Riddles of Philosophy
VII. The Classics of World and Life Conception
A sentence in Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling's Philosophy of Nature strikes us like a flash of lightning illuminating the past and future path of the evolution of philosophy. It reads, “To philosophize about nature means to create nature.” What had been a deep conviction of Goethe and Schiller, namely, that creative imagination must have a share in the creation of a world conception, is monumentally expressed in this sentence. What nature yields voluntarily when we focus our attention on it in observation and perception does not contain its deepest meaning. Man cannot conceive this meaning from without. He must produce it.
Schelling was especially gifted for this kind of creation. With him, all spiritual energies tended toward the imagination. His mind was inventive without compare. His imagination did not produce pictures as the artistic imagination does, but rather concepts and ideas. Through this disposition of mind he was well-suited to continue along Fichte's path of thought. Fichte did not have this productive imagination. In his search for truth he had penetrated as far as to the center of man's soul, the “ego.” If this center is to become the nucleus for the world conception, then a thinker who holds this view must also be capable of arriving at thoughts whose content are saturated with world and life as he proceeds from the “ego” as a vantage point. This can only be done by means of the power of imagination, and this power was not at Fichte's disposal. For this reason, he was really limited in his philosophical position all his life to directing attention to the “ego” and to pointing out that it has to gain a content in thoughts. He, himself, had been unable to supply it with such a content, which can be learned clearly from the lectures he gave in 1813 at the University of Berlin on the Doctrine of Science (Posthumous Works, Vol. 1). For those who want to arrive at a world conception, he there demands “a completely new inner sense organ, which for the ordinary man does not exist at all.” But Fichte does not go beyond this postulate. He fails to develop what such an organ is to perceive. Schelling saw the result of this higher sense in the thoughts that his imagination produced in his soul, and he calls this “intellectual imagination” (intellectuelle Anschauung). For him, then, who saw a product created by the spirit in the spirit's statement about nature, the following question became urgent. How can what springs from the spirit be the pattern of the law that rules in the real world, holding sway in real nature? With sharp words Schelling turns against those who believe that we “merely project our ideas into nature,” because “they have no inkling of what nature is and must be for us. . . . For we are not satisfied to have nature accidentally (through the intermediary function of a third element, for instance) correspond to the laws of our spirit. We insist that nature itself necessarily and fundamentally should not only express, but realize, the laws of our spirit and that it should only then be, and be called, nature if it did just this. . . . Nature is to be the visible spirit: spirit the invisible nature. At this point then, at the point of the absolute identity of the spirit in us and of nature outside us, the problem must be solved as to how a nature outside ourselves should be possible.”
Nature and spirit, then, are not two different entities at all but one and the same being in two different forms. The real meaning of Schelling concerning this unity of nature and spirit has rarely been correctly grasped. It is necessary to immerse oneself completely into his mode of conception if one wants to avoid seeing in it nothing but a triviality or an absurdity. To clarify this mode of conception one can point to a sentence in Schelling's book, On the World Soul, in which he expresses himself on the nature of gravity. Many people find a difficulty in understanding this concept because it implies a so-called “action in distance.” The sun attracts the earth in spite of the fact that there is nothing between the sun and earth to act as intermediary. One is to think that the sun extends its sphere of activity through space to places where it is not present. Those who live in coarse, sensual perceptions see a difficulty in such a thought. How can a body act in a place where it is not? Schelling reverses this thought process. He says, “It is true that a body acts only where it is, but it is just as true that it is only where it acts.” If we see that the sun affects the earth through the force of attraction, then it follows from this fact that it extends its being as far as our earth and that we have no right to limit its existence exclusively to the place in which it acts through its being visible. The sun transcends the limits where it is visible with its being. Only a part of it can be seen; the other part reveals itself through the attraction. We must also think of the relation of spirit and nature in approximately this manner. The spirit is not merely where it is perceived; it is also where it perceives. Its being extends as far as to the most distant places where objects can still be observed. It embraces and permeates all nature that it knows. When the spirit thinks the law of an external process, this process does not remain outside the spirit. The latter does not merely receive a mirror picture, but extends its essence into a process. The spirit permeates the process and, in finding the law of the process, it is not the spirit in its isolated brain corner that proclaims this law; it is the law of the process that expresses itself. The spirit has moved to the place where the law is active. Without the spirit's attention the law would also have been active but it would not have been expressed. When the spirit submerges into the process, as it were, the law is then, in addition to being active in nature, expressed in conceptual form. It is only when the spirit withdraws its attention from nature and contemplates its own being that the impression arises that the spirit exists in separation from nature, in the same way that the sun's existence appears to the eye as being limited within a certain space when one disregards the fact that it also has its being where it works through attraction. Therefore, if I, within my spirit, cause ideas to arise in which laws of nature are expressed, the two statements, “I produce nature,” and “nature produces itself within me,” are equally true.
Now there are two possible ways to describe the one being that is spirit and nature at the same time. First, I can point out the natural laws that are at work in reality; second, I can show how the spirit proceeds to arrive at these laws. In both cases I am directed by the same object. In the first instance, the law shows me its activity in nature; in the second, the spirit shows me the procedure used to represent the same law in the imagination. In the one case, I am engaged in natural science; in the other, in spiritual science. How these two belong together is described by Schelling in an attractive fashion:
The necessary trend of all natural science is to proceed from nature toward intelligence. This, and nothing else, is at the bottom of the tendency to bring theory into natural phenomena. The highest perfection of natural science would be the perfect transfiguration of all laws of nature into laws of imagination and thinking. The phenomena (the material element) must completely vanish and only the laws (the formal element) must remain. This is the reason for the fact that the more the law-structure in nature, itself, emerges, as if it were breaking the crust, the more the covering element vanishes. The phenomena themselves become more spiritual and finally disappear. The phenomena of optics are nothing but a geometry, the lines of which are drawn by the light, and this light, itself, is already of an ambiguous materiality. In the phenomena of magnetism, all material traces have already vanished. Of the phenomena of gravity, which, even according to natural scientists, can only be understood as a direct spiritual effect of action into distance, nothing is left but their law, the application of which is the mechanism of the celestial motions on a large scale. The completed theory of nature would be the one through which the whole of nature would dissolve into intelligence. The inanimate and consciousless products of nature are only unsuccessful attempts of nature to reflect itself, and the so-called dead nature is, in general, an immature intelligence, so that the intelligent character shines through unconsciously in its phenomena. The highest aim of nature — to become completely objective to itself — can be reached by it only through the highest and last reflection, which is man, or, more generally speaking, what we call reason, through which nature returns in its own track and whereby it becomes evident that nature originally is identical with what is known in us as the intelligent and conscious element.
