History of Philosophy and Philosophy of History

History of Philosophy and Philosophy of History

Senior Essay – St. John’s  College, Annapolis, Maryland – 1971

To the Rose Upon the Rood of TimeRed Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days!

W.B. Yeats

“… We must first take a general survey before we descend to particulars, else the whole is not seen for the mere details – the wood is not seen for the trees, nor PHILOSOPHY for mere philosophies.” – Hegel, Introduction to the History of Philosophy


Come near me while I sing the ancient ways:
Cuchulain battling with the bitter tide;
The Druid, grey, wood-nurtured, quiet-eyed,
Who cast round Fergus dreams, and ruin untold;
And thine own sadness, whereof stars, grown old
In dancing silver-sandalled on the sea,
Sing in their high and lonely melody.
Come near, that no more blinded by man’s fate,
I find under the boughs of love and hate,
In all poor foolish things that live a day,
Eternal beauty wandering on her way.


An answer offered to the uncurious is superfluous. A remedy is useless, and sometimes harmful, to the healthy.

Is there a man who wonders why Hegel wrote the History of Philosophy?
Is there a man perplexed over the purpose of the Philosophy of History?
If there are two such men, I offer them answers.

Is there a man who is melancholy because he desires knowledge but believes it to be beyond his attainment? Is there a man who mourns virtue’s plight in the world? I offer a remedy for these two maladies.

This four-fold undertaking sounds ambitious. But it only appears four-fold to the undiscerning eye. The two curious men unwittingly share the same wonder. One answer will suffice for both. Nor is mine ven a three-fold task. The same remedy treats both unhapy men. It is one task which I undertake. My answer to the first pair serves as a remedy for the second.

I must caution at the outset that this prescription is ony potent for a melancholy which results from a peculiar embracing of the priciple of non-contradiction; for a despair which arises from an ardent belief that the good must prosper. I shall shortly caricature the attitudes of men who embrace this principle and this belief in this way.

The curious might well first wonder at the very titles History of Philosophy and Philosophy of History. These titles are easily confused because of their similarity. Wishing to denote one work, we find ourselves unintentionally invoking the other. These titles are the converse of one another.

The History of Philosophy is concerned with the truth and falsity of words. The Philosopy of History, being a kind of theodicy, deals with the goodness and evil of deeds. For these reasons, the works, beyond their titles, themselves share a certain conversity. We must inquire into the nature of truth and goodness in order to see this relationship.

Where is truth found but in words or good but in deeds? Should you point to actions in which you fid truth, I might say that they are no more than the gestures of a speaker. Should you retort that there is good and evil in words, I could reply that they are no more than the tools and weapons of men of action. If words are the world of truth and falsehood and deeds are the world of good and evil, then words and deeds themselves would seem to be worlds apart.

Jurisprudence rules that a man by thinking an evil deed is not thereby evil, but only if he perpetrates his thought in action. Jocasta expresses a similar sentiment to Oedipus; “Before this, in dreams too, as well as oracles, many a man has lain with his own mother. But he to whom such things are nothing bears his life more easily.”1 All actions, whether good or evil, are true insofar as they have occured and are described accurately in words. The truth or falsehood of words is incidental to their goodness or evil, for they are good or evil only insofar as they are intended by their author to cause acts to be committed. A false statement may be good insofar as it causes a good action to be performed. A true statement which causes an evil is thereby in itself evil. Aquinas suggests that we not adhere strictly to the law when it would result in discord or scandal.2 Nietzsche speculates that there are falsehoods in which it is necessary to believe for the sake of action which results in the believer.3 The statements ‘Cain killed Abel’, ‘Cassius and Brutus assassinated Caesar’, or ‘Judas betrayed Christ’ may be true insofar as these actions were committed. But the goodness of these actions does not follow from the truth of the statements.

Words and deeds seem worlds apart because their truth and goodness are not necessary consequences of one another. Yet words and deeds are intimately related in men, who speak and act. When speech does not avail, a man resorts to action. Men engaged in futile struggle may cease their fighting and settle their differences by arbitration. The conversity which the History of Philosophy and the Philosophy of History share lies in the motion of a man who is ‘converted’ from speech to action or vice versa.

Two realms separate in location may be connected by a road which men build and upon which men travel. A road may be travelled in either direction. Often quoted sayings mention the ‘road to knowledge’ and the ‘road to virtue’. “There is no royal road to geometry.” – Euclid. “There is no road or ready way to virtue.” – Browne, “Religion Medici”. If the perfection of truth in words is knowledge and the perfection of goodness in deeds is virtue, then perhaps there is only one road which lies between words and deeds or between knowledge and virtue. The History of Philosophy and the Philosophy of History are addressed to those who despair over knowledge and virtue, respectively. Despair moves men back and forth along this road between words and deeds. We might say that “the road can be looked on as the path of doubt, or more properly a highway of despair.”4

What follows are the attitudes of men who embrace the principle of non-contradiction and the belief that good wins out over evil:

A man speaks the truth if no man can contradict and refute his statements.

Socrates: “I think we should all be contentiously eager to know what is true and what is false in the subject under discussion, for it is a common benefit that this be revealed to all alike. I will then carry the argument through in accordance with my own ideas, and if you believe that what I admit to myself is not the truth, you must break in upon it and refute me.” – Gorgias (506)

To act correctly is to prosper.

Eliphas: “Think now, who that was innocent wever perished? or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.” – Job (IV, 8)

If the one possesses the truth, he expects agreement from men to his statements. If the other is good, he expects to prosper in the world. Nevertheless, such men may find themselves refuted by others and plagued by the world. They are apt to regard this refutation or adversity as a sign of failure and subsequently fall into despair.

The History of Philosophy addresses itself to the problem of refutation . The refutation of one philosophical system by another is “a much misunderstood phenomenon… Most commonly the refutation is taken in a purely negative sense to mean that the system refuted has ceased to count for anything, has been set aside and done for. Were it so, the history of philosopy would be of all studies most saddening, displaying, as it does, the refutation of every system which time has brought forth.”5

The Philosophy of History addresses itself to the plight of virtue in the world. “In contemplating the fate which virtue, morality, and even piety experience in history, we must not fall into the Litany of Lamentations that the good and pious often, or for the most part, fare ill in the world, while the evil disposed and wicked prosper…. Our intellectual striving aims at realizing the conviction that what was intended by eternal wisdom, is actually accomplished in the domain of the existent, active spirit. Our mode of treating the subject is, in this aspect, a Theodicaea – A justification of the ways of God – so that the ill that is found in the world may be comprehended, and the thinking Spirit reconciled with the fact of the existence of evil.” 6

The History of Philosophy and the Philosophy of History need not address two different men. One man may experience the despair both of words and of deeds. The Faust which Goethe portrayed is such a man. Faust felt a futility in the pursuit of truth with words.

“I’ve studied now Philosophy
and Jurisprudence, Medicine,
And even, alas! Theology
All through and through with ardour keen!
Here now I stand, poor fool, and see
I’m just as wise as formerly.
Am called a master, even Doctor too,
And now I’ve nearly ten years through
Pulled my students by their noses to and fro
And up and down, across, about
And see, there’s nothing we can know!
That all but burns my heart right out.

Faust might never have left his study were he to have had access to Hegel’s works. The Phenomenology of the Spirit purports in its last chapter to offer Absolute Knowledge. It is not yet clear what the content of this Absolute Knowledge consists of; or whether a restless, middle-aged scholar would have been satisfied with such knowledge. But Faust did not have the benefit of Hegel’s labors. He resorted instead to the dark works of Nostradamus.

In order to embark upon a life of action, Faust wagers with the Devil and becomes a Job of modern times. The first chapter of Job serves as a model for the dialogue between God and Mephistophiles in the Heavenly Prologue. God sends Satan to Job and Mephistopheles to Faust. Faust’s turning from a life of study to a life of action is figured in his translation of John I,1.

‘Tis written: “In the beginning was the Word!” (1225-1235)
Here now I’m balked! Who’ll put me in accord?
It is impossible, the Word to high to prize,
I must translate it otherwise
If I am rightly by the Spirit taught.
‘Tis written: In the beginning was the Thought!
That your pen may not write too hastily!
Is it then thought that works creative, hour by hour?
Thus should it stand: In the beginning was the Power!
Yet even while I write this word, I falter,
For something warns me, this too shall I alter.
The Spirit’s helping me! I see now what I need
And write assured: In the beginning was the Deed!

There are two kinds of ghosts: the gosts of those no longer living and the ghosts of those yet unborn. Goethe’s ghost haunts the pages of the History of Philosophy and the Philosophy of History. Ghosts of Hegel’s notions haunt the lines of Faust. Goethe and Hegel were not unacquainted. “Goethe sent Hegel a delicate tumbler tinted yellow and containing a piece of black silk which made the yellow seem blue – a kind of symbol of Goethe’s theory of colors. The dedication read: ‘The Primary Phenomenon most courteously begs the Absolute to receive it graceously.’ “7 Hegel, perhaps by coincidence, describes Goethe as a kind of primary phenomenon, the phenomenon of a great mind, “A great mind is great in its experience; and in the motley play of phenomenon at once perceives the point of real significance. The idea is present in actual shapes, not as something, as it were, over the hill and far away. The Genius of a Goethe, for example, looking into nature or history, has great experiences, catches sight of the living principle, and gives expression to it.” Perhaps the poetry of Goethe served as a ‘primary phenomenon’ for the philosophy of Hegel. The phenomenon of the Fausts in the world, desperately turning between words and deeds, might have moved Hegel to write the Phenomenology of Spirit, the History of Philosophy, and the Philosophy of History.

