Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Gradually but Steadily Advancing Approximation

We would, therefore, for our parts, remit to God and the future all properly unconditional and absolute knowledge. For, irrespectively of the delusive phantom of a pretended mathematical method and rigor of demonstration, which is both fundamentally false, and, moreover, totally inapplicable to the present sphere of inquiry, such an absolute science, merely as claiming to be positive, trenches ultimately on omniscience. We therefore prefer modestly to acquiesce in pretensions more suitable to man's position in the world. If, therefore, we confine ourselves within the prescribed limits, and are content with a gradually but steadily advancing approximation to perfect truth, as it is in God, we shall soon find that even within these boundaries a legitimate idea of science may be set up and advanced.

Friedrich von Schlegel, Philosophy of Language, p. 487. He is contrasting what he calls the Socratic and the Spinozist ideas of philosophy; Schlegel upholds the Socratic idea, which he characterizes as 'gradual approximation to eternal truth', and criticizes the view he sees as usually found in modern philosophers (especially, although not exclusively, German ones) that claims absolute knowledge through rigid application of system.


  1. Have really been liking these occasional postings from Schlegel, and actually found the book in the University library, apparently un-checked out Lo These Many Years, so I could read along.

    This passage immediately called to mind Kierkegaard's fourth "Thesis attributable to Lessing" in the Concluding Unscientific Postscript -- "Lessing has said that, if God held all truth in his right hand, and in his left hand the lifelong pursuit of it, he would choose the left hand". To this incremental pursuit, Kierkegaard of course opposes the Leap. It is as if for he felt that faith can deliver what Schlegel felt was falsely advertised by Spinoza.

  2. branemrys11:30 AM

    The comparison with Kierkegaard is interesting, particularly as Schlegel and Kierkegaard are both reacting against the same thing.


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