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The Riddle of Man

Riddle of Man: German Idealism: Hegel

On-line since: 5th October, 2006

German Idealism's Picture of the World

German Idealism as the Beholding of Thoughts:

Through Hegel, the “I think, therefore I am” seems to spring up again in the evolution of German world views like a seed, fallen into the earth, arises as a wide-branching tree. For, what this thinker created as a world view is a comprehensive thought-painting or, so to speak, a many-membered thought-body, consisting of numerous single thoughts that mutually carry, support, move, enliven, and illuminate one another. What is meant here by thoughts does not stem from the sense impressions of the outer world, nor even from the everyday experiences of human feeling life (Gemüt); what is meant is thoughts that reveal themselves in the soul when the soul lifts itself out of its sense impressions and out of the experiences of its feeling life and makes itself into an onlooker of the process by which a thought, free of everything of a non-thought nature, unfolds into further and ever further thoughts. When the soul allows this process to occur within itself, it is then supposedly lifted out of its usual being and interwoven with its activity into the spiritually supersensible world order. Then it is not the soul that thinks; the world-all thinks within the soul; the soul becomes a participant in a happening outside man into which man is merely interwoven; and in this way the soul experiences within itself what works and weaves in the depths of the world.

Looking at this more closely, one can see that Hegel seeks his world view from a completely different viewpoint than from Descartes's “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes wants to draw certainty about the existence of the soul from the soul's thinking. With Hegel it is a matter of saying nothing at first about the thinking of the individual human soul. but of shaping the life of this soul in such a way that its thinking becomes a revelation of world thinking. Then. Hegel believes, what lives as thought in all world existence will reveal itself; and the individual soul finds itself as a part in this thought-weaving of the world. From this point of view the soul must say: The highest and deepest thing that is and lives in the world is the creative reigning of thoughts, and I find myself as one of the ways this reigning element reveals itself.

In this turn away from the individual thoughts of the soul and toward world thoughts above and beyond the soul. there lies the significant difference between Hegel and Descartes; Hegel made this turn; Descartes did not.

And this difference brings about another one relative to the development of the world views of both men. Descartes seeks certainty for the thoughts that the human being forms in the life in which he stands with his senses and his soul. Hegel at first does not seek within the field of these thoughts; he seeks a form of thought-life that lies above and beyond this field.

If Hegel did in fact remain in the region of thoughts and found himself therefore to be in opposition to Fichte and Schelling, he did so only because he believed he felt, in thoughts themselves, the inner power needed to penetrate into the supersensible realm. Hegel was an enthusiast with respect to the experience man can have when he gives himself over entirely to the primal power of thoughts. In the light of a thought raised to an idea, the soul, for him, extricates itself from its connection with the sense world. One can feel the power lying in this enthusiasm of Hegel when one encounters in his writings — in which for many people there reigns such a repellent, knotty, yes, it seems, horribly abstract language-passages that often show so beautifully the heart's tones he can find for what he experiences with his “abstractions.” Just such a passage, for example, stands at the end of his Phenomenology. There he calls the knowing that the soul experiences when it lets world ideas hold sway within it “absolute knowing.” And at the end of this book he looks back upon those spirits who have striven for the goal of “absolute knowing” in the course of mankind's evolution. Looking back from his era, he finds the following words to say about these spirits: “The goal — absolute knowing, or the spirit knowing itself as spirit — has as its path the memory of spirits, as they are in themselves and as they accomplish the organization of their kingdom. Their preservation of their free existence, on the one hand, appearing in the form of chance happening, is history; but their preservation of their comprehended organization, on the other hand, is the science of manifest knowing; both together — comprehended history — constitute the memory and the Golgotha (Schädelstätte) of the absolute spirit, the reality, truth, and certainty of its throne, without which the absolute spirit would be lifeless and alone; only —

From the cup of this realm of spirits
Foams for it its infinitude:”

This inwardly powerful element of a thought-life that wants to overcome itself within itself in order to lift itself into a realm where it is no longer living in itself but where the infinite thought, the eternal idea, is living in it: that is the essential element in Hegel's seeking. Through this, higher striving in knowledge receives a far-reaching character with him that wants to guide toward one goal directions in this striving that are often separated and therefore proceeding one-sidedly. In Hegel one can find a pure thinker who wants to approach the solution to the riddle of the world only through a human reason free of mysticism. One can speak of ice-cold abstract thoughts by which alone he wants to comprehend the world. Thus one will be able to see in him the dry, mathematically inclined man of intellect. But where does living in the ideas of one's reason lead him? It leads him to the surrender of the human soul to the supersensible world powers holding sway in the soul. Living in these ideas becomes a true mystical experience. And it is absolutely not nonsensical to recognize mysticism in Hegel's world view. One must only have a sense for the fact that what they mystic expresses can be experienced in Hegel's works in connection with the ideas of one's reason. It is a mysticism that removes the personal element — which for the mystic of feeling is the main thing, and the only thing he wants to speak about — as in fact a personal matter for the soul itself, and that expresses only that to which mysticism can lift itself when it struggles up out of personal soul darkness into the radiant clarity of the world of ideas.

