Jacques Maritain Center

Moral Philosophy

Part Two
The Great Illusions
Post-Kantian Dialecticism


Hegelian Idealism

Hegel and Wisdom

I Hegelian Dialectic

After the Kantian Revolution
1. After Kant moral philosophy entered into a period of utter confusion, a state of permanent crisis. Three principal lines of evolution can be discerned in the history of the systems elaborated by the philosophers of the time. The first line is that of dialectical philosophy -- either dialectical idealism, involving an a-cosmic (pseudo-cosmic) ethics, or dialectical materialism, involving a cosmic (pseudo-cosmic) ethics. The second line is that taken by positivist philosophy, which (after having, with Comte himself, asked morality to regulate individual conduct in accordance with the needs of sociocracy and the religion of Humanity) reduces morality to a "science of mores" deprived of any normative character, and finds its most significant expression in terms of "sociologism". The third line embraces various reactions against positivism, inspired by philosophies that differ widely among themselves but for one reason or another made the attempt to return to a cosmic ethics, by which I mean a science of human acts and of the universe of freedom grounded in the universe of being.

The great German idealist systems took their point of departure from the Kantian revolution. But the critical philosophy of Kant was for them only a kind of chrysalis, to be shed once philosophy had found its wings. Their inspiration was fundamentally different. If the Kantian revolution had freed the mind from the regulation exercised upon it by things, it had done so, originally, in order to limit the field of knowledge and restrain the ambitions of reason. Now it was necessary to bring this revolution to its logical conclusion, enable it to bear its full fruit, and, by freeing the mind of the regulation exercised upon it by things, to break down every barrier restricting the domain of philosophic knowledge, in short, to liberate the metaphysical ambitions of reason at last from any possible limitation. For this to be accomplished, the Kantian dualism of phenomena and the thing-in-itself had to be overcome, since the thing-in-itself, by virtue of its very unknowability, still belonged to the world of extra-mental being and remained a reality independent of the mind. No more "things"! The mind itself was to abolish the thing-in-itself by taking its place, whereupon phenomena would become manifestations of mind.

Breaking the moorings which by virtue of its own nature attach philosophy to the existential datum with its irreducible diversity, emancipating itself from the now outmoded concern with piercing and tapping the depths of extramental being, philosophy embarked under full sail toward the supreme affirmation of itself and its own power. Its self-assigned goal was to bring the universe of knowledge into a supreme Unity, and to comprehend it in and through its Totality. Hen kai pan: in one way or another, the mind was to be the principle of this absolute unity, itself engendering its own differentiations.

The idealism of Fichte, primarily moral in inspiration, made everything proceed from the Self by a process of development in which things posit themselves through their mutual opposition. The ethical life is conceived as a progressive realization of the sovereign independence of the Self, that is to say, of the transcendental and supra-individual Self (since concerning individual subjects he says, "for he who still has a self -- in him assuredly there is nothing good").{1} In the idealism of Schelling we already find the principle of the triad (thesis, antithesis and synthesis), but in terms that are still superficial and too closely allied to human discourse. Schelling makes everything proceed from the Absolute -- from an Absolute of pure indetermination which, as Hegel was to put it, is "as the night in which, as we say, all cows are black".{2}

It is possible to consider the attempts of Fichte and Schelling as preparations for the philosophy of Hegel, but only in the form of imperfect approximations, unsuccessful rough drafts, since Fichte's Self and Schelling's Absolute, although they are interior to thought, still appear as something distinct from it. They are posited by thought, but they are in a certain way looked at by it, so that they still retain a vestige of the thing-in-itself. Hegel's stroke of genius was to make the Absolute out of thought itself, or out of the spirit.{3}

The thing-in-itself was thus liquidated;{1} and instead of a universe of phenomena unified under our a priori forms, it was the real universe which came within our grasp, real not in the sense of being a manifestation of thought, but real in the sense of being a manifestation of thought within itself.{2} Being is thought; there is nothing beyond reason; it is the Idea which makes the reality of things. A dynamic Absolute, a God in motion, thought encloses within itself all that arises out of it, being a process of immanent activity. Thought is the Whole which, engendering its own differentiations and present in them, alone can furnish the ground of each of them, in its very capacity as the Whole.

One of the inconsistencies of the Kantian doctrine has often been noted: Kantian Reason was the ordinary human reason present in each individual human being, and at the same time it belonged to that intelligible world which Kant conceived as above time and space, and endowed with a universality dominating the empirical world. Draped in its capital letter like the other personified Abstractions the eighteenth century used so extensively, it was there like a supra-personal Power lodged in the Absolute. Hegelian "Thought" is Kantian "Reason" decidedly deified.{1} Hence the supreme ambiguity that characterizes it. It retains the properties of human reason; it deals with universal notions and lives on their multiplicity; it unites and divides concepts and ideas; it is discursive, advances by reasoning, is subject to logical becoming. And at the same time it is absolute Thought: human reason emancipated from itself as finite and set up as divine Reason, as noêsis noêseôs, as "the Idea that thinks itself" and in thinking itself engenders in itself the phases of a discourse which is reality.{2}

Dialectic as Knowledge or Science{3}
2. In the light of these considerations we can understand the necessity of Dialectic in the Hegelian sense (I am thinking here especially of the Hegelian dialectic in its definitive form, the Hegelian dialectic of the Logos). Thought engenders within itself a universe which remains Thought itself; it can only do this through the logical development which is the law of the discursus of reason. "Everything is a syllogism."{1} ldealism hereby entails a consequence which is in reality more profoundly characteristic of the work of Hegel, and which was to have a much more decisive historical importance, than idealism itself: the transformation of dialectic into a science of the real, or, to put it in another way, the substantialization of the logical process, and the idea of the absolute immanence to itself, as the Whole of reality, of the logos in movement, or of the evolution of concepts in interdependence, in other words, of the evolution of Reason in its logical development: let us say, the immanentism of endogenous logical becoming. We find ourselves now in the presence of a process of pure logic, and we remain enclosed in the world of logic; and yet this world is the world of reality.

