(Review) Edward Caird, Hegel.

R. Adamson, Mind, Vol. 8, No. 31 (Jul., 1883), pp. 432-438.

The difficult task undertaken by Professor Caird has been discharged with a remarkable measure of success. It is no easy matter to write upon Hegel at length so as to bring his position within reach of even the philosophic student in this country; and one might well despair of an attempt to give within the narrow limits of the Philosophical Series a view which should be moderately intelligible to the general cultivated reader. Yet in this attempt we think Professor Caird has been fortunate. His little volume not only presents the preliminaries of the Hegelian system in such a fashion as to overcome the initial difficulty for the English student — that of understanding the drift of the whole — but it is throughout animated by so wide and genial a philosophic spirit, and expresses so evidently a full and thoughtful mind, that it is in itself an excellent contribution to general speculative thinking. Much good will undoubtedly be achieved by it for Hegelianism in this country, but, what is of infinitely greater importance, the reader can hardly fail to carry away something of permanent benefit from the weighty and maturely pondered reflections which give the volume its special value. The author himself would be one of the first to maintain that the Hegelian system, pure and simple, cannot be transplanted into foreign conditions; nor, indeed, has the world of thought stood still since Hegel’s days. The rapid development of thought and culture renders it forever impossible for this age to remain satisfied with the method of organising its spiritual interests that rested upon an earlier platform of ideas. But the great principles which underlie the Hegelian philosophy and which it was the task of Hegel’s life to reduce to their abstract essence and to unfold into their concrete applications, these are of perennial value, and no generation can afford to do without a metaphysic, without a rationale of what secretly animates its own life and gives to its varied productions in all spheres of activity their peculiar colouring. For the construction of such a metaphysic, no more thorough preparation is to be had than the Hegelian system. Truly, as Mr. Caird puts it, the Logic of Hegel is the one work which modern times have to place alongside of Aristotle’s Metaphysic, the one laborious and manful attempt to decipher in its entirety the chain of thoughts that binds our spiritual life into a unity. Probably the comparative neglect which seems to have overtaken Hegel’s work is a symptom that is not altogether without an encouraging significance. The abstract treatment of thoughts which can only by hard effort be disentangled from their concrete exemplifications is valueless unless the disentanglement has been to some extent effected. The full importance, therefore, of the Hegelian contribution to the comprehension of modern thoughts, can only disclose itself after such criticism of principles as lays bare their real essence. The several notions that come forward in the Logic represent in abstracto distinctions, oppositions or differences that give life to actual thinking. The import of the treatment they receive can be appreciated only through reflection on the problems which arise in connexion with such distinctions. Perhaps, too, our age is over-cautious. We have a secret or avowed distrust of systematic philosophising, and spend our efforts rather on preliminary criticism than on constructive work. Each distinction that presents itself in our spiritual life comes forward with so much clustering round it that the task of clearing the way seems sufficiently great to preclude the hope of systematically viewing all such distinctions in their organic nexus. We have to digest in order to assimilate, and doubtless our age has much to do before it has digested even what underlies the Hegelian work.

Professor Caird’s volume falls naturally into two parts: the one tracing the life of Hegel, both as regards external fortune and in its inner development; the other, devoted to an account, such as the space allows, of the main features of the Hegelian philosophy. I do not propose to offer remarks on any matters of detail regarding the several chapters devoted to these two purposes. The student as well as the general reader will find much to interest him in both divisions, and probably, at various points, would have desired more than the author has been able to extend to him. One might have wished a fuller statement respecting some of those junctures in the system which cause greatest stumbling to the modern reader, e.g., respecting the precise significance of the Naturphilosophie and on the conception of spirit in its relation to Natur specifically and to the individual subject. But such matters belong doubtless more appropriately to an extended exposition, and it would be ungrateful to grumble at not receiving more when so much that is good has been afforded. What is given is amply sufficient to obviate the grosser misconceptions that have arisen in respect to Hegel’s treatment of natural science, and that have been fostered by the unsparing but one-sided criticism of scientific experts.