Schelling spun the facts of nature into an artful network of thought in such a fashion that all of its phenomena stood as in an ideal, harmonious organism before his creative imagination. He was inspired by the feeling that the ideas that appear in his imagination are also the creative forces of nature's process. Spiritual forces, then, are the basis of nature, and what appears dead and lifeless to our eyes has its origin in the spiritual. In turning our spirit to this, we discover the ideas, the spiritual, in nature. Thus, for man, according to Schelling, the things of nature are manifestations of the spirit. The spirit conceals itself behind these manifestations as behind a cover, so to speak. It shows itself in our own inner life in its right form. In this way, man knows what is spirit, and he is therefore able to find the spirit that is hidden in nature. The manner in which Schelling has nature return as spirit in himself reminds one of what Goethe believes is to be found in the perfect artist. The artist, in Goethe's opinion, proceeds in the production of a work of art as nature does in its creations. Therefore, we should observe in the artist's creation the same process through which everything has come into being that is spread out before man in nature. What nature conceals from the outer eye is presented in perceptible form to man in the process of artistic creation. Nature shows man only the finished works; man must decipher from these works how it proceeded to produce them. He is confronted with the creatures, not with the creator. In the case of the artist, creation and creator are observed at the same time. Schelling wants to penetrate through the products of nature to nature's creative process. He places himself in the position of creative nature and brings it into being within his soul as an artist produces his work of art. What are, then, according to Schelling, the thoughts that are contained in his world conception? They are the ideas of the creative spirit of nature. What preceded the things and what created them is what emerges in an individual human spirit as thought. This thought is to its original real existence as a memory picture of an experience is to the experience itself. Thereby, human science becomes for Schelling a reminiscence of the spiritual prototypes that were creatively active before the things existed. A divine spirit created the world and at the end of the process it also creates men in order to form in their souls as many tools through which the spirit can, in recollection, become aware of its creative activity. Schelling does not feel himself as an individual being at all as he surrenders himself to the contemplation of the world phenomena. He appears to himself as a part, a member of the creative world forces. Not he thinks, but the spirit of the world forces thinks in him. This spirit contemplates his own creative activity in him.
Schelling sees a world creation on a small scale in the production of a work of art. In the thinking contemplation of things, he sees a reminiscence of the world creation on a large scale. In the panorama of the world conception, the very ideas, which are the basis of things and have produced them, appear in our spirit. Man disregards everything in the world that the senses perceive in it and preserves only what pure thinking provides. In the creation and enjoyment of a work of art, the idea appears intimately permeated with elements that are revealed through the senses. According to Schelling's view, then, nature, art and world conception (philosophy) stand in the following relation to one another. Nature presents the finished products; world conception, the productive ideas; art combines both elements in harmonious interaction. On the one side, artistic activity stands halfway between creative nature, which produces without being aware of the ideas on the basis of which it creates, and, on the other, the thinking spirit, which knows these ideas without being able at the same time to create things with their help. Schelling expresses this with the words:
The ideal world of art and the real world of objects are therefore products of one and the same activity. The concurrence of both (the conscious and the unconscious) without consciousness leads to the real world, with consciousness to the esthetic world. The objective world is only the more primitive, still unconscious poem of the spirit, the general organon of philosophy, and the philosophy of art is the crowning piece of its entire structure.
The spiritual activities of man, his thinking contemplation and his artistic creation, appear to Schelling not merely as the separate accomplishments of the individual person, but, if they are understood in their highest significance, they are at the same time the achievement of the supreme being, the world spirit. In truly dithyrambic words, Schelling depicts the feeling that emerges in the soul when it becomes aware of the fact that its life is not merely an individual life limited to a point of the universe, but that its activity is one of general spirituality. When the soul says, “I know; I am aware,” then, in a higher sense, this means that the world spirit remembers its action before the existence of things; when the soul produces a work of art, it means that the world spirit repeats, on a small scale, what that spirit accomplished on a large scale at the creation of all nature.
The soul in man is not the principle of individuality, then, but that through which he lifts himself above all selfhood, through which he becomes capable of self-sacrifice, of selfless love, and, to crown it all, of the contemplation and knowledge of the essence of things and thereby of art. The soul is no longer occupied with matter, nor is it engaged in any direct intercourse with matter, but it is alone with spirit as the life of things. Even when appearing in the body, the soul is nevertheless free from the body, the consciousness of which — in its most perfect formation — merely hovers like a light dream by which it is not disturbed. The soul is not a quality, nor faculty, nor anything of that kind in particular. The soul does not know, but is knowledge. The soul is not good, not beautiful in the way that bodies also can be beautiful, but it is beauty itself. (On the Relation of Fine Arts to Nature.)
Such a mode of conception is reminiscent of the German mysticism that had a representative in Jakob Boehme (1575–1624). In Munich, where Schelling lived with short interruptions from 1806–1842, he enjoyed the stimulating association with Franz Benedict Baader, whose philosophical ideas moved completely in the direction of this older doctrine. This association gave Schelling the occasion to penetrate deeply into the thought world that depended entirely on a point of view at which he had arrived in his own thinking. If one reads the above quoted passage from the address, On the Relation of the Fine Arts to Nature, which he gave at the Royal Academy of Science in Munich in 1807, one is reminded of Jakob Boehme's view, “As thou beholdest the depth and the stars and the earth, thou seest thy God, and in the same thou also livest and hast thy being, and the same God ruleth thee also . . . thou art created out of this God and thou livest in Him; all thy knowledge also standeth in this God and when thou diest thou wilt be buried in this God.”
As Schelling's thinking developed, his contemplation of the world turned into the contemplation of God, or theosophy. In 1809, when he published his Philosophical Inquiries Concerning the Nature of Human Freedom and Topics Pertinent to This Question, he had already taken his stand on the basis of such a theosophy. All questions of world conception are now seen by him in a new light. If all things are divine, how can there be evil in the world since God can only be perfect goodness? If the soul is in God, how can it still follow its selfish interests? If God is and acts within me, how can I then still be called free, as I, in that case, do not at all act as a self-dependent being?
Thus does Schelling attempt to answer these questions through contemplation of God rather than through world contemplation. It would be entirely incongruous to God if a world of beings were created that he would continually have to lead and direct as helpless creatures. God is perfect only if he can create a world that is equal to himself in perfection. A god who can produce only what is less perfect than he, himself, is imperfect himself. Therefore, God has created beings in men who do not need his guidance, but are themselves free and independent as he is. A being that has its origin in another being does not have to be dependent on its originator, for it is not a contradiction that the son of man is also a man. As the eye, which is possible only in the whole structure of the organism, has nevertheless an independent life of its own, so also the individual soul is, to be sure, comprised in God, yet not directly activated by him as a part in a machine.
God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. How he could find his satisfaction in the most perfect machine is quite unintelligible. No matter in what form one might think the succession of created beings out of God, it can never be a mechanical succession, not a mere causation or production so that the products would not be anything in themselves. Nor could it be an emanation such that the emanating entity would remain merely a part of the being it sprang from and therefore would have no being of its own, nothing that would be self-dependent. The sequence of things out of God is a self-revelation of God. God, however, can only become revealed to himself in an element similar to him, in beings that are free and act out of their own initiative, for whose existence there is no ground but God but who are themselves like God.
