaves in our stomach is the cold, abstract idea of duty
trying to remain consistent with itself amid the heteronomous
tendencies of the "empirical will."
B. Immortality has to be presupposed. Kant's idea of
morality is such that it always needs conflict, always needs
sensuous desires and inclinations to be opposed to. He seems
to realize that if the universal, pure will ever came into
unity with the particularity of desires, then his brand of
morality (resistance to the senses, etc.) would come to an
end. But, on the other hand, who would struggle, unless some
kind of a unity of the two was foreseeable? And so he posits
immortality as the state in which universal will and
particular will finally have a chance of getting together.
C. Kant's approach to moral philosophy presupposes the
existence of God. If the moral law (duty, or virtue), which
is intrinsic to us (existent in-itself, within consciousness)
is ever to be harmonized with human nature (our sensuous
inclinations, or drive towards happiness)-- we must postulate
a harmonizer, or God, to bring about this unity. But God,
like immortality, is a "Beyond." Kant of course cannot
conceive the idea of God possibly bringing about this harmony
right now -- because this would destroy Kant's idea of
Kant claims that the idea of God as a final rewarder will
assure additional reverence for the moral law. But this seems
to contradict his own assertion that one should respect the
moral law simply for its own sake, i.e. not out of a desire
for gain, for happiness, etc. If people respect the moral
law to placate God and assure their own eternal bliss -- this
does not seem to be "respecting the moral law for its own
It should also be noted that Kant in his practical
philosophy does not start from the presupposition that
concepts are completely divorced from sensuous, material
existence, as if they were independent forms stamped onto
reality. Rather, they are imperfect and dependent; they
require an intrinsic unity with sensuous reality or "being,"
to be perfect. This represents a movement in Kant away from
the concept-as-abstract to the concept-as-concrete (i.e. as
fully unified with objective being). But since Kant relegates
the final unification to an "afterlife" -- the movement
towards the concrete is never completed in his practical
III. Kant's Critique of Judgement -- the bridge between his
theoretical and his practical philosophy:
In Kant's theoretical philosophy, a natural object is regarded
as an unknowable, sensuous thing-in-itself, which receives all its
determinations from the supersensuous realm of the understanding.
In his practical philosophy, on the other hand, self-consciousness
is regarded as a supersensuous thing-in-itself, which makes moral
laws for sensuous human nature. This gives rise to three problems:
1) How can we reconcile the sensuous realms of nonhuman and human
nature with the supersensuous realms in understanding and practical
reason? 2) How can we realize the unity of the thing-in-itself with
the sense manifold, so that we are no longer confronted with
phenomena-without-intrinsic-purpose (as in theoretical knowledge),
or with moral law in-itself, without sufficient reflection in the
sensuous world (as in moral philosophy)? and 3) how can we show the
basic reconcilability of the thing-in-itself which seems to be
beyond the borders of appearances in theoretical philosophy, with
that other thing-in-itself which seems to be intrinsic to self-
consciousness in moral philosophy?
Kant brings about such reconciliations in a completely
subjective manner, by focusing on our faculty of reflective
judgement, which is a middle ground between knowledge and desire,
and which is concerned with two special kinds of objects: a)
aesthetic objects, which lead our understanding to universality
rather than receiving universality from the determinations of the
understanding; and b) the purposefulness of nature, an imminent
unity of particularity and universal intelligibility, which must be
presupposed before we can impose any determinations on natural
phenomena. These operations of judgement which deal with these two
specialized objects are called "reflective" (as opposed to
"determinative") because they start with the particular and lead it
through "feeling" to universality, rather than starting with
universal categories and applying them to sense data.
a) Aesthetic objects are subdivided into objects of beauty,
and sublime objects:
(i) objects of beauty are those particulars which take
our understanding by surprise, so to speak. Through feeling, we
know that they must be in accord with the concepts of the
understanding, but we are not sure how. Our feeling of pleasure is
an indication that the form of such an object is well adapted to
When such an object is human, and its beauty is a result
of its congruence with our own human (conceptual) purposes -- we
call it "ideal" beauty, because it seems to embody Pure Reason's
own idea of a perfect totality.
(ii) sublime objects are those particulars whose form
gives rise to a feeling of the inaccessibility and inconceivability
of the ideas of Reason, which they are related to.
b) the purposefulness, or teleology, of nature: By
"purposefulness" here, we do not mean an external adaptation of
means to end. For instance, as Kant says, we might take note of
the fact that "snow protects the sown crops in cold lands from
frost, and facilitates the intercourse of men by permitting
sleighing." This is merely "reading purpose into" snow, as a means
mechanically and externally adapted to certain ends. But here we
are concerned with an intrinsic adaptation of means to end to be
found in natural objects themselves. And we are particularly
concerned with living natural objects, organisms, which distinguish
themselves by the fact that each organism is its own end and its
own means for producing itself, and by the fact that every part of
the organism is a means and an end for every other part. In
other words, there is a complete synthesis of the abstract notions
of "means" and "end" in an organism.
