8 The Place of Hegel in the History of Philosophy (1932)note

Hegel, one might say ironically, died a hundred years ago and yet the world still goes on — or, more pointedly, philosophy still goes on, though it was to have culminated in the Hegelian system. Nevertheless, there is some ground for raising the question whether it does go on. No such philosophical system as Hegel's has appeared since his time. On any important philosophical or scientific question there is what may be recognised as a Hegelian view, and as much cannot be said of the position of any subsequent philosopher — or, for that matter, of any earlier one.

The position of Plato is peculiar. It has been maintained that Plato had no philosophical system and would not have recognised the necessity of system. But we have to remember the historical interest of Plato's works, his desire, in particular, to expound in detail the position of Socrates, as well as his view that philosophical publications should consist not in the presentation of results but in the raising of problems, in such a way as to stimulate the reader's own thinking. These facts being understood, we cannot suppose that the pupil of Socrates did not recognise the value of coherence, the need for a philosophy, and we can gather much from the later dialogues as to what that philosophy was.

Plato's objection to the publication of a finished philosophy would apply to Hegel. Many of the latter's extant works were not, of course, published by himself. But he did aim at completeness, at a comprehensive treatment of the totality of things, and the defects of this outlook appear notably in his work. It has the particular effect of fostering pretended solutions of problems — solutions which are mere re-statements of the problem or of the fact that there is a problem, as in the well-known formula of “identity in difference”. The development of a “metaphysical” terminology in which we appear to be saying something when we are not, is clearly a hindrance to philosophical discovery. And the fact that philosophy is made to cover all questions leads not merely to such “vague generalities” but to forced and absurd interpretations of things, such as are seen at their worst in the work of some of Hegel's disciplesnote but are

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present also in his own work. Every historical thing has to have logical necessity, just as every earlier theory has to contribute something to the Hegelian summing up of reality.

Nevertheless, the appearance of a distinctively Hegelian solution of any problem is in accordance with the need for finding a philosophical solution of any philosophical problem; and it cannot be said that any subsequent philosopher (granted that Alexander approaches this requirement, and that a working out of his position would provide a more coherent philosophy than the Hegelian) comes up to Hegel in this respect. The most comprehensive philosophical theories that have been presented in the last century are those of the Hegelians, particularly of the English Hegelians or semi-Hegelians, like Green, Bradley and Bosanquet; in spite of their fine phrases and their mystification, the “literary” philosophers of the idealist school have shown a philosophical tenacity much greater than anything exhibited by theorists professing a “scientific” exactitude.

To get a philosophy comparable in range to Hegel's and capable of disposing of it, we have to take account of many recent developments — of the work of William James, of English Realism and especially of Alexander, of the Freudian psycho-analysis, and of Burnet's work on Greek philosophy. And even here a certain Hegelian influence has to be recognised. In spite of his forcing the Greek philosophers to fit into his scheme of logically successive outlooks, Hegel has done much to stimulate interest in Greek philosophy; and this, along with his attention to logic, has helped to discredit the pragmatic or utilitarian attitude which had largely dominated modern philosophy till his time, and which is as evident in Kant's “regulative principles” as in the various attempts to determine the limits of possible knowledge. Moreover, his insistence on a single logic had some influence on the development of that positivism (or naturalism) which has affected the work of James and Alexander and, one might add, Freud. Apart, however, from the adumbrations of a realist philosophy in the above-mentioned movements, Hegelianism has been opposed mainly by the resurrection of old views — Cartesian rationalism or English “empiricism”, as in Mill's rehash of Berkeley and Hume. Hegel had sufficiently demonstrated the “inadequacy” (the illogical or incoherent character) of these positions, and much subsequent work, so far from exhibiting any advance on his views, has depended on a mere ignoring of the points he made.