If God were a God of the dead and all world phenomena merely like a mechanism, the individual processes of which could be derived from him as their cause and mover, then it would only be necessary to describe God and everything would be comprehended thereby. Out of God one would be able to understand all things and their activity, but this is not the case. The divine world has self-dependence. God created it, but it has its own being. Thus, it is indeed divine, but the divine appears in an entity that is independent of God; it appears in a non-divine element. As light is born out of darkness, so the divine world is born out of non-divine existence, and from this non-divine element springs evil, selfishness. God thus has not all beings in his power. He can give them the light, but they, themselves, emerge from the dark night. They are the sons of this night, and God has no power over whatever is darkness in them. They must work their way through the night into the light. This is their freedom. One can also say that the world is God's creation out of the ungodly. The ungodly, therefore, is the first, and the godly the second.
Schelling started out by searching for the ideas in all things, that is to say, by searching for what is divine in them. In this way, the whole world was transformed into a manifestation of God for him. He then had to proceed from God to the ungodly in order to comprehend the imperfect, the evil, the selfish. Now the whole process of world evolution became a continuous conquest of the ungodly by the godly for him. The individual man has his origin in the ungodly. He works his way out of this element into the divine. This process from the ungodly to the godly was originally the dominating element in the world. In antiquity men surrendered to their natures. They acted naively out of selfishness. The Greek civilization stands on this ground. It was the age in which man lived in harmony with nature, or, as Schiller expresses it in his essay, On Naive and Sentimental Poetry, man, himself, was nature and therefore did not seek nature. With the rise of Christianity, this state of innocence of humanity vanishes. Mere nature is considered as ungodly, as evil, and is seen as the opposite of the divine, the good. Christ appears to let the light of the divine shine in the darkness of the ungodly. This is the moment when “the earth becomes waste and void for the second time,” the moment of “birth of the higher light of the spirit, which was from the beginning of the world, but was not comprehended by the darkness that operated by and for itself, and was then still in its concealed and limited manifestation. It appears in order to oppose the personal and spiritual evil, also in personal and human shape, and as mediator in order to restore again the connection of creation and God on the highest level. For only the personal can heal the personal, and God must become man to enable man to come to God.”
Spinozism is a world conception that seeks the ground of all world events in God, and derives all processes according to external necessary laws from this ground, just as the mathematical truths are derived from the axioms. Schelling considers such a world conception insufficient. Like Spinoza, he also believes that all things are in God, but according to his opinion, they are not determined only by “the lifelessness of his system, the soullessness of its form, the poverty of its concepts and expressions, the inexorable harshness of its statements that tallies perfectly with its abstract mode of contemplation.” Schelling, therefore, does find Spinoza's “mechanical view of nature” perfectly consistent, but nature, itself, does not show us this consistency.
All that nature tells us is that it does not exist as a result of a geometric necessity. There is in it, not clear, pure reason, but personality and spirit; otherwise, the geometric intellect, which has ruled so long, ought to have penetrated it long ago. Intellect would necessarily have realized its idol of general and eternal laws of nature to a far greater extent, whereas it has everyday to acknowledge nature's irrational relation to itself more and more.
As man is not merely intellect and reason but unites still other faculties and forces within himself, so, according to Schelling, is this also the case with the divine supreme being. A God who is clear, pure reason seems like personified mathematics. A God, however, who cannot proceed according to pure reason with his world creation but continuously has to struggle against the ungodly, can be regarded as “a wholly personal living being.” His life has the greatest analogy with the human life. As man attempts to overcome the imperfect within himself as he strives toward his ideal of perfection, so such a God is conceived as an eternally struggling God whose activity is the progressive conquest of the ungodly. Schelling compares Spinoza's God to the “oldest pictures of divinities, who appeared the more mysterious the less individually-living features spoke out of them.” Schelling endows his God with more and more individualized traits. He depicts him as a human being when he says, “If we consider what is horrible in nature and the spirit-world, and how much more a benevolent hand seems to cover it up for us, then we cannot doubt that the deity is reigning over a world of horror, and that God could be called the horrible, the terrible God, not merely figuratively but literally.”
Schelling could no longer look upon a God like this in the same way in which Spinoza had regarded his God. A God who orders everything according to the laws of reason can also be understood through reason. A personal God, as Schelling conceived him in his later life, is incalculable, for he does not act according to reason alone. In a mathematical problem we can predetermine the result through mere thinking; with an acting human being this is not possible. With him, we have to wait and see what action he will decide upon in a given moment. Experience must be added to reason. A pure rational science is, therefore, insufficient for Schelling for a conception of world and God. In the later period of his world conception, he calls all knowledge that is derived from reason a negative knowledge that has to be supplemented by a positive knowledge. Whoever wants to know the living God must not merely depend on the necessary conclusions of reason; he must plunge into the life of God with his whole personal being. He will then experience what no conclusion, no pure reason can give him. The world is not a necessary effect of the divine cause, but a free action of the personal God. What Schelling believed he had reached, not by the cognitive process of the method of reason, but by intuition as the free incalculable acts of God, he has presented in his Philosophy of Revelation and Philosophy of Mythology. He used the content of these two works as the basis of the lectures he gave at the University of Berlin after he had been called to the Prussian capital by Frederic Wilhelm IV. They were published only after Schelling's death in 1854.
With views of this kind, Schelling shows himself to be the boldest and most courageous of the group of philosophers who were stimulated to develop an idealistic world conception by Kant. Under Kant's influence, the attempt to philosophize about things that transcended thinking and observation was abandoned. One tried to be satisfied with staying within the limits of observation and thinking. Where Kant, however, had concluded from the necessity of such a resignation that no knowledge of transcendent things was possible, the post-Kantians declared that as observation and thinking do not point at a transcendent divine element, they are this divine element themselves. Among those who took this position, Schelling was the most forceful. Fichte had taken everything into the ego; Schelling had spread this ego over everything. What he meant to show was not, as Fichte did, that the ego was everything, but that everything was ego. Schelling had the courage to declare not only the ego's content of ideas as divine, but the whole human spirit-personality. He not only elevated the human reason into a godly reason, but he made the human life content into the godly personal entity. A world explanation that proceeds from man and thinks of the course of the whole world as having as its ground an entity that directs its course in the same way as man directs his actions, is called anthropomorphism. Anyone who considers events as being dependent on a general world reason, explains the world anthropomorphically, for this general world reason is nothing but the human reason made into this general reason. When Goethe says, “Man never understands how anthropomorphic he is,” he has in mind the fact that our simplest statements concerning nature contain hidden anthropomorphisms. When we say a body rolls on because another body pushed it, we form such a conception from our own experience. We push a body and it rolls on. When we now see that a ball moves against another ball that thereupon rolls on, we form the conception that the first ball pushed the second, using the analogy of the effect we ourselves exert. Haeckel observes that the anthropomorphic dogma “compares God's creation and rule of the world with the artful creation of an ingenious technician or engineer, or with the government of a wise ruler. God, the Lord, as creator, preserver and ruler of the world is, in all his thinking and doing, always conceived as similar to a human being.”
