G.W.F. Hegel
Philosophy of Religion
   Home |  Subscribe |  About |  Contact |  What's New | 



Freedom, Reality, and God:
True Infinity as the Key to Hegel’s System


Robert M. Wallace


From Immanuel Kant, German philosophy inherited an ambitious conception of freedom, together with major reasons for wondering whether it is rational to regard this freedom as real. From the European Enlightenment, German philosophy also inherited major reasons for wondering whether the traditional conception of a transcendent God is one that it is rational to endorse. G. W. F. Hegel addresses both of these issues at once, in his major works, and the concept by which he does so is the concept of “true infinity” (together with such closely related later concepts as “the Concept,” “the Idea,” “Spirit,” and “Absolute Spirit”). In “Faith and Knowledge” (1802), one of Hegel’s earliest publications, it becomes clear that “true infinity” plays a central role in the critical appropriation (“supersession,” Aufhebung) of Kantian philosophy that he is advocating.[1] In his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, from the 1820s, it is equally clear that “true infinity” is central for his conception of the relation between God and the world.[2] And Hegel’s formula for freedom, in his Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences (1817-1830) and Philosophy of Right (1821)—that the will is “with itself . . . in an other” (PR §7A, 7:57; compare EG §386, A, 10:34-36)—is also his formula for true infinity (EL§94A, 8:199). But in order to understand this true infinity—and with it, Hegel’s conceptions of freedom and God—one has to study the Science of Logic (1812-1816, rev. 1832), where Hegel lays it out and argues for it in detail. In this lecture I will sketch Hegel’s argument, so as to show (in section 1) how Hegel’s metaphysics reformulates Kant’s conception of freedom so that it can be defended against naturalist and empiricist criticisms, and (in section 3) how Hegel’s theology relates to the alternatives represented by traditional theism and the Enlightenment. In section 2, I will also comment on the nature of Hegel’s “idealism” and its relevance to some of the central concerns of analytic philosophy. In each of these areas, I will suggest that Hegel’s position, when it is properly understood, is as plausible as any that is now available. And these topics—freedom, reality, idealism, and God—are so central to Hegel’s philosophical system as a whole that, without claiming to present an overview of the system, I think it is plausible to suppose that the key to understanding his treatment of these topics—which, I will  suggest, can be found through a careful interpretation of his argument to "true infinity”—will also turn out to be the key to understanding the system.[3]

1. True Infinity and the Reality of Freedom

For Kant, full freedom or autonomy is the capacity to be guided by reason instead of by finite “inclinations.” One could describe such a freedom as “infinite,” in that it is based on an unlimited questioning of the inclinations: a questioning that is not satisfied by any inclination, as such. Kant believes that such a capacity cannot function in the phenomenal world, because he understands the phenomenal world as a structure of causal relationships between finite things (including inclinations). So in order to protect the possibility of freedom and autonomy, Kant introduces his second, noumenal world (or second “standpoint”), and with it the opposition between the two worlds (or two “standpoints”) —against which Hegel endorses what he calls the “great principle” of empiricism, that “what is true, must be in actuality and must be there for perception” (EL §38R/8:108). This principle says, in effect, that for the sake of intelligibility, there must be one actuality, and one authoritative standpoint, rather than two. In the chapter on “Quality” in his Science of Logic, Hegel develops an alternative understanding of the relation between freedom and being, reality, or nature, according to which freedom, rather than occupying a different world or standpoint, consummates or realizes being, reality, or nature. Hegel signals this turning precisely by his use of the word, “reality.” He introduces this word as part of his analysis of determinate being and quality: Quality is characterized by “reality” and “negation” (SL 111/5:118). At the end of the chapter he announces that “It is not the finite which is the real, but the infinite” (SL 149/5:164). That is, what is truly real (and actual and perceptible) is not finite things, but freedom, which Hegel had connected, a little earlier, with the infinite.[4] This makes it clear that Hegel’s version of empiricism is significantly different from those of Thomas Hobbes or David Hume!