The ancient notion of logic as the science of the "second intentions of the mind" presupposed a realist conception of the world. The concept was first of all a grasp of extra-mental reality, and afterwards logic considered it apart, in terms of the state of being and the properties it had in the mind. Reasoning, whose laws were the subject-matter of logic, was used as an instrument by the science of reality, but this very science was by its nature distinct from logic; and the highest form of this science of reality, distinct in nature from logic, was philosophy. Dialectic, on the contrary, formed part of logic; and any attempt to remain within logic in order to possess the knowledge of reality and to construct the opus philosophicum was pure nonsense for the ancients (I mean for traditional occidental thought, dominated by the Organon of Aristotle); in their eyes such an attempt tried to make of dialectic a Knowledge -- and a supreme Knowledge -- whereas in reality dialectic is not Knowledge (scientia) but only a tentative sort of knowing, only a first attempt at the exploration of things, preliminary to knowledge and incapable by its nature of procuring knowledge (because, far from seeking the proper structures and reasons of things, in dialectic we content ourselves with submitting things to logical frameworks, beings of reason which are extrinsic to things and exist only in our mind).

One might say that dialectic is a kind of reflection or reversion of the logical upon the real. This is a point of crucial importance,{2} whose special difficulty derives from the nature of the human mind, obliged as it is to manipulate abstract ideas and to fabricate beings of reason. (Plato let himself be caught in the trap, but without completely losing sight of the authentic notion of knowledge; he did not erect dialectics into a supreme knowledge; he simply believed that it opened on to the supreme knowledge.) Perhaps a metaphor would be of some help to us. Let us imagine that logic is a kind of control tower where reason manipulates its signs and figures and symbols as an engineer manipulates his instruments to verify their accuracy and their perfect construction.{1} Sometimes the logician happens to go out on the platform of the tower and to lean over the balcony of logic to look down, through his measuring instruments and the figures and symbols shown by them, at the real world, in the midst of which the philosopher and the scientist busy themselves with trying to see into the interior of things, how they are made, what their hidden properties are. When they succeed, they possess Knowledge (science). As for the logician, he sees inside his equipment certain schemas which, from without, he tries on things, and into which things fit more or less well. The approach he thus attempts toward the real, by means of entities which (whether in themselves, or by virtue of the state of generality at which they are taken) exist only in the mind, and not by virtue of the proper reasons or causes of things, constitutes dialectic -- which, not scrutinizing the nature of things, and applying to them only extrinsic frameworks, is a kind of sketch, a first draft of knowledge, inevitably uncertain, fleeting and contestable, and by its very nature separated from genuine Knowledge (science) by an impassable distance.

In order to help clarify our ideas it will be useful to cite here a major text from St. Thomas Aquinas' Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle.{2} "The dialectician, like the metaphysician," he says, "considers all things. And that could not be unless he considered them in virtue of their sharing in a certain unity. . . . Now the only unity in which all things share is the unity of being; it is obvious therefore that the matter of dialectic is being, ens, et ea quae sunt entis, which is also the matter of the metaphysician; so that the philosopher, the dialectician, and the sophist, all three, deal with the same thing: being." But the being the philosopher deals with is real being, while that which the dialectician deals with is the being of reason, or de-realized being.{1} "The philosopher's way of considering things is of greater potency than that of the dialectician. For the philosopher proceeds demonstratively in relation to all things included in being, and that is why he possesses the science or the Knowledge of them, and knows them by way of certainty, since certain Knowledge, or scientia, is the result of demonstration; while the dialectician proceeds by way of probability in relation to all these same things, and that is why he does not arrive at knowledge (non facit scientiam), but only at opinion. This is so because being is twofold in nature: it is divided into being of reason and real being, or being of nature; and being of reason (that is, being which cannot exist outside the mind, which can only exist in the mind) . . . is properly the subject of logic." Now any "lining" is of the same width as the cloth; "the intelligible intentions of the logician [his beings of reason] are counterparts of the beings of nature, by virtue of the fact that the latter fall under the consideration of reason. That is why the subject of logic extends to all the things to which real being is attributable. The subject of logic has the same amplitude as that of philosophy, whose subject is the being of nature." The subject of logic, however, is only that ens rationis, in which logical properties and relations consist, and it can only exist in the mind. And the dialeetician, in dealing with things, proceeds not according to real causes, as the philosopher does, but "according to merely ideal entities", or logical beings of reason, "which are extrinsic to the nature of things, extranea a natura rerum".

So the dialectician is not a philosopher; he is a logician, and if through dialectic he approaches the real and knows it after a certain manner (in terms of opinion), still he never achieves knowledge (science) or philosophy. He remains a logician, who looks at the real from without, by means of logical beings of reason and logical generalities, more precisely, through a kind of "idea-montage" consisting of the patterns and arrangements executed in the mind upon generalities and categories separated from the real or taken in the state in which they exist in the mind and can exist only in the mind.

3. But now all is changed. Idealism has broken the barrier which divided logical being from real being. Now here (expressed in language that is doubtless not Hegelian but is nevertheless exact) is the great discovery, the philosopher's stone of Hegel -- in order to render conceptual thought co-extensive with concrete reality, or convertible with it, it is the logical being of reason which provides us with the science of reality. Dialectic becomes knowledge -- and absolute knowledge.

In the first stage of the system -- let us say rather in the non-temporal stage, since in an essentially circular system there is no first stage -- which is the stage of Logic itself, in which the pure Logos{1} has not yet issued forth into Nature in order to return into itself as Spirit, Hegel declares that logic is the science of the real, and that it is "one with metaphysics".{2} His absolute knowledge is, as has been remarked,{3} an ontologic -- I mean to say: an ontology in which the ontic has been reduced to that kind of being which is the logical being of reason, in which, in other words, real being is conceived in terms of logical being and is explained by it.{4}

There are no longer any extra-mental things, whose sign is the concept (in the ordinary sense of the word);{5} the function of the concept being to transfer extra-mental things into the mind, to be known there. Now therefore, on the contrary, the concept must be taken in the intra-mental state in which it appears to the logician, as the subject of logical properties and relations, the concept as a being of reason -- become (since it is no longer the sign of things) the self-affirmation of the very thought that engenders it. And it is this concept thus taken as a being of reason that dialectic has to use in order to deduce a priori, by a kind of creative knowledge, the totality of the real (henceforth conceived as interior to thought and a manifestation of thought).{6} The "intentions of reason" (intentiones rationis or merely ideal entities), the principles extrinsic to the nature of things of which St. Thomas spoke, thus become the generative principles of the real, which is known down to its ultimate elements, in the very process of its generation into existence.