Schelling had the courage of the most consistent anthropomorphism. He finally declared man, with all his life-content, as divinity, and since a part of this life-content is not only the reasonable but the unreasonable as well, he had the possibility of explaining also the unreasonable in the world. To this end, however, he had to supplement the view of reason by another view that does not have its source in thinking. This higher view, according to his opinion, he called "positive philosophy.”
It “is the free philosophy in the proper sense of the word; whoever does not want it, may leave it. I put it to the free choice of everybody. I only say that if, for instance, somebody wants to get at the real process, a free world creation, etc., he can have all this only by means of such a philosophy. If he is satisfied with a rational philosophy and has no need beyond it, he may continue holding this position, only he must give up his claim to possess with and in a rational philosophy what the latter simply cannot supply because of its very nature, namely, the real God, the real process and a free relation between God and world.”
The negative philosophy “will remain the preferred philosophy for the school, the positive philosophy, that for life. Only if both of them are united will the complete consecration be obtained that can be demanded of philosophy. As is well-known in the Eleusinian mysteries, the minor mysteries were distinguished from the major ones and the former were considered as a prerequisite stage of the latter . . . The positive philosophy is the necessary consequence of the correctly understood negative one and thus one may indeed say that in the negative philosophy are celebrated the minor mysteries of philosophy, in the positive philosophy, the major ones.”
If the inner life is declared to be the divine life, then it appears to be an inconsistency to limit this distinction to a part of this inner life. Schelling is not guilty of this inconsistency. The moment he declared that to explain nature is to create nature, he set the direction for all his life conception. If thinking contemplation of nature is a repetition of nature's creation, then the fundamental character of this creation must also correspond to that of human action; it must be an act of freedom, not one of geometric necessity. We cannot know a free creation through the laws of reason; it must reveal itself through other means.
The individual human personality lives and has its being in and through the ground of the world, which is spirit. Nevertheless, man is in possession of his full freedom and self-dependence. Schelling considered this conception as one of the most important in his whole philosophy. Because of it, he thought he could consider his idealistic trend of ideas as a progress from earlier views since those earlier views thought the individual to be completely determined by the world spirit when they considered it rooted in it, and thereby robbed it of its freedom and self-dependence.
For until the discovery of idealism, the real concept of freedom was lacking in all systems, in that of Leibniz as well as in that of Spinoza. A freedom that many of us had conceived and even boasted of because of the vivid inner experience it touched on, namely, one that is to consist merely in the domination of the intelligent principle over the forces of sensuality and desire, such a freedom could be derived from Spinoza's presupposition, not merely as a last resort, but with clarity and the greatest of ease.
A man who had only this kind of freedom in mind and who, with the aid of thoughts that had been borrowed from Spinozism, attempted a reconciliation of the religious consciousness with a thoughtful world contemplation, of theology and philosophy, was Schelling's contemporary, Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768–1834). In his speeches on Religion Addressed to the Educated Among Its Scorners (1799), he exclaimed, “Sacrifice with me in reverence to the spirit of the saintly departed Spinoza! The lofty world spirit filled him; the infinite was his beginning and end; the universe his only and eternal love. He reflected himself in holy innocence and deep humility in the eternal world, and could observe how he, in turn, was the world's most graceful mirror.”
Freedom for Schleiermacher is not the ability of a being to decide itself, in complete independence, on its life's own aim and direction. It is, for him, only a “development out of oneself.” But a being can very well develop out of itself and yet be unfree in a higher sense. If the supreme being of the world has planted a definite seed into the separate individuality that is brought to maturity by him, then the course of life of the individual is precisely predetermined but nevertheless develops out of itself. A freedom of this kind, as Schleiermacher thinks of it, is readily thinkable in a necessary world order in which everything occurs according to a strict mathematical necessity. For this reason, it is possible for him to maintain that “the plant also has its freedom.” Because Schleiermacher knew of a freedom only in this sense, he could also seek the origin of religion in the most unfree feeling, in the “feeling of absolute dependence.” Man feels that he must rest his existence on a being other than himself, on God. His religious consciousness is rooted in this feeling. A feeling is always something that must be linked to something else. It has only a derived existence. The thought, the idea, have so distinctly a self-dependent existence that Schelling can say of them, “Thus thoughts, to be sure, are produced by the soul, but the produced thought is an independent power continuing its own action by itself, and indeed growing within the soul to the extent that it conquers and subdues its own mother.” Whoever, therefore, attempts to grasp the supreme being in the form of thoughts, receives this being and holds it as a self-dependent power within himself. This power can then be followed by a feeling, just as the conception of a beautiful work of art is followed by a certain feeling of satisfaction. Schleiermacher, however, does not mean to seize the object of religion, but only the religious feeling. He leaves the object, God, entirely indefinite. Man feels himself as dependent, but he does not know the being on which he depends. All concepts that we form of the deity are inadequate to the lofty character of this being. For this reason, Schleiermacher avoids going into any definite concepts concerning the deity. The most indefinite, the emptiest conception, is the one he likes best. “The ancients experienced religion when they considered every characteristic form of life throughout the world to be the work of a deity. They had absorbed the peculiar form of activity of the universe as a definite feeling and designated it as such.” This is why the subtle words that Schleiermacher uttered concerning the essence of immortality are indefinite:
The aim and character of a religious life is not an immortality that is outside of time, or behind time, or else merely after this time, but one that is still in time. It is the immortality that we can already have here in this temporal life and that is a problem, the solution of which continually engages us. To become one with the infinite in the midst of the finite, and to be eternal in every moment, is the immortality of religion.
Had Schelling said this, it would have been possible to connect it with a definite conception. It would then mean, “Man produces the thought of God. This would then be God's memory of his own being. The infinite would be brought to life in the individual person. It would be present in the finite.” But as Schleiermacher writes those sentences without Schelling's foundations, they do no more than create a nebulous atmosphere. What they express is the dim feeling that man depends on something infinite. It is the theology in Schleiermacher that prevents him from proceeding to definite conceptions concerning the ground of the world. He would like to lift religious feeling, piety, to a higher level, for he is a personality with rare depth of soul. He demands dignity for true religious devotion. Everything that he said about this feeling is of noble character. He defended the moral attitude that is taken in Schlegel's Lucinde, which springs purely out of the individual's own arbitrary free choice and goes beyond all limits of traditional social conceptions. He could do so because he was convinced that a man can be genuinely religious even if he is venturesome in the field of morality. He could say, “There is no healthy feeling that is not pious.” Schleiermacher did understand religious feeling. He was well-acquainted with the feeling that Goethe, in his later age, expressed in his poem, Trilogy of Passion:
From our heart's pureness springs a yearning tender
Unto an unknown Being, lofty, blameless,
In gratefulness unchallenged to surrender,
Unriddling for ourselves the Ever-Nameless
In pious awe –
Because he felt this religious feeling deeply, he also knew how to describe the inner religious life. He did not attempt to know the object of this devotion but left it to be done by the various kinds of theology, each in its own fashion. What he intended to delineate was the realm of religious experience that is independent of a knowledge of God. In this sense, Schleiermacher was a peacemaker between belief and knowledge.