Hegel is right, then, in maintaining, in opposition to eclecticism or pragmatism, that philosophy should be systematic. But its systematic character should appear in the form of a single logic, not in the form of “totality”, of a pretended solution of all problems. He is right, also, in maintaining that this logic should be historical, if we take this to mean that it is the theory of things as historical; but it should not itself be considered as advancing, however the study of it may do so. It is the theory of what things are at any time; and, granted that philosophical progress may be made, the nature of philosophical problems remains the same now as it was in 500 B.C. It is only if modern philosophers have discovered

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truths which ancient philosophers failed to discover, that modern philosophy can be said to have made any advance on ancient philosophy. To substitute for a logic of things as developing a developing logic is to do away with the object of philosophical study and fall into scepticism; for logic can only develop illogically. The pretended object of philosophical study which remains for the devotees of a progressive logic — the totality, the “Absolute”, the historical-unhistorical — merely exemplifies this scepticism, for its “phases” have to be taken at random; there is nothing to show that any phase is a phase of its, that any history is its history.note

To overcome scepticism, then, to have philosophy, we must recognise that there is no universal history, no one-track development. Our attention being drawn to history, the weaknesses of Hegel's position enable us to see that it is not a single process, not the progressive unfolding of the Absolute. We find likewise that the history of philosophical theory is not a progress from lower to higher outlooks. There is retrogression (i.e., the recrudescence of errors) just as much as progress, and we cannot say that there will be a time when we do not require to go back to earlier problems, that earlier views can be “taken up” into a higher system as Hegel thought preceding philosophies could be into his, that philosophy can culminate. Truths, we say, can be discovered but they can also be forgotten. Indeed the doctrine of “outlooks” (of a general point of view which can cover or embody each particular view we have) rests on inability to grasp the independence of truths and is part of the illogicality of the Hegelian totalism.

Any period in the history of philosophy will afford illustrations of these points. In Greek philosophy there is the notable case of Heraclitus, who, in spite of his exposure of Pythagorean rationalism, exercised a very slight influence on later thought in comparison with the Pythagoreans. Again, Aristotle's “advance” on Plato consisted largely in a vulgarisation of his doctrines. So in modern philosophy (the passage to which raises the further question of periods which were philosophically null) there is no steady advance, but commonly a man's successors, even when they arrive at a better position on one point, get into a worse position on others. Berkeley successfully exposed Locke's representationism (though this did not prevent either Berkeley himself or his successors from falling into representationist errors), but wrongly opposed Locke's recognition of the existence of things independently of their being known. Hume refuted Berkeley's theory of spirit, but went back to an acceptance of “rational science” in his doctrine of relations of ideas. Kant corrected

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Hume's theory of spatial and temporal discontinuity and strikingly developed his theory of causality, but at the same time deviated into a confused doctrine of moral causation. Hegel, in turn, while rightly attacking the Kantian dualism, was equally if less obviously dualistic in his conception of a reconciliation or transcendence of differences in Spirit, and lost, in a flood of categories and teleological bathos, what was positive even in Kant's phenomenalist conception of science.

To say that all these were necessary errors is to say that Kant, e.g., can be criticised only from the Hegelian point of view (or if we select someone else, say Fichte, as exemplifying the next “moment” in thought, only from the Fichtean point of view), which is simply not the case. We can understand Kant's position, and, for that matter, Hegel's criticism of Kant's position, only by considering what are the questions at issue, i.e., only by investigating certain logical problems and seeing whether Kant was right or wrong about them. In considering these questions we are not concerned with whether Hegel ever lived or not; and even if it was he who had shown us how to criticise Kant, he could have done so only by showing where Kant was wrong, i.e., by leading us not to the adoption of an “outlook” but to the recognition of certain truths — not Hegelian truths but objective facts.

This is not to say that the study of historical connections, of the influence of one man's theory on another's, is not a good thing. But one of its merits is just that it enables us to get over “illusions of progress”. Not the least of the reasons for studying the Greek philosophers is that they are far clearer on many questions than modern philosophers, that they avoid many modern errors, and especially that they are not, like the moderns, obsessed with “the problem of knowledge” — that they do not set out to discover (i.e., to know!) how, or how much, we can know, before they are prepared to know anything. This “criticism of the instrument” amounts to scientific defeatism, and the instrumental view of mind has both prevented a knowledge of minds themselves and hampered direct inquiry into logical and other scientific problems.