How does Hegel arrive at the conclusion that the infinite, rather than the finite, is what is real? The answer, I think, is to be found in the initial relation between reality and negation. “Reality” refers to the aspect of a determinate quality that is immediate or in the form of being (SL 111/5:118). “Negation,” on the other hand, is the respect in which the determinate quality is “mediated”: the interrelation between this quality and other qualities of the same type. For example, the quality, red, is a color; it can be determined—that is, specified—only through its relation to other colors that it is not: it is the color that is not-blue, not-green, and so forth. This is the sense in which, as Hegel puts it, omnis determinatio est negatio: all determination depends upon negation (SL 113/5:121). But that is by no means the end of the discussion, because we have not yet done justice to quality’s “immediacy,” which Hegel called its “reality.” Hegel’s first attempt to do justice to quality’s immediacy is the “something,” which he describes as the negation of the first negation (SL 115/5:123), making it (as he puts it later) “self-related in opposition to its relation to other” (SL 119/5:128). (Hegel actually identifies this “something” as “the beginning of the subject” [SL 115/5:123], which will later emerge as “being-for-self” and the “Concept.”)

However, there are, of course, problems with this “something.” Its “being-in-itself”—its self-relatedness in opposition to its relation to others—should, Hegel says, be “in it” or “posited” (SL  120, 122/5:129, 131); that is, it too should be a quality, a concrete feature of the object. If it is a quality, it must (once again) be a “being-for-other”: an interrelationship with other qualities; but in that case the something is no longer opposed to all relation to other (SL 124/5:134, top). To avoid this problem, Hegel reformulates the something as “finitude.” The “limit” that makes finite somethings finite is meant to keep the being of each finite something separate from the being of others (SL 126/5:136); but this limit itself becomes yet another “other,” for the something (SL 127/5:137), so that the something is still determined by a being-for-other, a negation, and thus is still not an immediate reality.

So Hegel introduces the notion of the “ought,” the Sollen, by which the something “goes beyond itself” (SL 132/5:143). The “ought” is supposed to enable the something not to be limited and determined (through negation) by other somethings, but instead to be determined only by itself. When the Kantian rational being overcomes its “inclinations” and obeys its “ought” and its reason, the whole drama takes place within the being, rather than between it and other beings. The rational being determines itself: it has its quality by virtue of itself, rather than through its relations to others. In this sense, this being seems to be the first truly immediate “reality”; it seems to solve the problem of the relation between reality and negation.

But this solution works only if the “ought” isn’t just another finite thing. If it were another finite thing, the “ought” would simply make the finite something into yet another “being-for-other.” So the “ought” must be infinite. But the “ought” as Kant pictures it seems, in the last analysis, to be finite, insofar as it is simply opposed to the inclinations and to finitude in general, and consequently it is limited and rendered finite by those inclinations and that finitude. The conclusion that Hegel draws is that the “ought” must be replaced by a “true infinity,” which is not something that exists independently (in which case it would be limited and rendered finite by other independently existing things), but instead “is only as a going beyond the finite” (SL 145-146/5:160). “The finite is not superseded by the infinite as by a power existing outside it; rather, its infinity consists in superseding its own self” (ibid.). But the finite is also not something that exists independently, as the whole argument that we have just been considering makes clear; it has to supersede itself, because it is “only as going beyond itself” (SL 145/5:160) that it is a reality. So this single “going beyond” (by the finite, of itself) which constitutes the reality of the finite and of the infinite, is the “unity” of the finite and the infinite (SL 144/5:158), through which the duality of Kant’s two worlds or two standpoints is overcome, without eliminating either world or either standpoint. The finite, phenomenal world remains, although it achieves reality only by going beyond itself; and the infinite, noumenal world remains, although it is identified with this transcendence, by the finite, of itself. What is eliminated, of course, is the “spuriously infinite” opposition, the supposed incompatibility, between the finite and the infinite, the phenomenal and the noumenal. When the resulting unitary, true infinity is identified with freedom (SL 138/5:150)—because going beyond finitude evidently involves freedom—the reality of infinite freedom is also defended against the objection, which is raised by naturalism and empiricism against Kant, that there cannot be two “realities” that have no intelligible connection with each other. In Hegel’s picture, there is only one reality, the true infinity, which includes the finite because it is the finite’s going beyond itself. It is by going beyond themselves that finitude and nature become real. What is actual, true, and perceptible, must be real; only true infinity is real; so empiricism should admit that it is only this infinity and its freedom, and not finite things as such (that is, as not going beyond themselves), that are actual, true, and perceptible.[5]

If this argument had been better understood, since its publication, the discussion between empiricists, Kantians, and Hegelians could have been considerably deeper and more fruitful than it has been.[6]