Our intuitive acceptance of teleology in nature is similar to
our feeling of purposefulness in aesthetic objects -- except that
in the latter case we are concentrating more on the matter than the
form (when we pronounce an object "beautiful," we do not
necessarily imply that its matter has intrinsic purposefulness).
Thus the teleology of nature is more "objective" than the teleology
of aesthetic objects.
--In regard to Kant's Critique of Judgement in general, we can
make the following observations:
1) He conceives of nature in much the same way as
Aristotle, as having intrinsic purposefulness. But he
diverges from Aristotle, insofar as he indicates that such
purposefulness is merely an external projection conditioned by
a subjective need for order. His focus is on the psychic
orientation to teleology.
2) Kant gives no indication of where the purposefulness
comes from. It could come from God, or from man himself.
There is no way of knowing the source definitively.
3) With his theory of reflective judgement, which feels
or intuits the universal in the particular, Kant comes just to
the threshold of overcoming the separation of abstract concept
from abstract sense data, and arriving at the concrete concept
(the synthesis of thought and being). However, after he
finishes uniting concept with sense data, he diminishes the
effect of what he has done by reemphasizing the preeminence of
concept over sense data: What we have accomplished, he says,
is merely to show a subjective mechanism of presupposing
universal in particular, etc; we have not really shown that
such a unity exists objectively in reality.
4) Finally, Kant in one place observes that we might
possibly find a way out of the thought/being problematic, if
we would admit the existence of an "intuitive understanding,"
which is not restricted to purely formal, abstract concepts,
but can enter into the sensuous manifold and find universals
objectively existent "out there." But such a faculty is
impossible. Why? It's impossible for Kant, because Kant has
already enumerated all the faculties: The understanding, which
uses the sensuous world to give birth to its concepts and
laws, but never really dirties itself by allowing itself to be
influenced by this world; theoretical Reason, which busies
itself spinning cobwebs out of the brain -- e.g. the ideas of
God and immortality; and Practical Reason, which is patiently
waiting around for the end of the world, so that its
"postulates" can become realities. Besides these three
faculties, what further need have we of faculties? And so, at
the brink of the discovery of true knowledge, Kant ends all
this discussion by taking refuge in his own closed mind.
IV. Where is the concrete in the philosophy of Kant?
At the end of his Critique of Judgement, Kant proposes a
notion of God which represents the highest form of the concrete
that we can find in Kant's philosophy:
We must postulate the existence of God, he says, to seal a
rift. There is a rift between our conception of the Good (infinite
purposefulness) and the real world of hard fact that confronts it.
Our mind cannot bear this conflict, and our Reason has an
insatiable desire to possess things as a systematic unity.
Therefore God must be posited as the third factor, the tertium
quid, who can reconcile this incessant opposition.
Thus once more, in the Kantian philosophy, we arrive at the
vestibule of the Idea (the absolute, concrete Concept). God as a
postulate here is not an abstract concept (abstract thought) but
thought which contains determinateness, particularity, even
individuality within it. But then Kant wakes us up abruptly from
our reverie: This notion of God is not really the truth, but
simply the result of a necessity in our faculty of judgement. And
so we continue the incessant process of subjectivism and dualism in
If we were to go any further, and talk about the
determinations in God, this would be metaphysics, this would be
knowledge. But of course (says Kant) it is impossible to have
knowledge of anything except phenomena. And so we remain saddled
with the vague concept of God as a mere "postulate," and are
forbidden to add even one determination to God. For if we added
one, there would be two altogether, related mediately to each
other -- and this would remove God from the state of abstract
immediacy and render Him concrete (mediated). And we don't want
such a God, We prefer to revert to the "unknown God" that the
Apostle Paul mentions in speaking to the Athenians!
To sum up,
a) Kant's philosophy is really a non-philosophy. It is too
locked in subjectivism and anti-metaphysics to stoop to making any
concessions to objective truth.
b) Kant gave a great impetus, however, to the method of
triplicity -- thesis, antithesis, synthesis -- which is
foreshadowed not only in the four triads of categories, but also in
his three critiques, in the three ideas of Pure Reason, etc. In
general, this method of triplicity proceeds in the following
manner: (i) thesis: existence offers itself in the form of other-
being (not just object) to consciousness; (ii) antithesis: self-
consciousness negates the otherness of this existence, and
assimilates it to itself (rendering it Being-for-self); and (iii)
synthesis: the two previous moments are concretized in a new unity.
c) In the context of the history of philosophy, Kant left two
major lacunae which have been filled up by later philosophers: (i)
Kantian subjectivism as a philosophical standpoint was incomplete.