Now it is part of the value of Hegel's work that he attacked such utilitarian conceptions, that in his theory of “the thought in things” he recognised that minds and what they know are subject to the same logic. But he was sufficiently infected by the doctrines he opposed to recognise an initial opposition which had to be overcome, a transcendence of differences and a resultant unity. On this theory, then, in place of the logical recognition of distinctions, relation (e.g., between a mind and something it knows) was illogically treated as union, as precluding or overcoming distinction. Differences had then to be reinstated as aspects of or moments in the whole, each expressing the whole in a certain degree or with a certain intensity, though it could not be shown how they did so, any more than the nature of the passage from one moment to the next could be demonstrated. (A similar point arises in connection with Leibniz's theory of perception and appetition.) The recognition of the interaction of distinct things, of things as complex and active, of history, requires the

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rejection of transcendence and expression, of the Absolute and its aspects, of the philosophy of Spirit or of Matter.

It is in laying the foundations of a logic of things as historical that Kant is important, and in relation to this part of Kant's theory Hegel can be regarded only as reactionary. He undoubtedly brought out some of Kant's inconsistencies, but he came down on the wrong side, and his influence was such as to close the main path that Kant had opened up. Kant showed, as against Locke, that the objects of science are just the objects of observation, that “matter” (that which is treated of in physics) is what we perceive and not something behind it. He showed as against sensationalism (a rationalist doctrine miscalled “empiricism”) that connections and distinctions among things are known along with things. And he thus showed how science could be other than a matter of guesswork, as, on the doctrine of Berkeley (more consistent than the other upholders of “ideas”), it would have been.

Nevertheless, and even apart from occasional concessions to this very doctrine of ideas, Kant was sufficiently imbued with the assumptions of his predecessors to take that field of science (things in Space and Time, with the characters and relations which this implies) as only a result of the application of the conditions of knowledge to certain postulated material. The objects of physical science, found by us in a historical medium, are merely “phenomena” and not things themselves. It may be pointed out in criticism that, as soon as we try to think of a relation between things themselves and phenomena (or between mind and the phenomena it knows), we have to think of it as spatio-temporal; in talking of things themselves at all, we are bringing them under the categories which are said to govern phenomenal existence. Hence the solution of the Kantian division in reality is just that the objects of observation are things themselves, and that we ourselves are also such things, existing under the same spatio-temporal conditions as other things, and, under these conditions, entering into relations with them (being in the same situation as they are) whereby we can know them. Such an empirical development of Kantianism, while showing how positive science is possible and what is the field of a positive logic, incidentally does away with the peculiar “problem of knowledge”. Historical situations in which A knows X will be possible objects of study on the same footing as other historical situations.

Hegel, however, did not make this philosophical advance but side-tracked it. He “did away with” the difficulty of a divided reality by taking the different types of reality as moments within a spiritual whole, different aspects of a unity, reconciled within that unity. Thus the division is retained and at the same time “overcome”; Hegel takes the typically idealist line of having things both ways. In support of the “union of the diverse” it is argued quite properly that there can be no object without a subject and no subject without an object. This is to say that, whenever knowledge occurs, there is both something which knows and something which is known. But that does not imply that these are not distinct things, that

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they are aspects of a totality, mental or otherwise; it does not imply that a non-mental thing need be an object (need be known), or that mind (or anything capable of knowing) cannot be an object. There is, then, no “union” in the matter and no question of “aspects”.

Hegel, like Berkeley, certainly did good work in attacking representationism, i.e., the view that the mind has “ideas” which symbolise “outside things”. But his solution, like Berkeley's, is itself representational; each factor in a situation becomes an aspect or expression of the whole, is the situation “raised to a certain power” though not completed. Hence thought, instead of being regarded as a relation, is regarded as a certain essence or spirit which can be expressed, with different degrees of adequacy, (a) in minds, which can think and which are thus “thought at the subjective level”, and (b) in things which can be thought and are thus “objective thought” (or objective mind). Expressing the whole, these forms of thought at the same time, and on that account, express one another; they are “powers” of one another and of the whole. Now this doctrine is clearly otiose or “metaphysical”, because, in order to say what power of Spirit anything is, we have to state it in its own character (e.g., Space will be the spatial power of Spirit). At the same time, in making things “signify” one another, it denies independence, and leads to just such a division between immediate data and meanings as is found in the most crudely representationist theory.

