'Hegel: Walking on the path of the Absolute' by Martin Jenkins

The term 'Absolute' is associated with German Idealist Philosophy. It plays the foundational role upon which, the structure of indubitable human knowledge can be built. For JG. Fichte, the Absolute was based in the 'I' and became known in the dialectical movement between the said 'I' and the 'Not-I'.1 FWJ Shelling's understanding of the Absolute is that of an underlying Identity of the Subjective and Objective, the Conscious and the Unconscious, of Intelligence and Nature which sustains them but which is beyond, direct human cognition.2 Unlike Schelling and others, Hegel maintains that the Absolute can be known by human cognition.

In this paper I will provide a brief overview of how Hegel demonstrates this in his Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences.3 This will be followed by consideration on how the content of the Encyclopaedia actually coheres. The ostensible view is that the content and development of the Absolute is identical with the way the three books of the Encyclopedia are presented. This is contentious as I shall hopefully demonstrate.

The first of the three books of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences is the Logic. In it, Hegel outlines how Reason or God arrives at an understanding of itself: i.e. categories of Thought thinking itself. The Mind of God/Reason externalises itself in Nature and becomes Nature,- explored in the Encyclopaedia Nature - creating orderly systems before manifesting itself in Encyclopaedia Geist in human beings ultimately as self-understanding Geist: as Geist understanding itself in the Idea or Absolute Idea. Firstly, to the Logic.

Encyclopaedia Logic

In the Encyclopaedia Logic, Hegel demonstrates how Thinking thinks itself. Whilst Thought is initially confronted with intuitions, feelings, - experience, the truth of these can only be known through and within Thought. Thought or Reason or God is taken (this a contentious point) to enable cognition of Reality.4 It is, as the Ancient Greeks termed it, Nous.5 Objective Thought Determinations are immanent to the Universe -although Thought only becomes aware of this much later in the final book of the Logic.6 Thought determinations arise of necessity which is facilitated by dialectic (more below) and, they are dialectically cognised to achieve self-awareness by and through Subjective human cognition in a cumulative, process that has its terminus in the Absolute Idea. The Logic is thus 'the science of the 'Pure Idea'..of the Idea in the abstract element Thinking'.7

In other words, Thought/Reason/God cognises what is initially other to itself. It sublates, supersedes (Aufhebung) this other to itself thus heralding a higher, more comprehensive result and understanding of itself. This continues until all otherness-to-itself is ended in the comprehensive identity of the Absolute Idea. As Hegel writes:

"But the Idea shows itself as thinking that is strictly identical with itself and this at once shows itself as the activity of positing itself over and against itself in order to be For-Itself and to be, in this other, only at home with itself."8

This journey in the Logic from Being to Absolute Idea and in the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences itself (Logic, Nature and Geist) occurs by means of Dialectic. Namely the mediation of Thinking Reason with itself. As described by Hegel, Dialectical thinking has three moments:

a) the side of abstraction or of the understanding.

b) the dialectical or negatively rational side.

c). the speculative or positively rational side.9

Abstraction or Understanding is limited to cognising fixed, separate thought determinations - the principle of bi-valence in standard Logic. A thing is what it is and nothing else (Law of Identity); A thing cannot be and not be (Law of Non-Contradiction and either a thing is or it is not, it cannot be both (Law of Excluded Middle).

In the Dialectical moment of the negatively rational, however, the fixed determinations become opposites. Thought is confronted by contradiction.10 In the final moment of speculative positive reason, apprehension of the unity of the opposites entails the affirmation that is contained in their dissolution and sublation, supersession (Aufhebung) in a progressive, cumulative result.

For instance, in the Logic, it famously begins with Being. Pure Being is. It is undetermined, simple and immediate.11 As pure, and abstract, taken immediately, Being is simultaneously Nothing. Side by side in Understanding, we have Being and Nothing. The negatively rational side of Thinking posits them as opposites. Yet Being is Nothing and Nothing is Being: the truth of them both is found by speculative or positively rational thought in Becoming.12 In Becoming, the unity of Being and Nothing is, due to their vague nature, a vanishing unity. Dialectical Negative Reason detects a contradiction. The contradiction is overcome or superseded (Aufhebung) in a new term of Being-There.13 This whole movement is the determination of Thinking developing dialectically in a necessary way by examining its concepts.

The Logic consists of three sections or Doctrines: Being, Essence and Concept. The schema of Thinking Thought is outlined and described. Being is immediacy of thought determinations. (Thinking In-Itself). Essence is the mediation of thought determinations with themselves (Thinking for-itself). Concept, which is the form of dialectical development of Identity sublating thought determinations or contents which are momentarily negative to it, progressively reaches fruition by achieving self-knowledge of itself as the totality of the previous process and the very Idea of this process which results in the Absolute Idea. Finite thinking accesses Infinite Thinking by means of cognising the Categories that are inherent to being. What is 'objective' therefore, is made 'subjective' and the 'subjective' comprises the 'objective', resulting finally, in the Absolute Idea. The epistemological and ontological foundation of human knowledge is situated with the Absolute Idea. Hegel writes:

"As the unity of the subjective and objective Idea, the Idea is the Concept of the Idea, for which the Idea as such, is the object and for which the object is itself - an object in which all determinations have come together. This unity therefore, is the absolute truth and all truth, it is the Idea which thinks itself and, at this stage moreover, it is present as thinking i.e. as logical Idea."14

To reiterate, the Logic concludes by grasping the Concept of itself as the Concept of the Idea. The Concept is the methodological content and process of the dialectical development culminating in Absolute Idea's self-realisation which as an object for-itself; achieves awareness of itself as this process in its Totality and result. It is its otherness and the otherness is it, in a final state of Identity, of knowing self-awareness.

