Epistemology

The Critical Journal of Philosophy Introduction on The Essence of Philosophical Criticism Generally, and its Relationship to the Present State of Philosophy in Particular

by Hegel and Schelling 1801


IN WHATEVER DOMAIN OF ART or [speculative] science it is employed, criticism requires a standard which is just as independent of the person who makes the judgment as it is of the thing that is judged – a standard derived neither from the singular [i.e. the immediate occasion for critical judgment] nor from the specific character of the [judging] subject, but from the eternal and unchangeable model [Urbild] of what really is [die Sache selbst]. Just as the idea of fine art is not first created or discovered by art criticism, but is purely and simply presupposed by it, so too in philosophical criticism the Idea of philosophy is itself the precondition and presupposition without which it would only be able to set one subjective view against another for ever and ever, and never set the Absolute against the conditioned.

What distinguishes philosophical criticism from art criticism is not the judgment of the capacity for objectivity that is expressed in a [philosophical] work, but rather just the object [of criticism]; [in other words] the Idea itself that is basic to the criticism, and which cannot be anything other than the Idea of philosophy itself. As far as the capacity for objectivity is concerned, philosophical criticism involves the same claims to universal validity that art criticism does. So anyone who wants to deny objectivity of judgment in philosophy in spite of that, must claim not merely the possibility of distinct forms of one and the same Idea, but the possibility of essentially distinct yet equally true philosophies – a view of the matter [Vorstellung] which properly deserves no consideration, for all its immense comfortableness. The fact that philosophy is but one, and can only be one, rests on the fact that Reason is but one; and just as there cannot be distinct Reasons, so too a wall cannot be set up between Reason and its self-cognition, through which its self-cognition could become essentially distinguishable from its appearance. For Reason absolutely considered, and Reason when it becomes object for itself in its self-cognition (and hence philosophy) is again just one and the same thing, and therefore completely equal.

The ground of a distinction within philosophy itself cannot lie in its essence, which is strictly one, any more than it can be based on the inequality of the capacity to shape [gestalten] the Idea of philosophy objectively. For the fact is that in the philosophical perspective the Idea itself is all that counts, while the capacity to set it forth that comes additionally with its possession, makes only another side of philosophy, and one that is not peculiar to it. Therefore, once philosophy is defined as a cognition of the Absolute) the possibility of infinitely many distinct reflections, such that each has an equal right to maintain itself against the others, each of them being essentially distinct from the others, could only result from thinking of the Absolute (whether as God or in some other aspect as Nature) as fixed in immovable and absolute opposition to cognition as subjective. But even upon this view the distinction would have to suspend and ameliorate itself. For since cognition is here represented as something formal, it is thought of as completely passive in its relationship to the object; and it is required of the subject that is to be capable of this reception of the divinity, or of the purely objective intuition of nature, that it should close itself quite generally against every other relationship to any limiting factor at all, and restrain itself from any activity of its own, since that would upset the purity of the reception. Through this passivity of intake, and the equality of the object [in all such pure intuitions] what is represented as result, would have to be just the cognition of the Absolute, and a philosophy that sprang from this root must again be simply unique and in every respect the same.

It is because the truth of Reason is but one, like beauty, that criticism as objective judgment is possible in principle, and it follows evidently that it only makes sense for those who have the Idea of the one identical philosophy present to their minds; and by the same token it can only be concerned with those works in which this Idea is expressed more or less clearly for cognition. The effort of criticism is entirely wasted on the people and the works that are deprived of the Idea. In the absence of the Idea criticism gets into the gravest difficulty, for if all criticism is subsumption under the Idea, then all criticism must necessarily cease where the Idea is lacking, and it can have no other direct relationship [to that with which it is concerned] than that of repudiation. But in this repudiation it ruptures altogether every connection between that wherein the Idea of philosophy is lacking, and that in whose service criticism exists. Since reciprocal recognition is in this way suspended, what appears is only two subjectivities in opposition; things that have nothing in common with one another come on stage with equal right for that very reason; and in declaring that what is before it to be judged is anything else one likes, – which is tantamount to declaring it to be nothing at all, since philosophy is all that it aims to be – criticism transposes itself into a subjective situation and its verdict appears as a one-sided decision by violence. Since its activity ought to be objective, this situation directly contradicts its essence; its judgment is an appeal to the Idea of philosophy but since this Idea is not recognized by the adverse party, it is only a foreign court of judgment for him. There is no immediate escape from this relationship of criticism, which cuts unphilosophy off from philosophy – criticism must stand on the one side and have unphilosophy on the opposite side. Since unphilosophy takes up a negative attitude to philosophy, and hence there can be no question of discussing it as philosophy, there is nothing to be done but recount how this negative side expresses itself and confesses its non-being (which in as much as it has a phenomenal aspect is called platitude), and since what is nothing to begin with, must unfailingly appear ever mote clearly a; nothing in its development, until it can be recognized [erkannt] as such by virtually everyone, through this completely executed construction [of evident nullity] from the primal nullity. Criticism is reconciled once more with the incapacity [of the cultured public] which could see nothing in the original verdict [of the philosophical critic] but self-satisfied personal bias and caprice.