The Real introduced forcibly into the logical Being of Reason does violence to Logic
4. At this point a radical reformulation of the dialectic itself was necessary.{1} How can the logical being of reason, and the network of "ideal" generalities with which the dialectician envelops things from without, provide that science of the real which is now demanded of them? On the condition that things, with all their natural behavior, enter into the very tissue of the network, even at the risk of shattering it in order to take their place in it; on the condition that the world of logic be violated by the world of the real in order to be made to coincide with it, and to account for it, to furnish the intrinsic principles of this real world which has entered into the world of logic by force.

In the world of logic the first law of thought is the principle of contradiction. Logical movement, the movement of discourse or of reasoning, takes place from concept to concept or from notion to notion, each one remaining what it is, since it is the sign by which an aspect of the real is grasped; and it is by means of notions whose meaning does not change once they are defined in a given manner, that the movement of the real is known to us.

In the real world the first law of being is, correspondingly, the principle of identity. But the world of the real is the world of the multiple and the world of becoming. The principle of identity presents no obstacle either to the multiplicity of being and the interaction of the multiple or to change and becoming, because being is analogous and beings exercise a reciprocal causality on one another, and because that which changes becomes other in another respect than that in which it "is". And the world of the real, I mean the world of experience, of time and of matter, which is the world of becoming, obeys two characteristic laws: the law of universal interaction and the law of change.

In order to attain a priori knowledge of the real by means of the dialectic and the logical being of reason, Hegel violated the world of logic by making these two laws penetrate into it and subjecting it to them. Since an idea is henceforth a self-affirmation of thought itself and of the universe of thought, it has meaning only in relation to the whole which reverberates in it, and by virtue of enveloping within itself what is outside it. "Every position is a negation" (every concept includes its opposite) and "every negation is a position" (every "opposite" includes that to which it is opposite). And the very idea or notion itself changes, undergoes a metamorphosis, ceases to be what it is in order to become something else, is subject to the vicissitudes of birth and death. "Die and become", one must die in order to live. Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit:{1} this law of extra-mental reality in its most fundamentally, most irreducibly existential aspect, becomes the law of ideas themselves and of the world of logic, as a result of which logical becoming coincides with real becoming, or rather absorbs real becoming into itself.{2}

5. So the essence and the life of the absolute is revealed: the fundamental and ubiquitous process by which thought, thinking itself, engenders itself, and by which the notion, which is the real, surmounting the limits of finitude, develops itself in order to re-enter into its own infinity, is the process which proceeds from simple and immediate identity, through negation, alienation and conflict, to super-identity and super-interiorization reconciling the contraries within itself -- from the immediate in-itself,{3} through the negative of self or the other-than-self which is also the for itself,{4} to the mediatized within-itself or in and for itself.{5} / Every true concept is a structure in evolution, in transit, in discursive movement. As soon as it is posed, a concept departs from itself and loses itself in another in order to return into itself, enriched by the spoils of the other. Does not the freedom of the child alienate itself in the discipline of education in order to be reborn in the freedom of the adult, just as the freedom of the adult alienates itself in the discipline of the law to be reborn in the freedom of a member of the state? Yes, no doubt in the real world the human subject passes through these stages; but it is in the world of concepts, become now the real world, that the very idea of freedom burns and is reborn from its ashes. So it is that the old good, decent concept of classical philosophy finds itself transformed into the Hegelian concept.{1}

Because in the world of the real everything we see is related to everything else and by that very fact is not simply itself but also something else -- because this flower is not just a flower but also illuminated by the sun or wet by the rain, and is thereby something other than flower -- we must say that in the world of concepts, now become reality, the idea which posits A also by the same token posits something other than A, and, to that extent, not-A; we must say that from the point of view of Thought as the Whole, an idea only affirms itself by denying itself at the same time. Since in the realm of real becoming a thing is at the same time itself (in one respect) and not itself (in another respect), now, in order to engender Becoming ideally, there is nothing left but to declare that Being is at the same time Nothing. Simply by the fact of positing itself as being -- its only determination being not to have any determination -- Thought denies itself; "In fact, Being, indeterminate immediacy, is Nothing, neither more nor less."{1} This assertion (thanks to which the philosopher can engender becoming as concrete totality, and as the reconciliation between Being identified itself with nothing and Nothing rediscovering itself as being) is not at all surprising in a philosophy which confuses the being of metaphysics with that of logic -- where, as merely logical entities, "what is not" and "what is" exist equally (in respect to real existence); moreover, and still more characteristically, this same philosophy, emerging from three centuries of pure essentialism during which the primordial intuition of esse, of the act of existing, was misunderstood,{2} gives its full and final weight to the Kantian conviction that "there is no more in a hundred real thalers than in a hundred possible thalers", no more in the existent than in the non-existent. "These beginnings" -- Being and Nothing -- "are nothing but these empty abstractions, one as empty as the other."{3} "But this mere Being, as it is mere abstraction, is therefore the absolutely negative: which, in a similarly immediate aspect, is just Nothing"{4} -- being is nicht mehr noch weniger als Nichts.

Thus the absolute rule and dominion of Logic and of Thought will be established on the wreck of the first law of logic and of thought, and on the ruins of the principle of contradiction.{5} The real will be transported, along with the behavior proper to it, into the world of pure logical thought, into the world of ideas taken in a separated state within the mind and as objects of reflexive logical attention, as logical beings of reason. Well, the real will enter therein -- by force and violence -- at the cost of violating thought.

This is inevitable, and Hegel had at least the merit of pushing the operation to its local conclusion, if dialectics is truly and definitely the science or knowledge of the real, and provides us with absolute knowledge.{1}

The Great Sophistry
6. At this price it is possible to deduce all of the real from thought, since one has placed it there to begin with. Before finding himself decisively in the dialectic of the Logos, Hegel first looked for logical self-movement in the tragic process of Consciousness. And he knew perfectly well, when he deduced his categories, that it was experience and the empirical sciences that had disclosed them to him; but he deduced them nevertheless -- just as he reinterpreted in his philosophy of nature all that the science of his time offered him -- translating all the data "into the form of thought"{2} from the superior point of view of the absolute and of creative knowledge. He will thus dialectically engender all of the mutations of being, as if he and Thought were producing them together.