The endeavors of poetry and philosophy do not necessarily exclude one another. Philosophy written in the form of poetry is nothing alien to our experience; viz., Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura. And who would not admit the poetic aspect of a Platonic Dialogue? Underlying Goethe’s poetry is a philosophy of a marked Hegelian character. And, although he was not noted for his verse, Hegel’s works contain imagery of considerable beauty. The appreciation of a philosophy’s beauty may justly be called extraneous by those who believe that philosophy has a purpose beyond beauty. But such an appreciation is far from frivelous. Hegel was not frivelous when he wrote such passages. This same man is known to have described the starry night sky as an ‘ugly eczema’ and as a ‘swarm of flies’. Are these the words of frivolity or sentimentality? No! They are an attack upon foolish sentiment. Yet, the Phenomenology of the Spirit verges upon poetry. It may be likened to an epic which describes the development of the spirit of man in this world. This development is a movement from words to deeds. The profundity of this subject may have inspired Hegel to express himself in a worthy style. If so, then it would be a mistake to neglect poetic passages whose imagery sheds light on important problems and their solutions.

In light of the above considerations, it would be fitting if Hegel were the man to cheer Faust out of his melancholy. Such a diversion would seemingly require the life’s work of a jester. But I am hardly guilty of duplicity in saying that Hegel accomplishes this in a trice. “How the deuce does he do that?” you ask. “Triplicity!” I reply.

Anyone who begins to study the works of Hegel will be startled by the frequency with which the number three appears. His use of the number three even influences the style of his writing. A glance at the table of contents in the Philosophy of History will reveal that it proceeds by sections of three. His major lectures, which treat philosophy, religion, and art, comprise nine volumes. The Phenomenology of Spirit is his only major work which is not noticibly ‘triplistic’, although an examination of its table of contents yields a result which is not surprising.

Three “friends” come to “console” Job in his affliction. Hegel offers a three of a different kind to a man like Faust. Surveying philosophy historically and philosophically, Hegel finds “something neither old nor new but perennial, 10, a coming to be and a passing away that itself does not come to be or pass away 11.”

He finds, in philosophy, that “In point of form Logical doctrine has three sides: (a) the Abstract side, or that of understanding: (b) the Dialectical, or that of negative reason: (c) the Speculative, or that of positive reason12… understanding corresponds to what we call the goodness of God. In nature, for example, we recognize the goodness of God in the fact that the various classes or species of animals and plants are provided with whatever they need for their preservation and welfare13… We have before this identified Understanding with what is implied in the popular idea of the Goodness of God; we may now remark of Dialectic, in the same objective signification, that its principle answers to the idea of His power. All things, we say, – that is, the finite world as such, – are doomed; and in saying so, we have a vision of dialectic as the universal and irresistable power before which nothing can stay, however secure and stable it may deem itself14… Speculative truth, it may also be noted, means very much the same as what, in special connection with religious experience and doctrines, used to be called Mysticism.”

If the first moment of Logic is scrutinized carefully, in it will be found the very same principle and belief which afflicts a man like Faust. The principle of non-contradiction is the principle of Abstract Understanding. The Logic states that “Contradiction is the very moving principle of the world: and it is ridiculous to say that contradiction is unthinkable, 16” and that “Instead of speaking by the maxim of excluded middle (which is the maxim of Abstract Understanding) we should rather say: Everything is opposite17.” The naieve impression of the goodness of God, which Hegel ascribes to Abstract Understanding, may easily give rise to the belief that the virtuous always prosper in the world. This impression is naieve because it is incomplete. It fails to recognize the power of God. A more complete impression of God might, as the second moment of Logic suggests, assume the form of His two servants. One is created. The other if begotten. Both are necessary. Looking to the third moment, only a divine vision, such as Job’s, can resolve God’s goodness, His power, and man’s virtue into a thoughtful appreciation which is above a mere stoic resignation to fate. Our fancy might envision, as the first moment, the monologue of God in Genesis, creating a garden; as the second moemnt, the dialogue of Christ and Anti-Christ in the wilderness; as the third, the Book of Revelation.

Similarly, in history, Hegel finds that the German World after the fall of Rome comprises three periods. “We may distinguish these periods as Kingdoms of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The Kingdom of the Father is the consolidated, undistinguished mass, presenting a self-repeating cycle, mere change – like the sovereignty of Chronos engulfing his offspring. The Kingdom of the Son is the manifestation of GOd merely in relation to the secular existence – shining upon it as an alien object. The Kingdom of the Spirit is the harmonizing of this antithesis. These epochs may be also compared with earlier empires. In the German aeon, as the realm of totality, we see the distinct repetition of earlier epochs. Charlemagne’s time may be compared with the Perian Empire18… To the Greek WOrld and its merely ideal unity, the time preceeding Charles V answers 19…. the third epoch may be compared with the Roman World20.” Having shown a design and a teology in the history of philosophy and of the world, that they are progressing to or have already reached an end, Hegel recociles contradictions and injustices with knowledge and virtue. For contradictions are a necessary part of the means by which philosophy develops into its end. And the end of philosophy, according to Hegel, is Absolute Knowledge. Evils are only necessary parts of the means by which history develops to its ultimate end. And the end of history is literally an end of history, a world which has reached a state whose only annals are the ‘blank pages’21 of happy life-ever-after. The Fausts in this world need no longer despair, either when refuted or when they suffer an evil. The despair which has arisen in the world from the nature of truth and falsehood and good and evil may be viewed negatively as defeat. But it may also be viewed positively as the means by which the spirit acheives Absolute Knowledge and a happy State. This despair is not an insurmountable obstacle for the spirit but a trellis which directs its growth. Speaking figuratively, what Hegel does by means of these two trinities in Logic and in history for a Faust is to transform a mountain into a flower. “The imperishable mountains are not superior to the quickly dismantled rose exhaling its life in fragrence.”22 If a man knows why “so mighty a form must trample down many an innnocent flower – crush to pieces many an object in its path,”23 he is then, as Pascal would say, “more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him: the universe knows nothing of this.”24Hegel literally turns the Island of Rhodes in philosophy and history into a rose.


Hic Rhodus, hic saltus
Her is Rhodes, here is your jump

“Erasmus quotes the Gree, gives a Latin translation, and continues: the proverb will be apt when someone is asked to show on the spot that he can do what he boasts he has done elsewhere.”26

Pascal noted that “words arranged differently have different meanings, and meanings arranged differently have different effects.” 27 Hegel notes that “Rhodus” may also mean “rose” and that “salta” is the imperative of the verb “to dance”. Hegel points out that, “with hardly any alteration, the proverb just quoted would run: “Here is the rose, dance thou here!”28 This metaphor came to his mind while thinking of the Rosicrucians.

Hegel often conjures the image of a plant when he is arguing about the true meaning of refutation. “…Contradiction appears in all development. The development of the tree is the negation of the germ, and the blossom that of the leaves, in so far as that they show that these do not form the highest and truest existence of the tree. Yet none of them can come into actual existence excepting as preceded by all earlier stages.” 29

The rose is no arbitrarily chosen image. A rose unfolds its petals in time. It is a plant which bears no edible fruit. For men, its only fruit is its blossom’s beauty. Hegel often describes the interation of understanding and reaso as the unfolding of the Idea or Notion in time. The different stages of this unfolding Idea appear to us as different philosophical systems in history. According to Hegel, the spirit bears no other fruit than the realization and description of this unfolding process.

The rose brings happiness to mind. It is also an ancient symbol of secrecy, as the phrase “sub rosa” suggests. The cross is a bitter image of suffering and of sin. It is also a joyous image of redemption and forgiveness. To strew a cross with roses and to dance about it is a metaphorical image of the logical operatoin of turning a negative result into a positive one. This is an important operation in the Logic of Hegel. Perhaps the most important exercise of this operation is Hegel’s definition of finite and infinite. “The things of nature are limited and are natural things only to such extent as they are not aware of their universal limit, or to such extent as their mode or quality is a limit from our point of view, and not from their own. No one knows, or even feels, that anything is a limit or defect until he is at the same time above and beyond it.” 30 According to Hegel, a man becomes infinite simply by recognizing his own finitude in discourse or in action. This is the secret of the rose. “Man, if he wishes to be actual, must be-ther-and-then, and to this end he must set a limit to himself. People who are too fastidious toward the finite never reach reality, but linger lost in abstraction, and their light dies away.”31 In a sense, Pascal’s ‘thinking reed’ Pensee exhibits the operation of becoming “infinite” through the recognition of a weakness or limit. Erasmus intended that the proverb be a challenge to the impossible. Such a challenge serves as a refutation of the boastful. Hegel tansforms this refutation into cause for victorious jubilation. “To recognize reason as the rose in the cross of the present and thereby to enjoy the present, this is the rational insight which reconciles us to the actual, the reconciliation which philosophy affords to those in whom there has once arisen an inner voice bidding them to comprehend, not only to dwell in what is subsstantive while still retaining subjective freedom, but also to possess subjective freedom while standing not in anything particular and accidental but in what exists absolutely.”32

This rose is no ordinary rose but a “thinking rose”. It is the flower of philosophies, unfolding its petals on a morning which lasts two thousand years, as the sun of self-consciousness is rising out of the West; on an afternoon whose evening is the fullness of time, as the sun of history sinks into the West. This flower of philosophies is like Margaret’s flower in Faust. Every petal is antinomous, except the last.