In order to be completed, one would have to start with the ego, and
deduce all thought determinations consistently and with necessity
from this abstract ego. -- And this is what Fichte accomplished.
(ii) The rationalistic rift of thought from phenomena led to a
desire on the part of men for content. We can not remain in the
rarified air of pure abstract thought indefinitely; just as we
cannot remain satisfied with the concept of the mere existence of
God indefinitely, never desiring to know what He is. So the
necessity for a content for thought also came to be recognized.
And Schelling sought to fulfill this need, as we shall see.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) in the beginning considered his
philosophy to be a just a systematization of the principles of
Kant's philosophy. And indeed, he was so immersed in Kantian
terminology that his treatise, A Critique of All Religion, was at
first mistaken for a work of Kant.
Fichte responded to a twofold need: the need of self-
consciousness to get beyond pure abstract thought (which, like
Spinoza's "Substance," does not contain any determinate reality
within itself); and the need of consciousness (as represented
specifically by the English) to possess the moment of external
actuality. As his solution, Fichte comes up with a great new
seminal idea for philosophy -- the idea of a new category, the
category of the unity-in-distinction of ego and non-ego. This is
implicitly the [infinite] ego -- a logical extension of Kant's a
priori synthetic judgement -- the ego which is actualized concept
and conceptualized actuality, and comes to the explicit
comprehension of its function of keeping concept and actuality
united in the very act of distinguishing them.
Fichte proceeds from this seminal principle to deduce the
whole world, and reduce the whole world again to ego. Thus he is
a subjectivist like Kant; but unlike Kant, goes beyond mere
"knowledge-of" (Erkennen) to knowledge-proper (Wissen), i.e.
knowledge through scientific deduction.
Fichte does not really elucidate actuality and individuality,
but does establish the concept of individuality and actuality. And
this is his only concern. For philosophy, according to him, is the
knowledge of knowledge, or the consciousness of consciousness (i.e.
an artificial consciousness, a consciousness spontaneously
constructed not from extrinsic materials, but from spirit itself).
If we can only make the categorical union of ego and non-ego
explicit to the ego, we will no longer be confronted with the
Kantian dilemma -- that the determinations which we make in the
non-ego are always outside of consciousness. For when the ego
comes to possess its own non-ego or otherness as the object of its
knowledge, it possesses an otherness which is, by definition, no
longer outside or beyond it. In other words, it has the key to
1) Fichte's "First Principle":
Fichte presupposes that scientific knowledge must begin from
some one supreme principle which expresses the form and content of
knowledge. From this principle, then, a whole system can be
derived; and to this principle a whole system can be traced back.
Fichte derives his principle from a Cartesian position: I can
doubt everything except my ego; I can mentally abstract from
everything except my ego. Thus the ego exists, and existence in
the highest sense is the ego.
But this ego must be scientifically related, not only to the
sense manifold, but also to the "manifold" of conceptions and
thoughts. And this is Fichte's peculiar contribution to
Fichte's First Principle of Knowledge divides into three
"moments" or sub-principles:
a) Ego = ego: This is the proposition we must begin with,
the proposition of absolute self-certainty. In this
proposition, the form (the ego) which relates itself to the
content, is the same as that content (also the ego) to which
it relates itself. Thus form and content are the same,
although they are still different insofar as one is "relating"
and one is "related."
b) ego non-ego: In this proposition, the ego negates
itself from the non-ego, but in order to do this has to posit
a non-ego. Thus in this act of negation, it is establishing
itself as limited, since there is some "other," just outside
the boundaries of the ego. The ego is foremost here, however,
as the unconditioned form which causes, or gives rise to, or
"conditions" the appearance of a "non-ego" as conditioned
c) ego = and non-ego and non-ego = and ego: This
corresponds to Kant's second categorical triad, where reality
(ego=ego) and negation (ego non-ego) are synthesized in a
final state of determinateness or limitation. The non-ego in
the second movement (b) was undifferentiated and undivided; it
was simple unity immediately produced by the ego. But now the
non-ego takes on a new aspect: it is partly being, and partly
subjectivity. And the ego similarly splits into a dual
aspect: it is partly subjectivity, partly being. Thus in this
third proposition the form is a mutual limitation and negation
and conditioning of ego by non-ego, and vice versa; and the
content is the unconditioned totality, the mutual identity
which results from this mutual negation. And this total
content is the ego in a new sense: the ego as containing
within itself both ego and non-ego. (Thus we can see that
Fichte is just as much a subjectivist as Kant.)