Self-awareness is intuiting. As intuiting the Idea posits the negation of itself in its other, as immediate being. In other words, the absolute freedom of the Idea launches from out of itself and as such, it posits itself as Nature.

"Considered according to this unity that it has with itself, the Idea that is for itself is intuiting and the intuiting Idea is Nature. But as intuiting, the Idea is posited in the one-sided determination of immediacy or negation through external reflection. The absolute freedom of the Idea however, is that it does not merely pass over into life, nor that it lets its life shine within itself as finite cognition but, in the absolute truth of itself, it resolves to release out of itself into freedom the moment of its particularity or of the initial determining and otherness [i.e.] the immediate Idea as its reflexion or itself as Nature."15

The Absolute Idea becomes Nature.

As Alison Stone writes:

"The absolute idea, recognising itself as the mere thought (or concept) of the unity of concept and matter, is 'driven' to overcome its merely intellectual mode of existence, assuming the form of a really existing unity....the Idea, having recognised its own character as a form of thought, sees that this is a partial, merely intellectual character. This prompts the Idea to transcend its limitation by becoming an objectively existing unity of concept and matter: that is, by becoming nature."16 [Alison Stone. Hegel's Philosophy of Nature: Overcoming the Division between Matter and Thought. Reproduced from Dialogue 39 (2000) 725-43]. www.GWFHegel.org

Nature is the Idea and, is the object of the Idea. As such, object Nature will disclose the immanent operation of Reason or the Idea. This operation occurs dialectically - by the categories established in the Logic.

"At this stage, it is important simply to note that Hegel does, indeed, make this identification: 'The Idea, ...contracting itself into the immediacy of being, is the totality in this form - nature' Hegel is thus required to develop a philosophy of nature because, in his view, being - the 'object' with which philosophy is always concerned - itself turns out to be nothing but nature. Nature, as it emerges in Hegel's philosophy, is in turn understood to be not just brute contingency or sheer givenness, but existing actually - 'the Idea as being', the 'Idea that is' (diese seiende Idee), or, as Hegel puts it in his 1819/20 lectures on the philosophy of nature, 'the embodied immediate Idea'.17 An Introduction to Hegel, Freedom, Truth and History. Stephen Houlgate, Blackwell 2005, pp. 106-8

Encyclopaedia Nature.

The Absolute Idea is sublated as Nature.

"Nature has presented itself as the idea in the form of otherness. Since in nature the idea is as the negative of itself or is external to itself nature is not merely external in relation to this idea, but the externality constitutes the determination in which nature as nature exists." (192. EN)18

Here, the Idea finds nature particularised, existing in a condition of 'asunderness'. In a cumulative succession of dialectical movements, the otherness that the Idea finds in the asundered phenomena of Nature is sublated by it. This could be termed an intermediation between 'the One' (the inner Idea) and the 'Many' (the variegated phenomena of Nature existing in a condition of externality) in which, the otherness of the 'Many' is incorporated, sublated (Aufhebung) by and, into the Idea. This otherness is not a wholly alien quality, as by means of progressive dialectical intermediation, Idea finds itself in what was previously, otherness. Thus:

"Nature is to be viewed as a system of stages, in which one stage necessarily arises from the other and is the truth closest to the other from which it results, though not in such a way that the one would naturally generate the other, but rather in the inner idea which constitutes the ground of nature." (194. EN)19

Encyclopaedia Nature is composed of three sections: Mathematics, Inorganic Physics and Organic Physics. In Part One, Mathematics, the Idea becomes Space, Time and Motion.20 . In Inorganic Physics, Matter and its characteristics are outlined culminating in individual body and, Life. Organic Physics explores Life in its Geological, Vegetative and Animal manifestations.

Throughout the processes, the Idea acquires an 'Ideality' of Nature. That is, the Idea conceptualises the external otherness of Nature as the 'embodied immediate idea'. In so doing, Nature is sublated by the Idea but the latter fails to adequate itself in Nature. It does not find the truth of itself within Nature.21 In other words, the real being of the Idea does not adequate to its Concept within Nature.

Thus, in the final stages of the Encyclopaedia Nature, we read that the subjectivity of the individual animal cannot allow for the realisation of the Concept/Idea. The individual animal is immediate with Nature subject to all its vicissitudes including death. Positively, animals as are included in their Genus or Universal. Yet negatively, the individual only achieves an abstract objectivity with its Genus, as it is subject to death. Despite this, positively, there is a subjectivity in both the individual and the Genus. The Idea as subjectivity in the Genus has 'sublated the last externality of Nature' i.e. immediacy.22

"In this way Nature has passed over into its truth, into the subjectivity of the Concept whose objectivity is itself the suspended immediacy of individuality, the concrete generality, the Concept which has the concept as its existence - into Geist". EN 298.23

Encyclopaedia Mind/Geist.