On the other hand, where the Idea of philosophy is actually present, there it is the concern of criticism to interpret the way and the degree in which it emerges free and clear, and the range within which it has been elaborated into a scientific system of philosophy. As for this last point, if the pure Idea of philosophy is expressed with spirit, but naively and without scientific range – if it does not arrive at the objectivity of a systematic consciousness -we must still greet it with joy and delight; it is the mark of a beautiful soul, whose inertia guards it against falling into the original sin of thinking, but which also lacks the courage to hurl itself into that sin and to follow the path of its guilt, till the guilt is dissolved – and so it has not arrived at the intuition of itself in an objective whole of science. The empty form of such spirits, however – those who aim to give the heart and essence of philosophy in short formulas without [living] spirit – this form has no scientific significance, and has no other interest either.  But when the Idea of philosophy becomes more scientific it must be carefully distinguished from the individuality which will express its character without harm to the identity of the Idea of philosophy or to the purely objective exposition of it – the subjectivity or limitedness, that gets mingled in the exposition of the Idea of philosophy. Criticism has to apply itself especially to the way that philosophy looks when masked by this subjectivity – it must tear the mask off. When it is shown to be the case that the Idea of philosophy is actually before the mind, then criticism can cleave to the requirement and to the need that is expressed, to the objective factor in which the need seeks its satisfaction, and can lay aside the limitedness of the shape through its own genuine tendency toward perfect objectivity.

But in this connection two cases are possible. In the first case consciousness has not properly developed beyond subjectivity.  Idea of philosophy has not risen to the clarity of free intuition, but stays hidden in a dark background, partly, perhaps, because some forms in which it finds itself largely expressed, forms which possess great authority, still hinder the breakthrough to pure formlessness, or to be the highest form (which is the same thing). Even when criticism cannot allow the work and the deed to be valid as a shape of the idea, it will not ignore the striving [toward that]; the genuinely scientific concern here is to peel off the shell that keeps the inner aspiration from seeing daylight; it is important to be aware of the manifoldness of the reflections of the spirit, each of which must have its place in philosophy, as well as being aware of their subordinate status and their defects.  In the second case it is evident that the Idea of philosophy has been more clearly cognized, but that subjectivity has striven to ward off philosophy in so far as this is necessary for its own preservation: Here what matters is not to set the Idea of philosophy off in relief, but to uncover the nooks and crannies that subjectivity makes use of in order to escape from philosophy, and to make the weakness, for which any limitation offers a secure foothold, visible both on its own account [für sich] and with respect to the Idea of philosophy qua associated with a subjectivity; for the true energy [i.e., actualization] of the Idea is incompatible with subjectivity.  But there is still another way of proceeding upon which criticism must especially fasten; the one that gives itself out to be in possession of philosophy, which uses the forms and vocabulary in which great philosophical systems are expressed, goes in for lengthy debates, but is at bottom only an empty fog of words without inner content. This sort of chatter, though lacking the Idea of philosophy, gains for itself a kind of authority through its very prolixity and arrogance. Partly this is because it seems almost incredible that such a big shell should be without a kernel, and partly because the emptiness is in its way universally understandable. Since there is nothing more sickening than this transformation of the seriousness of philosophy into platitude, criticism must summon up all its forces to ward off this disaster.