2. True Infinity, Idealism, and Hegel’s “System”

I mentioned that Hegel describes the “something” as “the beginning of the subject” (SL 115/5:123), which will later reveal itself as what Hegel calls the “Concept.” I think that in this argument from determinate being and quality to the true infinity one can see the reason why Hegel later identifies the “Concept” and the “Idea” as the best descriptions of actuality and substance—in other words, the reason why Hegel’s system progresses from “substance” to “subject” (PhG Preface/3:23-24) (and later from nature to spirit).[7] The system does this because, as a result of the argument that I have just sketched, it finds reality only in infinite freedom, which, as freedom, is clearly better understood as “subject” than as “substance.” That is why, and that is the sense in which, “every philosophy [is] essentially an idealism . . . ,” as Hegel already announces at the end of his chapter on “Quality” (SL 154-155/5:172). If there is one key to Hegel’s philosophical system, then, as far as I can see, it is to be found in this argument to true infinity.[8] The main thing that happens in the rest of the system is that true infinity is reformulated, in response to the issue of multiplicity (“atomism” and “Quantity”), into the “Concept” and the “Idea” (this is the culmination of the Logic); and then it is reformulated even further, in response to the issue of embodiment in space and time, into “Spirit” (this is the culmination of the system, in the third volume of the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences). The Concept and the Idea spell out an understanding of true infinity in terms of subjectivity and objectivity, and Spirit spells it out in terms of embodiment in discrete portions of space and time. If this is the pattern of Hegel’s system as a whole, it is not surprising that in the Encyclopedia Logic Hegel in fact refers to true infinity as the “fundamental concept of philosophy” (EL §95A/8:203).

Much twentieth-century “analytic” philosophy, beginning (perhaps) with Wittgenstein, tries to unravel the relationship between third-person and first-person “points of view” on the world and experience: between the outer and the inner, determinism and responsibility, nature and freedom, science and ethics, fact and value.[9] Hegel’s argument to the “true infinity” is an argument, in effect, that a purely third-person (external, determinist, naturalistic, scientific, factual) point of view fails to conceive of the world as real—in the sense of being what it is by virtue of itself. “Infinity,” or a first-person point of view (epitomized in Kant’s conception of the point of view of ethical decision-making), presents itself, for Hegel, as a possible way of achieving “reality” (in the specified sense). But “infinity” or the first-person point of view also fails, by itself, to achieve this reality, insofar as it  is confronted and limited—rendered incomplete, and thus finite—by the simultaneous and separate presence of the finite or the third-person point of view. Thus, rather than calling for infinity as a simply “additional” point of view, which (as such) would fail in the way that I just described, Hegel suggests that the “infinite,” first-person point of view can grasp “reality” if and insofar as it understands itself as the self-transcendence of the finite, third-person point of view. It can understand itself in this way insofar as it understands how and why, as Hegel has shown, the finite, third-person point of view needs to transcend itself. The unresolved duality of the two points of view—and the consequent failure of each of them to achieve “reality”—is overcome when they are understood in the way that Hegel’s argument enables us to understand them, as identical in their difference, each fully intelligible and successful only as an aspect of the totality which is the self-transcendence of the finite, third-person point of view (the self-transcendence that Hegel consequently calls the true infinity). Hegel’s later conceptual innovations, in his account of “reflection” (including “identity,” “difference,” and “contradiction”) and his theory of the “Concept,” “Judgment,” and “Syllogism,” must all be understood as directed at systematically thinking through this unity or identity-in-difference of the finite and the infinite, the third-person and the first-person points of view.

Analytic philosophers have often been deterred from taking Hegel seriously by his apparently far-fetched “idealism.” The argument to true infinity at least makes it clear that Hegel’s idealism is not a “supernaturalism,” as such, but rather ties nature and freedom, the third-person point of view and the first-person point of view, together in an intimate embrace, an identity-in-difference in which each achieves its reality through the other.[10] If my account of the relevance of true infinity to the relation between third-person and first-person points of view is correct, it seems that philosophers who take both points of view—and the nature of their interrelationship—seriously would be well advised to take a close look at true infinity (as well as its ramifications in “reflection,” the Concept, etc.).