Hegel's world view has its place in the course of mankind's spiritual evolution through the fact that in it the radiant power of thoughts lifts itself up out of the mystical depths of the soul, and through the fact that in Hegel's seeking, mystical power wants to reveal itself with the power of the light of thought. And this is also how he sees his place in the course of this evolution. Therefore he looked back upon Jakob Böhme in the way expressed in these words (to be found in his History of Philosophy): “This Jakob Böhme, long forgotten and decried as a pietistic visionary, has regained his rightful esteem only in recent times; Leibniz revered him. His public has been greatly reduced by the Age of Enlightenment; in recent times his profundity has been recognized again. ... To declare him a visionary means nothing. For if one wants to, one can call every philosopher so, even Epicurus and Bacon. ... But as to the high esteem to which Böhme has been raised, he owes this particularly to the form of his contemplation and feeling; for, contemplation and inner feeling ... and the pictorial nature of one's thoughts the allegories and so on — are partly considered to be the essential form of philosophy. But it is only the concept, thinking, in which philosophy can have its truth, in which the absolute can be expressed and also is as it is in and for itself.” And Hegel finds these further words for Böhme: “Jakob Böhme is the first German philosopher; the content of his philosophizing is truly German. What distinguishes Böhme and makes him remarkable is ... that he set the intellectual world into his own inner life (Gemüt), and within his own consciousness of himself he beheld, knew, and felt everything that used to be in the beyond. This general idea of Böhme proves on the one hand to be profound and basic; on the other hand, however, he does not achieve clarity and order in all his need and struggle for definition and discrimination in developing his divine views about the universe.”

Such words are spoken by Hegel, after all, only from the feeling: In the simple heart of Jakob Böhme there lived the deepest impulse of the human soul to sink itself with its own experience into world experience — the true mystical impulse — but the pictorial view, the parable, the symbol must lift themselves to the light of clear ideas in order to attain what they want. In Hegel's world view Jakob Böhme's world pictures are meant to arise again as ideas of human reason. Thus the enthusiast of thoughts, Hegel, stands beside the deep mystic, Jakob Böhme, within the evolution of German idealism. Hegel saw in Böhme's philosophizing something truly German, and Karl Rosenkranz, the biographer and independent student of Hegel, wrote a book, Hegel as the German National Philosopher, for the celebration of Hegel's hundredth birthday in 1870, in which these words occur: “One can assert that Hegel's system of thought is the most national one in Germany, and that after the earlier dominion of the Kantian and Schellingtan systems, none has reached so deeply into the national movement, into the furthering of German intelligence, into the elucidation of public opinion, into the encouraging of the will ... as that of Hegel.”

With such words Karl Rosenkranz does in fact, to a high degree, speak the truth about a phenomenon of German spiritual life, even though, on the other hand, Hegel's striving had already encountered the most bitter and scornful opposition in the decades before these words were written — an opposition whose beginnings were described in significant words by Rosenkranz himself soon after Hegel's death: “When I consider the fury with which Hegelian philosophy was attacked, I am surprised that Hegel's expression, that ‘the idea in its movement is a circle of circles,’ has not moved people to call his philosophy Dante's funnel into hell, which narrows toward the end and finally brings one up against Satan incarnate” (Rosenkrantz: From My Notebook. Leipzig 1854).

There can be very different viewpoints from which a person seeks to describe the impression he gains of a thinker personality like Hegel. In another place (in his book Riddles of Philosophy) the present author attempted to show the view one can attain about Hegel when one fixes one's eye on his work as a stage in the philosophical evolution of mankind. Here this author would like to speak only of what comes to expression through Hegel as one of the strengths of German idealism in world views. This is trust in the carrying power of thinking. Every page in Hegel's works strengthens this trust which finally culminates in the conviction: When the human being fully understands what he has in his thinking, then he also knows that he can attain entry into a supersensible spiritual world. Through Hegel, German idealism has accomplished the affirmation of the supersensible nature of thinking. And one can have the feeling that Hegel's strengths, and also his weaknesses, are connected with the fact that one time in the course of the world a personality had to stand there for whom all life and work are ensouled by this affirmation. Then one sees in Hegel's world view a source from which to draw what can be gained from this affirmation in the way of strength for life, without perhaps accepting the content of the Hegelian world view in anyone point.