These distinct forms [of philosophy and unphilosophy] are in general more or less dominant in the German philosophy of the present time to which this Critical Journal is addressed. But they [the forms] have the further peculiarity that every philosophical enterprise takes on the aspect of a science and the dimensions of a system, or at the very least takes its stand as the absolute principle of philosophy as a whole. Through the work of Kant, and still more through that of Fichte, the Idea of a science, and particularly of philosophy as a science, has been established. Philosophizing piecemeal [das einzelne Philosophieren] has lost all credit, and the possibility of counting for something as a philosopher through a variety of philosophical thoughts upon this or that topic, published perhaps in scholastic treatises, no longer exists. As a result a multitude of systems and principles is arising which gives that part of the public which does philosophy a certain outward similarity to the state of philosophy in Greece, where every prominent philosophical mind elaborated the Idea of philosophy in his own individual way. At the same time philosophical freedom – emancipation from authority and independence of thought – seems to have reached such a pitch with us, that it would be considered disgraceful to call oneself a philosopher after the fashion of a school that already exists; opinion has it that thinking for oneself can only proclaim its presence through originality – the invention of a system that is entirely novel and one’s own.  When the inner life of philosophy comes to birth in an outward shape, it necessarily endows that shape with something of the form of its own peculiar organization; by so much is the original aspect of genius distinct from the particularity which takes itself for, and gives itself out to be, originality. For this particularity, upon closer examination, really keeps firmly to the common highway of culture, and can never boast of having arrived at the pure Idea of philosophy by leaving it; for if it had grasped this Idea, it would know [erkennen] it again in other philosophical systems, and ipso facto it would then be unable to label itself with the name of a personal philosophy, even though it must of course, preserve its own living form. What the particular originality has created of its own upon that highway, is a particular form of reflection, seized upon from some singular, and hence subordinate, standpoint. This is easy enough to do in an era that has cultivated the understanding in so many aspects, and has, in particular, fashioned it into philosophy in so many ways. An assemblage of such original tendencies, and of the manifold efforts after a form and system of one’s own, offers us the spectacle of the tortures of the damned, rather than that of the free upsurge of the most various living shapes in the philosophical gardens of Greece. Either they are for ever bound to their own limited position; or they must seize on one position after another, marvelling unstintedly at them all, and casting one after the other away.

As for the labour of enlarging a particularity of this kind into a system, and setting it forth as the whole, this is a hard labour in good sooth, and the particular originality must surely come to grief over it, for how could what is limited be capable of extending itself into a whole, without ipso facto flying to pieces itself? The very quest for a particular principle is already committed to the goal of possessing something of one’s own, something that satisfies one’s self alone, and renounces any pretension to the objectivity of knowledge or to its totality. And yet the whole is, more or less, present in objective form, at least as raw material, as a mass of knowledge; it is hard to do it violence and to follow the thread right through it consistently with one’s own peculiar concept; but at the same time, given that it [the whole] is indeed there, one is never permitted to stage it approvingly without coherence [with one’s principle]; the cleverest way, it seems, is not to bother oneself on that account, and to set up one’s own peculiar principle as the only thing that matters, leaving the rest of knowledge to bother itself about its coherence with the principle. It seems, of course, that this is a lower task altogether; to give to the basic principle its objective scientific range. But if, on the one hand, this range is not to be lacking, and on the other hand, one wants to spare oneself the effort of bringing the manifold array of knowledge into coherence with itself and with the limitedness of the principle, the way of proceeding that unites both of these requirements is that of “provisional” philosophizing, i.e., that which sums up what is present not in terms of the needs of a system of knowledge, but on the following ground: that it seems that what is present can have its use then too – to exercise our heads, for why else should it be there?  In this respect the Critical Philosophy has performed an exceptionally important service. To wit, it has been proved therein – to express the matter in its own words – that the concepts of the Understanding only have their application in experience, that Reason as cognitive through its theoretical Ideas only involves itself in contradictions, and that its object must be given to knowledge generally by sensibility. All this is useful for getting us to renounce Reason in [philosophic] science, and give ourselves over to the most crass empiricism. The crudest concepts dragged into experience, and an intuition polluted by the rudest offspring of a spiritless reflection, have been given out as “inner and outer experience” and “actual facts of consciousness.” Everything has been tumbled together under this heading upon an assurance received from anywhere, that it does occur in consciousness; and all this comes to pass by appeal to the Critical Philosophy, which has proved that experience and perception are necessary for cognition, and which allows Reason no constitutive relationship to knowledge, but only a regulative one. Apart from the fact that unphilosophy and anti-science [Unwissenschaftlichkeit], which philosophy used to regard with easy contempt, have taken on a philosophical form for their justification, the Critical Philosophy has in this way brought about even greater benefits; to wit, it has reconciled healthy common sense, and every limited consciousness, with philosophy – along with their finest blooms, which are at times called the highest moral interests of humanity.