3. True Infinity and God

If he is not a “supernaturalist,” as such, what is Hegel’s position in regard to theology? In the Introduction to the Science of Logic, Hegel describes the Logic as “the exposition of God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature and a finite mind” (SL 50/5:44). Interpreters like Pirmin Stekeler-Weithofer, who have no sympathy for the traditional idea of a transcendent God, want to interpret Hegel’s “God” as “purely this-worldly [rein diesseitig].” Stekeler-Weithofer writes that for Hegel, “’Belief in God is . . . insight . . . into the dependence of an individual’s humanitas, his individual knowledge and his reason, on the universal culture of reason.”[11] It seems to me that this interpretation doesn’t sufficiently take into account the way in which Hegel establishes the infinite as the real, and how this establishment develops from the opposition between reality and negation.[12] This is where we find Hegel’s interpretation of the traditional idea of divine transcendence. Insofar as we humans are finite creatures, true infinity transcends us. It is true that Hegel criticizes the spurious infinity of traditional transcendence—the “infinity” which, because it is simply opposed to the finite, is in fact limited by it, and thus finite. (Hegel’s most famous critique of this spurious infinity is in his discussion of the “unhappy consciousness,” in the Phenomenology of Spirit [Miller trans., §§207-230/3:163-177].) But that does not mean that Hegel wants to return to simple “this-worldliness.” Rather, he wants a true infinity, which, just as it is neither noumenal nor phenomenal, is also neither “other-worldly” nor “this-worldly.” True infinity embodies transcendence as the self-transcendence of the finite (in this sense, true infinity is not “other-worldly”); but this is, nevertheless, genuine transcendence, insofar as the finite achieves reality only by going beyond itself(and in this sense, true infinity is not “this-worldly”). In this way Hegel can justifiably claim that he has identified a truth in traditional religion and theology that was not identified by Enlightenment thinkers (whether atheistic, pantheistic, or deistic)—namely, that the finite achieves reality only by going beyond itself. And at the same time he can justifiably assert that in traditional religion and theology this truth was not adequately conceptualized, because it was conceived as simply opposed to the finite world (that is, it was conceived, in effect, as “spurious” infinity), rather than as the self-transcendence of the finite (true infinity).

Here, too, we find Hegel’s anticipatory answer to Ludwig Feuerbach’s well-known critique of Hegel’s metaphysical theology. Feuerbach takes Hegel to be a traditional theist, because he doesn’t understand Hegel’s argument from determinate being and quality to the true infinity, with the critique—which that argument includes—of spurious infinity and of the “unhappy consciousness.” That is, Feuerbach doesn’t understand the way in which Hegel criticizes and revises traditional theism and the traditional conception of transcendence, in order to make it possible to defend them against the objection, raised by naturalism and empiricism, that there cannot be two “realities” that have no intelligible connection with each other.[13] Feuerbach’s “anthropotheistic” alternative to Hegel’s theology reflects the same lack of understanding, inasmuch as it presupposes, and leaves unquestioned, the “reality” of the finite world and finite humans (and ignores the question and the relevance of freedom). Hegel is neither a traditional theist, nor a pantheist, nor a deist, nor an atheist, nor an “anthropotheist.” The analysis of true infinity makes it clear how a different position, which is reducible to none of these familiar ones, is both possible and plausible.

Not only does Hegel’s argument protect a revised version of divine transcendence against charges of unintelligibility—it is also, in effect, a revised and more defensible version of traditional arguments for God’s existence; in particular, of the “ontological argument.” Introduced by St. Anselm in the eleventh century, used by Descartes and others, and criticized by Kant, the ontological argument says that if God is defined as the sum of all perfections, God must exist, for surely existence is a perfection and non-existence an imperfection. Kant objects that it must be possible to think about all of the properties of a possible thing without being committed to thinking of it either as existing or as not existing. So existence is not a predicate like (say) power or goodness; and so it should not be counted as a “perfection,” comparable to omnipotence or perfect goodness. To Kant’s objection, Hegel replies, in effect, that the combination of being and thought (or freedom), in true infinity and in God (Absolute Spirit), embodies a developed understanding of what being or existence must be order to be fully “real,” so that it makes no sense to be “uncommitted” here—to consider it an open question whether this God exists or not. If the argument of the Logic works, this God is what most of all “is” (what most of all is “real”), because that’s precisely what he has been constructed to be (see EL §51R, §194; SL 705-708/6:402-406). God’s other predicates (if any) follow from his being or reality, rather than his being or reality being tacked on to his other predicates. This status of Absolute Spirit or (in the Logic) of true infinity or the Idea is clear from the structure of Hegel’s system as a whole, in which “being” is the first concept, so that all later concepts include some form of being, superseded but still present, within them. But it is especially clear when one sees the role that “reality” plays in the argument to true infinity, that the purpose of the Logic is to produce a developed conception of what is real, so that if something that appears to be divine results from the Logic’s argument, that divine thing automatically has to be real. It is through this argument, as it is developed in Hegel’s “system,” that his claim to know God, and not only to believe in God, could be justified.