Margaret: He loves me – not – loves me – not
He loves me! (plucking off the last petal)Faust: Yes, my child! and let this blossom’s word
Be oracle of gods to you! He loves you!
You understand that word and what it means? He loves you!

Margaret: I’m all a-tremble!

Faust: Oh, shuder not! But let this look,
Let this hand-pressure say to you
What is unspeakable:
To give one’s self up wholly and to feel
A rapture that must be eternal!
Eternal! – for its end would be despair.
No! no end! no end!

This last petal is Hegel’s own philosophy, or rather Hegel’s description of the motion of refutation as philosophy progresses through the stages of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. For, to be precise, Hegel has no philosophy. Were his works a philosophy, they would prophesy their own refutation, or convict Hegel of being a false prophet. Alexander Kojeve describes Hegel’s work as a synthesis of syntheses 33 which cannot become a thesis for further attack. Hegel does not have a philosophy because he implies that he is not a philosopher. “To help bring philosophy nearer to the form of a science – that goal where it can lay aside the name of love of knowledge and be actual knowledge – that is what I have set efore me.” 34 He has ceased to be ‘wisdom-loving’ and has become ‘wise’. Hegel’s wisdom consists i knowing the real relation of truth to falsehood and the meaning of the phenomeon of refutation. This knowledge is ‘the dance about the rose’.

The dance about the rose is the bacchanalian whirl. “It is the process that generates and runs through its moments, and this, then, includes the negative as well – that which might be called the false if it could be considered as something from which one should abstract. The evanescent must, however, be considered essential – not in the determination of something fixed that is to be severed from the true and left lying outside it, one does not know where; nor des the true rest on the other side, dead and positive. The appearance is the coming to be and passing away that itself does not come to be or pass away; it is in itself and constitutes the actuality and the movement of the life of the truth. The true is thus the bacchanalian whirl in which no member is not drunken; because each, as soon as it detaches itself, dissolves immediately – the whirl is just as much transparent and simple repose.” 35

The music of this dance about this rose is composed by the spirit of the world and is heard by historians of philosophy who “may be compared to animals which have listened to all the tones in some piece of music, but to whose senses the unison, the harmony of their tones, has not penetrated.” 36 The musician is the spirit itself. I hesitate to call the orchestra a trio. “The content uttered by spirit and uttered about itself is, then, the inversion and perversion of all conceptions and realities, a universal deception of itself and of others. The shamelessness manifested in statingthis deceit is just on that account the greatest truth. This style of speech is the madness of the musician ‘who piled and mixed up together some thirty aris, Italian, French, tragic, comic, of all sorts and kinds; now, with a deep bass, he descended to the depths of hell, then, contracting his throat to a high, piping falsetto, he rent the vault of the skies, raving and soothed, haughtily imperious and mockingly jeering by turns;. The placid soul that in simple honesty of heart takes the melody of the good and true to consist in harmony of sound and uniformity of tones, i.e. in a single note, regards this style of expression as a ‘fantastic mixture of wisdom and folly, a melee of as much skill as low cunning, composed of ideas as likely to be right as wrong, with as complete a perversion of sentiment, whith as much consummate shamefulness in it, as absolute frankness, candour, and truth. It will not be able to refrain from breaking out into all these tones, and running up and down the whole gamut of feeling, from the depths of contempt and repudiation to the highest pitch of admiration and stirring emotion A vain of the ridiculous will be diffused through the latter, which takes away from their nature’; the former will find in their very candour a strain of atoning reconcilement, will find in their shuddering depths the all-powerful strain which gives to itself spirit.”37 I do not hesitate to call this music a waltze to Hegel’s ear. Hegel finds in this bizarre potporri of dissonant tones an hitherto uneard of harmony. These tones are none other than the philosophical systems which ‘such mighty forms’ as an Aristotle, a Bacon, or a Kant have produced.

Who is it that dances this bacchanalian whirl about the rose in three-quarter time? In a temporal metaphor, Hegel envisions the history of the world as the upbringing of a long-lived individual. “Imagination has often pictured to itself the emotions of a blind man suddenly becoming possessed of sight, beholding the bright glimmering of the dawn, the growing light, and the flaming glory of the ascending Sun. The boundless forgetfulness of his individuality in this pure splendor, is his first feeling, utter astonishment. But when the Sun is risen, this astonishment is diminished; objets around are perceived, and from them the individual proceeds to the contemplation of his own inner being (returning to the cave) and thereby the advance is made to the perceptio of the relationship between the two. Then inactive contemplation is quited for activity (turning from words to deeds); by the close of day, man has erected a building constructed from his own inner Sun; and when in the evening he contemplates this, he esteems it more highly than the original Sun. For now he stands in a conscious relation to his Spirit, and therefore a free relation. If we hold this image fast in mind, we shall find it symbolizing the course of History, the great Day’s work of the Spirit.” 38 It is Oedipus who dances.

The metaphor is appropriate. Aristotle observes that “…tragedy endeavours to keep as far as possible within a single circuit of the sun, or something near that.”39 Hegel treats the myth of Oedipus at some length in the Philosopy of Hostory in Part I, the “Transition to the Greek World”. Oedipus has a self-knowledge of sorts. That is to say, Oedipus knows what man in general is. He is able to answer the Sphinx’ riddle: “What is that which in the morning goes on four legs, at midday on two, and in the evening on three?”40 But Oedipus subsequently shows “a dire ignorance of the character of his own actions.”41 Oedipus knows man in general but he does not know man as individual. In order to acquire this knowledge, Oedipus must undergo a palingenesis, a backwards developent. He must experience a second birth. Accordingly, Oedipus enters Thebes on two feet by day. Here, his second childhood commences. Here, Oedipus literally returns to his mother’s womb. Staff in hand, he leaves Thebes on “three feet” in the darkness of blindness’ night. After a night can only come a dawn. At Colonnus, Oedipus, walking which his daughter’s support, becomes a creature of four legs. He here receives an especial and aweful knowledge concerning which Theseus alone is given only a hint. Oedipus is then taken in a terrible apotheosis. It is ambiguous whether he is taken up as a god or down to Hades.

In a section on the classification of historical data, Hegel proceeds to view the history of the world as a prosogenesis and palingenesis similar to those which may be recognized in Sophocles’ plays. The German Aeon is the second childhood of history and, like Oedipus’ palingenesis, results in a second dawn (as a term like Enlightenment, Eclaircissement, or Afklarung suggests) and an especial knowledge. “The Greeks and Romans had reached maturity within e’re they directed their energies outwards. The Germans, on the contrary, began with self-diffusion – deluging the world, and overpowering in their course the inwardly rotten, hollow political fabrics of civilized nations. Only then did their development begin,k kindled by a foreign culture, a foreign religion, polity and legistlation. The process of culture they underwent consisted in taking up foreign elements and reductively emalgamating them with their own national life. Thus theri history presents an introversion – the attration of alien forms of life and the bringing these to bear upon their own… The relation to an extraneous principle… wears the aspect of an internal evolution.” 42

It may not be inappropriate at this point for us to recall that Sophocles is an ancient authority on matters of old age. Cephalus relates this to Socrates, “… I remember hearing Sophocles the poet greeted by a fellow who asked, How about your service of Aphrodite, Sophocles – is your natural force still unabated? And he replied, Hush, man, most gladly have I escaped this thing you talk of, as if I had run away from a raging and savage beast of a master. I thought it a good answer then and now I think so still more. For in very truth there comes to old age a great tranquillity in such matters and a blessed release. When the fierce tensions of the passions and desires relax, then is the word of Sophocles approved, and we are rid of many and mad masters.” 43 Sophocles was also an accomplished dancer, as Hegel would have us know. “This glorious battle day presents the three greatest tragedians of Greece in remarkable chronological association: for Aeschylus was one of the combatants, and helped to gain the victory, Sophocles danced at the festival that celebrated it, and on the same day Euripides was born.” 44