If one relates in such a way to this thinker personality, one can receive a stimulus from him, and along with it the stimulus of one strong element of German idealism; and from this stimulus one can gain the strength to form a completely different picture of the world than that painted by Hegel himself. As strange as it may sound: Hegel is perhaps best understood when one directs the power of cognitive striving that held sway in him onto paths that he himself never took at all.

Hegel felt the supersensible nature of thinking with all the power available to man in this direction. But he had to expend so much human strength in conducting this feeling through a complete thinking process for once, that he was not able himself to lead the supersensible nature of thinking up into supersensible realms. The exemplary psychologist, Franz Brentano expresses in his Psychology how modern psychology does indeed investigate the ordinary life of the soul in a strictly scientific way, but, in these investigations, has lost all perspective into the great questions of soul existence. He says: “The laws of mental association, of the development of convictions and opinions, and of the germinating of pleasure and love, all these would be anything but a true compensation for not gaining certainty about the hopes of a Plato and Aristotle for the continued existence of our better part after the dissolution of the body ... if the modern way of thinking really did signify the elimination of the question of immortality, then this elimination would have to be called an extremely portentious one for psychology:” Now one can say that in many people's view not only the scientific approach of psychology but the scientific approach altogether seems to signify the elimination of such questions. Over Hegel's world view there seems to hover like an evil fate the fact that, with its affirmation of the supersensible nature of the thought-world, his world view has walled off the entrance into a real world of supersensible facts and beings. In someone who is a student of Hegel in the sense Karl Rosenkranz is, for example, this fate seems to work on. Rosenkranz wrote a psychology (Psychology or Science of the Subjective Spirit, 1837; third edition, 1863). There, in the chapter on “Old Age,” one can read (p. 119): “Psychology touches here on the question of immortality, a favorite theme of lay philosophers — often with the preconceived intention of guaranteeing a reunion after death, as one usually expresses it. If the spirit, as a self-conscious idea-entity, is qualitatively different from its organism, then the possibility of immortality makes sense. But as to the how of actual immortality, we are unable to gain the slightest inkling with any objective value. We can see that if we continue to exist as individualities, our being is still unable to change, after all, with respect to having to live within the true, good, and beautiful; but the modality of an existence separated from our organism is a riddle for us. Why should we not then acknowledge here the limits of our knowing? Why should we either flatly deny the possibility of immortality or offer for speculation fantastic dreams of a soul sleep, of a soul body, and of other such dogmas? Where true knowing ceases, faith enters; and we must leave it up to faith to depict a not impossible hereafter.” Rosenkranz airs an opinion like this within a psychology completely permeated with the conviction of having a knowledge about what the supersensible world-thought brings to earthly reality within the being of the human soul. This is a science — wishing to weave entirely within the supersensible — that comes to an immediate halt when it notices the threshold to the supersensible world. One can deal with this phenomenon only if one feels in it something of the destiny that is cast over man's striving in knowledge — and that seems so inextricably interwoven with Hegel's world view — through the fact that, by focussing with all its strength upon the supersensible nature of thinking, and, in order to achieve maximum effect with this focus, his world view loses the possibility of a different focus upon the supersensible.

Hegel at first seeks to find the circumference of all the supersensible thoughts that arise in the human soul when the soul lifts itself up out of all observation of nature and all earthly soul life. He presents this content as his Logic. But this logic contains not one single thought leading out of the region encompassed by nature and earthly soul life.

Then Hegel seeks further to present all those thoughts which, as supersensible beings, underlie nature. Nature becomes for him the revelation of a supersensible thought-world that hides its thought-being within nature and presents itself as the opposite of itself, as something of a non-thought kind. But here also there are no thoughts that non-thought kind. But here also there are no thoughts that I do not express themselves within the circumference of the sense world.

In his philosophy of the spirit, Hegel depicts how world I ideas are holding sway in the individual human soul, in associations of human souls (peoples, states), in the historical evolution of mankind, in art, religion, and philosophy. Everywhere in his philosophy is also the view that the supersensible thought-world absolutely expresses itself within the soul element as this stands with its being and working within the sense world, and that therefore everything present in the sense realm is of a spiritual nature with respect to its true being. Nowhere, however, is there a start in the direction of penetrating with knowledge into a supersensible region for which no configuration in the sense realm is present.

One can acknowledge all this to oneself and yet not seek to judge the expression of German idealism in Hegel's world view negatively just because Hegel, in spite of his supersensible idealism, remained stuck in observation of the sense world. One can arrive at a positive judgment and can find the essential thing about this world view to lie in the fact that it contains the affirmation: Whoever observes in its true form the world [1] spread out before our senses recognizes that it is in reality a spiritual world. And German idealism has expressed through Hegel this affirmation of the spiritual nature of the sense-perceptible.

Last Modified: 29-Aug-2017
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