His dialectic, he tells us, is not an "adventitious art",{2} exterior to things, lodged in the mind of the logician and used by the logician to advance toward a (non-scientific) knowing of things. It is lodged in things, and it is within the real itself that the sage, with that perfect knowledge proper to absolute science, contemplates its movements and its conflicts. But the fact still remains that if the real itself is dialectical, the dialectic thus conceived as immanent in things and in knowledge is still, and more than ever, a kind of logic in the hands of man, that is, a method or logical procedure, which man henceforth uses as an instrument of knowledge only because it is also the very logic through which things and their processes are brought into being.

Two extremely effective stratagems of the Hegelian dialectic should be pointed out here. In the first place, it does not possess any fixed center of perspective. By virtue of the principle set forth in the Preface to Phenomenology, that "truth is the whole", and that "pure thoughts", become "fluid", in other words become "concepts", are self-movements refusing any fixity, the center of perspective of the system is constantly displaced, following the movement of the idea passing through the stages of the triadic process, so that the philosopher, by reason of the change of the center of perspective, is free at any moment to recast what he has enunciated at another moment, changing its meaning or its bearing, since all contradictions are reconciled in advance and pardoned or, rather, are required in advance. This is what might be called the stratagem of focal displacement.

The second stratagem derives from the fact that all that experience, science, history, the efforts of men to scrutinize the things of nature and of the mind, all that the philosopher himself has been able to decipher in things (and with what brilliant perceptiveness in the case of Hegel) by force of intuition and power of observation and actual contact with that extra-notional being whose existence he denies in theory, the whole universe of the knowledge of things is surreptitiously transferred into the world of pure thought, there to be reengendered and camouflaged into beings of reason and the conceptual conflicts of a logic which has been itself remodelled and mobilized for this purpose. This is what might be called the stratagem of disguising the real as logical process.

Thus equipped, the Hegelian dialectic is always right. Not only is it able to deduce a priori all the things it began by stealing from experience, but it can justify no matter what conclusion (those of Hegel himself and those of any other system employing it) by preparing in advance an appropriate logical process. It can at every moment invoke reality in confirmation of its conclusions, by hand-picking in advance the evidence offered by reality. Extranotional things no longer being the measure of thought, the dialectic is pushed off center, as it were. The "extrinsic principles" by means of which it offered to the logician a "tentative" knowing of the real, a knowing of pure opinion, have been cut off from any relation to extra-notional things, which are themselves totally eliminated; and as a result these very principles will henceforth be recast according to the fancy of the philosopher, in such a way as to provide him with a science of the real known -- in illusory terms -- from within and in the very process of its own engendering, and to furnish him with an essentially arbitrary absolute knowledge. With the instrumentality of logical generalities and logical categories, either founded in fact upon things or invented and patterned to fit the needs of the moment, and in both cases manipulated according to the procedure we have described, this off-center dialectic leads wherever one wants to go. And since the real is no longer the rule and measure of thought, but simply the furnisher of materials for the a priori exercise of thought, this off-center dialectic can make the real say anything it wants it to, provided only that the materials in question are chosen with sufficient astuteness and perspicacity.

In a passage cited above, Thomas Aquinas remarked that the philosopher, the dialectician and the sophist, all three consider the same subject-matter, the universality of being, but from three incompatible points of view. He would doubtless have said that in transforming dialectic into metaphysics Hegel made of it a supreme sophistry. Schopenhauer, applying the famous legend to Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, called them The Three Impostors; the phrase is eminently applicable to the genius of Hegel. He forged his dialectic as an instrument of extraordinary power -- an organon as perfectly designed for dogmatic trickery as Aristotle's logic was designed for knowledge, a machine for deluding the intellect whose effectiveness modern times and modern philosophy (submerged in opinion-as-knowledge) will continue to feel for a long time to come.

7. Smuggling into his logical beings of reason all the riches perceived in things by his encyclopaedic mind and his astonishingly profound poetic vision, Hegel used the constantly renewed and constantly surmounted dialectical conflicts of his philosophy of Pure Knowledge,{1} his philosophy of Nature, and his philosophy of Spirit, to re-do the work of creation. However marred his philosophy of history may be by arbitrariness and his penchant for system, it is to him that the philosophy of history owes the conquest of its place among the philosophical disciplines. His primordial intuition finds its natural place in the philosophy of history.{2} Moreover, in the very world of extranotional being, history itself, whose being, like that of time, is not fulfilled without memory and without mind, enables us to watch the development of idea-forces or intentional charges at work in the collective psyche and incarnated in time. These historical ideas, forms immanent in time, presuppose nature, the being of things, and the being of man, which have nothing to do with the procession of ghosts of Hegelian metaphysics. And they are far from constituting the whole of history. But nevertheless, when we consider their proper role in history, we can say that each one only realizes itself fully, in time, by giving rise to its contrary and denying itself, because its very triumph exhausts the potentialities which called it forth, and by the same token it generates and reveals the contrary potentialities in the abyss of the real.{3}

But this is only one of the partial aspects of history, and history reveals its intelligible significance to the philosopher under a great many other aspects, and through many other laws, which are more important and more closely allied to the real. Hegel did not want to admit that the philosophy of history is an inductive discipline in which analysis of the empirical concrete and philosophical knowledge illuminate one another. As a result of absorbing matter into idea, he failed to recognize the fundamental fact that matter as such is one of the essential components of history. He confused the general laws at play in history, and the factual necessities in the course of history, with the supposedly essential necessities, or realities by right, of an arbitrary dialectic into which he absorbed all that which depends in history on contingency and chance, as well as on the freedom of human agents, thus saving it all "within the form of thought". In virtue of the principle that "Reason is the sovereign of the world", and that "the history of the world, therefore, presents us with a rational process",{1} he made of history a theogony of logical entities springing up and dying by turns, the perishable avatars of the sovereign Reason.