The section “On the Classification of Historical Data” best represents the resemblance which Hegel found the history of the world to bear to Oedipus and the riddle of the Sphinx: “The History of the world travels from East to West, for Europe is absolutely the end of History, Asia the beginning. The History of the World has an East kat ezoxen; (the term east i itself is entirely realtive), for although the Earth forms a sphere, History performs no circle round it, but has, on the contrary a determinate East, viz., Asia. Here rises the outward physical Sun, and in the West it sinks down; Here consentaneously rises the Sun of self-consciousness, which diffuses a nobler brilliance45… The first phase – that with which we have to begin – is the East… It is the childhood of History…. 46 Continuing the comparison with the ages of the individual man, this would be the boyhood of History, no longer manifesting the repose and trustingness of the child, but boisterous and turbulent. The Greek World may then be compared with the period of adolescence, for here we have individualities forming themselves47 The Roman state, the severe labors of the Manhood of History48 The German world would answer in the comparison with the periods of human life to its Old Age.”49

The German WOrld experiences a second childhood in the three periods which are analogous to Asia, Greece, and Rome, respectively. This second chldhood is also a second harmony. “The harmoniousness of childhood is a gift from the hand of nature: the second harmony must spring from the labor and culture of the spirit.”50 In part, this second harmony is the harmony which Hegel found in the dissonance of hiplosophy. It may now be remarked that the Absolute Knowledge which Hegel offers a Faust has no content proper. Absolute knowledge is the Idea. “To spea of the Absolute Idea may suggest the conception that we are at length reaching the right thing and the sum of the matter. It is certainly possible to indulge in a vast amount of senseless declamation about the idea absolute. But its true content is only the whole system of which we have been hitherto studying the development54 The absolute idea may in this respect be compared to the old man who utters the same creed as the child, but for whom it is pregnant with the significance of a lifetime52… All work is directed only to an aim or end; and when it is attained, people are surprised to find nothing else but just the very thing which they had wished for. The interest lies in the whole movement53… Last of all comes the discovery that the whole evolution is what constitutes the content and interest.”54 The Idea of Absolute Knowledge is no goal of positive content which has been reached. It is the account of the process of Understanding, yolked with a law whcih it cannot obey, striving towards a positive content as towards a rainbow which it clearly envisions but ever approaches and a promised land which is never native. Absolute Knowledge is the journey itself from words to deeds. Faust must leave his study to attain it. The old law of abstract understanding is replaced by a new law of contradiction and a covenant under which those who exalt themselves are abased and those who humble themselves are exalted. Moreover, Hegel calls Absolute Knowledge the Calvary, the Golgotha of the Spirit, the hill of the skull. The skull is Understanding, which Hegel often describes as a ‘caput mortuum’. It may be said that Reason crucifies itself upon the Understanding, dies, and is ressurected.

“The Old Age of Nature is weakness; but that of Spirit is its perfect maturity and strength, in which it returns to unity with itself, but in its fully developed character as Spirit. This is the ultimate result which the process of History is intended to accomplish, and we have to traverse in detail the long track which has been thus curiously traced out. Yet length of time is something entirely relative, and the element of Spirit is Eternity. Duration, properly speaking, cannot be said to belong to it.”55 We may view the history of the world as an individual who has only just reached a maturity. In a sense, history reaches this maturity by dying. As the sun of History sets in the West, history ends. We may sympathize with Aquinas and pardon its past excesses and transgresions. “The same thing is not possible to a child as to a full grown man, and for which reason the law for children is not the same as for adults, since many things are permitted to children, which in adults are punished by law or are at any rate open to blame. In like manner, many things are permissible to men not perfect in virtue, which would be intolerable in a virtuous man.”56 We may also join with Solon in passing judgment on its happiness. “Call him, however, until he die, not happy but fortunate.”57

And here might this writing end, having satisfied two curious men and having solved the problem of two unhappy men. But what has Hegel done for Faust by revealing this threefold structure in philosophy and history? What significance does Hegel attach to the trinity of moments in the Logic and the trinity of periods in the German Aeon? This has been no ending but a deceptive cadence. Now, a truly plagal cadence follows.

Theism and Atheism

For Man, to become God is his

Blessed Yearning

Tell it the wise alone, for when
Will the crowd cease from mockery!
Him would I laud of living men
Who longs a fiery death to die.

In coolness of thos nights of love
Which thee begat, bade thee beget,
Strange promptings wake in thee and move,
While the calm taper glimmers yet.

No more in darkness canst thou rest,
Waited upon by shadows blind,
A new desire has thee possessed
For procreant joys of loftier kind.

Distance can hinder not thy flight;
Exiled, thou seekest a point illumed;
And, last, enamoured of the light,
A moth art in the flame consumed.

And while thou spurnest at the best,
Whose word is “Die and be new-born!”
Thou bidest but a cloudy guest
Upon an earth that knows not morn.

Goethe, “West-Eastern Divan”


Does hegel offer Faust divine knowledge? Doe history and philosophy possess a three fold structure because the world is the creation of a triune God? Is Hegel a Theist?

If Hegel offers Faust divine knowledge, his aid is a superfluous, impudent adumbration upon the reconciliation already offered to men long ago in the Bible. Faust has long had access to this knowledge and still despairs. We may infer from Faust’s study of theology and his familiarity with the New Testament that he must have been equally familiar with Job. Such a scholar, in modern times, would have more knowledge thatn Job himself concerning the relationship of Satan to God. If Faust is as sure of his salvation before he makes his bet as is God, in the Heavenly Prologue, of the wager;s outcome, then it is not Faust but Mephistopheles who stands in need of Hegel’s good tidings.

Hegel denies any appeal to divine knowledge. “Yet I might appeal to your belief in it, in this religious aspect. This appeal is forbidden, because the science of which we have to treat, proposes itself to furnish the proof of its correctness as compared with facts. The truth, then, that a Providence (that of God) presides over the events of the world consorts with the proposition in question, for Divine Providence is Wisdom. But to expalin History is to depict the passions of mankind, the genius, the active powers, that play their part on the great stage; and the providentially determined process which these exhibit, constitutes what is generally called the ‘plan’ of Providence. Yet it is this very plan which is supposed to be concealed from our view; which it is deemed presumption, even to wish to recognize.”1

Moreover, Christianity is not uniquely Trinitarian. The Greek theogeny also displays a trinity. “The Kindgom of the Father is a consolidate, undistinguished mass, presenting a self-repeating cycle, mere change- like that sovereignty of Chronos engulfing his offspring.”2 “Thus, it was first Chronos – Time – that ruled; the Golden Age, without moral products; and what was produced – the offspring of that Chronos – was devoured by it. It waas Jupiter – from whose head Minerva sprang, and to whose circle of divinities belong Apollo and the Muses – that first put a constraint upon Time, and set a bound to its principle of decadence 3…. Zeus and his race are themselves swallowed up, and that by the very power that produced them – the principle of thought, perception, reasoning insight derived from rational grounds, and the requirements of such grounds.”4 Thought giving rise to Chronos, Chornos giving rise to Jupiter, Jupiter givig rise to Minerva, and thought devouring them all; is a process which possesses the same triune properties whcih Hegel ascribes to the Christian Trinity. The Spirit of this trinity is no dove, but an owl. This principle of thought is not Minerva but her ravenous owls which “spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.”5

If the three moments of Logic and the three periods in history are not the fingerprints of a triune god lingering in the clay, we are faced with two possibilities. one is humerous and embarrasing. The other is awesome and frightening.

Why would Hegel demonstrate that the history of the world resembles the Greek myth of Oedipus and the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Is Hegel a numerologist?

He remarks that “the number Five is regarded as fundamental among the Chinese, and presents itslef as often as the number three among us. They have five Elements of Nature. They recognize fourquarters of Heaven and a center. Holy places, where alters are erected, consist of four elevations and one in the center.”6 Yet the number three has more significance than five. The history of the Chinese does not reveal five periods. Their’s is not a logic of five but of three. “The celebrated passage which is often quoted by the ancients (of the Orient) is this, ‘Reason has brought forth the one; the one has brought forth the two; the two have brought forth the three; and the three have produced the whole world.’ In this men have tried to find a reference to the Trinity7…. But if Philosophy has got no further than to such expression, it still stands on its most elementary stage. What is there to be found in all this learning?”8

Five is important among the Indians too. “Generally the Yogi has to spend a day between five fires, that is, between four fires occupying the four quarters of heaven, and the Sun.”9 Yet their logic is not a logic of fives but of threes. “It is noteworthy that in the observing consciousness of the Indians it struck them that what is true and in and for itself contains three determinations, and the Notion of the idea is perfected in three moments. This sublime consciousness of the trinity, which we find again in Plato and others, then went astray in the region of thinking contemplation, and retains its place only in Religion, and there but as a Beyond. Then the understanding penetrated through it, declaring it to be senseless; and it was Kant who broke open the road once more to its comprehension. The reality and totality of the Notion of everything, considered in its substance, is absorbed by the triad of determinations; and it has become the business of our times to bring this to consciousness.”10

It may be noted here that Kant was aware of the melancholy which can arise from a fruitless attempt at finding truth with words. He saw this melancholy as something peculiar to metaphysicians. For Kant, the antinomous petals of the flower of philosophy are systems of metaphysics which refute one another. The three critiques, in a sense, are the shears which are to prune this flower’s stem. “…., in all ages one Metaphysics has contradicted another, either in its assertions, or their proofs, and thus has itself destroyed its own claim to lasting assent. Nay, the very attempts to set up such a science are the main cause of the early appearance of scepticism, a mental attitude in which reason treats itself with such violence that it could never have arisen save from complete despair of ever satisfying our most important aspirations.” 11 Kant identifies two schools of thought on metaphysics in the metaphor which follows. “Metaphysics floated to the surface, like foam, which dissolved the moment it was scooped off. But immediately there appeared a new supply on the surface, to be ever eagerly gathered up by some, while others, instead of seeking in the depths the cause of the phenomenon, thought they showed their wisdom by ridiculing the idle labor of their neighbors.”12 Kant saw the necessity for a third position; that of one who finds a cause of the foam. Kant assumed this third position by attempting to demonstrate that what Metaphysics purports to do is impossible. Therefore, a science of metaphysics is impossible.