Dialectically, Geist emerges from Nature as a process. The third book of the Encyclopaedia series -Encyclopaedia Geist - is constituted by three parts: Mind Subjective, Mind Objective and Absolute Mind. The first part is itself composed of sub-sections: A. Anthropology: The Soul, B. The Phenomenology of Mind, Consciousness; C. Psychology, Mind.

In sub-section A: Anthropology, Hegel accounts how Geist or the Idea remains immediate or implicit in Nature. Here, the Idea is not yet conscious of itself, is not yet an object for itself, is not yet 'For-Itself.' This goal will eventually be achieved by means of the development of the Idea dialectically sublating (Aufgehobun) its otherness, sublating itself in its otherness.

Nature realises its 'externality', 'separateness', its 'materiality as an untruth', inadequate to the immanent Concept.24 Accordingly, Nature 'sets itself aside' passing over into Geist as its truth, a truth emerging from, yet remaining within Nature's corporeity.25 So, returning to Anthropology, the Idea is firstly actualised as a World Soul: "the Soul is the awaking of Consciousness'.26 It is a universality which is one and simple 'the sleep of Geist - the passive Nous of Aristotle, which is potentially all things'.27 Again, it is not yet conscious of itself.

Yet the world soul has no determinate existence, it simply is, it is Ideal.28 From it are particularised individual sentient souls who have immediate being and as such, remain abstract. Within such immediacy, there are feelings, sensations which, due to immediate Ideality gives the place of a subject which is immersed in them.29 This 'Self-Feeling' is indistinct from them. There is an awareness without an awareness, so to speak.

From a latent self-relation of Ideality to the particulars - to feelings and sensations - emerges a formal universal of self. From this simple being, the soul breaks with its corporeity.30 Again, there is at this stage, no conscious awareness.

The soul is nether distinct from, nor absorbed in the sensations, rather 'has them and moves in them, without feeing or consciousness of the fact."31 The regular, repetitiveness of feelings and sensations of corporeality is incorporated into the soul creating habitual practice: Habit. The soul is imposingpurpose on corporeity and the latter is conceived as external and 'a barrier'.32


"The Soul, when its corporeity has been moulded and made thoroughly its own, finds itself there a single subject; and the corporeity is an externality which stands as a predicate, in being related to which, it is related to itself...In this identity of interior and exterior, the latter subject to the former, the soul is actual: in its corporeity it has free shape, in which it feels itself and makes itself felt, and which, as the Souls work of art, has human pathognomic and physiognomic expression."33

External body and internal soul exist in a temporary unity of intermediation. Yet the soul shows the unreality of corporeity as the body offers little resistance to the moulding influence of the soul.34 The soul sets itself apart from corporeity of the body, absorbs it and makes it its own. The immediacy of the soul, of Being -as cited above- is accordingly left behind as the soul realises the Ideality of its qualities. As such, an inwardness of infinite self-relation is arrived at in the soul.35 From this 'Free Universality'' an Ego or 'I' emerges. The stage is now set for the emergence of Consciousness.

Consciousness is immediate, experiencing the 'Here and Now' of sensations. It is certain of sensations but not of their truth.36 Their truth is found in a combination of thought and sensible qualities, mediated by Universals ( as manifestations of the Concept) Mediated objects take the guise of appearance in which conscious intellect of the 'I' discerns the operation of Universals.37 In such judgements, the object is not distinct from the I as in it, the I finds the counterpart or reflex of its own self. Present in the other object is the categories and concepts of the 'I' and, in the other, the I becomes conscious of its own activity.38 Self=Consciousness is achieved.

Desire leads self-consciousness to cognise itself in an object, the latter becoming subjective and the subjectivity become objective.39 Appetite is destructive, consuming and annihilating the object. Satisfaction of appetite is therefore, transient.40 This immediacy is negated by Universality as self-consciousness finds itself identical with the object. This is an action of a Free object. In the object therefore, the Universal of self-consciousness is found by self-consciousness. From one-sided particularity, subjective self-consciousness is now Universal.41

In beholding the other Self-Consciousness, I behold myself. Yet this other is opposed to me. Each wants to be recognised as a free self , consequently, a struggle ensues. This contradiction is solved by the death of the other. This apparent solution only gives rise to another and greater contradiction: recognition is rendered impossible if the struggle results in the death of the other.42

Here we arrive at the Master and Slave, the initial structure of human, political and social life. To keep his life, the defeated enters slavery and gives up any hope of the equal recognition of his freedom. The Master reigns over the slave by Force.43 In this one-sided relation, the slave is not recognised as a particular instantiation of Universal self-consciousness. This socio-political relation becomes settled and established.

However, whilst the master suppresses the slave with the force and institutions deriving from his single self-hood, the slave 'in the service of his Master' overcomes the blind and immediate expression of appetite, develops a sense of individualism through the his 'fear of his lord'. This is 'the beginning of wisdom' and the passage to Universal self-consciousness.44

It marks such a beginning as obedience, in this instance to the Master, 'is a necessary moment in the education of all men'.45 In observing obedience, the appetite, egotism and self-will of the slave are suppressed. That is, the myopic, immediate, desire driven self-consciousness (egotism) which closes itself off to others is negated. The slave consciousness is open to other. This, does not apply to the Master.