We should note, however, that this third proposition (c)
has a dual aspect: Insofar as the non-ego limits and
conditions the ego, we have theoretical reason; insofar as the
ego limits and conditions the non-ego, we have practical
reason, or will, which is conscious of limiting or determining
2) Fichte's doctrine on theoretical Reason
From the standpoint of theoretical Reason, it seems that the
non-ego is determining the ego; but in reality it is the ego which
determines that the non-ego should determine it; in other
words, what seems to amount to the passivity of the ego is really
the result of the activity of the ego, and the determinations which
we "find" in theoretical consciousness are really determinations
that we ourselves have produced.
What Fichte means is that all reality is simply a product of
the ego. The reciprocity between ego and non-ego which he
recognizes is always a finite unity, a unity which takes place
through the finite determinations of the ego itself. He never does
get beyond this insight to recognize the infinite reciprocity
between the ego and otherness as a truly independent pole.
Concentrating on the determinations of the object, Fichte
makes the first attempt in history to deduce the "categories"
rationally: our idea of "reciprocity" results from the mutual
determination of ego and non-ego; "causality" results from the fact
that the activity of the ego must correspond to the passivity of
the non-ego, and vice versa; "substantiality" results from the fact
that when the ego is considered identical with all determinate
reality, it must itself be self-determining; but when it
differentiates itself from this realm of determination, it must
itself be determined from without -- and thus the notion of
"accident," as opposed to substance, results.
But in all these deductions we must not forget the special
hypothesis of Fichte: The ego is at one and the same time the
"ideal ground" of its concepts, and the "real ground" of the object
(which it determines itself to be determined by.). The ego, in
going forth from itself, is continually checked and repulsed at the
borders of the non-ego, which takes on the aspect of a contingent
Kantian Thing-in-itself, which must always be there, to keep us
from ever really possessing the otherness of the non-ego. Fichte
makes these impenetrable borders fixed and permanent, by
designating them as the place where our fixed faculty of the
understanding ends, and the non-ego perpetually begins. Thus all
the syntheses which we make between ego and non-ego by the use of
categories, are never able to bridge the permanent gap between ego
and non-ego. Both ego and non-ego appear as absolute
indeterminates which are continually falling apart: the ego appears
as an indeterminate because it is continually determining the non-
ego to determine its own self (the indeterminate but determinable
ego itself). The non-ego appears as indeterminate because it is
continually and necessarily opposed to the determinate ego. Thus
we are doomed to perpetually striving ad infinitum to bridge the
gap between two indeterminates through successive determinations
which plumb ever deeper into the non-ego, but are ever faced with
an infinite remainder.
This hypothesis of Fichte's concentrates on the wrong infinity
-- the infinity of the futile process of getting out of a pre-
determined dichotomy which "ought" to be bridged, but which never
really is. And, as was mentioned above, he never does, in his
theoretical philosophy, get to the point of recognizing the
infinite reciprocity between ego and otherness. The reason for
this seems to be that he fails to understand that preeminent type
of "infinity" which results from the ego's identity with self-as-
other. The reciprocity of ego and otherness can only be understood
when the ego truly comes to assimilate, and be reconciled with,
independent absolute otherness existing within itself (and not as
some impenetrable indeterminate opposite).
3) Fichte's doctrine on Practical Reason
In Fichte's theoretical philosophy, there was a contradiction
between the fact that the ego was self-identical (self-determining)
and yet determined by the non-ego. In Fichte's practical
philosophy there is a contradiction between the fact that the ego
is considered to be "at home" with itself, and yet at the same time
entering into external actuality to determine the latter.
Practical reason (i.e. will) is considered to be "free"
because, unlike theoretical reason, it is not hemmed in by the
borders of the non-ego, but can enter into this world of otherness
to work upon it and change it (as we obviously do in our practical
activity). Thus we are free from the limits of the understanding.
The ego as practical reason posits or determines itself in the
act of determining the "other." Thus in one sense it is positing
itself and in another sense it is not positing itself. In order to
keep these two senses from becoming self-contradictions, we have to
distinguish (in a Fichtean manner) between the "ego as finite" and
"ego as infinite." The ego as infinite is that which, in all
activities in which it appears to be changing or determining the
non-ego, is simply, in reality, just determining itself. Thus the
ego as infinite is infinite in the sense that a circle is infinite
-- without beginning or end in its circumference.