The shears which Kant designed to prune the flower of philosophies were triply bladed. Kant felt selfconscious about the triplistic character of his philosophy. “It has been thought a doubtful point that my divisions in pure philosophy should always be threefold. But that lies in the nature of the thing. If there is to be an apriori division, it must be either analytical, according to the law of contradiction, which is always twofold, or synthetical. And if in this latter case it is to be derived from apriori concepts (not as in mathematics from the intuition corresponding to the concept), the division must necessarily be trichotomy. For according to what is requisite for synthetical unity in general, there must be (1) a condition, (2) a conditioned, and (3) the concept which arises from the union of the conditioned with its condition.”13

For hegel, it does not suffice to say that three is in the nature of the thing. Spirit must reach full self-consciousness of the triad’s significance. “There are thus, according to Kant… twelve fundamental categories, which fall into four classes; and it is noteworthy, and deserves to be recognized, that each species of judgement again constitutes a triad…. It betrays a great instinct for the Notion when Kant says that the first category is positive, the second the negative of the first, the third the synthesis of the two. The triplicity, this ancient form of the Pythagoreans, Neo-Platonists and of the Christian religion, althought it here reappears as a quite external schema only, conceals within itself the absolute form, the Notion…. Kant does not follow up further the derivation of these categories, and he finds them imperfect, but he says that the others are derived from them. Kant thus accepts the categories in an empiric way, without thinking of developing of necessity these differences from unity. Just as little did Kant attempt to deduce time and space, for he accepted them likewise from experience – a quite unphilosophic and unjustifiable procedure.”14

I believe Hegel attempted to deduce space and time in the first chapter of The Phenomenology of the Spirit, in his analysis of the Here and the Now, which will be treated in the final section of this paper. Perhaps Hegel was able to uncover the ;cause of the bubbles’ in the Phenomenology and also leave the flower of philosophies intact. He concludes the Phenomenology with Schiller’s verse:

The chalice of this realm of spirits
Foams forth to God His own infinitude.15

There are odd moments when the use of the number three is unavoidable. There are even times when it is appropriate. Surely Caesar was not being Hegelian when he wrote “Omnia Gallia est divisa in partes tres.” Hegel is not blind to this, nor is he free of scorn for numerology. “Numbers have been much used as an expression of ideas, and this on the one hand has a semblance of profundity. For the fact that another significance than that immediately presented is implied in them, is evident at once; but how much there is within them is neither known by him who speaks nor by him who seeks to understand; it is like the witches’ rhyme (one time one) in Goethe’s Faust

This you must ken! (2540-2551)
From one make ten,
And two let be,
Make even three,
Then rich you’ll be.
Skip o’re the four!
From five and six,
The Witch’s tricks,
Make seven and eight,
‘Tis finished straight;
And nine is one,
And ten is none,
This is the witch’s one-time-one!

The less clear the thoughts, the deeper they appear.”16 Mephistopheles is in total accord with Hegel.

Much more if it is still to come (2555-2565)
I know it well, thus doth the whole bok chime;
I’ve squandered over it much time,
For perfect contradictions, in the end,
Remain mysterious alike for fools and sages.
The art is old and new, my friend.
It was the way in all the ages.
Through Three and One, and One and Three,
Error instead of truth to scatter.
Thus do men prate and teach untroubledly.
With fools who’ll bandy wordy chatter?
Men oft believe, if only they hear wordy pother,
That there must surely be in it some thought or other.

The witches’ one-time-one is strikingly reminiscent of the Pythagorean Tetraktus. “The Four is the triad but more developed, and hence with the Pythagoreans it held a high position. But in the triad the tetrad is in so far contained, as that the former is the unity, and other-being, and the union of both these moments, and thus, since the difference, as posited, is a double, if we count it, four moments result. From this the Pythagoreans proceed to the ten, another form of this tetrad. As the four is the perfect form of the three, this four-fold, thus perfected and developed so that all its moments shall be accepted as real differences, is the number ten, the real tetrad. Sextus syas: “Tetraktus means the number which, comprising within itself the four first numbers, forms the most perfect number, that is the number ten; for one and two and three and four make ten. Whenwe come to ten, we again consider it as a unity and begin once more from the beginning. (i.e. 11,12, 13)”.17 But the Tetraktus is merely the triad thrice perfected. And, according to Hegel, it is from this Pythagorean trinity and its descendents that the Christian Trinity evolved. “It is now comprehensible that Christians sought and found the Trinity in this threefold nature.”18 Hegel offers Faust neither divine knowledge nor numerology. Is this knowledge which he offers self-knowledge? Does consciousness see the world ina three-fiold manner, casting God in the image of its own perception? Is Hegel an atheist?

In the Philosophy of Religion Hegel states “I am a Lutheran, and a Lutheran I will remain.” But we cannot so simply dismiss the question of Hegel’s Theism or Atheism with this simple profession of faith. Hegel says that ‘the fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom.”19 He says this in the middle of the very significant section of the Phenomeology of the Spirit, entitled “Lordship and Bondage”. He does not mean here the Lord God in Heaven; but the master, the conqueror, the ‘lord of men’. Now, it is said in the beginning of Proverbs, “A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels; to understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise and their dark sayings.”20 What is like the words of the wise? “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”21

Is Hegel’s wisdom the result of a fear, not of the Lord in heaven, but of the society which lords over him? If so, then Hegel’s words, the History of Philosophy and the Philosophy of History, are truly apples of gold in pictures of silver. When looked at casually, from a distance, they seem silver apples only. When examined more closely, a hint of gold is seen. When scrutinized carefully by the knowing eye, they are recognized as something bearing one kind of outward appearance: yet, in reality, they are inwardly something of a very different nature and worth; the pictures of silver, a Christian Theism; the Atheism, an inner gold in which man becomes God.

Such a doctrine would well warrant concealment. Hegel was not unaware of the dangerous consequences of imprudent philosophizing. He relates that “the opponents of Wolff caused it to be conveyed to King Frederick William I., the father of Frederick II., a rough man who took an interest in nothing but soldiers, that according to the determinism of Wolff, free will was impossible, and that soldiers could not hence desert of their own free will, but by a special disposition of God (pre-established harmony) – a doctrine which, if disseminated amongst the military, would be extremely dangerous. The king, much enraged by ths, immediately issued a decree that within forty-eight hours Wolff should leave Halle and the Prussian States, under penalty of the halter.”22

If any author does construct his works as apples of gold in pictures of silver, then a very interesting inference may be made concerning the tacit principle to which that author must adhere. The principle is that knowledge is virtue. Our assumption is that the doctrine which the author conceals in the apples of gold is such as may result in abuse or misuse on the part of the wicked or the foolish. Therefore, it must be either the author’s assumption or his hope that htose who have the knowledge to acquire the doctrine have also the virtue to possess it, while those who lack such virtue ipso facto lack the prerequisite knowledge to perceive the doctrine and, as a consequence, remain ignorant of the doctrine’s presence. The author must also either assume or hope that the lips of virtue are discreet.

It would not be difficult to construe Hegel;s writings as those of an hubristic man whose aspiration is to become a god. Hegel apparently disavows such an ambition by his endorsement of Goethe’s humble piece of advice: “The man who will learn to do something great must learn, as Goethe says, to limit himself. The man who, on the contrary would do everything, really does nothing and fails.”23

In what sense, though, does Hegel follow Goethe’s advice? He admits in his introduction to the Philosophy of History that the results are known to him because he has “traversed the entire field.”24 In the Phenomenology of the Spirit, he sets for himself the goal of Absolute Knowledge. Such a goal strikes us as an odd limit until we recognize it as being not a limit, but the fruit of a limiting process which has already taken place. I here iterate a few words on finitude from the previous section of this paper. “The things of nature are limited and are natural things only to such extent as they are not aware of their universal limit, or to such extent as their mode or quality is a limit from our point of view and not their own. No one knows, or even feels, that anything is a limit or defect, until he is at the same time above and beyond it.”