While it may be said, then, that the doctrine of “objective mind” permits, up to a point, of the study of things in their own character and thus of the development of positive science, it does so to a less extent than Kant's doctrine, since Space and Time are put on the same footing as any quality of things, viz., as powers of mind; and the demand for an underlying “spiritual significance” of every event, and for “spiritual necessity” linking events, can only have the effect of bringing science down to the level of theology or guesswork (e??as?a). This is an outstanding defect of the Hegelian philosophy — that every new historical fact alters logic by introducing a new “logical moment” or category, and since each problem is that of understanding reality “from a certain point of view”, we have no means of making any problem precise.note

A secondary, though serious, defect of the doctrine of objective mind is its implication that minds are not specific things, the distinction between the mental and the non-mental being the one which suffers most in the attempted removal or transcendence of all distinctions. This incidentally renders obscure the description of the Absolute as mental. Indeed the illogical character of any Monism comes out in any attempt to describe the One, to show how it can have aspects at all, let alone the particular aspects it is said to have — how, so to speak, there can be a distinction

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without a difference. Thus, confusions as to mind apart, the illogicality of the Hegelian position is most clearly seen in the general conception of the reconciliation of opposites, or of questions to which the answer is both yes and no. A sufficient rejoinder to such attempts to have things both ways is that “No” means “Not Yes”, as is indicated by the fact that we can intelligibly say that the answer is not both yes and no. The person who says “No” to Hegelianism is not at the same time saying “Yes”. In fact, exposition of the Hegelian philosophy brings it under the conditions of discussion, in which issues have to be settled one way or the other, and permits its playing fast and loose with logic to be shown up.

It may be asked, then, why so clearly illogical a doctrine as the denial of direct negation should have been so influential. It could not influence the development of science except to retard it, but the fact that it has retarded science and especially psychological science still wants explanation. The answer is that Hegelianism has to be met, that it can be met only by the abandonment of all idealistic or totalistic notions, and that this requires the abandonment of any form of rationalism. The impossibility of an aggregation of elements or “whole natures” is shown in the Hegelian criticism of associationist psychology, as it was originally shown in the Eleatic criticism of the Pythagorean units. So long, we may say, as any “ultimate” is recognised, whether it be a purpose, an essence or a totality, real distinctions, the existence of independent things, cannot be. And this is borne out by the prevalence in the sciences, not only of rationalistic and teleological or instrumental conceptions, but of conceptions of “the whole”, of Nature and the like. Thus, whatever professions of “starting from the facts” may be made, the transcendence of differences is still the chosen and hopeless task.

The only serious answer, then, to the assertion that the universe is spiritual, is that there is not a universe. If all things were aspects of the One, the One could just as much, though just as little, be called mental as anything else. Hence any doctrine of “the physical universe”, any “materialistic monism”, can no more provide an answer to Hegel than any form of atomism can. Only a thoroughly pluralistic doctrine, a logic which, in its application to psychology, will eliminate the totalistic conception of The Mind, can meet and overturn the position of Hegel. And such a doctrine has not yet been set up by Hegel's successors and critics. The “positive philosophy” of Comte showed the possibility of it, but Comte was still teleologist enough to take a merely instrumental view of mind and to recognise stages in a universal history. Strains of rationalism are also observable in the work of the various writers previously mentioned, even though, by taking what is valuable in each, we can construct a coherent anti-idealist position.

These considerations emphasise the necessity of abandoning the vulgar, optimistic doctrine of progress and recognising that things, including philosophy, can regress; though, this being admitted, it may still be found that, in the development of certain things, progress has been made. We have to recognise accident, i.e., the fact that there is no formula, no

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“principle”, which covers all things; that there is no totality or system of things. And this recognition at once supports a life of “responsibility and adventure” and leads to scientific discovery. We are unscientific if we take the Hegelian view that the end is present in the beginning; the doctrine of potentialities, while it denies real development, enables us only to parade our wisdom after the event. But we are equally unscientific if we say that the beginning is present in the end, that a thing is what it comes out of, instead of what it has it in it to become. We are giving no account of mind if we say that it is an “epiphenomenon” or a mere “property” of matter; we do not solve psychological problems by the simple assertion that thought is a function of the brain. What property, what function, is the question. If we are going to solve problems on a basis of identity, we may indifferently make our identification in one direction or the other. Evolutionary rationalism of this kind is sufficiently met by the Hegelian demonstration that mind must be something, even if Hegel wrongly takes it as something teleological (something with a reconciling mission) and himself upholds a philosophy of identity and a one-track development.