Universal Self-consciousness is the awareness of a free, universal and independent self in the other. With this mutual recognition, Subjectivity has become Objective in its Universality.46 The Universality is Reason. Reason, as the Absolute Idea dialectically unifies the Concept and reality. Indeed, this dialectical process of unification underpins the whole movement as described above. (i.e. the adequation of reality to the Concept in the dialectical movement).47

Objects, which nominally, stand before self-consciousness are understood by Reason/Idea as they are inherently constituted, structured by Reason itself. Reason is thinking itself. Concept/self-consciousness and object (whether human or not) are unified. Hegel writes:

"The universality of Reason...whilst it signifies that the object which was only given in consciousness qua consciousness, is now itself universal, permeating and encompassing the ego, also signifies that the pure ego is the pure form which overlaps the object and encompasses it"48

Self-consciousness is therefore satisfied that the determinations it has are not just restricted to its thought determinations; they are determinations of the objects themselves. This identity is the activity of Reason. In Hegel's terminology, substance knows itself a s subject, it exists for-itself.49

From here, Section II: Mind Objective, Hegel's socio-political philosophy -expounded in greater detail in the Philosophy of Right- is outlined. Social structures are the dialectical instantiation of Reason or Geist of a people so as to allow the utmost Freedom. In Section III Absolute Mind, Art, Religion and Philosophy, we have the Absolute Idea becoming self-conscious of itself. In short, Art and Religion are inadequate to understand the ultimate end found in Philosophy: thought thinking itself as the Absolute Idea.

The overall pattern.

The issue I wish to examine here, is how the three books of the Encyclopedia cohere. The ostensible presentation of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences is of course as follows: Logic is followed by Nature and finally Mind or Geist. The Logic externalises itself in Nature where the latter is seen as a transition to the Geist. This 'linear' reading is explicitly outlined by Hegel in his Introduction to the Encyclopedia Geist, section 18. Near the end of the Encyclopedia Geist, appear three Syllogysms. The First syllogism 575 reiterates the linear reading already cited. However, this reading is subsequently problematised by the remaining two syllogysms.50

The very next syllogism 576, has Geist as the Middle term which 'presupposes Nature and couples it with the Logical principle'.51 Mind reflects upon itself in the Idea. Does this mean that Mind dialectically develops out of Nature, and realises this by means of reactive reflection upon Nature after it has achieved Self-Consciousness? It further discovers the Idea manifesting itself in the social structure of society by means of Philosophy, to further freedom.

With the third syllogism 577, the Idea of Philosophy as Self-knowing Reason , the Absolute universal, stands as the Middle term.52 This divides into Mind and Nature. Whereas Mind is Reason's presupposition as the development of subjectivity; Nature is the 'process of the objectively and implicitly existing Idea". Self-knowing Reason knows itself in Philosophy - complete knowledge of itself and of its dialectical development through Nature and Mind.


The First syllogism could set out the general scheme from which, the ensuing syllogisms provide differing perspectives on simultaneous developments. Indeed, S. Alexander maintains that all three syllogysms provide differing, simultaneous perspectives.53 The second syllogism could be interpreted as Geist, in presupposing Nature, has developed out of it. When Self-Consciousness appears, Geist discovers in Nature the 'Logical Principle'. On the one hand, 'looking backwards' from the position of Self-Consciousness, Geist subjectively discovers the Logic objectively immanent in Nature to disclose a Philosophy of Nature Naturphilosophie (as stated in the First syllogism when Logic externalises itself into Nature). Yet this cannot disclose the Absolute Idea, as Nature proves inadequate to the realisation of self-consciousness which is the sine qua non for cognition of the Absolute Idea, so the latter could not find its truth in Nature. On the other hand, from the position of realised Self-Consciousness, Geist, in reflecting upon itself 'in the Idea' proceeds historically to construct a socio-political actuality as guided by thinking Reason - in and by the 'subjective cognition' of Philosophy. Geist has emerged from and cognised Nature but not yet realised the Absolute Idea as espoused in Absolute Mind.

Finally, the third syllogism has the Idea of Philosophy, of self-knowing Reason as the middle term. It divides itself into Geist and Nature. This self -judging division into the two appearances of Geist and Nature (the First and Second syllogisms) 'characterises both as its (self-knowing g Reason) manifestations'.54 So the Absolute Idea manifests itself in Nature to understand itself by means of Geist understanding the Absolute Idea's implicit objectification in Nature (although to reiterate, at this stage, Nature cannot permit the self-consciousness of the Idea in understanding itself) and, manifests itself subjectively in Geist to achieve self-knowledge of itself by understanding the Absolute Idea as Mind Objective as demonstrated by and in Philosophy.

This process is cumulative: the Concept's necessary dialectic causes the 'movement and development' of the process, yet simultaneously, the movement and development of the process is 'equally the action of cognition'. From Nature, to Nature being understood by Self-conscious human beings -Geist-, to the manifestation of Freedom in sociality and to the cognition in Philosophy of this process and its result: all is for the cognition of the Absolute Idea. When this 'essence' of the Absolute Idea is understood, the Idea is fully understanding itself, is 'In and For-Itself'. Its essence is realised as Truth.