Here again, I can’t help thinking that if this argument had been better understood, since Hegel presented it, the discussions between sceptics, traditional theists, and those who think (like Hegel) that it should be possible to find some truth in both of these traditional positions, could have been richer and more fruitful than they have, in fact, been. It would have been seen that Enlightenment sceptics could be right in complaining that reality cannot have two compartments—the “transcendent” and the “immanent”—that are simply opposed to each other and have no intelligible connection with each other, while traditional theists could at the same time be right in maintaining that finite things are not as real as an infinite God, and that fully understanding this inadequacy of finite things, together with the nature of freedom, leads the mind to such a God. Unlike traditional conceptions of immanence, transcendence, and infinity, the revised conceptions that are embodied in “true infinity” can legitimate both the Enlightenment sceptic’s claim and the theist’s claims, and show how they mesh with each other.[14]

This centrality of true infinity in Hegel’s critique and appropriation of Kant, of empiricism and naturalism, of traditional religion and theology, and of the Enlightenment critique of religion and theology, makes it clear why Hegel places so much weight on this concept and on his Logic in general. In this short lecture I have not, of course, been able to lay out the whole structure of the Logic and the System. Perhaps, however, I have been able to show how attractive some of the central features of that structure can be, and to give some plausibility to the suggestion that a careful interpretation of Hegel’s argument to true infinity will in fact turn out to be the key to understanding his System as a whole.

[1] G. W. F. Hegel, Faith and Knowledge, translated by W. Cerf and H. S. Harris (Albany: SUNY Press, 1977), pp. 63, 113, 190 =Werke in zwanzig Bänden, ed. E. Moldenhauer and K. M. Michel (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1970), abbreviated as “TWA,” 2: 297, 352, 431. References to volume and page, in the text above, are to TWA. “EL”=Encyclopedia Logic (Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, vol. 1); “EG”=Philosophy of Spirit (Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, vol. 3); “PhG”=Phenomenology of Spirit; “PR”=Philosophy of Right; “SL”=Hegel’s Science of Logic, trans. A. V. Miller (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1989); “A”=Addition; “R”=Remark. Translations are my own. I have omitted some of Hegel’s italics and, in some cases, inserted italics of my own.

[2] G. W. F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, ed. Peter C. Hodgson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), vol. 1, pp. 307-309=Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Religion. Teil 1: Einleitung, Der Begriff der Religion, ed. W. Jaeschke (Hamburg: Meiner, 1983), pp. 211–213.

[3] I give a more detailed account of Hegel’s system in Freedom, Reality, and God: Hegel’s Theory of Freedom in His Logic and System (manuscript).

[4] “At the name of the infinite, the heart and the mind light up, for in the infinite the spirit is not merely abstractly with itself, but raises itself to itself, to the light of its thought, of its universality,  of its freedom” (SL 137-138/5:150). Compare PR §5: “The will contains . . . the limitless infinity of absolute abstraction or universality,” and §4: “The will is free, so that freedom constitutes its substance and destiny.” That, for Hegel, infinity is tightly entwined with freedom is clear from the fact that in a lecture, he applied to true infinity the same formula of “being with oneself in one’s other” (EL §94A/8:199) that he also applies, as is well known, to concrete freedom (PR 7A/7:57).

[5] “Perception,” here—the German is Wahrnehmung, literally “taking true”—is not mere sensation, but involves access to the truth of the object, which Hegel is associating with its being itself by going beyond itself—its “infinity.” This whole demonstration that what is real is the infinite does not appear in Hegel’s Jena publications, in particular in his Differenzschrift and Faith and Knowledge, so that his assertion there (over against Kant and Fichte) of the unity of the finite and the infinite is, in effect, dogmatic. So any complete discussion of Hegel’s critiques of Kant and Fichte, and of his alternative account which backs up those critiques, must take the Science of Logic into account. This is not done in leading publications on this subject, such as Paul Guyer, “Thought and Being: Hegel’s Critique of Kant’s Theoretical Philosophy,” in Frederick C. Beiser, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hegel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), and Paul Guyer, “Absolute Idealism and the Rejection of Kantian Dualism,” in Karl Ameriks, ed., The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