Even though for Hegel only spirit is history, and nature has no history,{2} his whole philosophy, even when it prescinds from time, as in the Logic, can in a certain way be called a philosophy of history, or rather, an absolute identification of Science and History, in the sense that it is a supreme conceptual knowledge in terms of pure becoming, becoming being the prime truth of intellection just as it is the prime concrete reality. "Where the primary concrete reality is not being because being is posited as absolute abstraction, primary concrete reality can only be becoming, because, being at the same time being and not-being, becoming is the primary contradictory."{3} Only that which makes or creates itself is real, all else being "abstract" and not (yet) intrinsically true. Made up of events and advents, reality is nothing but action and process of transformation, offering no fixed locus to thought. But this ceaseless movement is not an aimless movement. It has a final goal, but it also starts off from that goal, because it is a circular movement, in which the Absolute, by going beyond itself insofar as Nature, raises itself to supreme consciousness of itself (in man), while at the same time, it goes beyond itself insofar as Logos, in order to alienate itself in Nature and reascend there from toward its supreme reintegration. This is why Hegel's system itself is not an edifice with a definite configuration but rather an uninterrupted series of windshifts in which everything is called into question at each moment, a "bacchanalian revel", as Hegel said of the true,{4} "where not a member is sober", and where the only element of permanence derives from the Erinnerung or the "interiorizing memory". But the very trajectory of such a sequence of windshifts is circular, so that the Philosophy of History issues into Logic, but only in order that Logic may extend beyond itself by means of the Philosophy of Nature and that of spirit, and of the Philosophy of History, which in turn extends beyond itself by means of logic.

And this system of continuous displacement, this philosophy of absolute Becoming is indeed a gnosis, in which, it must be admitted, the element of delusive pride inherent in all forms of gnosticism is carried to its ultimate extreme. A knowledge of the world which is also an engendering of the world, the wisdom of the philosopher is confused with creative wisdom. When He established the heavens, I was there.{1} In its primary and ultimate stage, the stage of logic, does not this wisdom reveal to us the triadic development of Pure Knowledge and of the divine thought "before the creation of Nature and of a Finite Spirit"?{2} The dialectician transformed into a philosopher and sage has been promoted to the position of confidant of God. In a man named Hegel, who, having appeared at the end of history, nourished himself with all the experience of history and assumed the whole substance of the development of thought, Spirit revealed itself to itself. The temptation to smile at this pretension has not been resisted, but it would be quite superficial to reproach Hegel for it without realizing that it was in fact the result of the three centuries of history he had behind him. Karl Barth is right when he remarks that if Hegel considered his philosophy to be the highest possible summit, a definitive conclusion to philosophy, it was because it was in truth the consummation of the whole effort of specifically modern Reason, or what regarded itself as such, as it was effected in a Protestant Christian climate.{3} In a sense, the times were fulfilled. And the fact of taking his messianic role with absolute seriousness was an indication of the philosophical greatness of a Hegel, as of an Auguste Comte. The history of modern rationalism is not, in fact, an endless development along an indefinite line in time; it is the history of an organic and articulated development whose lines of force converged toward a summit, a final point. Hegel had the audacity to declare that he constituted this summit because it was really so. His error was to have believed that what thus achieved its supreme height was the immense Himalaya of human thought: it was only a little bulge, the molehill of modern Reason trying to be the measure of all things.

"The keen, even super-human attempt . . . at becoming one in human philosophizing with the Divine Mind, was one of the most exciting experiments" that thought can undertake, an historian has said.{1} It was certainly an exciting experiment, and even an instructive one, in which the rationalism born of Descartes was carried to its ultimate extreme, making the irrational consubstantial with reason, and ending up with the mirage of dialectic as the supreme science and wisdom.

II The Integration of the Irrational into Reason

The primordial intuition of Hegel
8. I have just said that Hegel carried modern rationalism to its ultimate extreme, by rendering the irrational consubstantial with reason. It is relevant to note that the very word irrational, in its modern usage, belongs to the conceptual vocabulary of rationalism. For a rational but not rationalist philosophy, like that of Aristotle for example, there were different degrees of intelligibility; there were in particular, at the very bottom of the scale of intelligibility, realities which were not intelligible directly in themselves (per se), although intelligible through other things -- but there was nothing irrational. Intelligibility in pure act was found only in Intellection in pure act, and intelligibility went hand in hand with being, so that things contained a certain intrinsic element of unintelligibility (non-intelligibility directly in themselves) to the extent that they involved potency, and especially matter, or to the extent that they freely "nihilated" (swerved toward nothingness) by choosing evil. This element of opacity, essential to things insofar as they are not God, is only surmounted, St. Thomas was to hold, by the divine Intellect, which utterly and exhaustively knows potency through act, matter through form, evil through good, because it knows all things in and through its own uncreated essence and intelligibility. For our human reason this element of intrinsic opacity constitutes a mystery in things into which our reason penetrates but which it will never surmount; it exists outside our reason, in extramental reality, which for that reason will forever remain obscure to us in some degree, and will not permit our reason to know the whole of anything.

But what is the position of rationalism? For rationalism this element of radical opacity, of non-intelligibility-through-itself inherent in things, becomes an unintelligibility pure and simple, an absolute nothingness of intelligibility, in short a defiance to reason. That is what "irrational" means in modern philosophical language. And it is clear that for every rationalist philosophy this element of opacity in things must be overcome. What every rationalism demands, in the last analysis, is that Reason, as human reason, be capable of achieving the status of Reason as divine reason. The world must therefore contain no element which is in itself an irreducible, definitive deficiency in intelligibility.

And on the other hand the world must contain no element which is irreducibly and definitively supra-intelligible in some degree for us. We must be able to attain the real in the light of a reason from which nothing is hidden, our real eyes not being those owl's eyes of which Aristotle spoke and which are blinded by too pure a light.{1}

Given these premises, it was natural that rationalism began by regarding the irrational as an appearance to be dissipated, and that it undertook first to reject the irrational by denying it, or by constructing a knowledge of the world that was purely rational from beginning to end. The enterprise was a failure. Reality escaped in every direction from the great rationalist metaphysical systems of the classical age and from the sterile rationalism of the Aufklärung.{2}

It is at this point, then, that Hegel inaugurates a completely new phase of modern rationalism, in which the rationalist demand is more cogent than ever, but in which the irrational, instead of being denied and rejected by reason as an appearance to be dissipated, becomes itself consubstantial with reason, as a reality we must reckon with -- and pass beyond -- and as the other of reason,{1} which reason will surmount by reconciling it with itself. Using his language, one might say that with Hegel rationalism loses itself or alienates itself in its own negation, irrationality, in order to triumph over it by means of the supreme negativity, the negation of negation.

