Sunday, September 23, 2007

Thunderstorms and Earthquakes

As to Hegel's two general peculiarities in the history of philosophy, or at least of European philosophy, I should like to concentrate for a moment upon the fact that he was the last of four profound revolutions, of veritable thunderstorms or earthquakes, in the history of the German, indeed of the European, philosophical mind. All these four upheavals took place well within a single generation. There is Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781); Fichte's Foundation of the Entire Doctrine of Science (1794); Schelling's Concerning the Ego as Principle of Philosophy, or Concerning the Unconditioned in Human Knowledge (1795); and, finally, Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (1806). These are four profoundly differing proclamations, each nevertheless holding itself to be final, and valid to the end of time. The first insists that we are undeniably aware of things other than ourselves, and yet that we remain abidingly ignorant of what these things are in themselves. The second insists that the world which we recognize as real around us and within us is, in proportion to its value, the creation of our heroic wills. The third proclaims the identity everywhere of Subject and Object as the two forms of the one Absolute, which is itself without consciousness or personality of any kind. And, finally, comes the full and detailed articulation of that identity outlook into a huge system, inclusive of all science, ethics, politics, religion, and stressing the self-movement, the self-alienation, and then the return to itself of the Spirit, everywhere in the three stages of position, opposition, and composition. No changes as profound as this have ever occurred, at least in European philosophy, so close together, and so entirely amongst the same people; hence there is no wonder that these four huge oscillations have produced, I feel very sure, one effect more far-reaching and regrettable than any one of them has produced within its own range. This effect has been the production of a contempt and fear of all that calls itself philosophy amongst the average educated men throughout the world. I say this with a full consciousness of what I mean. There was Döllinger, who had this precise feeling towards all philosophy; he handed on this feeling to Lord Acton, and Lord Acton handed it on to spiritual sons of his well known to myself, and they again to their disciples. All these men had, and have, nothing but an impatient, amused, superior smile for that frothy, shifting, arrogant, over-self-confident, overweening thing men will call philosophy.

Baron Friedrich von Hugel

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