The view of the life of Hegel, presented in some detail in the first five chapters of Prof. Caird’s little volume, appears to me a most happy illustration of the genuine method of handling the history of philosophy. As a rule, histories of philosophy convey to the student an extremely false conception of the nature of speculative thinking and of the mode in which advance or development of philosophical doctrine takes place. Each philosophy is regarded as though it were the treatment of some isolated problems or the attempt to convey an explanation of some special order of facts. The analogy of the natural sciences, where abstraction from all interests other than those specially involved is not only admissible but necessary, where each branch of knowledge seems to have its peculiar sphere of phenomena within which it moves, tends almost insensibly to induce a similar view respecting the functions and problem of philosophy. And in the sequence of philosophic systems each is put in a definite relation to its predecessor as though it were simply an improved method of dealing with the same special facts, improved by reason of the light afforded in the preceding attempts. There is thought to be a direct filiation of philosophical systems, as though each carried out with the aid of the preceding the investigation peculiar to philosophy as such. Now this conception is perhaps not so much false in itself as incomplete and therefore misleading. Philosophy in the amplest sense of that word has no special order of facts to consider, no province which is one among many others. It is not to be placed alongside of other branches of investigation as though classified on the same principle by which they have been divided. In essence, a philosophy is the abstract expression, the statement in ultimate terms, of the thoughts, opinions, modes of looking at things which make up what is so frequently described as the spirit of an age. Each stage of culture has its peculiar colouring, for at each stage there are present and operative in thought and action principles of a character more or less general, more or less defined. It is the business of philosophy at any period to think through these principles, to carry them back to their ultimate source, and by subjecting them to the criticism which can only be offered when they are treated in abstracto, to determine their value and place in the spiritual life. A philosophy is great, just in proportion as it takes up into itself comprehensively the body of ideas that informs the intellectual atmosphere of the time, and as it succeeds in viewing them in their connexion with the ultimate fact in nature, the life of self-conscious intelligence. Philosophies will differ from one another, will be historically distinct, by reason of the continuous alteration which takes place in this intellectual medium, an alteration in part due to philosophy itself, and through the varieties in the method by which the testing or comprehension of the whole body of ideas may be attempted. Thus, the history of philosophy is a record of the final conceptions which at successive periods are formed by reflection on the facts of existence as viewed at each age, and must be unintelligible or, at least, but partially understood, if not taken in the closest connexion with the spirit of each age. If I may illustrate by a reference to a single set of considerations, I would point out that the speculative thinking of the seventeenth century — the Cartesian systems being the typical representatives — is but poorly appreciated if we do not take at its full value the prevailingly geometrical conception of things which was the dominant scientific idea of the time. The speculative thinking of the eighteenth century in like manner — our English philosophy being its typical representative — expresses in an ultimate fashion the mechanical conception then prevailing. And the influence of ideas not generally considered philosophical is by no means limited to those employed in natural science. Every part of human life is viewed at different times in different lights, and the ruling ideas or principles of judgment are all important factors for philosophical reflection. Thus, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the most significant conceptions were those which affected more particularly the ethical or social life of humanity. As in ethics generally, these conceptions were complex and secondary, implying, though in the use of them the implications might remain most obscure, ultimate views regarding the function and quality of human life. The principle of individual liberty, especially, was one of application most wide and of implication most obscure, but a philosophy contemporaneous with the practical acceptance of such a principle in human life was of necessity bound to reflect deeply upon the meaning of individuality, and thus to attempt a truly philosophical criticism of the principle itself. Such criticism may seem to have led far from the facts from which it started; in the Kantian system, e.g., it led to a profound inquiry into the nature of intelligence and its relations to the sum total of things. But it is the very secret of philosophy that it is a circle. Enter it where we may, from this notion or from that, we are led on in an inevitable round, ever striving to complete our view and to see the notion with which we started in its true relations to all that makes up our intellectual cosmos.

As it is with the history of philosophy, so it is on a less scale with the life of a great philosopher. Could we trace that in its entirety we should be able to see how the dominant ideas of the time entered into his spiritual life, affected it and were in turn affected by it, how out of the chaos there was gradually formed the ultimate view in which the disjunct members are harmoniously placed, in which the apparent oppositions are reconciled by being placed in their true relations to one another and to the whole. Perhaps no life presents greater interest when regarded in this fashion than that of Hegel. For the period during which his view of things was being formed by conscious or unconscious process of assimilation was one unusually rich in those ultimate thoughts that express deep-seated tendencies of thought and action. Operative on him were the principles of the two greatest events in modern history, the French revolution and the critical philosophies. On him, too, were brought practically to bear the potent influences of the fresh study of Greek life and art and of the critical investigations in the domain of Christian religion, that were characteristic features of German culture in the early part of the nineteenth century. These great conceptions, ramifying in the most varied directions, giving rise to more or less spasmodic efforts of thought and expression in German life, and manifesting, where each was pushed to extremes, oppositions of an unusually violent character, had to be taken up and worked into one harmonious, concatenated system. The vast importance of the Hegelian doctrine can be duly appreciated only when we take into account how comprehensive and significant were the principles there reduced into one multiform idea, and how enormous was the effort of thought required to reduce them to their clear essence and to exhibit them in their place and function as elements in the life of a self-conscious intelligence. For the reader, the difficulty of the Hegelian work is not its abstractness, nor even any peculiarity of its method; but, on the contrary, it is the very concreteness of each notion, the manner in which each is regarded in the light of the whole, the mode of placing the several parts so that the twofold nature of each, in itself and for the others, shall never be forgotten, that make of the dialectic an “almost unsupportable burden”.