9. In order to understand the genesis of this radical recasting or transformation of rationalism -- and by the same token to appreciate more fully the significance of what has been explained in the preceding section concerning the Hegelian dialectic -- it is necessary to go back to the primordial intuition which, dating from the philosopher's early years, preceded and governed the constitution of the system and the invention of the dialectic of the Logos and of the Idea.{2} This intuition, like every authentic intuition, bore on reality. It has been described as the intuition of the mobility of life,{3} or rather the intuition of the mobility and the disquietude essential to the being of man, "who is never what he is, and is always what he is not".

This, Hegel was to write (in the first edition of the Logic), is the distinguishing character of being when it is dominated by the category of Negativity, or when given over to the "prodigious power of the Negative", which is "the energy of Thought, of the pure Self", as he said in the preface to the Phenomenology. And he adds,{4} "Death, as we may call that unreality, is the most terrible thing, and to keep and hold fast what is dead demands the greatest force of all. Beauty, powerless and helpless, hates understanding, because the latter exacts from it what it cannot perform. But the life of the mind is not one that shuns death, and keeps clear of destruction; it endures death and in death maintains its being. It only wins to its truth when it finds itself utterly torn asunder. It is this mighty power, not by being a positive which turns away from the negative, as when we say of anything it is nothing or it is false, and, being then done with it, pass off to something else: on the contrary, mind is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and dwelling with it. This dwelling beside it is the magic power that converts the negative into being." I quote this remarkable passage because it is deeply imbued with the fundamental equivocity of the Hegelian conceptualization. Spirit has no fear of death, and bearing death is what requires the greatest strength, that is true; yes, but in order to be purified by death, not to nourish oneself on it. It is by being utterly torn asunder that the spirit attains truth, but the spirit does not tear itself asunder by discovering, and breathing in, the No in the bosom of the Yes, and by identifying the one with the other; it tears itself asunder by separating the Yes and the No so perfectly that all the being and truth that is trapped in the No is freed and assumed by the Yes. It is not in order to transpose the Negative into Being, but in order to save and to recuperate all the Being from which the Negative draws its apparent force, that the spirit sojourns with the Negative and diligently contemplates it.

The fact remains that back of the notions put forth here in so profoundly equivocal a manner there lay a true intuition, that of the contrasts and the mobility of our being, or of the perpetual being what one is not and not being what one is that is at the heart of human life. But instead of being expressed as the revelation of the ambiguity of a heart and a history divided between the yes and the no and passing from one contrary to the other, this intuition is conceptualized by Hegel as the presence of the no in the yes and of the yes in the no, a conception dear to Jacob Boehme, with the difference that in the case of Boehme it applied to a mystical experience, whereas for Hegel it was a primordial axiom of reason: the identity of identity and non-identity.{1} The task consisted then ("to think pure life, that is the task", he had written in his youth), in thinking life as "the anxiety of the Self which has lost itself and finds itself again in its otherness",{2} and as a perpetual non-coincidence with itself, "For life is always other in order to be itself; it always posits itself in a certain determination, and always denies itself in order to be itself, because this determination, as such, is already its first negation."{3} Here the irrational is introduced into thought itself, rendered immanent in reason, which only finds itself by losing itself in it and by surmounting it in order to integrate it in itself, from phase to phase. So rationalism changes its face, undergoes a mutation, a complete metamorphosis.

This is what we see happening, already at the time of The Phenomenology of Spirit, in the form of a dialectic of Consciousness. But this first kind of dialectic, still dominated by a tragic vision of the agonies of human becoming which remains close to Hegel's primordial intuition, this dialectic cannot conceal the degree to which it depends on a certain analysis of experience and of happenings (and this is what makes for the authentic philosophical interest of the Phenomenology). Thus this first dialectic is only imperfectly rational, still blemished with empiricism; it is only a rough draft, a passing stage.

For the victory of reason to be complete it will be necessary to pass from the tragic to the logical, to integrate "pantragism"{1} into "panlogism"; the primordial intuition of Hegel will have to be definitively conceptualized into what will properly constitute Hegelian dialectic -- into that dialectic of Logos which we considered in the preceding section, and in which all becoming of the real, which is the dialectic itself, takes place or is supposed to take place as a result of the internal demands of opposition, going beyond, and returning upon itself, of Reason alone, in its self movement.

Thus reason has achieved its total victory. The irrational no longer exists in a reality exterior to reason and opposing reason from without; and Reason no longer undertakes to deny or reject the irrational (admitting by the same token its incapacity to grasp the real). The irrational (and I am speaking not only of the phenomenal and the contingent, I am speaking of the very ways in which concrete thought transcends them), the irrational now is Reason's and within Reason, which is itself Reality. Reason has taken over its enemy to the point of making of it a necessary element of its own substance and of its own becoming. And there, in its own becoming, Reason devours the irrational, nourishing itself thereon within its own bosom, advancing by means of it, from act to act of the drama, toward the supreme reconciliation which will be its supreme fulfillment. Rationalism has thus been carried to its ultimate extreme, but only at the price of introducing contradiction into thought, of placing the irrational within reason, and of renouncing not only all purism but all purity of the reason.{2} The irrational lies from the very beginning at the heart of reason, and in the most flagrant form: being is nothingness. Rationalism has won everything, the world and God, the integrity of the real, thanks to the triumphant acceptance of the impurity of reason. The saying attributed to Luther, pecca fortiter, et crede fortius, could now be translated: prostitute reason to the irrational, and depend more strongly than ever on the invincible courage of the reason. At this price the rationalist ambition, the equalization of the Reason as human reason with the Reason as divine reason, will achieve its fulfillment, but not before the final groaning of the world, of history, and of the Reason in their travails of engendering themselves through themselves.{3}

The Hegelian requirement of Overcoming and of Affirmation-Destruction, or the ritual murder of Realities that are elevated to the skies
10. Far from denying or neglecting Individuality or Singularity, Personality, Freedom, in his system, Hegel constantly insisted on their crucial value for philosophy. His genius was too perspicacious, his perception of the things of experience too keen, for him not to discern the primary importance of these treasures of existence. The task of his dialectic was to appropriate them to itself, for it was to live on them. And his philosophy presents itself above all as a philosophy of freedom, a metaphysical epic of the progressive realizations and the supreme fulfillments of freedom.