But if subjectivity, without regard for the further difficulty which it faces in setting itself forth as a system, because the Critical Philosophy has now made at least one great range of finite forms suspect or unusable, – if it is afflicted with insight into its limitedness, and by a kind of bad conscience, and is ashamed to set itself up as absolute, how can it be preserved and made valid in spite of its own better knowledge and the Idea of Philosophy that floats before its mind? In the first place, we must start with a form that is recognized as finite. It must represent nothing but what is, to all appearances, an arbitrary starting point, worth nothing indeed upon its own account, but it has to be granted for the moment because its utility will become evident soon enough. It is granted for the time being, on request, in a provisory, problematic hypothetical way, without any special pretensions; it will soon legitimate itself later on. – If we once arrive at what is true having started from it, our gratitude for the sign post will recognize [erkennen] that arbitrary starting point as a necessary one, and see that it has been verified. However the true needs no leading reins to guide us to it; but must bear within itself the power to step forth on its own account; and the limited [starting point] is itself recognized here for just what it is, that is to say it does not have the stuff of its own subsistence in it, but is understood to be only something hypothetical and problematic, even though in the end it is due to be verified as a veritably true [being]. It is evident therefore that the salvation of finitude was the principal concern. But what is not supposed to be hypothetical later on, cannot be hypothetical in the beginning I either; or else what is hypothetical at the beginning cannot become categorical later on. It might, of course, come forward as absolute straight away, but since it is, quite rightly, too timid for that, we need a roundabout way to sneak the Absolute in. Making out that a finite starting point of this kind is a hypothesis for the time being only introduces one more deception. For the starter comes on stage pretending to have no pretensions: whether he comes forward modestly as a hypothetical [being] or right away as self-certain, both starts lead to the same result: that the finite is preserved as what it is in its separateness, and the Absolute remains an Idea, a Beyond – in other words, it is afflicted with a finitude.  The certain starting point, which is taken up in its immediate consciousness in order that it may be certain, seems through its immediate certainty to make up for what it lacks by reason of its finitude; and pure self-consciousness is just such a certainty since, qua starting point, it is posited as a pure [consciousness] in immediate opposition to the empirical [consciousness]. In and for itself the concern of philosophy cannot be with finite certainties of this kind. A philosophy which, in order to anchor itself to a certainty, begins from the most universally valid statements or activities ready at hand for every human understanding, is either doing something superfluous, since it must still transcend this limitation, and suspend it, in order to be philosophy at all (and ordinary common sense, which must thereby be led astray will take good note when its sphere is abandoned, and one wants to lead it into self-transcendence); or else, if this finite certainty is not to be suspended as such, but is to abide and subsist as something fixed, then it must, of course, recognize its finitude, and require infinity.

However, the infinite then comes on the scene precisely and only as a requirement, as something thought of, only as an Idea. For although it is the necessary and comprehensive, all-inclusive, Idea of Reason, it is still, ipso facto, one-sided, since the Idea itself and that which thinks it [or: that which it thinks] (or whatever else the determinate was from which the start was made) are posited separately. In this type of salvation for the limited the Absolute is exalted into the supreme Idea, but not at the same time into the unique being, so that the antithesis [of thought and being] remains dominant and absolute throughout the whole system of philosophy, since this is the point from which the science of philosophy first begins: To a certain extent these salvation programmes are what typifies our own recent philosophical culture: and almost everything that has been accepted as philosophy in our day falls within the scope of this concept. Even the highest manifestation of philosophy of the last generation has not overcome the fixed polarity of inner and outer, of here [in the sensible world] and yonder [in the noumenal one]. It allows two opposed philosophies to stand: one in which we can only approach towards the knowledge of the Absolute, and another which is within the Absolute itself – though this latter is, to be sure, only established under the tide of faith. In this way the antithesis of dualism is given its most abstract expression and so philosophy is not led forth from the sphere of our reflective culture [Reflexionskultur].