[6] Bernhard Lakebrink, Die Europäische Idee der Freiheit: I Teil, Hegels Logik  und die Tradition der Selbstbestimmung (Leiden: Brill, 1968), and Emil Angehrn, Freiheit und System bei Hegel (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1977), give extended attention to the discussions of freedom in the Logic, including the Doctrine of Being; Brigitte Bitsch, Sollensbegriff und Moralitätskritik bei G. W. F. Hegel (Bonn: Bouvier, 1977) elucidates important aspects of Hegel’s relation to Kant on this issue; and Will Dudley, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Philosophy. Thinking Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), connects Hegel’s ethics in the Philosophy of Right to his analysis of the Concept, in the Science of Logic. But these writers do not bring out the train of thought by which Hegel links determinate being to true infinity, nor do they show how that train of thought serves to defend Kant’s basic conception of freedom against the criticism that it leaves us without an understanding of the relation between freedom and nature. Nor does any other commentary that I have found. Robert Pippin’s Hegel’s Idealism. The Satisfactions of Self-Consciousness (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), which focuses on Hegel’s relation to Kant, does not bring out the relation between true infinity and Kantian dualism. In this lecture, I don’t address Hegel’s epistemology, as such, but ontology has implications for epistemology insofar as, if Hegel can demonstrate to our satisfaction that freedom and God are real, then evidently freedom and God can be known. I analyze Hegel’s critique of Kant’s dualism of concept and intuition—the dualism that underlies Kant’s scepticism about knowledge of freedom and God—in chapter 4 of Freedom, Reality, and God: Hegel’s Theory of Freedom, in His Logic and His System (manuscript).

[7] Leading commentators have been unable to find this reason. For example, Klaus Düsing writes that Hegel “does not really show why the supersession of the separated substances . . .  must be a thinking self-relationship, and not simply an essentially existing one” (Klaus Düsing, Das Problem der Subjektivität in Hegels Logik [Bonn: Bouvier, 1976], p. 231; emphasis added). It does not seem difficult to see how thought is necessary for the “freedom” of infinity, and how the supersession of the separated substances is connected to this freedom, and thus to thought. (Though it certainly would have been helpful if Hegel had made it clearer, at the end of the Doctrine of Essence, just how his earlier argument to true infinity enters in, there.) Rolf-Peter Horstmann describes Hegel’s opinion that “thinking and being are one and the same, or that only thinking has being” (an opinion that is equivalent to Hegel’s thesis about “substance” becoming “subject”)  not as something for which Hegel presents an argument, but rather as a “conviction” of Hegel’s, which underlies all of his work and which “he never felt any need to question” (“Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich,” Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy [London and New York: Routledge, 1998], vol. 4, quotes from pp. 265 and 266). But it seems to me that this “conviction” of Hegel’s is based precisely on his argument for the non-reality of what is finite and the reality of what is infinite (and thus of  what is free, and therefore has the character of thought).

[8] One might perhaps find the same key already in the part of the argument to true infinity in which the conception of “negativity” (the “negation of the negation” [SL 115/5:124]) is introduced; this negativity already contains the conception of a non-dualistic going-beyond-itself of quality, when quality goes beyond itself to the “something” not by postulating something completely other than itself, but by reapplying the original concept of negation to itself. True infinity is a more developed version of this same idea.

[9] Philosophers who have contributed prominently to this effort include Wilfrid Sellars, Charles Taylor, Donald Davidson, Hilary Putnam, and John McDowell.