This limit which Hegel sets for himself, this finitude which he recognizes is, in words, the finitude of discourse, and in deeds, the finitude of actions. The finitude of discourse is the finitude of Understanding’s use of it. “Understanding must not go too far. Understanding is not an ultimate but, on the contrary finite, and so constituted that then carried to extremes, it veers round to its opposite.”25 What we say turns round to its opposite. What we attempt may lead to unexpected results. The finitude of actions becomes evident with the realization that it is not Fate which causes results opposite to those intended to come about but men’s own policy. “Napoleon, in a conversation which he once had with Goethe on the nature of Tragedy, expressed the opinion that its modern phase differed from the ancient, through our no longer recognizing a Destiny to whch men are absolutely subject, and that Policy occupies the place of ancient Fate. This therefore he thought must be used as the modern form of Destiny in Tragedy – the irresistible power of circumstances to whch individuality must bend.”26

It is the great figures of history who must come to a realization of this finitude of action. Of Caesar, Hegel says “It was not then, his private gain merely, but an unconscious impulse that occasioned the accomplishment of that for which time was ripe….27 Such individuals had no consciousness of the general Idea they were unfolding, while prosecuting those aims of theirs… If we go on to cast a look at the fate of these world-historical persons – we shall find it to have been no happy one. They attain no calm enjoyment; their whole life was labor and trouble; their whole nature was nought else but their master-passion. When their object is attained they fall off like empty hulls from the kernel.”28 In the words of Napoleon, “Du sublime au ridicule il n’y a qu’un pas.”29

Wehave an important clue to Hegel’s position concerning Theism and Atheism. He states, “There is no porposition of Heraclitus which I have not adopted in my Logic.”30 Such a proposition is the following: “Join together the complete whole and the incomplete, what coincides and what conflicts, what is harmonious and what discordant, and from out of them all comes one, and from one, all.”31 But a consequence of Heraclitus’ proposition is strangely neither theistic n0or atheistic. “Men are mortal gods and gods are immortal men; living is death to the former and dying is their life. Life is the death of the gods, death is the life of the gods; the divine is the rising through thought above mere nature which belongs to death.”34

Let us return once more to the Christian Trinity to see how Hegel employs the logic of Heraclitus. “It is not comprehensible that Christians sought and found the Trinity in this threefold nature. It has often been made a superficial reason for objecting to them; sometimes the idea of the Trinity as it was present to the ancients, was considered as above reason, as a secret, and hence, too high; sometimes it was deemed too absurd. But from the one cause or from the other, they did not wish to bring it into closer relation to reason. If there is a meaning in this Trinity, we must try to understand it. It would be an anomalous thing if there were nothingin what has for two thousand years been the holiest Christian idea; if it were too holy to be brought down to the level of reason, or were something now quite obsolete, so that it would be contrary to good taste and sense to try to find a meaning in it.”32

Hegel recognizes the very schools of thought which Kant identified in his metaphor. There are two schools of thought concerning triplicity. One deems it too high, the other, too absurd. Consequently, neither talks about triplicity at sufficient length to explain the significance behind it These same two schools are identified in the description of the third moment of Logic, Mysticism. The term Mysticism is used by one to denote all that is read and true, by the other, to denote all superstition and deception. On the one hand, these two schools are as opposed as flesh and spirit. On the other, they are united; as flesh and spirit are united in man; as all oppositions are united by the very fact of opposition. “It was forgotten that Identity and Opposition are themselves opposed, and the maxim of Opposition was taken even for that of Identity, in the shape of the principle of Contradiction. A notion, which possesses neither or both of two mutually contradictory marks, e.g. a quadrangular circle and a rectilineal arc ano less contradict this maxim, geometers never hesitate to treat the circle as apolygon with rectilineal sides33…. In the notion of a circle, center and circumference are equally essential; both marks belong to it: and yet center and circumference are opposite and contradictory to each other.”34

Hegel sees in triplicity both truth and deception and, therefore, the necessity for a third position. Three is uniquely neither Pythagorean nor Christian nor Kantian, but a basic number underlying many philosophies and religions. Two is the nature of any opposition; three, of mediation. It is man himself who is antinomous, not reality. Numberless pairs of feelings and opinions in opposition to one another war within his breast. This opposition requires mediation if man is to live with himself in peace. “Only it is not being in itself that is thus contradictory, for the contradiction has its source in our thought alone. Thus the same antinomy remains in our mind; and as it was formerly God who had to take upon himself all contradictions, so now it is self-consciousness…. But Kantian philosophy does not go on to grapple with the fact that it is not things that are contradictory, but self-consciousness itself. Experience teaches us that the ego does not melt away by reason of these contradictions, but continues to exist; we need not therefore trouble ourselves aobut its contradictions, for it can bear them.”35

Theism and Atheism are only one of the many antinomies in man. Hegel is neither Theistic nor Atheistic but a mediator of Thesim and Atheism. In Heraclitean fashion, he unites Theism and Athesim into what is neither theistic nor atheistic but something higher than either. His trinity is not the Christian Trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Ghost are but being-in-itself, being-for-itself and being-in-and-for-itself in disguise.

We must remember what we first said. Words and deeds seem worlds apart because truth and falsehood in words has no relation to good and evil in deeds. We have neglected to ask ourselves how such entirely different things as words and deeds can manifest this same triplicity. We must recant and admit some connection between words and deeds; between the rational and the actual.

Solon said, long ago, that a word is a shadow of a deed. We are now requiring ourselves to understand how the word is made flesh. In this attempt, we make an additional requirement upon ourselves; namely, to bring together those two realms, knowledge and virtue, which we at first separate. This is a hard saying; that knowledge is virtue. Should we accept the principle that knowledge is virtue, we solve one problem. It is no longer difficult to understand the very curious thing that Mephistopheles, in the guise of Faust, writes in a student’s book, “Eritis sicut Deus, scientes bonum et malum.”36 Why would he not rather write, “You will become godlike, knowing truth and falsehood”? It was not a life of action upon which the student was about to embark, but a life of words and study.

Faust’s turn from words to deeds is no perplexity but a very natural movement from theory to practice. This motion should be seen in all students who are completing their studies. Knowing about truth and falsehood in words, they then reenter the world and face the problems of goodness and evil in action: the application of theory in practice.


Faust’s Wager

(lines 1692-1705)

If ever I lay me on a bed of sloth in peace,
That instant let for me existence cease!
If ever with lying flattery you can rule me
So that contented with myself I stay,
If with enjoyment you can fool me,
Be that for me the final day!
That bet I offer!

If to the moment I shall ever say:
“Ah, lingr on, thou art so fair!”
Then may you fetters on me lay,
The will I perish, then and there!
Then may the death-bell toll, recalling
Then from your service you are free;
The clock may stop, the pointer falling,
And time itself be past for me!


Faust does not travel the highway of despair from words to deeds unaccompanied. The Spirit of the World journeys with him. The Spirit recounts this Odyssey as it basks on Ithacan shores in the permanent noon of the Sun of Self-Consciousness, having vied with Athena and learned where her booty lies. This Spirit’s tale Hegel retells in the Phenomenology of the Spirit.

The Spirit’s Odyssey begins with words. “In sense-expression pure being at once breaks up into the two ‘thises’, as we have called them, one this as I, and one as object.” More precisely, pure being breaks up into three ‘thises’; I, Here, and Now. “Sense-certainty itself has thus to be asked: What is the This? If we take it in the two-fold form of its existence, as the Now and as the Here, the dialectic it has in it will take a form as intelligible as the This iteslf. To the question, What is the Now? we reply, for example, the Now is night-time. To test the truth of this certainty of sense, a simple experiment is all we need: write that truth down. A truth cannot lose anything by being written down, and just as little by our preserving and keeping it. If we look again at the truth we have written down, look at it now, at this noon-time, we shall have to say it has turned stale and become out of date1… The same will be the case when we take the Here, the other form of This. The Here is e.g. the tree. I turn about and this truth has disappeared and has changed round into its opposite: the Here is not a tree, but a house. The Here itslef does not disappear; it is and remains in the disappearance of the house, tree, and so on, and is indifferently house, tree. The This is shown… to be… Universality.”2

The Spirit is thus intimidated by Language. “Language… is the more truthful; in it we ourselves refute directly and at once our own ‘meaning’; and since universality is the real truth of sense-certainlty, and language merely expresses this truth, it is not possible at all for us even to express in words any sensuous existence which we ‘mean’.”3 Ego is drowned and obscured in the Universal. ” ‘I’ is merely universal, like Now, here or This in general. No doubt I ‘mean’ an individual I, but just as little as I am able to say what I ‘mean’ by Now, here, so it is impossible in the case of the I too. By saying ‘this Here’, ‘this Now’, ‘an individual thing’, I say all Thises, Heres, Nows, or Individuals. In the same way when I say ‘I’, ‘this individual I’, I say quite generally ‘all I’s ‘, every one is what I say, every one is ‘I’, this individual I. When philosophy is requested, by way of putting it to a crucial test – a test which it could not possibly sustain – to ‘deduce’, to ‘construe’, ‘to find a priori’, or however it is put, a so-called this thing or this particular man, it is reasonable that the person making this demand should say what ‘this thing’, or what ‘this I’, he means: but to say this is quite impossible.”4