“In most recent times religion has increasingly contracted the developed extent of its content and withdrawn into the intensive life of religious fervor or feeling and often, indeed, in a fashion that manifests a thin and meager content.” Hegel wrote these words in the preface of the second edition of his Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1827). He continued by saying:
As long as religion still has a creed, a doctrine, a dogmatic system, it has something that philosophy can make its concern and use to join hands with religion. This fact, however, must not be approached by the inferior, dividing intellect through which modern religion is blinded. It considers the realms of philosophy and religion as being mutually exclusive and in separating them in this way assumes that they can only be linked together externally. The real relation, and this is implied also in the previous statement, is such that religion can, to be sure, be without philosophy. Philosophy, however, cannot be without religion, but comprises it within its own realm. The true religion, the religion of the spirit, must have such a credo, must have a content. The spirit is essentially consciousness of content that has become objective. As feeling, it is the nonobjective content itself and only the lowest stage of consciousness, and, indeed, of the very form of soul life that man has in common with the animals. It is thinking only that makes the spirit out of the soul, the soul with which the animal also is gifted. Philosophy is only a consciousness of this content, of the spirit and of its truth. It is consciousness of man's essential nature that distinguishes him from the animal and makes him capable of religion.
The whole spiritual physiognomy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) becomes apparent when we hear words like these from him, through which he wanted to express clearly and poignantly that he regarded thinking that is conscious of itself as the highest activity of man, as the force through which alone man can gain a position with respect to the ultimate questions. The feeling of dependence, which was considered by Schleiermacher as the originator of religious experience, was declared to be characteristically the function of the animal's life by Hegel. He stated paradoxically that if the feeling of dependence were to constitute the essence of Christianity, then the dog would be the best Christian. Hegel is a personality who lives completely in the element of thought.
Because man is a thinking being, common sense, no more than philosophy, will ever relinquish its prerogative to rise from the empirical world conception to God. This elevation has as its prerequisite the world contemplation of thinking, not merely that of the sensual, animal consciousness.
Hegel makes into the content of his world conception what can be obtained by self-conscious thinking. For what man finds in any other way can be nothing but a preparatory stage of a world conception.
The elevation of thinking above the sensual, its transcendence from the finite to the infinite, the leap into the supersensible that is taken with an abrupt termination of sensual content — all this is thinking itself; this transition itself is thinking. When such a transition is not to be made, it means that no thinking is taking place. In fact, animals do not go beyond sensual perception and immediate impression, and do not make this leap. For this reason, they have no religion.
What man can extract from things through thinking is the highest element that exists in them and for him. Only this element can he recognize as their essence. Thought is, therefore, the essence of things for Hegel. All perceptual imagination, all scientific observation of the world and its events do, finally, result in man's production of thoughts concerning the connection of things. Hegel's work now proceeds from the point where perceptual imagination and scientific observation have reached their destination: With thought as it lives in self-consciousness. The scientific observer looks at nature; Hegel observes what the scientific observer states about nature. The observer attempts to reduce the variety of natural phenomena to a unity. He explains one process through the other. He strives for order, for organic systematic simplicity in the totality of the things that are presented to the senses in chaotic multiplicity. Hegel searches for systematic order and harmonious simplicity in the results of the scientific investigator. He adds to the science of nature a science of the thoughts about nature. All thoughts that can be produced about the world form, in a natural way, a uniform totality. The scientific observer gains his thoughts from being confronted with the individual things. This is why the thoughts themselves appear in his mind also, at first individually, one beside another. If we consider them now side by side, they become joined together into a totality in which every individual thought forms an organic link. Hegel means to give this totality of thoughts in his philosophy. No more than the natural scientist, who wants to determine the laws of the astronomical universe, believes that he can construct the starry heavens out of these laws, does Hegel, who seeks the law-ordered connections within the thought world, believe he can derive from these thoughts any laws of natural science that can only, be determined through empirical observation. The statement, repeated time and again, that it was Hegel's intention to exhaust the full and unlimited knowledge of the whole universe through pure thinking is based on nothing more than a naive misunderstanding of his view. He has expressed it distinctly enough: “To comprehend what is, is the task of philosophy, for what is reasonable is real, and what is real is reasonable. . . . When philosophy paints its picture gray on gray, a figure of life has become old. . . . Minerva's owl begins its fight only as the twilight of nightfall sets in.”
From these words it should be apparent that the factual knowledge must already be there when the thinker arrives to see them in a new light from his viewpoint. One should not demand of Hegel that he derive new natural laws from pure thought, for he had not intended to do this at all. What he had set out to do was to spread philosophical light over the sum total of natural laws that existed in his time. Nobody demands of a natural scientist that he create the starry sky, although in his research he is concerned with the firmament. Hegel's views, however, are declared to be fruitless because he thought about the laws of nature and did not create these laws at the same time.
What man finally arrives at as he ponders over things is their essence. It is the foundation of things. What man receives as his highest insight is at the same time the deepest nature of things. The thought that lives in man is, therefore, also the objective content of the world. One can say that the thought is at first in the world in an unconscious form. It is then received by the human spirit. It becomes apparent to itself in the human spirit. Just as man, in directing his attention into nature, finally finds the thought that makes the phenomena comprehensible, so he also finds thought within himself, as he turns his attention inward. As the essence of nature is thought, so also man's own essence is thought. In the human self-consciousness, therefore, thought contemplates itself. The essence of the world arrives at its own awareness. In the other creatures of nature thought is active, but this activity is not directed toward itself but toward something other than itself. Nature, then, does contain thought, but in thinking, man's thought is not merely contained; it is here not merely active, but is directed toward itself. In external nature, thought, to be sure, also unfolds life, but there it only flows into something else; in man, it lives in itself. In this manner the whole process of the world appears to Hegel as thought process, and all occurrences in this process are represented as preparatory phases for the highest event that there is: The thoughtful comprehension of thought itself. This event takes place in the human self-consciousness. Thought then works its way progressively through until it reaches its highest form of manifestation in which it comprehends itself.
