G.W.F. Hegel



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Why is personality ultimately involved here? One may gain an intuitive grasp of this simply by becoming conscious of the fact that every scientist, philosopher, etc. is fundamentally a thinking being - a specific personality. Whatever conceptions they may have of their own origins - be it from atoms, molecules, angels, space-time warps, strings, worms, etc. - the fundamental fact remains that there is a thinking being at the bottom of all such conceptions. The idea that the world consists of atoms, molecules, etc. is ultimately concieved of and developed by scientific or philosophic personalities. We may come to learn about these theories as if they are the given facts of nature, and accept them in that way. But the truth is that they are preceeded by a lengthy historical development of thought before they are ever assumed as given facts of nature and, most importantly, they all have their ultimate origination in a thinking being - or personality, which exists pari passu along with any and all kinds of experience.

Then what comes first? Is it the thinking persons or the atoms that such persons think they are originated from? It is in scientfically comprehending the answer to this question that the whole of Hegelian philosophy can be understood.

Although it seems to have been well-known shortly after Hegel's death (see for example Cunningham's "Thought and Reality" or Caird's "Hegel"), for scholars of our own time, with a few exceptions, it has not been widely recognized that Hegel's philosophy is the essential affirmation of the personal nature of the Absolute Truth, although he clearly affirms this throughout his writings. I think there are a few major reasons for this.

(1) Hegel, himself, directly explains that his purpose is to present philosophy in a strictly scientific form, and that this must be done in terms of concepts. Thus 'Subject' is preferred to 'God' which is more a name of the Absolute than a concept, (Phenomenology 23). Personality is such a concrete concept that it is really only to be invoked at the conclusion of Science, for, as we have indicated, it is also where the whole of Science comes from - therefore it is both the origin and conclusion. Consequently Hegel claims that genuine philosophy is a circle or as we shall discover - a circle of circles.

(2) Another reason is that in our modern age there is a persistent prejudice toward impersonalism when it comes to understanding truth that is objective to us, i.e. the prejudice that the Absolute must be Substance rather than Subject. If Spinoza shocked the age in which he proclaimed that the Absolute was Substance, it has now become common place in our time, and it is Hegel who now shocks the world with the scientific conlusion that the Absolute is Personality.

Even when we hear the word "subject" we are unwilling to think in terms of personality and would rather think of it in some abstract way. This is correct as far as abstract Science is concerned with concepts, but we must understand that there is also a Reality or Actuality invovled. There is certainly a logical difference in meaning between Subject and Personality, in keeping with these terms as Hegel develops them, but just as Subject does not exclude its Substantial Reality, so too does the concept of Personality necessarily, and perhpas in a way more easily conceived, include its reality. Thus, for example, we call a person 'brave' only if they have manifested an act of, say, saving someone's life, so that personality is not only something subjective but is integrally combined with its manifestion or reality. In this way it is only with the inclusion of Nature and Logic in the wholesome consideration of the Absolute in its Spiritual Reality that leads us to the comprehension of Truth as Divine Personality or God.

(3) We have not known or been taught how to scientifically deal with a Reality that is personal. Modern science, especially, has been developed only in terms of a merely physical nature, the attempt having been made to reduce even life to purely chemical and molecular factors via objective evolutionary theories. Everything from the origin of the universe to the origin of human society has been based on such evolutionary thinking from some primitive state or substance to the presently observed world. Recent scientific revolutions of the twentieth century, however, have called all of that into question. The organismic conception of life turns the table around and has the organism as a whole determining the parts, and this is becoming the ruling paradigm in the physics of field theory as much as biology and certainly ecology.

(4) The Judeo-Christian heritage from which modern science arose in the West seems to put the Personal feature of the Absolute Truth outside the system of Nature and the world in general. This may certainly be correct as regards material nature but the situation is more complex than that. In order to fully comprehend the relation between God and World requires a carefull understanding of the Concept in its integral and differential moments, where separated difference and unity both play a role. This is the domain of scientific philosophy as Hegel developed it. The principle of identity in difference or identity of identity and difference that forms the basis of rational thought, distinct from abstract understanding, requires a comprehension of God as both transcendent and immanent with respect to His creation and creatures.

Thus, for instance, Hegel shows that Thought as Absolute Objectivity in and for itself, overarches sujective thought and its opposing objective matter, which are dialectically connected in a process of dynamically cancelling and producing one another. It is this dialectical movement of thought at the subjective-objective oppositional level of reality that, when concieved as a unitary organic whole, rises to the level of an overarching Concept that is intimately and dynamically tied up with its various moments or parts yet distinct from them. This same organic structure, according to its contents, is found throughout the whole of Reality, be it God, Idea, Concept, or the relation of Spirit to Logic and Nature.

(5) The idea of a majestic unity overarching a servile mulitplicity brings the fear of a bygone era of authoritarian hierarchies, a concept that springs from an abstract, static understanding of unity as opposed to multiplicity. The rational principle of the identity of unity and multiplicity dispels that fear as irrational for a society that has risen to the platform of Science. As Hegel says, " the Idea infinity is genuine; individuality as such is nothing and simply one with absolute ethical majesty - for which genuine, living, non-servile oneness is the only true ethical life of the individual" (Natural Law, tr. Knox, p.67). Here "individuality as such" means individuality conceived as an independently subsisting unit held in abstract opposition to the universal. It is this abstraction of individuality that is dissolved or nothing, whereas genuine individuality has a "true ethical life".

When we think in this way it seems rationally unavoidable that personality must be the conclusion of any science or philosophy because, as we have mentioned above, the rational thinking of a person is already involved at the root of all science and philosophy. To ignore thinking being that originates science is to fail to comprehend what the original object of scientific philosophical endeavor was in the first place - to understand the origin of one's self. This insight proves to be of essential importance in grasping the standpoint from which Hegels system is developed. In other words, the knower is the essential unity of knowledge and the known. In this sense it is similar to the Kantian unity of apperception of the "I" but Hegel presents it all in a more consistent and scientifically developed form.

If we try to comprehend Hegel without taking this basic persepctive into consideration we will have missed the most important contribution of his whole philosophy to the modern world. For it is a perspective that does not ask us to abandon any of the great achievements of science that we have already gained, but to expand upon them and integrate them in dimensions that a merely substantial or physically based science could never deal with.

For a more in depth study of this subject please see our article entitled, "Hegel and Personalism".