In the truth, the 'eternal Idea', 'eternally' sets itself to work. This could mean that what is, what exists, is the immanent action of the 'eternal Idea'. Unlike Spinoza' non-reflexive Substance that is God/Nature (Deus sive Natura), the eternal Idea 'enjoys itself as absolute mind'.55 Namely, what is, not merely exists but understands itself (through human beings) as 'absolute Mind' as espoused in Philosophy. According to Ermylos Plevrakis, this is the Noesis Noeseos of Theos as stipulated by Aristotle in his Metaphysics. So when we think in the Mind Absolute, we are thinking the thinking of self-knowing Reason. Finite is Infinite, human is 'God' so to speak.56

Granted this is the case. If so, what is the point of the First syllogism? For both the First and Third syllogysms can be read as the same: in the beginning is the Absolute idea, it is externalised in Nature and achieves its self-reflexive truth in the Encyclopaedia Geist. This is not correct as the first syllogism does not account for how both Self Consciousness arises and further, as Krill Chepurin terms it, retroactively 'spiritualises nature' - finding the Logical principle immanently active in Nature.57 The third syllogism does account for this.

To conclude, The Syllogisms provide differing perspectives of the activity of the Absolute with the Third providing the definitive activity. The Absolute Idea eternally exists. It acquires self-knowledge of itself by means of Nature and Geist - especially by means of human self-consciousness. This entails finite human consciousness partaking of the infinite consciousness of the Absolute Idea by a double movement. Firstly, when self-consciousness is reached, human self-consciousness can 'look back' to cognise the Absolute in Nature, retrospectively, so to speak. Secondly, human self-consciousness qua self-consciousness is Geist, collective mindfulness, self-consciousness of a people. 'Looking forward', as it were, this is manifested in the ethical, political and cultural being of a state. Art and Religion are not adequate to the full cognition of the Absolute Idea, as this is realised in Philosophy alone.

Unlike the Absolute of Schelling which remains hidden and beyond human knowledge, Hegel's Absolute is knowable - as he demonstrates. In Being, it is nascent, to become fully known in the Absolute Idea. As such, people, in their everyday lives, are being and acting, ' walking' within the existing instantiation of the Absolute Idea.58


1. JG Fichte. The Science of Knowledge. Cambridge University Press. 1991

2. FWJ Schelling. System of Transcendental Idealism. University of Virginia Press. 1978.

3. GWF Hegel. Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences.

Logic. (1830). Oxford University Press. 1975.

Nature. (1830). Oxford University Press. 1970.

Mind. (1830). Oxford University Press. 1971.

4. -13. Logic. Op cite.

5. - 11. Zusatze. (Z). ibid.

6. -24. ibid.

7. -19. ibid.

8. -18,-11, 24 & 238 ibid. See also EM -382. The Concept is identical with itself yet negative to itself. This disjunction is inherent to the Dialectical process pending the adequation of the Concept with itself as realised Absolute Idea: as self-conscious Identity. Freedom is frequently mentioned in connection with the process as the Freedom of Thought striving to understand itself by means of Necessity. Perhaps this harks back to the centrifugal movement of Fichte's Absolute I?

9. -79 E Logic. Op cite. Although Hegel scholars maintain Hegel employs differing schemas of the Dialectic. See for instance Andy Blunden. Non-Linear Processes and the Dialectic. https://ethicalpolitics.org/ablunden/pdfs/Non-linear%20processes%20and%20the%20dialectic.pdf Blunden writes thirteen different compositions of the Dialectic can be found within Hegel's works.

10. - 11 E. Logic. Op cite.

11. -87 ibid.

12. ibid.

13.-89. ibid.

14. -236. ibid.

15.-244. ibid.

16. Alison Stone. Hegel's Philosophy of Nature. Overcoming the Division between Matter and Thought. Dialogue Issue 39 (2000). Hosted on www.gwfhegel.org/nature/as.html

17. Stephen Houlgate. An Introduction to Hegel, Truth and History. Blackwell. 2005. Pp. 106-8.

18. GWF Hegel. Encyclopedia Nature op cite. -192.

19. ibid. -194.

20. ibid. -203, 205.

21. -381. E.M. Zusatze

22. -296, 7, 8 E.N. See also: -218-222. EL.

23. -298. E.N.

24. -389. Zusatze. E.M.

25. -388. ibid.

26. -387. ibid.

27. -389. ibid.

28. -390. Zusatze. ibid.

29. -407. ibid.

30. -409. ibid.

31. -410. ibid.

32. ibid.

33. -411. ibid.

34. -412. ibid.

35. -413. ibid.

36. -418. ibid.

37. -420. ibid.

38. -423. ibid.

39. -427. ibid.

40. -428. ibid.

41. -429. ibid.

42. -432. ibid.

43. -433. ibid.

44. -435. ibid.

45. Zusatze. ibid.

46. -436. ibid.

47. -437. ibid.

48. -438. ibid.

49. -439. ibid.

50. -575. ibid.

51. -576. ibid.

52. -577. ibid.