Prof. Caird’s treatment of Hegel’s life, as was said, is singularly able and interesting. He has given a real contribution to the writing of the history of philosophy, and undoubtedly the sketch of the development of Hegel’s mind will do much to clear up the real significance of the Hegelian system.

The concluding chapters of the work present in brief and pregnant fashion an outline of the problem of philosophy in Hegel, an explanation of what is so often a stumbling-block to the beginner — Hegel’s teaching in regard to the Principle of Contradiction, a general description of the Logic and a statement of the way in which the Hegelian doctrine is related to the important spiritual interest of Christianity. More could not, perhaps, have been achieved in the limited space at command, and Prof. Caird has done well to abjure details and content himself with indicating the central thought from relation to which only could the details become intelligible. One regrets that room could not have been found for some indication of the way in which the Hegelian idea permits us to view the facts of practical life, of individual morality and ethical custom, for here in particular one must recognise the value of the Hegelian work as opposed on the one hand to the abstract, psychological ethics of the best known writers in English, and on the other hand to the ‘naturalistic’ ethics which has recently come forward as furnishing an answer to problems left unsolved by the earlier methods. But on points such as these, it is not possible to enter here. A word, however, may be permitted on the Logic.

At the present time, logical studies are in a very remarkable condition. Nothing can surpass the chaos of views with respect to their exact character, limits, value, and relation to philosophy generally. There is undoubtedly in this condition of things an element of reaction. Just as in Political Economy recent writers are almost instinctively driven to take an attitude of opposition to the older doctrines which presented themselves as forming a complete, harmonious system, so in Logic, the neatly worked out Formal Logic of the school of Kant and the more complex Logic of Empiricism have shown themselves inadequate to solve the questions inevitably suggested even within their own lines. Writers on Logic, then, are at present endeavouring to obtain some new point of view from which it may be possible to survey the whole ground. Towards such an end nothing could be more helpful than appreciation of the Hegelian Logic. As a rule, our logical treatises are prevailingly psychological, even though at the very outset an opposition between logic and psychology may be indicated. Notions, judgments, and inferences are regarded as so many facts, to be grouped under the common head of Thought and having special characteristics. For example, the notion is viewed as one peculiar product of mind, distinct in certain respects from the percept, and divisible into kinds, abstract and the like; and one section of logical doctrine is devoted to the treatment of these features. So, to regard the notion is quite in accordance with psychological method, which rests upon and implies the assumptions that fall to be examined in a theory of knowledge, but it leaves us with all the deeper questions untouched and with a wholly unworkable idea of what constitutes knowledge. The student who approaches the Hegelian Logic after a training of the ordinary kind is apt to be absolutely bewildered by finding the old names used for facts which seem to have nothing in common with the ‘products of thought’ to which he has been accustomed. If he attempts to read into the Hegelian section on the notion his view of notions as special subjective phenomena, he will undoubtedly find himself in outer darkness. The Logic of Hegel is no psychology of thought, but the systematic treatment of those ultimate elements in our view of things which constitute their intelligibility for us. However interesting may be the history of the steps by which in the subjective experience of the individual this view is realised, such a history is not Logic but Psychology. The ‘forms of thought,’ the categories of intelligence, as Prof. Caird well puts it, “are not a collection of isolated ideas, which we find in our minds and of which we apply now one, now another, as we might try one after another of a bunch of keys upon a number of isolated locks; . . . the categories are not instruments which the mind uses, but elements in a whole, or the stages in a complex process, which in its unity the mind is”. To make clear to ourselves the implications of the current logical doctrines is to take a long step on the way towards a truer and more profound analysis of thought; and nothing can contribute so powerfully towards this end as an accurate apprehension of what the problem was which Hegel set himself to prove in the Logic.

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