As a result the most abstract form of the antithesis is of the greatest importance; and from this most acute extreme, the transition to genuine philosophy is all the easier. For the very idea of the Absolute that is set up itself rejects the antithesis, because the antithesis carries with it the form of an Idea, of an Ought, of an infinite requirement. We must not overlook how much the study of philosophy has profited from the manifold elaboration that antithesis in general has undergone – the antithesis which every philosophy aims to overcome – because a later philosophy was directed against the form of the antithesis that was dominant in an earlier one, and overcame it, even though the later philosophy fell back again, all unwittingly, into another form of antithesis; but at the same time we must also not overlook the variety of forms that the antithesis can assume. On the other hand, there is a prevalent manner of proceeding that has only unprofitable aspects: to wit, that which is at pains to make philosophical ideas popular, or more precisely, common, as soon as they appear on stage. Philosophy is, by its very nature, something esoteric, neither made for the vulgar as it stands [für sich], nor capable of being got up to suit the vulgar taste; it only is philosophy in virtue of being directly opposed to the understanding and hence even more opposed to healthy common sense, under which label we understand the limitedness in space and time of a race of men; in its relationship to common sense the world of philosophy is in and for itself an inverted world .21 When Alexander, having heard that his teacher was publishing written essays on his philosophy, wrote to him from the heart of Asia that he ought not to have vulgarized the philosophizing they had done together, Aristotle defended himself by saying that his philosophy was published and yet also not published. In the same way philosophy [now] must certainly admit [erkennen] the possibility that the people can rise to it, but it must not lower itself to the people. But in these times of freedom and equality, in which such a large educated public has been formed, that will not allow anything to be shut away from it, but considers itself good for anything – or everything good enough for it – in these times even the highest beauty and the greatest good have not been able to escape the fate of being mishandled by the common mob which cannot rise to what it sees floating above it, until it has been made common enough to be fit for their possessing; so that vulgarization has forced its way into being recognized as a meritorious kind of labour. There is no aspect of the higher striving of the human spirit that has not experienced this fate. An Idea, in art or in philosophy, needs only to be glimpsed in order for the processing to start by which it is properly stirred up into material for the pulpit, for text books, and for the household use of the newspaper public. Leibniz partly undertook these labours for his philosophy himself, in his Theodicy; his philosophy did not thereby gain a general entree, but he made a great name for himself. Nowadays, there is a ready supply of people trained for the job. With isolated concepts, it happens automatically; all that is necessary is to attach the concept-name to what has long been familiar in everyday [burgerlich] life. In its origin and its realized essence [an und für sich] the Enlightenment already expresses the vulgarity of the understanding and the vanity of its exaltation above Reason, and there was no need to change the meaning of the concepts [Verstand and Vernunft] in order to make them attractive and easy to grasp; but one can readily grant that the word “Ideal” carries nowadays the general meaning of that which has no truth in it, or the word “humanity” of that which is utterly dull. he seemingly opposite case – which is, however, just the same as this one at bottom – occurs where the matter is “popular” already, and where popular clichés (everyday ideas), which do not go even one step beyond the sphere of common concepts, have to be given the outward look of philosophy by philosophical and methodical processing. just as in the first case the assumption is made, that what is philosophical can still be “popular” at the same time, so in the second [there is the assumption] that what is “popular” by nature, can in some way or other become philosophic. Thus the compatibility of platitude and philosophy [is taken for granted] in both cases. In a general way we can relate this variety of [philosophic] efforts to the spirit of unrest and instability that is everywhere astir. This spirit is the mark of our time. After long centuries of the toughest obstinacy, for which the casting off of an old form involved the most fearful convulsions, it has finally brought the German spirit to the point of tying even philosophical systems into the concept of the ever changing and the ever new; although we must not mistake this passion for change and novelty for the indifference of play which, in its extreme insouciance, is at the same time the most exalted and only true seriousness [Ernst]. For the restless impulse of our time goes to work with the extreme earnestness [Ernsthaftigkeit] of limitedness [as distinct from the only true seriousness].