53. S. Alexander quoted in Cincia Ferrini. Hegel on Nature and Spirit. Hegel Studien. 9/03/2012. P. 25.

54. -577. E.G. op cite.

55. Schelling's letter to Hegel dated. 4th February 1795 announces the influence of Spinoza: "In the meanwhile, I have become a Spinozist -Don't be amazed: you are about to hear in what way. For Spinoza, the world (the object pure and simple, as opposed to the subject) was all; for me, it is the I. It seems to me that the real difference between critical philosophy and dogmatic philosophy lies in the fact that the critical philosophy begins with the absolute I (the I which is as yet unconditioned by any object), and dogmatic philosophy begins with the absolute object, or the not-!. The ultimate consequence of the latter is Spinoza 's system; of the former, the Kantian system. Philosophy must begin with the unconditioned. Now the question is where this unconditioned lies: in the I or in the not-!. When this question is decided, everything is decided. For me, the supreme principle of all philosophy is the pure, absolute!.. .. The absolute I comprises an infinite sphere of absolute being; within this sphere, finite spheres take shape, which arise through the restriction of the absolute sphere ... " Cited in Alexandre Guilherme. Fichte and Schelling: The Spinoza Connection. Durham Theses, Durham University. http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/2471/ Note 23, P 183.

56. Ermylos Plevrakis. The Aristotelian Theos in Hegel's Philosophy of Mind. Hegel Bulletin 82. Volume 41. Spring 2020. pp. 83-101. See -552 EM and the quote from Aristotle's Metaphysics xi.7.at the end of the Encyclopaedia Mind. (1817 & 1830).

57. Krill Chepurin. Nature, Spirit and Revolution: Situating Hegel's Philosophy of Nature. Comparative and Continental Philosophy.. 2016. Vol 8, No 3, pp. 302-314.

58. -24. EL. Addition 2. Hegel writes the following about the Absolute: "We usually suppose that the Absolute must lie far beyond; but it is precisely what is wholly present, what we as thinkers always carry with us and employ, even though we have no express consciousness of it". (my emphasis)


Cyril Joad is Britain's lost philosopher.

With C.E.M. Joad's new headstone being put in place at his grave in London – St John-at-Hampstead – perhaps this is a good time to outline his enduring contribution to philosophy.

1. "Cyril Joad, a philosopher who believed that philosophy should not be a mere academic speciality, but a power in everyday life", says Birkbeck's Geoffrey Thomas. He provides a greater sensitivity to the structure of arguments, to ambiguities, fallacies and inconsistencies, and has an ability to identify assumptions. Professor of Moral Philosophy JA Smith put it another way, saying to his fledgling students, "if you work hard and diligently you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot".

This philosopher saw a unity of theory (theoria) and practice (praxis) in which philosophy has a critically constructive role; working alongside, and being informed by, other disciplines embedded into everyday affairs.

2. Joad popularised philosophy, bringing the discipline down from its 'ivory towers'. His highly accessible Guide to Philosophy [1936], Guide to the Philosophy of Politics and Morals [1938], and Teach Yourself Philosophy [1944] opened up philosophy for the general reader – especially the 1944 wartime book, which is still the best book to read for any student interested in the subject for the first time. There were any number of histories of philosophy around at the time – the main form that introductions took – but they didn't exhibit Joad's presentational skills. He did philosophy a service with his 1930s/40s guides, which were models of their kind. He was the first popular writer on philosophy who divided chapters into tidy and useful sub-sections in each chapter. Joad opened up philosophy to a much wider audience in the BBC's wartime Brains Trust – the forerunner to Any Questions and Question Time. Thousands of listeners began to take an active interest in the subject. "It all depends what you mean by..." was Joad's catchphrase in the popular programme, encouraging both critical and philosophical thinking – and a sense of fun. In the Brains Trust he set an example of structured critical thinking which was new to most people at the time, encouraging listeners more on how to think rather than what to think, with many realising for the first time how to deal with a moral and intellectual problem, by dividing it into its parts. He inspired many how to think and decide for themselves on any given issues, and to question – not accept – the given thinking of others. This approach to questions was seen to be quite radical at the time, which did not please certain people in authority within the BBC – and beyond it.

3. Joad developed a philosophy of religion from the mid-40s onward, first abandoning atheism and then trying to work out a Christian philosophy. He critiqued logical positivism and attacked moral relativism, providing an alternative approach – late in life – in the form of a Christian philosophy. Birkbeck's Geoffrey Klempner thought the soul worthy of a 2019 book 'Searching for the Soul'. Joad also searched for the soul in 1952, having the audacity to think he might have found it in his last book 'The Recovery of Belief – A Restatement of Christian Philosophy'.

Birkbeck's Anton Garmoza, who raised funds for Joad's new headstone in Hampstead, states:

"I would say that his greatest contribution as a populariser of philosophy is to bring philosophy to the people; by first showing that the philosophical disquisitions have an important bearing on our everyday life; and second, by demonstrating that philosophy can and should be accessible to the masses, and not limited to the elites. His teaching at Birkbeck college, an institution committed to bringing knowledge to the working people, is a case in point. Today's philosophers and philosophy enthusiasts are greatly indebted to people like Joad who might have sparked their interest in the subject in the first place"

Joad provided the stimulus to at least two distinguished philosophical careers, those of Bede Rundle and Anthony Quinton – whose contribution to philosophy has been incalculable.