Thus, in observing any thing or process of reality, one always sees a definite phase of development of thought in this thing or process. The world process is the progressive evolution of thought. All phases except the highest contain within themselves a self-contradiction. Thought is in them, but they contain more than it reveals at such a lower stage. For this reason,, it overcomes the contradictory form of its manifestation and speeds on toward a higher one that is more appropriate. The contradiction then is the motor that drives the thought development ahead. As the natural scientist thoughtfully observes things, he forms concepts of them that have this contradiction within themselves. When the philosophical thinker thereupon takes up these thoughts that are gained from the observation of nature, he finds them to be self-contradictory forms. But it is this very contradiction that makes it possible to develop a complete thought structure out of the individual thoughts. The thinker looks for the contradictory element in a thought; this element is contradictory because it points toward a higher stage of its development. Through the contradiction contained in it, every thought points to another thought toward which it presses on in the course of its development. Thus, the philosopher can begin with the simplest thought that is bare of all content, that is, with the abstract thought of being. From this thought he is driven by the contradiction contained therein toward a second phase that is higher and less contradictory, etc., until he arrives at the highest stage, at thought living within itself, which is the highest manifestation of the spirit.
Hegel lends expression to the fundamental character of the evolution of modern world conception. The Greek spirit knows thought as perception; the modern spirit knows it as the self-engendered product of the soul. In presenting his world conception, Hegel turns to the creations of self-consciousness. He starts out by dealing only with the self-consciousness and its products, but then he proceeds to follow the activity of the self-consciousness into the phase in which it is aware of being united with the world spirit. The Greek thinker contemplates the world, and his contemplation gives him an insight into the nature of the world. The modern thinker, as represented by Hegel, means to live with his inner experience in the world's creative process. He wants to insert himself into it. He is then convinced that he discovers himself in the world, and he listens to what the spirit of the world reveals as its being while this very being is present and alive in his self-consciousness. Hegel is in the modern world what Plato was in the world of the Greeks. Plato lifted his spirit-eye contemplatively to the world of ideas so as to catch the mystery of the soul in this contemplation. Hegel has the soul immerse itself in the world-spirit and unfold its inner life after this immersion. So the soul lives as its own life what has its ground in the world spirit into which it submerged.
Hegel thus seized the human spirit in its highest activity, that is, in thinking, and then attempted to show the significance of this highest activity within the entirety of the world. This activity represents the event through which the universal essence, which is poured out into the whole world, finds itself again. The highest activities through which this self-finding is accomplished are art, religion and philosophy. In the work of nature, thought is contained, but here it is estranged from itself. It appears not in its own original form. A real lion that we see is, indeed, nothing but the incarnation of the thought, “lion.” We are, however, not confronted here with the thought, lion, but with the corporeal being. This being, itself, is not concerned with the thought. Only I, when I want to comprehend it, search for the thought. A work of art that depicts a lion represents outwardly the form that, in being confronted with a real lion, I can only have as a thought-image. The corporeal element is there in the work of art for the sole purpose of allowing the thought to appear. Man creates works of art in order to make outwardly visible that element of things that he can otherwise only grasp in thoughts. In reality, thought can appear to itself in its appropriate form only in the human self-consciousness. What really appears only inwardly, man has imprinted into sense-perceived matter in the work of art to give it an external expression. When Goethe stood before the monuments of art of the Greeks, he felt impelled to confess that here is necessity, here is God. In Hegel's language, according to which God expresses himself in the thought content of the world manifested in human self-consciousness, this would mean: In the works of art man sees reflected the highest revelations of the world in which he can really participate only within his own spirit. Philosophy contains thought in its perfectly pure form, in its original nature. The highest form of manifestation of which the divine substance is capable, the world of thought, is contained in philosophy. In Hegel's sense, one can say the whole world is divine, that is to say, permeated by thought, but in philosophy the divine appears directly in its godliness while in other manifestations it takes on the form of the ungodly. Religion stands halfway between art and philosophy. In it, thought does not as yet live as pure thought but in the form of the picture, the symbol. This is also the case with art, but there the picture is such that it is borrowed from the external perception. The pictures of religion, however, are spiritualized symbols.
Compared to these highest manifestations of thought, all other human life expressions are merely imperfect preparatory stages. The entire historical life of mankind is composed of such stages. In following the external course of the events of history one will, therefore, find much that does not correspond to pure thought, the object of reason. In looking deeper, however, we see that in historical evolution the thought of reason is nevertheless in the process of being realized. This realization just proceeds in a manner that appears as ungodly on the surface. On the whole, one can maintain the statement, “Everything real is reasonable.” This is exactly the decisive point, that thought, the historical world spirit, realizes itself in the entirety of history. The individual person is merely a tool for the realization of the purpose of this world spirit. Because Hegel recognizes the highest essence of the world in thought, he also demands of the individual that he subordinate himself to the general thoughts that rule the world evolution.
The great men in history are those whose special personal purposes contain the substantial element that is the will of the world spirit. This content is their true power. It is also contained in the general unconscious instincts of the people. They are inwardly driven to it and have nothing further to fall back upon that would enable them to resist the individual who has made the execution of such a purpose his own interest. The people gather around his colors. He shows them and brings into reality their own immanent purposes. If we appraise the fate of these world-historical individuals, we must say that they have had the good fortune to be the executive agent of a purpose that represented a step in the progress of the general spirit. We can call a ‘stratagem or reason,’ the way in which reason employs individuals as its tools, for it has them execute their own purposes with all fury of passion, and in so doing, it not only remains unharmed, but actually realizes itself. The particular is mostly negligible in comparison with the general; the individuals are sacrificed and abandoned. World history thus presents the spectacle of struggling individuals and, in the field of the particular, everything happens in an entirely natural fashion. Just as in the animal nature the preservation of life is purpose and instinct of the individual specimen, and just as general reason holds sway while the individual drops out, in the same way things also happen in the spiritual world. The passions work mutual destruction on each other. Reason alone wakes, follows its purpose and prevails.
Man as an individual can seize the comprehensive spirit only in his thinking. Only in the contemplation of the world is God entirely present. When man acts, when he enters the active life, he becomes a link and therefore can also participate only as a link in the complete chain of reason.
Hegel's doctrine of state is also derived from thoughts of this kind. Man is alone with his thinking; with his actions he is a link of the community. The reasonable order of community, the thought by which it is permeated, is the state. The individual person, according to Hegel, is valuable only insofar as the general reason, thought, appears within such a person, for thought is the essence of things. A product of nature does not possess the power to bring thought in its highest form into appearance; man has this power. He will, therefore, fulfill his destination only if he makes himself a carrier of thought. As the state is realized thought, and as the individual man is only a member within its structure, it follows that man has to serve the state and not the state, man.