But leaving the Hegelian system aside and considering the truth of things, where do singularity, personality and freedom have their reality? In man as an individual, finite and distinct from the universal Whole, in the human atom. It is he who is the seat of their real signification, of what they are in the created universe; it is in him that we grasp them.

For the Hegelian dialectic, on the contrary, they exist in the individual man only in their least true, most disappointing, most inapprehensible form, only acquiring consistency little by little as they extend beyond the human atom and make it go beyond itself. And they are only truly realized in the superior totalities and in the assumption of the individual by these totalities in the various stages of progress of consciousness through which the universal Self realizes itself. The infinite that is immanent in the finite forces the finite to lose itself, in order for it to re-integrate itself only at the progressive moments of its equalization with the infinite. The rational value and dynamism with which singularity, personality, freedom, are invested, press with their whole irresistible weight toward what is beyond each one of the still self-divided moments reached in the course of the development. By virtue of the kind of "horizontal transcendence" of which we have spoken,{1} they run after their own concept, and they will only overtake it at a stage beyond what they are in man as a finite individual.

Hegel venerates singularity, personality and freedom in the course of their realization in the world as much as St. Thomas venerated them in God; but while St. Thomas also venerated them in the human individual, where they are a deficient participation in these divine perfections, Hegel expels them from the individual to restore them to him only in the measure that the individual escapes from his finitude and contingency by integrating himself in a whole which extends beyond him. In short, at the level or stage of man as a finite individual, singularity, personality and freedom are still nothing more than the irrational to be conquered and overcome. It is only beyond the individual that they win their rationality, and hence their reality, by dint of conflicts and reconciliations.

This amounts to saying that in order to elevate them to the skies, it is necessary to begin by immolating them in the place where, within the created universe, what they really are finds its seat, in the place where they truly have their reality and their signification.{1} This ritual murder is the propitiatory sacrifice of the Hegelian liturgy. At the very instant that he invokes singularity, personality and freedom, and sends up toward them the incense of absolute rationalism, and wears himself out trying to follow up into the clouds of heaven the phases of their realization, the philosopher kills them on earth, I mean in man as a finite individual -- his very affirmation is a destruction -- in the name of the principle, "all that is real is rational", and in the name of the dialectical transfigurations by which the irrational introduced into reason must arrive at rationality.

11. Let us consider individuality or singularity, personality and freedom as they truly are. For every reason that is not divine reason they involve a certain obscurity, a certain non-intelligibility by excess or defect, a non-intelligibility that is definitively and irreducibly present in them. In the universe of the purely spiritual, they are only knowable to us by analogy, and are too intelligible in themselves to be immediately grasped by us. In the universe of sensible experience, we touch them through shadows.

Thus the positive reality which is individuality or singularity (unity-incommunicability of being) escapes our direct apprehension by excess of intrinsic intelligibility in the universe of "pure forms"; the individuality of God is as incomprehensible as His essence. And in us, in our own human universe, it is because of an intrinsic defect of intelligibility that individuality is only imperfectly and indirectly apprehensible to our reason. Omne individuum ineffabile. The individuality of things here below is non-intelligible in its very nature (non intelligibilis per se) because it has its root in matter.

Personality and freedom are intelligible per se, but they are too purely intelligible relative to our intelligence. They exist in us as something obscure for us. This is true of personality because it implies the possession of the self by the self which is proper to spirit.{2} It is true of freedom, taken as freedom of independence or of autonomy,{3} because it resides in the depths of the determination of the self by the self which is proper to spirit, and implies that existence as the simple fact of existing should superabound in a superexistence of intellection and a superexistence of love (or is even identical with that superexistence, as happens in the case of the divine aseity, the infinitely transcendent example of freedom of independence or autonomy). It is true of freedom taken in the sense of free will (libertas a necessitate) because the will itself renders efficacious the motive or the reason that determines it, and because the will thus manifests a primacy of exercise over specification.{1} Our intelligence grasps them without comprehending them. Even more than the universe itself, individuality, personality and freedom are known by us and intelligible to us as mysteries, and in the mystery of existence.

Such is the true notion of these things, and it derives, not certainly from what the modern vocabulary calls an irrational element, but from the secret hidden in extra-mental being, outside our reason and of such a nature that Reason as human can never succeed in completely penetrating it. The secret is definitively and irreducibly obscure to human reason. Therefore Hegel can only reject the notion, because it is incompatible with the primary claim of rationalism. He recasts the notions of individuality, personality and freedom in such a way as to integrate them into the Reason at work, to make of them, insofar as they still contain what must now be called an irrational element, and especially insofar as they are considered in the finite individual, the human atom -- dialectical moments to be traversed in the self-movement of thought. But the ideas of individuality, of personality, of freedom, are not thereby eliminated. On the contrary, they are affirmed more strongly than ever. They will be realized elsewhere and otherwise -- on the ruins of their authentic signification, and very far from the only point (the human atom) where they truly have here below their seat and their reality.