The "other" which the ego of practical reason posits is
paradoxical: on the one hand it is an absolute thing-in-itself; on
the other hand, the ego recognizes that this absolute is just its
own creation. Therefore it finds itself dealing with its own
creations as if they were things-in-themselves.
The relationship to this sphere of absolute otherness is
described by Fichte as a yearning or striving. Our religious and
aesthetic feelings are based on immediate (non-conceptualized)
recognition of this absolute non-ego, and on the fact that, in a
very real sense, we are utterly dependent on it (since there could
be no ego without a non-ego). But whenever we try to make a more
definite idea out of this absolute non-ego (as we do with ideas of
God) we are doomed to failure. For the non-ego is, by definition,
just outside of consciousness. As soon as, through concepts, it
becomes part of consciousness it can no longer be the non-ego.
Fichte, in his Science of Morals and his Science of Natural
Rights, gives us a more or less self-consistent deduction of the
conceptions of justice and morality, provided that we accept his
one-sided emphasis on the ego and subjectivity. But there are many
failures in these treatises. For example, in his treatise on the
Science of Rights, he deduces the existence of organic bodies, from
man's need to have a body to give his ego determinate relationships
with other egos. Man has to have food, therefore Plants and
animals are deduced. Trees have roots, therefore the fertile earth
is deduced. And so forth. All these types of pseudo-deductions
are caused by the fact that he starts from the ego as the only
reality, and tries to rationalize all his deductions in the world
of otherness without ever rising to appreciate the absolute unity
of ego and non-ego, which alone could give the possibility of unity
to the deductions which he makes.
Before the time of Kant, it used to be popular among cultured
people to dabble in philosophy. After Kant, people gave up. With
Fichte, the disinterest of the common consciousness in philosophy
became even more pronounced. People used to study philosophy e.g.
to find out something about God. "But now that Fichte has shown us
we can have only faith in, not knowledge of, God why study
philosophy at all?" This sums up pretty well the attitude of the
common consciousness, even among intellectuals, in this Post-
Frederick Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775-1854) claimed to be a
Fichtean, but gradually went beyond both Kant and Fichte to bring
the whole development of modern philosophy to some of its logical
Although his philosophy is defective insofar as it
concentrates too much on isolated problems, and never presents
these problems in the context of a complete system, there is a
certain continuity to be found throughout the Schellingian
philosophy: For, taken in chronological order, his various
writings give us a manifestation of his own personal philosophical
development -- the process by which he started with Kant's and
Fichte's insights and gradually came to transcend them. Thus he
comes to hold many doctrines that his predecessors would not admit:
e.g. that God is a real inseparable unity of the finite and the
infinite, necessity and freedom, immobility and consciousness; that
God can be known; that the ego is, on the one hand a particular
human ego, and, on the other hand the absolute ego, or God.
A. Schelling's "System of Transcendental Idealism" presented
transcendental philosophy and natural philosophy as two inseparable
sides of scientific knowledge. Concentration on the phenomenal
world of nature leads us inevitably to the formulation of pure
formal laws which are pure products of the intelligence, so that
nature becomes an object to itself, by being resolved into
intelligence or consciousness. On the other hand, concentration on
the sphere of (transcendent) subjectivity leads us inevitably to
conscious reflection upon the unconscious (unreflective) activities
or productions of subjectivity, as comprehended in their
objectivity through the aesthetic act of the imagination.
1) Transcendental philosophy begins from the particular type
of knowledge in which form and content are identical; i.e. it
begins from self-consciousness, ego = ego, in which the subject and
predicate, which are distinguished from each other, are at the same
time transparently undistinguished. Thus this is the distinction
of the undistinguished.
But this particular type of knowledge is not "knowledge in the
usual sense of that word. For knowledge ordinarily means the
process by which thought and consequently objectivity rise from the
ego. But here the ego becomes objective to itself, and thinks
To distinguish this process from ordinary knowledge. or
"understanding," Schelling calls it "intellectual intuition" -- a
quasi-perception which differs from all other perceptions insofar
as a) the act of perception here cannot be distinguished from that
which is perceived; and b) the perception does not just "find," but
in fact creates its own object.
This intellectual intuition gives man a privileged position in
regard to a vantage point on reality. The man who possesses it, is
no longer caught in dichotomies of the finite understanding
(infinity vs. finitude, cause vs. effect, positive vs. negative,
etc.); nor is he deluded by abstract thought-unities, such as
Spinoza's Substance, or Fichte's pure unity of subjectivity.