If the state is confused with society, and if its end is then defined as the security and protection of property and individual freedom, then it follows that the interest of the individual as such is the last purpose for which the two are associated, and from this again it would follow that it is merely a matter of an arbitrary choice of the individual to become a member of the state or not. The state has, however, an entirely different relation toward the individual. As it is objective spirit, the individual man himself has objectivity, truth and morality only insofar as he is a member of it. The union as such is the true content and purpose, and it is the destination of the individuals to lead a generally valid life. Their subsequent satisfaction, activity and behavior has this substantial element of general validity as its basis and as its result.
What place is there for freedom in such a life-conception? The concept of freedom through which the individual human being is granted an absolute to determine aim and purpose of his own activity is not admitted as valid by Hegel. For what could be the advantage if the individual did not derive his aim from the reasonable world of thoughts but made his decision in a completely arbitrary fashion? This, according to Hegel, would really be absence of freedom. An individual of this kind would not be in agreement with his own essence; he would be imperfect. A perfect individual can only want to realize his essential nature, and the ability to do this is his freedom. This essential nature now is embodied in the state. Therefore, if man acts according to the state, he acts in freedom.
The state, in and by itself, is the moral universe, the realization of freedom, and it is reason's absolute purpose that freedom be real. The state is the spirit that has a foothold in the world, whereas in nature it realizes itself only in a self-estranged form as dormant spirit. . . . The fact that the state exists testifies to God's walk through the world. It has its ground in the power of reason that causes its self-realization through the force of will.
Hegel is never concerned with things as such, but always with their reasonable, thoughtful content. As he always searched for thoughts in the field of world contemplation, so he also wanted to see life directed from the viewpoint of thought. It is for this reason that he fought against indefinite ideals of state and society and made himself the champion of the order existing in reality. Whoever dreams of an indefinite ideal for the future believes, in Hegel's opinion, that the general reason has been waiting for him to make his appearance. To such a person it is necessary to explain particularly that reason is already contained in everything that is real. He called Professor Fries, whose colleague he was in Jena and whose successor he became later in Heidelberg, the “General Field Marshal of all shallowness” because he had intended to form such an ideal for the future “out of the mush of his heart.”
The comprehensive defense of the real and existing order has earned Hegel strong reproaches even from those who were favorably inclined toward the general trend of his ideas. One of Hegel's followers, Johann Eduard Erdmann, writes in regard to this point:
The decided preponderance that Hegel's philosophy is granted in the middle of the 1820's over all other contemporary systems has its cause in the fact that the momentary calm that it established in the wake of the wild struggles in the field of politics, religion and church policy, correspond appropriately to a philosophy that has been called — in reprehension by its antagonists, and in praise by its friends — the ‘philosophy of the restoration.’
This name is justified to a much greater extent than its coiners had realized.
One should not overlook the fact also that Hegel created, through his sense of reality, a view that is in a high degree close and favorable to life. Schelling had meant to provide a view of life in his “Philosophy of Revelation,” but how foreign are the conceptions of his contemplation of God to the immediately experienced real life! A view of this kind can have its value, at most, in festive moments of solitary contemplation when man withdraws from the bustle' of everyday life to surrender to the mood of profound meditation; when he is engaged, so to speak, not in the service of the world, but of God. Hegel, however, had meant to impart to man the all-pervading feeling that he serves the general divine principle also in his everyday activities. For him, this principle extends, as it were, down to the last detail of reality, while with Schelling it withdraws to the highest regions of existence. Because Hegel loved reality and life, he attempted to conceive it in its most reasonable form. He wanted man to be guided by reason every step of his life. In the last analysis he did not have a low estimation of the individual's value. This can be seen from utterances like the following.
The richest and most concrete is the most subjective, and the element that withdraws the most into profundity is the most powerful and all-comprehensive. The highest and most pointed peak is the pure personality, which alone through the absolute dialectic, which is nature, encompasses everything within itself and at the same time, because it develops to the highest stage of freedom and insists on simplicity, which is the first immediacy and generality.
But in order to become “pure personality” the individual has to permeate himself with the whole element of reason and to absorb it into his self, for the “pure personality,” to be sure, is the highest point that man can reach in his development, but man cannot claim this stage as a mere gift of nature. If he has lifted himself to this point, however, the following words of Hegel become true:
That man knows of God is a communal knowledge in the meaning of the ideal community, for man knows of God only insofar as God knows of himself in man. This knowledge is self-consciousness of God, but also a knowledge that God has of man; this knowledge that God has of man is the knowledge that man has of God. The spirit of man, to know of God, is only the spirit of God himself.
According to Hegel, only a man in whom this is realized deserves the name of “personality,” for with him reason and individuality coincide. He realizes God within himself for whom he supplies in his consciousness the organ to contemplate himself. All thoughts would remain abstract, unconscious, ideal forms if they did not obtain living reality in man. Without man, God would not be there in his highest perfection. He would be the incomplete basic substance of the world. He would not know of himself. Hegel has presented this God before his realization in life. The content of the presentation is Hegel's Logic. It is a structure of lifeless, rigid, mute thoughts. Hegel, himself, calls it the “realm of shadows.” It is, as it were, to show God in his innermost, eternal essence before the creation of nature and of the finite spirit. But as self-contemplation necessarily belongs to the nature of God, the content of the “Logic” is only the dead God who demands existence. In reality, this realm of the pure abstract truth does not occur anywhere. It is only our intellect that is capable of separating it from living reality. According to Hegel, there is nowhere in existence a completed first being, but there is only one in eternal motion, in the process of continual becoming. This eternal being is the “eternally real truth in which the eternally active reason is free for itself, and for which necessity, nature and history only serve as forms of manifestation and as vessels of its glory.”
Hegel wanted to show how, in man, the world of thoughts comprehends itself. He expressed in another form Goethe's conception:
When a man's healthy nature acts in its entirety, when he feels himself in the world as in a great, beautiful. worthy and cherished whole, when inner harmony fills him with pure and free delight, then the universe, if it could become aware of itself, would rejoice as having reached its destination and would admire the peak of its own becoming and being.
Translated into Hegel's language, this means that when man experiences his own being in his thinking, then this act has not merely an individual personal significance, but a universal one. The nature of the universe reaches its peak in man's self-knowledge; it arrives at its completion without which it would remain a fragment.
In Hegel's conception of knowledge this is not understood as the seizing of a content that, without the cognitive process, exists somewhere ready-made in the world; it is not an activity that produces copies of the real events. What is created in the act of thinking cognition exists, according to Hegel, nowhere else in the world but only in the act of cognition. As the plant produces a blossom at a certain stage of development, so the universe produces the content of human knowledge. Just as the blossom is not there before its development, so the thought content of the world does not exist before it appears in the human spirit. A world conception in which the opinion is held that in the process of knowledge only copies of an already existing content come into being, makes man into a lazy spectator of the world, which would also be completely there without him. Hegel, however, makes man into the active co-agent of the world process, which would be lacking its peak without him.