Yet fate has of necessity given it a dim feeling of mistrust and a secret despair which very soon reveals itself because the earnest limitedness is without living seriousness, so that on the whole it cannot stake [setzen] much upon its concerns. Hence also it cannot achieve any great works – or [only] highly ephemeral ones.  Moreover, if we wish, we can also regard this present unrest as a process of fermentation through which the spirit strains upwards toward a new life out of the putrefaction of the deceased culture, and springs forth again in a rejuvenated shape from under the ashes of the old. To be exact it was against the Cartesian philosophy and the universal culture that it expresses that philosophy like every other side of living nature had to seek a means of salvation. The Cartesian philosophy expounded [in a philosophical form] the universally comprehensive dualism in the culture of the recent history of our north-westerly world – a dualism of which both the quiet transformation of the public life of men after the decline of all ancient life, and the noisy political and religious revolutions are equally just different-coloured outward manifestations. What philosophy has done for its salvation has been greeted with fury where it was pure and openly expressed; where it was more covert and more mixed up [with empirical considerations], the understanding has mastered it more easily and turned it round again into the earlier dualistic pattern [Wesen]. AU the sciences have been founded upon this death, and the time itself has completely killed whatever was still scientific in them, and hence at least subjectively alive. So that if it were not immediately the spirit of philosophy itself which feels the strength of its growing wings all the more when it is submerged and crushed together in this broad sea, the very tedium of the sciences would make the whole flat plain unbearable – this edifice built by an understanding abandoned by Reason which at its worst (under the borrowed title either of rational enlightenment, or of moral reason) has even ruined theology in the end. This tedium was bound to at least arouse a yearning of the [dead] riches for a spark of fire, for a concentration of living intuition, and, once the cognition of the dead had gone on long enough, for that cognition of the living which is only possible through Reason.

Belief in the possibility of such an actual cognition, and not just in the negative wandering along or the perennial springing up of new forms, is absolutely necessary if the effect to be expected from a critique of them is to be a true one, i.e., not a merely negative destruction of these limited forms, but one that results in a preparation of the way for the arrival of true philosophy. But in any case, even if it can only produce the former [merely negative] effect, it is quite proper that the pretensions of limited forms and the enjoyment of their ephemeral existence should be soured and cut short; and he who can, may well regard [philosophical] criticism as nothing but the ever-turning wheel, dragging down again every instant the shape that the surge had thrown up. It may be that resting self-assured on the broad base of healthy common sense, he simply delights in this objective spectacle of appearance and disappearance, and takes comfort and confirmation from it all the more for his own banishment from philosophy, because by induction a priori he regards the philosophy upon which the limited comes to grief as just another limited form. Or again, it may be that he marvels over the coming and going of the forms in their fountain with profound sympathy and interest, grasping it with much effort, and then watches their disappearance with a wise eye, and lets himself drift giddily.

When criticism itself wants to maintain a one-sided point of view as valid against others that are likewise one-sided, it becomes partisan polemic. But even the true philosophy cannot protect itself from the outward look of polemic against unphilosophy. For, since it has nothing positive in common with the latter, and cannot engage with it in a [positive] critique of the common ground, only the negative activity of criticism is left – together with the construction of the inevitably singular manifestation of unphilosophy. Moreover, since this appearance follows no rule and takes on a different shape again in every individual, the construction of unphilosophy is the construction of the individual in which its manifestation has occurred. Now if one group has another group facing it in opposition, each of them is called a “Party”; but when one of them no longer even seems to amount to anything, then the other ceases to be a party likewise. Hence, on the one hand, each side must find it unbearable to appear merely as a party, and must not spare itself the spontaneously appearing and disappearing semblance [of partisanship] which it acquires in the struggle, but must enter into the battle, which [even though it creates the semblance of partisanship] is at the same time, the emerging manifestation of the nullity of the opposed group. On the other hand, if a group wants to save itself from the danger of the battle, and from the manifestation of its own inward nullity, then in virtue of its declaration that the other side is only a party, it has recognized the opposition as something [real], and has renounced for its own part the universal validity in respect to which, what is actually [for the moment] a party, must not be a party but rather nothing at all. In so doing it has confessed itself to be a party, i.e. to be null and void for the true philosophy.

Translated: by H S Harris.  

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