Spirit’s self-defeat in Language engenders scepticism. Scepticism breeds despair, the despair of words. This despair moves Spirit to an act of desperation which is either murderous or suicidal. “We may be permitted here, in this appeal to universal experience, to anticipate with a reference to the practical sphere. In this connection we may answer those who thus insist on the truth and certainty of the reality of objects of sense, by saying that they had better be sent back to the most elementary school of wisdom, the ancient Elusinian mysteries of Ceres and Bacchus; they have not yet learnt the inner secret of the eating of bread and the drinking of wine. For one who is initiated into these mysteries not only comes to doubt the being of things of sense, but gets into a state of despair about it altogether; and in dealing with them he partly himself brings about the nothingness of those things, partly he sees thesse brig about their own nothingness. Even animals are not shut off from this wisdom, but show they are deeply initiated into it. They do not stand stock still before things of sense as if these were things per se, with being in themselves: they despair of this reality altogether, and in complete assurance of the nothingness of things they fall-to without more ado and eat them up.”5

The ultimate deed of the Spirit is recorded in ‘Lordship and Bondage.” Spirit’s experience with words gives rise to sceptical uncertainty of things and of self Spirit desires a recognition which will establish self-certainty. Desire for recognition is the desire for desire; the desire to control another’s desire, that is, to make oneself the object of another’s desire, the standard by thich that other deems itself ‘self’. Spirit recognizes itself in another ‘I’. Yet, for the very reason that the ‘I’ which Spirit sees is ‘other’, Spirit is uncertain of itself. These two ‘I’s challenge one another for recognition in an Homeric fashion. Mortal combat ensues, but mutual slaughter is not the outcome. One fears for his life and submits to slavery. The other becomes a master. The prize of victory is not the kind of recognition which was sought. Spirit desired the recognition of an equal. It now has recognition from a chattle, a ‘thing’. Spirit has merely exchanged the despair of words for the despair of deeds. Moreover, the victor has won the battle but lost the war. By becoming a master, he has lost any chance of achieving self-consciousness. Ironically, the slave is now in a position to achieve self-consciousness. The hands are crossed, so to speak, and the younger son receives the blessing.

The plot of Faust is remarkably similar to the ‘plot’ of the Phenomenology of the Spirit. We first find Faust caught up in the despair of words. As he sits at his desk, the moon rises into view. The moon is Reflection. Its light is the reflected light of the sun.

Faust: …and cease word-threshing from this hour. (385-392)
Oh, that, full moon, thou didst but glow
Now for the last time on my woe,
Whom I beside this desk so oft
Have watched at midnight climb aloft.
Then over books and paper here
to me sad friend thou didst appear!
A1 could I but on mountain height
Go onward in thy lovely light…

Faust is eventually given the opportunity to fulfill this wish if he so chooses. But presently, Faust takes a book of magic and conjures a spirit.

I feel the courage, forth into the world to dare. (465)

Faust is willing to risk his life in order to confront this spirit.

Unveil thyself! …Thou must! (467-500) ‘Tis I, I’m Faust, I am thy peer.

The spirit describes itself as an ocean.

Spirit: In tides of life, in action’s storm,
Up and down I wave
To and fro weave free,
Birth and the grave,
An infinite sea,
A varied weaving,
A radiant living,
Thus at Time’s humming loom its my hand that prepares
The robe ever-living the Diety wears.Faust: Thou who dost round the wide world wend,
Thou busy spirit, how near I feel to thee!

The spirit refuses to give Faust recognition.

Spirit: Thou art like the spirit thou canst comprehend,
Not me!Faust: Not Thee!
Whom then?
I, image of the Godhead!
And not even like to thee!

Faust shortly makes his wager with Mephistopheles and the two embark upon a long series of adventures which culminate in the ultimate deed, the satisfaction of a desired desire. This scene between Mephistopheles and Faust bears an obvious resemblance to Christ’s temptation in the wilderness, Matthew IV. But more important for our present purpose is this scene’s resemblance to Hegel’s chapter on ‘Lordship and Bondage”.

FaustPart II, Act IV (10130-10136)Mephistopheles: …
You have surveyed a boundless territory
The kingdoms of the world and all their glory; (Matt. IV)
Still – with that discontented air –
Did you not lust for something anywhere?

Faust: I did! A great work lured me on,
Divine it!

That can soon be done.
I’d seek some city…

Faust: With that I can not be contented. (10155)

Mephistopheles: Then, swelling with self conscious pride I’d raise
A pleasure castle in a pleasant place. (10160-10161)

Faust: Sardanapalus! Vile and new, I swear! (10176-10180)

Mephistopheles: Who could divine toward what ou would aspire?
It must have been sublimely bold in truth,
Toward the moon you’d soar and even higher;
Did your mad quest allure you there forsooth?

Faust is now given the opportunity to fulfill his earlier wish:

Ah could I but on mountain height (463-464)
Go onward in thy lovely light…

But Faust’s desire is no longer for objects of reflection. The object of Faust’s desire is no longer words but deeds. Moreover, Faust desires a desire.

Faust: By no menas! For this earthly sphere (10181-10201)
Affords a place for great deeds ever.
Astounding things shall happen here,
I feel the strength for bold endeavor,…

Lordship, possession, are my aim and thought!
The deed is everything, the glory naught.

Mephistopheles: …
confide to me the range of your caprices.

Faust: Mine eye was drawn out toward theopen ocean
That swelled aloft, self-towering and vaulting,
And then drew back its billows in commotion,
The broad expanse of level shore assaulting.

It is the sea, as the likeness of which the conjured spirit described itself, which Faust now desires. The moon is a body of weak reflection but of powerful influence on the tides. The ocean is moved by the moon. That is to say, the ocean ‘desires’ the moon.

Faust: It steals along, in countless channels flowing,
Fruitless itself and fruitlessly bestowing;
It swells and grows and rolls and spreads its reign
Over the loathsome, desolate domain.
Strong with a mighty will where wave on wave rolls on,
Reigns for a while, retires, and naught is done.
Even to despair it could harass me truly,
The aimless force of elements unruly!
Here dares my soul above itself to soar;
Here would I fight, of this be conqueror.

Faust’s desire is to control the ocean’s desire for the moon. Faust desires to limit the sea and oncover new ground upon which a city can be built.

In Act V, it is a blind Faust who comes at midnight upon what he believes to be a fulfilling of his desire. The sounds which he hears are not of shovels digging drainage channels, as he believes. They are the sound of his own grave being dug. Faust imagines:


Green fertile fields where straightway from their birth
Both men and beast live happy on the newest earth,
Settled forthwith along the mighty hill
Raised by a daring, busy peoples’ will.
Within, a land like Paradise; outside,
Up to the brink may rage the mighty tide,
And where it gnaws and would burst through or sap,
A common impulse hastes to close the gap.

It is this rapturous vision which looses Faust the wager. It is the vision of a perfect state.

Aye!Such a throng I fain would see. (11579-11603)
Then might I say, that moment seeing:
‘Ah, linger on, thou art so fair!’
The traces of my earthly being
Can perish not in aeons – they are there!
That lofty moment now I feel in this:
I now enjoy the highest moment’s bliss.

Time stops.All that subsequently transpires is in an eternal moment.

Mephistopheles: Him could no pleasure sate, suffice no bliss,
So wooed he ever changeful phantom’s favor.
This last vile, empty moemtn – this!
The poor wretch wished to hild it fast forever.
Him who against me stoutly held his stand,
Time conquers – here the old man lies in sand.
The clock stands still -Chorus: Stands still! No sound is heard.
The clock’s hand falls.

Mephistopheles: it falls, ’tis finished.

Chorus: ‘Tis past.

Mephistopheles: “Past” – ’tis a stupid word.
Past – why?
Past and pure naught, sheer uniformity!
Of what avails perpetual creation
If later swept off to anihillation?
“So it is past!” You see what that must mean?
It is the same as had it never been,
And yet whirls on as if it weren’t destroyed.
I should prefer the Everlasting Void.

So Faust is swept into the bacchanalian whirl.

The long journey from words to deeds is unavoidable if man is to become what he is. Faust would not have thanked Hegel for persuading him to remain in his study, nor would Hegel be pleased if Faust had.

The bacchanalian whirl is a device to cheat Mephistopheles in their wager. The fiar moment of that dance is ever-lingering and ever-fleeting. The bacchanalian whirl is a moving rest.

Psalms 55:6 And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.

Hegel says that dialectic properly begins with Zeno. It was no accident that Zeno first applied dialectic to motion. Dialectic IS motion. motion is the dialectic of the Here and the Now. If the second moment of Logic is motion, then the first moment, Abstract Understanding, must be rest; Parmenides unconsciously perhed on one side of the antinomy. The third moment, Mysticism, which subsumes the first and second moments within itself, must be a moving rest. It is just such a moving rest in which Goethe leaves us.