12. For Hegel, the individual posited hic et nunc in his immediacy, the individual, that is, as he was known before Hegel, the individual as given, the born individual, let us say, possesses only a shadow of singularity; he has no true singularity at all. He is only a kind of simple abstract point -- the logical opposite of the abstract universal. And in this very opposition he denies himself, for in fact he is identical with the universal, is nothing but the most abstract universal. "If nothing is said of a thing except that it is an actual thing, an external object, this only makes it the most universal of all possible things, and thereby we express its likeness, its identity, with everything, rather than its difference from everything else. When I say 'an individual thing', I at once state it to be really quite a universal, for everything is an individual thing."{2} In other words, the single thing, the "pure this", the individuum ineffabile of the ancients, is for Hegel an alogon, the irrational at its most extreme point of irrationality, and something which the reason overcomes without difficulty because it declares its own unreality insofar as it is singular.{1} Far from having its proper place in extra-notional reality, I mean in the act of existing, itself incommunicably exercised, individuality or singularity in its distinctive character results from the contradictory fusion of two logical beings of reason, intentiones secundae par excellence: it is the synthesis of the Particular and the Universal, and is truly realized only when the Particular is raised to the Universal or loses itself in the universal in order to receive from it a new life, as the Universal's other in which the universal determines itself. individuality is only really authentic or true in the Concept (Begriff), "which is nothing other than the subject".{2} In the concrete Universal which is at the same time itself and its other (the particular or the determined), and in which the particular, denying and overcoming its particularity by its reflection in itself, is equalized with the universal, and by this process of mediation makes the universal return to immediacy.{3} Such a return of the universal to immediacy, such a universal individuality, in a whole which is outside the singular thing and superior to it, or in the identification of the individual consciousness with this whole, constitutes the only real singularity for Hegel, and the only real concrete,{1} and the only rationally possible solution to the problem of individuality, which, as has been said,{2} is the central problem of his philosophy.

13. Personality, for Hegel, is not distinguished from individuality. It is rather individuality itself in the superior degree which is characterized by consciousness and therefore by the properly historical kind of development. Personality is the superior limit toward which nature tends, but because it is now defined as consciousness directed back to its own interiority for the purpose of disengaging it, or as the reflection by means of which the Concept knows itself as Self, personality is no longer an ontological perfection inherent in the human individual, with which he is born into the world, a perfection of his immediate being. It necessarily presupposes the mediation of consciousness (that is, of the universal "I", taking consciousness of itself through the medium of the finite). That is why in the individual man considered as such (apart from the Whole or the community) it is still no more than the abstract form of the Self juxtaposed with a miserably contingent content; and in the periods of history{3} in which the community ceases "to be the un-selfconscious substance of individuals", the latter "count as selves and substances with a being of their own", they "all count for as much as each, i.e., have the significance of persons" -- the universal, "split up into the atomic units" is no longer anything but a "lifeless spirit".{4} In short, the only personality that Hegel attributes to the individual as such, the individual-born, is the "abstract and formal" juridical personality, "lacking spirit",{1} which "gives itself reality in the existence of private property",{2} and has nothing to do with real and authentic personality but is only a blank mask applied to everyone indifferently.

This false personality of the individual must give way to the subsequent developments of spirit. Personality -- or, to employ a more nearly Hegelian language, subjectivity -- begins only after the stage of the individual taken as such, and it develops by stages that are further and further removed from the contingency of the finite as such, from the contingency that characterizes "that which does not have the foundation of its being within itself",{4} and whose presence in nature and in history Hegel affirms only in order to go beyond it. From negation of negation to negation of negation, subjectivity is to be realized progressively in the supra-individual human "I" which sums up within itself the whole spirit of its time: in the "Ego that is 'we', a plurality of Egos, and 'we' that is a single Ego";{5} in the inter-subjectivity which is the consciousness of the universal self; and finally, in the absolute Knowledge of self which is characteristic of the absolute Self, of God mounting the throne of His own divinity. And the individual possesses real subjectivity only insofar as he equalizes himself with this supra-individual subjectivity by denying himself at one or another moment of his development, and so expires in one way or another -- to become -- in the infinity of spirit. In the last analysis, it is the Absolute that is Subject. There is no true Self in the human atom, but only in the "authentic singularity" of the Concept and of the concrete Universal, of the Whole which is immanent in each of its determinations and which, after denying itself reaffirms itself, and brings itself and all of its parts back into itself.

14. In short, it is above and beyond the individual man that the drama of freedom is enacted, as we shall see more explicitly in the section which follows. Freedom of choice is an illusory moment. The only freedom that interests Hegel is the freedom of autonomy. But this freedom is acquired at the price of going beyond the individual personality in man, and sacrificing it. Freedom will be truly realized first of all in the State, then in the absolute Spirit, which needs finite spirit in order to know itself, but which by the same act causes finite spirit to vanish as individual personality.

Freedom is identical with the Spirit. Just as the essence of matter is gravity, the essence of spirit is freedom.{1} All of the qualities of spirit exist solely by vtrtue of freedom. Spirit "has its center in itself", "it exists in and with itself", it is existence contained within itself. And that is freedom.{2} In other words, freedom, which is spirit, is the sovereign freedom sought itself in Nature. And so freedom is coextensive with all that is. It is everywhere, and the fact is that it precedes Nature, because, in absolute terms, Spirit precedes Nature. If "from our point of view Mind [Spirit] has for its presupposition Nature, of which it is the truth", on the other hand and for this very reason it is the absolute prius of Nature, "the absolutely first principle. In this its truth Nature is vanished, and . . . spirit has resulted as the 'Idea' entered on possession of itself".{3} Thus the whole dialectical process, in the course of all its conflicts, is the development of freedom. Diffused and alienated from itself in Nature -- in which gravitation is its first prototype, and sensation, "the culminating point and end of Nature",{4} its ultimate preparation -- freedom finally emerges with the appearance of the concrete spirit in man. Once it has emerged, freedom is realized through new dialectical conflicts and new developments of subjective Spirit, objective Spirit and absolute Spirit.

In the realist perspective of a St. Thomas, the spontaneity (libertas a coactione) inherent in nature as an internal principle of activity attained higher and higher degrees of perfection as one passed from inanimate matter to vegetative life to sensitive life, and finally became autonomy -- infinitely above simple spontaneity -- in the human person. But these were specifically distinct degrees in being. With Hegel it is no longer a question of specifically distinct degrees in being, but of phases of development of the Idea-Reality. And it is the idea of freedom conceived as total autonomy, perfect and absolute independence -- a replica of the divine aseity seen through the eyes of a pantheist immanentism{5} -- which, starting with its own negation, realizes itself from stage to stage by losing itself and refinding itself dialectically, up to the point where it refinds itself in total plenitude at the stage of the Spirit, which preceded itself in forms which were not entirely itself.

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