Grillparzer, in his way, characterized Hegel's opinion concerning the relation of thinking and world in a significant epigram:
It may be that you teach us prophetically God's form of thinking. But it's human form, friend, you have decidedly spoiled.
What the poet has in mind here in regard to human thinking is just the thinking that presupposes that its content exists ready-made in the world and means to do nothing more than to supply a copy of it. For Hegel, this epigram contains no rebuke, for this thinking about something else is, according to his view, not the highest, most perfect thinking. In thinking about a thing of nature one searches for a concept that agrees with an external object. One then comprehends through the thought that is thus formed what the external object is. One is then confronted with two different elements, that is, with the thought and with the object. But if one intends to ascend to the highest viewpoint, one must not hesitate to ask the question: What is thought itself? For the solution of this problem, however, there is again nothing but thought at our disposal. In the highest form of cognition, then, thought comprehends itself. No longer does the question of an agreement with something outside arise. Thought deals exclusively with itself. This form of thinking that has no support in any external object appears to Grillparzer as destructive for the mode of thinking that supplies information concerning the variety of things spread out in time and space, and belonging to both the sensual and spiritual world of reality. But no more than the painter destroys nature in reproducing its lines and color on canvas, does the thinker destroy the ideas of nature as he expresses them in their spiritually pure form. It is strange that one is inclined to see in thinking an element that would be hostile to reality because it abstracts from the profusion of the sensually presented content. Does not the painter, in presenting in color, shade and line, abstract from all other qualities of an object? Hegel suitably characterized all such objections with his nice sense of humor. If the primal substance whose activity pervades the world “slips, and from the ground on which it walks, falls into the water, it becomes a fish, an organic entity, a living being. If it now slips and falls into the element of pure thinking — for even pure thinking they will not allow as its proper element — then it suddenly becomes something bad and finite; of this one really ought to be ashamed to speak, and would be if it were not officially necessary and because there is simply no use denying that there is some such thing as logic. Water is such a cold and miserable element; yet life nevertheless feels comfortably at home in it. Should thinking be so much worse an element? Should the absolute feel so uncomfortable and behave so badly in it?”
It is entirely in Hegel's sense if one maintains that the first being created the lower strata of nature and the human being as well. Having arrived at this point, it has resigned and left to man the task to create, as an addition to the external world and to himself, the thoughts about the things. Thus, the original being, together with the human being as a co-agent, create the entire content of the world. Man is a fellow-creator of the world, not merely a lazy spectator or cognitive ruminator of what would have its being just as well without him.
What man is in regard to his innermost existence he is through nothing else but himself. For this reason, Hegel considers freedom, not as a divine gift that is laid into man's cradle to be held by him forever after, but as a result toward which he progresses gradually in the course of his development. From life in the external world, from the stage in which he is satisfied in a purely sensual existence, he rises to the comprehension of his spiritual nature, of his own inner world. He thereby makes himself independent of the external world; he follows his inner being. The spirit of a people contains natural necessity and feels entirely dependent on what is moral public opinion in regard to custom and tradition, quite apart from the individual human being. But gradually the individual wrests himself loose from this world of moral convictions that is thus laid down in the external world and penetrates into his own inner life, recognizing that he can develop moral convictions and standards out of his own spirit. Man lifts himself up to the vantage point of the supreme being that rules within him and is the source of his morality. For his moral commandment, he no longer looks to the external world but within his own soul. He makes himself dependent only on himself (paragraph 552 of Hegel's Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences). This independence, this freedom then is nothing that man possesses from the outset, but it is acquired in the course of historical evolution. World history is the progress of humanity in the consciousness of freedom.
Since Hegel regards the highest manifestations of the human spirit as processes in which the primal being of the world finds the completion of its development, of its becoming, all other phenomena appear to him as the preparatory stages of this highest peak; the final stage appears as the aim and purpose toward which everything tends. This conception of a purposiveness in the universe is different from the one in which world creation and world government are thought to be like the work of an ingenious technician or constructor of machines, who has arranged all things according to useful purposes. A utility doctrine of this kind was rigorously rejected by Goethe. On February 20th, 1831, he said to Eckermann (compare Conversations of Goethe with Eckermann, Part II):
Man is inclined to carry his usual views from life also into science and, in observing the various parts of an organic being, to inquire after their purpose and use. This may go on for awhile and he may also make progress in science for the time being, but he will come across phenomena soon enough where such a narrow view will prove insufficient and he will be entangled in nothing but contradictions if he does not acquire a higher orientation. Such utilitarian teachers will say that the bull has horns to defend itself with, but there I ask why the sheep have none. Even when they have horns, why are they twisted around the sheep's ears so that they cannot be of any use at all. It is a different thing to say that the bull defends himself with his horns because they are there. The question why is not scientific at all. We fare a little better with the question how, for if I ask the question, ‘How does the bull have horns?’ I am immediately led to the observation of his organization, and this shows me at the same time why the lion has no horns and cannot have any.
Nevertheless, Goethe recognizes, in another sense, a purposeful arrangement in all nature that finally reaches its aim in man and has all its works so ordered, as it were, that he will fulfill his destination in the end. In his essay on Winckelmann, he writes, “For to what avail is all expenditure and labor of suns and planets and moons, of stars and galaxies, of comets and of nebulae, and of completed and still growing worlds, if not at last a happy man rejoices in his existence?” Goethe is also convinced that the nature of all world phenomena is brought to light as truth in and through man (compare what is said in Part 1 Chapter VI). To comprehend how everything in the world is so laid out that man has a worthy task and is capable of carrying it out is the aim of this world conception. What Hegel expresses at the end of his Philosophy of Nature sounds like a philosophical justification of Goethe's words:
In the element of life nature has completed her course and has made her peace as she turns into a higher phase of being. The spirit has thus emerged from nature. The aim of nature is her own death, to break through the crust of immediate sensual existence, to burn as a phoenix in order to emerge from this external garment, rejuvenated as spirit. Nature thus becomes estranged from herself in order that she may recognize her own being, thereby bringing about a reconciliation with herself. . . . The spirit therefore exists before nature as its real purpose; nature originates from the spirit.
This world conception succeeded in placing man so high because it saw realized in man what is the basis of the whole world, as the fundamental force, the primal being. It prepares its realization through the whole gradual progression of all other phenomena but is fulfilled only in man. Goethe and Hegel agree perfectly in this conception. What Goethe had derived from his contemplative observation of nature and spirit, Hegel expresses through his lucid pure thinking unfolding its life in self-consciousness. The method by which Goethe explained certain natural processes through the stages of their growth and development is applied by Hegel to the whole cosmos. For an understanding of the plant organism Goethe demanded:
Watch how the plant in its growth changes step by step and, gradually led on, transforms from blossoms to fruits.
Hegel wants to comprehend all world phenomena in the gradual progress of their development from the simplest dull activity of inert matter to the height of the self-conscious spirit. In the self-conscious spirit he sees the revelation of the primal substance of the world.