C.E.M. Joad is more circumspect as to his own contribution – his last-known published words in the posthumous 'Folly Farm' [1954]:

"Though you may with difficulty bring a reader struggling to the brink of the dark river of thought, it is a matter of almost superhuman strength and strategy to make him take the plunge"

Image: Cyril Edwin Mitchinson Joad – painting by Michelsen Gordon – National Portrait Gallery

Article: Fichte's Absolute. Grounds For Mysticism?

Fichte's Absolute. Grounds for Mysticism?

By Martin Jenkins

The Absolute. Such an enigmatic term. It is found in mystical thinking and philosophy. It is taken to be the 'Ultimate', the 'highest', the Ground and Foundation of all being, of being knowable or unknowable and in certain accounts, only accessible by means of 'mystical' experiences. 1 The term 'the Absolute' is cited in the Idealism of J.G. Fichte (1762-1814). The latter's Idealist Philosophy espouses the efficacy of Reason yet, is it paradoxically also inviting non-rational mystical insights? In the following, I will explore the Absolute as espoused in the writings of Fichte and, opportunities for the claims of mysticism, if any.

Fichte & his Wissenschaftslere

With the Absolute 'I', Fichte believed he had secured the unconditional first principle, an indubitable foundation upon which human knowledge could be built. Without such a foundation, human 'knowledge' would be deemed to be precarious, uncertain and unaccountable. The Absolute I is an activity which posits itself and its negation - the Not-I (objects in the world, other people and the like). Without the limiting activity of the Not-I, the Absolute I would be unlimited activity like a line reaching to infinity. Intermediation between the two is the Grounding Principle and this (objects in the world, other people and the like) allows individual I's to come forth. The dialectical synthesis or intermediation between the Absolute I, through Individual I's and the Not-I, is the productive site upon which human knowledge and the intellectual categories which conditions it, develops. The Absolute I is distinct from individual 'I's or consciousness' yet is the prerequisite of their existence. How is it known? It is known by what Fichte terms 'Intellectual Intuition'. The example he gives in The Science of Knowledge (1794) centres around the proposition that A=A. 2 That A is identical with A is a necessary relation Fichte terms 'X'. Revealingly, the very understanding of this necessary relation or judgement X is the act of the Absolute I. Further, the positing of consequent A with antecedent A provides an analogous insight into how the Absolute I posits itself. As Fichte writes:

"That where being or essence consists simply in the fact that it posits itself as existing, i s the self as absolute subject. As it posits itself, so it is; and as it is, so it posits itself; and hence the self is absolute and necessary for the self. What does not exist for itself i s not a self." 3.

The Absolute I posits itself. As it so posits itself, it exists. Positing is activity. This positing activity is the Absolute I and this activity is the foundation of all being. Accordingly, the Absolute I is a 'deed-act' (Tadhandlung). So, the Absolute I is precisely, spontaneous, perpetual positing activity. To elaborate further, the positing activity can be understood as when a person thinks about what they are thinking. As Fichte supposedly said to his students: "Gentlemen, think the wall. Gentlemen, think of him who is thinking the wall". 4 For, in Intellectual Intuition, the I can reflect upon itself to discover the activity of the Absolute I. Or to phrase differently, the finite I can access the infinite, Absolute I. This can elicit two responses. Firstly, this line of reasoning could invite the accusation of committing an infinite regress in that thinking about who is thinking the wall is itself subject to thinking and this would be subject to thinking and so on ad infinitum. Thus contrary to Fichte's fundamental thesis, no unconditional first principle such as the Absolute I could ever be reached. Fichte would retort that Intellectual Intuition does not invite an infinite regress but reveals a circular action. Underpinning the thought of the individual I is the positing activity of the Absolute I, as revealed by a reflective, act of Intellectual Intuition performed by the individual thinker itself. This reflexive movement does not entail an infinite regress. Secondly, an Absolute I is superfluous. Intellectual intuition reveals at most, a transcendental ego, an 'I Think' that accompanies all my representations (pace Kant). For this 'I Think' (reflexive self-consciousness) is either already existing prior to being consciously recognised in Intellectual Intuition or facilitated by the awareness of the Not-I (this is what I understand Fichte's Absolute I to be) or; it is a socially acquired 'I Think'. The latter position seemingly does not require an Absolute I. 5 The first position is Fichte's position. The second position is however, also endorsed by Fichte in a later work marking a tension between the two. In his Foundations of Natural Right (1797), Fichte argues that human beings can only achieve self-consciousness in a social environment of other, self-conscious human beings. 6 This apparently offsets any requirement of an Absolute I. However, in the aforementioned text, Fichte states how the self, prior to achieving self-consciousness is pure activity. So individual self-consciousness is acquired via the activity of the Not-I in the guise of other individuals and objects. This is the position of The Science of Knowledge. As such, there is no tension between the Absolute I and socially acquired consciousness as charged above.

What is the Absolute?