Rather, he possesses the concrete unity-in-distinction of
subjectivity and objectivity, without which it is impossible to
understand the Concepts of God, freedom, nature, etc. in their true
How does one come to "possess" this intuition? "Possession"
here would mean conscious possession of something that was
previously unconscious or latent in consciousness. Does every one
have this intuition at least latently in their consciousness? It
would seem not. Schelling seems to imply that it is something
existential, a "gift" that one would almost have to be born with.
He certainly does not present it as something universal, and as
necessarily connected with consciousness -- although we might note
that the principle is implicitly universal, i.e. capable of being
presented as a universal.
At any rate, those who possess this intuition realize both a)
"that the ego is unlimited only insofar as it is limited" (i.e,
that the infinite circular becoming of self-consciousness can come
into existence only as consciousness, at the borders or limits of
the non-ego); and also b) "that the ego is limited only insofar as
it is unlimited" (i.e. that "limits" are intelligible only in the
context of something that is able to surpass, or get beyond, these
limits). The first statement (a) ought to occur to a
reflective idealist; the second (b) should occur to a reflective
realist; but the transcendental idealist is one who reflects on
both sides and sees their interrelationship.
Schelling's philosophy (Transcendental Idealism), supposedly
encompasses both of these opposite attitudes in its intellective
intuition, and is concerned with showing the constant oscillation
which takes place between inward and outward nature, consciousness
and unconsciousness -- or at least the major moments or "epochs" of
this oscillation. Thus we get beyond the abstract ego, or
self-consciousness, of Fichtean idealism.
Schelling's Principle of intellective intuition insofar
as it is the reconciliation of objective and subjective,
cannot itself be "objective" in the usual sense, i.e.
intelligible through the categories (concepts) of the
understanding. How, then, can it come forth to our
consciousness, or be proved to philosophers? Is there any
sense in which it can be objectified, and, so to speak, be set
in the public view for all?
Yes, answers Schelling: This intellectual intuition,
since it is nothing more than the ego producing itself in
order to know itself (the source of all subjectivity and
objectivity) -- in an immediate identity. Since it is an
immediate identity, it is fitting that it should be set forth
in an immediate "objective" perceptual intuition. This
takes place in art, which always represents a fusion of
subjectivity and objectivity, consciousness and
unconsciousness; and also in our "objective" faculty of
imagination which brings about the synthesis of art, by means
of its own synthesis of thought and sensation.
This solution of Schelling's, however, which gives a
preeminent value to art over other means of objectification,
and to imagination over other subjective faculties -- is
unsatisfactory: a) For one thing, this type of "objectivity"
does not give an adequate picture of the mutual abrogation of
subjectivity and objectivity. We could obtain a much better
picture by concentrating on the concept, which is a concrete
example of an objective unity which is also a subjective
exclusion of other unities (i.e. other concepts). b) For
another thing, Schelling simply begins with his intuitive
principle of the reconciliation of opposites, without actually
entering into reality to demonstrate how difference contains
unity, how finitude consists in the absence of harmony between
Concept and Reality, how finitude is continually leading us to
infinitude and vice versa -- in other words, to
demonstrate how every one-sided determination veers into its
own negations and oppositions. This would be much better
than simply asserting and presupposing the unity of opposites.
Of course, if Schelling had demonstrated this dialectic in
such a fashion, there might be those who would claim that his
result was not in consonance with his purpose. But such
critics are speaking from a one-sided, non-dialectical point
of view, in which "result" and "purpose" are rigidly
separated. But one need not worry about such criticisms.
For the dialectic unity of opposites can only be criticized
from a dialectic point of view, just as it can only be
demonstrated by a dialectic method.
B. In his two "Journals of Speculative Physics", Schelling
tried to "prove" the absolute unity of opposites in a Spinozistic
fashion, following the forms of proof in geometry, starting from
axioms and proceeding to deductions. But his proofs prove
themselves to be circular arguments. For example, he starts from
the assumption that the Absolute is the absolute identity of
subjective and objective; and then "deduces" from this the fact
that there can be no real differences in the Absolute -- which is
just another way of saying that the Absolute = absolute identity.
Schelling's goal, in these proofs, is to get beyond the
subjectivism of Fichte, which treats of the ego as an object of the
understanding, cut off from sensuous objects; and also from the
attitude of realism, which treats objects as if they were
completely outside of subjectivity. In other words, he wishes to
show that subjects are subjective objects, and that objects are
objective subjects. In order to show this, he must show that all
the differences to be found in objects and subjects disappear into
the indifference of the absolute subject-object. The differences
that he concentrates on are called by him "potencies"; and he is
especially concerned with the Kantian triplicity of thesis,
antithesis, synthesis (first, second, and third "potencies").