Chorus Mysticus: All earth comprises (12104-12111)
Is symbol alone;
What here ne’er suffices
As fact here is known;
All past the humanly
Wourght here in love
The Eternal-Womanly
Draws us above.

Time was ‘of the essence’ for Hegel. A temporal paradox prompted him to write the History of Philosophy. hegel states this paradox in the Introduction as follows: “If thought which is essentially though is in and for itself and eternal, and that which is true is contained in thought alone, how, then, does this intellectual world come to hae a history? In history what appears is transient, has disappeared in the night of the past and is no more. But true, necessary thought – and it is only with such that we have to do – is capable of no change.”6

It is not words only but also deeds which suffer in this temporal paradox. “… there are also many most important things outside of philosophy, which are left unconsidered. Such are religion, political history, forms of government, and the arts and sciences.”7 Deeds, as well as words, being products of thought, must have a destination. “For hisotry seems at first to be a succession of chance events, in which each event stands isolated by itself, which has time alone as a connecting link. But even in political history we are not satisfied with this. We see, or at least divine in it, that essential connection or aim, and in this way obtain significance.”8 When is this destination reached?

The destination in words and desds is reached when a certain gap which was rent by thought in the fabric of time is by thought finally rewoven. Truth and falsehood are in the temporal realm of the ‘is’. Good and evil are in the temporal relm of the ‘ought to be’. On the day in which wouds and deeds coincide, then will the rational and the actual, the ideal and the real also coincide.

We may recall the ancient distinction between the historian and the poet. The task of thehistorian is to tell things exactly as they are. The task of the philosopher, it may be added, has often been tought to be the expression of what is. The poet tells things not as they are but as they ought to be.

This distinction between the historian and the poet may be seen in Hegel’s description of the three kinds of hisotry in the introduction to Philosophy of History. Of Original History, of which Herodotus and Thucydides are cited as examples, hegel say, “They simply transferred what was passing in the world around them, to the realm of re-presentative intellect. An external phenomenon is thus translated into an internal conception. In the same way, the poet operates upon the material supplied him by his emotions; projecting it into an image for the conceptive faculty. These original historians did, it is true, find statements and narratives of other men reay to hand. One person cannot be an eye or ear witness of everything. But they make use of such aids only as the poet does of that heritage of an already-formed language, to which he owes so much; merely as an ingredient.”9

Reflective History is somewhat more prosaic. “This first kind of Reflective History is most nearly akin to the preceding, when it has no farther aim than to present the annals of a country complete. Such compilations10… are, if well performed, highly meritorious. Among the best of the kind may be reckoned such annalists as approach those of the first class; who give so vivid a transcript of events that the reader may well fancy himself listening to contemporaries and eye-witnesses.”11

Hegel describes Philosophical History as a union, or sublimation, of the ‘ought’ of Original History and the ‘is’ of Reflective Hisotyr. “To insist upon Thought in this connection with history may, however, appear unsatisfactory. In this science it would seem as if Thought must be subordinate to what is given, to the realities of fact; that is its basis and guide; while Philosophy dwells in the region of self-produced ideas, without reference to actuality. Approaching history thus prepossessed, Speculation might be expected to treat it as a mere passive material; and, so far from leaving it in its native truth, to force it to conformity with a tyrannous idea, and to construe it, as the phase is, ‘a priori.’ But as it is the business of history simply to adopt into its records what is and has become, actual occurences and transactions; and since it remains true to its character in proportion as it strictly adheres to its data, we seem to have in Philosophy, a process diametrically opposed to that of the historiaographer. This contradiction, and the charge consequently brought against speculation, shall be expalined and confuted…. The only thought which Philosophy brings with it to the contemplation of History, is the simple conception of Reason; that Rason is the Sovereign of the World; that the history of the world, therefore, presents us with a rational process.”12

By uniting the ‘is’ and the ‘ought to be’, Philosophical History recognizes the rational in what is actual. The Ideal is recognized as actual and existent in the Real. Hegel sees the proper function of philosophy as the recognition and description of the union of the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’. “One word more about giving instruction as to what the world ought to be. Philosophy in any case always comes on the scene too late to give it. As the thought of the world, it appears only when actuality is already there cut and dried after its process of formation has been completed. The teaching of the concept, which is also history’s inescapable lesson, is that it is only when actuality is mature that the ideal first appears over against the real and that the ideal apprehends this same real world in its substance and builds it up for itslef into the shape of an intellectual realm. When philosophy paints its grey in grey, then has a shape of life grown old. By philosophy’s grey in grey, it cannot be rejuvenated but only understood. The owl of Minerve spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk.”13

When this gap etween the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ is finally rewoven, time stoops. That is, the quill which records the annals of the history of the world and of the history of philosophy comes to a halt. It may truly be said of the permanent noon of self-consciousness that ‘there is nothing new unders the sun.’ Nothing new is said. Nothing new is done. Of course, clocks continue to tick, provided that men still take an interest in building new clocks or repairing old ones. But will men still take this interest? Now the tocsin of war no longer sounds. Now men no longer raise their heads at the tolling of the bell. Now is an eternalnow. We must ask ourselves,”Is this a tragedy?” My only answer would be “Tes, and no,” which is an Hegelian answer and therefore begs the question. Though I do not know the answer, this question must continually be asked. If we ask ourselves whether Faust is a tragedy, I think our answers will provide us with a similar difficulty.

Fortunately, we are not forced to face these questions here. Without having answered them, we can see that Hegel was more successful with words than with deeds. His theory put to practice suffers an age-old fate. The three moments of Logic are more tenable than the three periods of the German Aeon. We will all, I am sure, entertain his notion of an end to philosophy far sooner than any notion of an end to history. We cannot accept Napoleon as history’s end. Nor had the end which Marx and Engels envisioned truly come to pass. We see, either to Hegel’s embarrassment or to shi glory, that the Sun of history has not stopped in the West of Germany, but has moved on. It may presently be lurking somewhere near the approximate vicinty from which it first arose. If so, then the sun of history might properly be said to have completed its circuit about the globe. And it may go round again before the light of the physical sun fades and dies. Perhaps the light of history comes from no sun, but from a dim, epoch-marking comet which Gibbon mentions:

“In the narrow space of history and fable, one and the same comet is already found to have revisited the earth in seven equal revolutions of five hundred and seventy-five years. The first, which ascends beyond the Christian era one thousand seven hundred and sixty-seven years, is coeval with Ogyges, the father of Grecian antiquity. And this appearance explains the tradition which Varo has preserved, that under his reigh the planet Venus changed her color, size, figure, and course; a prodigy without example either in past or succeeding ages. The second visit, in the year eleven hundred and ninety-three, is darkly implied in the fable of Electra, the seventh of the Pleiads, who have been reduced to six since the time of the Torjan war. That nymph, the wife of Dardanus, was unable to support the ruin of her country; she abandoned the dances of her sister orbs, fled from the zodiac to the north pole, and obtained, from her dishevelled locks, the name of the comet. The third period expires in the year six hundred and eighteen, a date that exactly agrees with the tremendous comet of the Sibyl, and perhaps of Pliny, which arose in the West two generations before the reign of Cyrus. The forth apparition, forty-four years before the birth of Christ, is of all others the most splendid and important. After the death of Caesar, a long haired star was conspicuous to Rome and to the nations, during the games which were exhibited by young Octavian in honor of Venus and his uncle. The vulgar opinion, that it conveyed to heaven the divine soul of the dictator, was cherished and consecrated by the piety of a statesman; while his secret superstition referred the comet to the glory of his own times. The fifth visit has been already ascribed to the fifth year of Justinian, which coincides with the five hundred and thirty-first of the Christian era. And it may deserve notice that in this, as in the preceeding instance, the comet was followed by remarkable paleness of the sun. The sixth return in the year eleven hundred and six, is recorded by the chronicles of Europe and China; and in the irst fervor of the crusades, the Christian sand the Mahometans might surmise, with eaqual reason, that it portended the destruction of the Infidels. The seventh phenomenon, of one thousand six hundred and eighty, was presented to the eyes of an enlightened age. The philosophy of Bayle dispelled a prejudice which Milton’s muse had so recently adorned, that the comet, “from its horrid hari shakes pestilence and war.’ Its road in the heavens was observed with exquisite skill by Flamstead and Cassini: and the mathematical science of Bernoulli, Newton, and Halley, investigated the laws of its revolutions. At the eighth period, in the year two thousand three hundered and fifty-five, their calculations may perhaps be verified by the astronomers of some future capital in the Siberian or American wilderness.”14

“I have to express my thinks to you for the attention with which you have listened to me while I have been making this attempt; it is in great measure due to you that my efforts have met with any measure of success. And it has been a source of pleasure to myself to have been associated with you in this spiritual community; I ought not to speak of it as if it were a thing of the past, for I hope that a spiritual bond has been knit between us which will prove permanent. I bid you a most hearty farewell.”- Hegel, conclusion to the History of Philosophy

Now, as I am born with the breath of these words into that world from which I came, I arm myself with the homily of this obscure man.

“Mind your till and till your mind.” – C.H. Spurgeon



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