[10] A prominent example of analytic philosophy’s difficulties with Hegel’s “idealism” is Charles Taylor’s admirably energetic and provocative Hegel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), in which , despite his evident desire to find something important and defensible in Hegel’s position, Taylor concludes that modern science and technology have “dispelled [the] vision of the world as the manifestation of spiritual powers or a divine principle which was the culmination of the expressivist current of the late eighteenth century” (p. 545), of which Taylor takes Hegel’s conception of Spirit, etc., to be a leading representative. In line with this general view of Hegel, Taylor regularly describes Spirit, in Hegel’s view, as using finite beings as its “vehicles” (p. 89). He thus overlooks Hegel’s explanation of the way in which true infinity’s reality  (and thus also the reality of its successors, the Concept and Spirit) depends upon the self-transcendence of the finite, so that the spiritual powers or divine principle cannot simply use finite things, since, in an important way, they are those things. (As Hegel says, the infinite does not supersede the finite in the manner of “a power existing outside it; on the contrary, [the finite’s] infinity consists in superseding its own self” [SL 146; 5:160, emphasis added].) That is, Taylor doesn’t grasp the identity-in-difference of the finite and the infinite, which is the essential message of Hegel’s account of true infinity, and thus he doesn’t grasp the import of Hegel’s idealism or of his theology (on which, see my next section), so that he is left with no alternative to the traditional Enlightenment story of science and technology as “dispelling” the relevance of spiritual powers or a divine principle.

[11] Pirmin Stekeler-Weithofer, Hegels Analytische Philosophie. Die Wissenschaft der Logik als kritische Theorie der Bedeutung (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1992), p. 427 (“purely this-wordly”) and p. 428. The most influential interpretation of Hegel as an atheist is Alexandre Kojève, Introduction à la Lecture de Hegel (Paris: Gallimard, 1947), translated by James H. Nichols as Introduction to the Reading of Hegel (New York: Basic Books, 1969). However, Kojève focusses on the Phenomenology of Spirit, which he takes to be atheistic, and rejects Hegel’s Logic and his Encyclopedia as theistic (see Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, pp. 146-147).

[12] In Stekeler-Weithofer’s discussion of determinate being and true infinity (Hegels Analytische Philosophie, pp. 118-135)—a discussion that (like most of his book) is based on the highly condensed Encyclopedia Logic, rather than on the Science of Logic—one finds nothing about “relation to oneself against one’s relation to others,” or about the “ought,” “going beyond oneself,” or “freedom.”

[13] “The essence of theology is the transcendent; i.e., the essence of man posited outside man. The essence of  Hegel’s Logic is transcendent thought; i.e., the thought of man posited outside man” (“Preliminary Theses on the Reform of Philosophy,” in The Fiery Brook. Selected Writings of Ludwig Feuerbach, trans. Z. Hanfi [Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972], thesis 12, p. 156 [emphasis altered], see also theses 16, 22, and 23; Kleine Schriften, ed. Karl Löwith (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1966), pp. 126-129). It is difficult to imagine Feuerbach writing these sentences in this way if he had been properly aware of Hegel’s doctrine that “the finite is not superseded by the infinite as by a power existing outside it; rather, its infinity consists in superseding its own self” (SL 145-146/5:160; emphasis added), or of Hegel’s corresponding critique of the conception of the infinite as the “beyond” (“It is only the spurious infinite which is the beyond” [SL 149/5: 164]).

[14] The three best books on Hegel’s philosophical theology that I am acquainted with are Dieter Henrich, Der ontologische Gottesbeweis: Sein Problem und seine Geschichte in der Neuzeit (Tübingen: Mohr, 1967), Walter Jaeschke, Reason in Religion. The Foundations of Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990)/Die Vernunft in der Religion. Studien zur Grundlegung der Religionsphilosophie Hegels (Stuttgart-Bad Canstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 1986), and Stephen Crites, Dialectic and Gospel in the Development of Hegel’s Thinking (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998). Unfortunately, none of these authors (and no other author that I am aware of) discusses Hegel’s argument to the true infinity, in the Logic, as the background to his accounts of the Idea and of Absolute Spirit, and consequently none of them gives a full account of Hegel’s conception of God or of his argument for God’s existence. A number of recent commentators use the term, “panentheism”—meaning “the belief that the being of God includes and penetrates the whole universe, so that every part of it exists in him, but that his being is more than, and is not exhausted by, the universe” (F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, second ed. [London: Oxford University Press, 1974], as cited by Raymond Keith Williamson, Introduction to Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion [Albany: SUNY Press, 1984], p. 254)—to categorize Hegel’s conception of the relation between God and the world. (Williamson provides a good discussion and references in his chapter 12.) “Panentheism” is meant to be contrasted, of course, both to pantheism and to traditional theism. Since Hegel makes it clear that the Logic, and true infinity in particular, provides his most systematic statement on the relation between God and the world, it is clear that a full explanation of his “panentheism” (if we choose to call it that) will depend upon a clarification of true infinity; and a major feature of such a clarification will, of course, be an account of the role of freedom, or going beyond finitude, in true infinity.