Most of us think of "difference" as essentially something
qualitative. But, according to Schelling, there can be no
qualitative differences in the Absolute, which is defined as
absolute, formal (qualitative) identity of opposites. Therefore,
from the standpoint of the Absolute, all differences must be purely
quantitative. Thus, if we take any subject-object (A=B), the
differentiation of this subject-object results from the fact that
one factor (either A or B) preponderates over the other (that is,
we have either (A = B, or A = B). This purely quantitative
difference accounts for the existence of the various subject-
objects. But to account for their essence or formal ground, we
must reduce them to the quantitative indifference of the Absolute,
in the following manner: =
(A = B ) = ( A = B)
A = A
In this schema, absolute identity, A = A, is just an
abbreviated form for stating that (A = B) = (A = B). The A that is
emphasized in the first (A = B) is balanced off by the B that is
emphasized in the second (A = B). And in this way their identity,
or "indifference" is established in the totality of the universe
(expressed essentially by "A = A").
Schelling proceeds to deduce the tri-dimensional material
world and its species and properties, by means of an analysis of A
= B, in general:
Thesis: To begin with, A = B is a relative identity, a
linear sameness between A and B, which takes on the aspect of
the "first dimension." But this linear aspect is just the
starting point, or springboard, to a consideration of a
relative totality, the totum of A = B...., etc., in which this
identity exists. The relationship of relative identity to
relative totality is relative duality -- i.e., the second
dimension. But since relative identity and relative duality
are mere abstractions which must continually cancel out each
other to produce the relative totality as their actuality, we
point to this actualized relative totality as the "third
dimension," which must be pre-understood to give meaning to
the other two dimensions. In the context of this tri-
dimensional (extended, material) world, the first dimension
now appears as the force of gravitation, which is, as it were,
the linear starting point from which the whole edifice of
material existence is built up. And this gravitation
expresses itself as an alternation between its two poles,
attraction (A) and expansion (B).
Antithesis: Just as the identity and duality of A = B
came to exist only in A = B considered as relative totality,
so also the relative totality of A = B is a starting point for
existence in a second sense (A2, or [(A = B) = (A = B)]2. In
this new context, the totality of A = B becomes a new starting
point, a cohesion with two aspects, passive and active.
Passive cohesion is of two kinds, the negative passive
cohesiveness of iron and other hard and dense metals; and the
positive passive cohesiveness of nitrogen and other elements,
which do not just form a unity by resisting intrusion, but
form a unity in a more positive sense. Active cohesion is
magnetism, with its positive and negative poles. This active
cohesion, insofar as it is subject to alteration by two
different bodies (hydrogen as +E and Oxygen as -E) is
electricity. Thus the existence of A2 becomes represented
finally as a chemical process.
All the above-mentioned forms of cohesion represent the
impression of light-energy, in various forms, upon matter.
This synthesis of light and the forces of material gravitation
results in A3, or the...
Synthesis: Here we have the form [A = A] in which the
absolute identity of all the opposites is manifest -- the
organism, the material composite which represents the
synthesis of the gravitational aspects of matter with the
cohesive properties of light-energy.
In general, in regard to Schelling's philosophy of nature, we
might note that : a) physics is determinate thought about the
external world; b) the philosophy of nature, in the traditional
sense of that word, is also concerned with determinate thought
about this world, and only arrives at the vestibule of realizing
that concrete thought has a certain independence in itself, and
also has certain structures (thought-forms) that are bound to be
reflected in any "objective" physics; c) Schelling marks the
beginning of the modern philosophy of nature, which gives explicit
recognition to the category of Reason (the unity of subjectivity
and objectivity), as a thought-form according to which our
philosophy of nature must be re-constructed.
In Schelling's philosophy of nature, the categorical union of
subjectivity and objectivity is expressed as the reciprocity of
existence and form. Existence is infinite self-consciousness
"before" it has passed into the various forms which are
differentiated by subjectivity. In other words, it is self-
consciousness as an absolute "in-itself." Form, on the other hand,
is the finite determination or existence, through which existence
Nature, in Schelling's formulation, is the passing of
existence into form, while Spirit is the opposite process the
passing of form into existence. Nature considered in abstraction
from Spirit takes on the aspect of potentiality, or a ground of
reality, rather than as existent forms. Spirit, on the other
hand, takes on the aspect of that which, through its positive
activity and causality, brings form into existence -- and refers
preeminently to the activity of God, who gives absolute form to
Nature and Spirit thus represent two opposite processes in
regard to the existence-form reciprocity, and the two of them taken
together lead us to the Idea of Reason -- which comprehends the two
opposite processes in their unity.