What is required for the emancipation of psychological science, in particular, from identity-mongering is the abandonment of the notion of “thought”, as something either to be contrasted or to be identified with things. Our thoughts are just our dealings with things; and this pragmatic view, developed to some extent by James and at least suggested by Marx, enables us, setting things on the level of historical facts, to stress that in which scientific objectivity is to be found, viz., the proposition. “The thought in things” can usefully mean not any ultimate or cosmic significance, not any evolutionary purpose, but only their propositional and consequently assertible character. Whether we assert or recognise any particular fact or not depends on our character and our historical situation, i.e., depends on our being here and such, while it is there and so. The recognition of a single logic of events, of complex things interacting in Space and Time, disposes at once of the logic and of the psychology of “thought”.

For an answer to Hegel, then, we have to drop epistemology — the intrusion of mind into logic and of a false logic into psychology — and return to the Greek consideration of things, as Burnet, no less than the English realists, assists us to do; we have to develop a positive theory of mind as feeling and as multiple, on the lines suggested by Freud; we have to be empirical, like James, and to recognise Space and Time as the conditions of existence, as is done by Alexander, largely under the influence of Kant. Doing this we can reject significance and purpose and any single “stuff” of reality, whether matter or spirit. We find such notions, in whatever form they appear, to be on the same level of romanticism as Hegelian formulae like “the end is present in the beginning”, “the truth is the whole”, or “the real is the rational” — i.e., they are all solutions on a higher plane than the problem, and so are denials of

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the problem. Romanticism, whether it seeks to uplift or to reach profundity, is always of this intellectually defeatist character.

Certain main points, which, of course, could be more fully and exactly treated, emerge from this brief consideration of Hegel's place in the history of philosophy. We find that only a pluralistic logic of events can provide a logical answer to idealism, and that rationalism, in science and philosophy, opens the way to monism and this again to scepticism — theology, defeatism, leaving things in the hands of higher powers. We find, further, that history is not progress, that the history of speculation, in particular, is not a progressive discovery of truths and removal of errors, an outstanding illustration being that the idealistic errors of Kant, akin as they are to the errors erected by Hegel into a system, did not prevent him from utilising empirical material and working out a logic of events which was not developed but only obscured by Hegel. It may also be pointed out that the most widely prevalent contemporary philosophies are varieties of representationism, more or less similar to Locke's, in spite of the decisive refutations of Locke's view that have been formulated by philosophic thinkers from Berkeley onwards. This failure to progress in philosophy indicates that it is not sufficient for a rejection of representationism to have gone through the stage of Hegelianism, nor is it necessary, as we see from a consideration of the commonsense realism of the Greeks.

But the denial of the doctrine of progress does not prevent us from recognising the occurrence of discoveries and other good things. So the baneful effects of the anti-logic of Hegel, his encouragement of mystification in the doctrine of reconciliation of opposites and the cult of profundity, his provision of a sounding and worthless terminology for the theologically-minded and the literary moralisers, his detrimental influence, in opposition to precision and to independence of thought and action, on culture in general — all this should not keep us from seeing that inquiry has here and there been stimulated by his attempt at finding a single logic and his insistence on the historical treatment of things, and even by his merely drawing attention to the work of his predecessors. But to say, in the face of all the obscurities and confusions he introduced, that he represents a “necessary stage” in the history of philosophy, is to be wise, like Hegel himself (or like “the owl of Minerva”), after the event; it is to be, like him, opposed to precision, to the investigation of the independent issue, the proposition; it is, in fact, to be unscientific and unhistorical.

The philosophy of aspects is not an aspect of philosophy, though philosophers may learn much from studying it and may see more clearly, in considering its influence, what is and what is not a refutation of it. And this will help them to see that philosophy is not “the history of philosophy” but is a certain subject to be studied, that the philosopher's business is the enunciation and demonstration of philosophic truths, and that these truths do not progress.