But even though Nature does not contain explicitly the process
of form passing into existence, and even though Spirit does not
contain explicitly the process of existence passing into form --
they both contain these "opposite" processes implicitly:
a) For example (in the "thesis" (first potency of nature)
given above), matter, as gravity, represents the passage of
existence into universal mechanical necessity (i.e. form); but
in the "antithesis" (2nd potency of nature), light and
electricity and cohesion represent the passage of form into
existence ("the light which shineth in darkness").
b) As a second example, pertaining to Spirit, we might
note that while Spirit is primarily the passage of form into
existence (practical activity and will). It is also
secondarily and implicitly the passage of existence into form
(i.e., knowledge or speculative thought, in which sensuous
phenomena pass into the "daylight" of the categorical forms of
As regards the synthesis or categorical unity of these
two opposite processes -- this synthesis is found in a
preliminary or implicit way a) in the organisms of nature (cf.
the 3rd potency, or "Synthesis" mentioned above), in which
matter is manifested as spontaneous subjective form, and this
form is manifested altogether as matter; b) in the Spirit's
faculty of imagination, through which are created the
productions of art, in which material becomes wholly
subjective form, and subjective form becomes wholly material.
As regards the final or explicit synthesis of these two
opposite processes -- this results from the simultaneous
recognition that nature as a whole a) is a massive organism
(in which Reason can see the synthesis of existence (matter)
and form), and b) is a massive work of art (in which the
faculty of imagination can perceive "beauty," as the unity of
matter and form, infinite and finite, objective and
In regard to Schelling's Philosophy of Nature as a whole, we
1) that Schelling applies his "three potencies" in a
rather formalistic way, and goes into so much detail that he
prevents himself from "reconstructing the universe" in its
major and essential outlines;
2) that what Schelling has to say about Spirit is an
offshoot of his Philosophy of Nature. He leaps from the
notion of the organism as an aesthetic synthesis to the notion
of the imagination as a subjective aesthetic synthesizing
faculty, etc. But he does not formulate the complete and
autonomous Philosophy of Spirit that would seem to be
necessary to counterbalance the one-sided aspects of his
Philosophy of Nature.
C. The Relation of Nature to Spirit and God is considered in
various other writings of Schelling (although, as we mentioned
above, he never did develop a systematic Philosophy of Spirit).
Very briefly, the relationship is as follows: God, as infinite
intelligence, is not intelligence in abstraction from existence,
but rather intelligence which is in concrete unity with existence,
and contains its own grounds of existence within itself.
Intelligence must have these grounds of existence (i.e. Being) in
order to be intelligence. Thought must have something to negate.
But this ground of Intelligence, the beginning of intelligence,
cannot itself be intelligence. Neither can it be completely
unintelligent, since it is a potentiality for intelligence.
Therefore, it is something in-between, i.e. it is Nature -- which
operates on the basis of an innate, instinctive, blind, and
The work of Spirit, in this context, is to abrogate Nature,
and thus establish itself explicitly as Intelligence.
1) The deficiency of Schelling lies in the fact that he
applies his schemata and potencies in a formalistic way. This
seems to be due to the fact that he never grasped the Idea of
Reason in its own element, so to speak -- i.e. in the context
of an authentic Philosophy of Spirit. If he had done this, he
would have been in a better position to show the necessary
unveiling and revelation of this Idea in and through Nature.
2) The merit of Schelling lies in two factors:
a) In spite of the fact that he did not develop a
Philosophy of Spirit, he does grasp the concrete Idea of
Reason in the sphere of art and imagination (cf. above, p.
93). Thus he gives explicit recognition to the need for the
reconciliation of thought and being -- which is the main need
that we find in the whole history of philosophy.
b) Unlike some of his imitators, he does not get involved
in meaningless verbalizations about the Absolute. Neither
does he try to connect the Absolute with sense phenomena by
means of pseudo-intuitions (such as we find e.g. in the
natural philosophers who observe that the ostrich, because of
its long neck, is the fish among birds -- and think that they
have said something profound).
c) Neither does Schelling get involved in some of the
other pastimes of philosophers: looking for specific sensuous
forms (like sulphur and mercury) for the universal secrets of
nature; playing with mere analogical refections (e.g. "wood-
fibers are the nerves and brain of the plant"); or coming out
with utterly senseless drivel about the relation of the
"indifference point" to polarity, about oxygen and the holy
and the infinite, etc. All this sort of nonsense, because of
its high-sounding conceit, brings philosophy to a level even
below the level of John Locke who, at least, never pretended
to be saying anything sublime.