To recap. The Absolute I is a positing activity which posits itself/being. It simultaneously posits a Not-I which limits its activity. The dialectical intermediation between Absolute I and Not I furnishes knowledge about the world by means of transcendental categories and, the Absolute I and Not I divide, creating individual objects in the world, including individual, self-conscious human beings. Through self-consciousness, humans can grasp the Absolute I by means of Intellectual Intuition. So far, the Absolute I has been defined as a 'deed-act' of 'perpetual positing activity'. An unconditional principle that allows the possibility of human consciousness and knowledge to manifest themselves. Alexandre Guilherme proposes three feasible interpretations of the Absolute I: The Classical Reading, the Strong Idealist reading and the Modern Reading. 7

The Classical Reading. In his On the I Principle of Philosophy (1795), a text heavily influenced by Fichte, F.W.J. von Schelling (1775-1854) defines the Absolute I as God, whose condition is unconditioned and unknowable. In a letter to philosopher Karl Reinhold, (2nd July 1795), Fichte wrote that Schelling's interpretation was correct. Further, in later writings, Fichte actually does replace the term Absolute I with the term God.8 In this Classical reading, the Absolute I is, following Spinoza, an immanent God which creates the whole of reality including the Not I (Nature) and all particular existents. Through the Absolute I/God, knowledge of the Not-I and finite existents is made possible. This reading further allows exploration on the subject matter of Spinoza upon German Idealism, particularly upon the thinking of Fichte and Schelling. This is too broad a subject matter to be entered into here.

The Strong Idealist Reading.

This view contests the equating of the Absolute I with Spinoza's pantheistic God/ Nature (Deus sive Natura.) The Absolute I might play the same role as God/Nature as a foundational principle but it is not God/Nature. The Absolute I is pure spontaneity and positing activity, it is the basis for individual, human consciousness. Without the former, the latter could not exist; without the latter, the former could not be known. The Absolute I is the spontaneous activity of Rationality that allows the individual self to arise. This individual self opposes the Not-I. Intermediation between the two produces knowledge. Or in other words, the Subject I dialectically intermediates with the Object. Terry Pinkard reads the positing acts of the Absolute I as the normativity of Reason. 9This position of Strong Idealism seems not dissimilar to that which I have outlined earlier in this paper.

The Modern Reading.

The Absolute I is pure positing activity as known through Intellectual Intuition performed by the individual. Yet knowledge can only be acquired through and by, intermediation with the Not-I. Contrary to the above reading, the Absolute I does not create the I and Not-I, it is the 'I Think' that accompanies the individuals experience of the Not-I furnishing categorical cognition of it.

Guilherme writes:

"Note here that according to this reading the Absolute I does not create the not-I as the strong idealist reading holds. In other words, according to this interpretation the mind is sheer activity and it is spontaneous, that is, one cannot switch off the activity and spontaneity of one's mind. This activity and spontaneity gives rise to one's particular self, that is, through this activity and spontaneity one comes to realise that one is always thinking. But in order for one to gain knowledge and achieve self-consciousness one needs contact with a not-I, with reality, so that the subject-object relation is established and the proper conditions for knowledge and self -consciousness is well grounded." 10

The limiting activity (Anstoss) of the Not-I is highlighted here. By means of such limiting, human knowledge arises. Without such limiting, the Absolute I would remain an act of infinite compulsion, of pure spontaneity totally unaware of itself. Fichte describes this process:

"The Anstoss (which is posited by the positing I) occurs to the I insofar as it is active and, i s thus an Anstoss only insofar as the I is active. Its possibility is conditioned by the activity of the I: no activity of the I, no Anstoss. And vice versa' the I's activity of determining itself would, in turn, be conditioned by the Anstoss: no Anstoss, no determination." 11

This modern reading appears to me, to be very close to Kant's original Transcendental Idealism; save it rules out the problematic Noumea or thing-in-itself. For the intermediation between the individual I and the objects of the Not-I (or subject and object) fully provides the scope for human knowledge. The Absolute I is not God, it is not an ontological entity of any sort, it is an epistemological condition for the possibility of human knowledge.

Mysticism: No Thanks.

The Strong Idealist reading has the Absolute as an ontological foundation for human knowledge. It is further qualified as Reason or Rationality. The Modern Reading has the Absolute as an epistemological phenomena actualised through negation. With both readings, the Absolute is explicable in intellectual terms i.e. through Intellectual Intuition. There are no grounds for any claims of 'mysticism' tout court. So perhaps the Classical reading provides the most favourable approach for the Absolute to be interpreted in a mystical or crypto-mystical manner. With this position, the Absolute is identified with the underlying substance that is God/Nature in Spinoza's Ethics and the I and Not-I are understood as the finite attributes of Mind and Extension respectively. 12 Whether Spinoza's avowedly intellectual conception of God and his larger epistemology lends itself to mysticism is highly unlikely in my opinion. Any claims of 'mysticism' may find the Identity Philosophy of FWJ Schelling more amenable.


1. The Absolute. Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absolute_(philosophy)

2. JG Fichte. The Science of Knowledge. Cambridge University Press. 1991.

3. ibid. p. 98.

4. F. Coppleston. A History of Western Philosophy. Continuum. 2003. p.40.

5. The thesis is that the existence of individual self-consciousness, presupposes and requires socialisation by other, existing conscious beings. Self-consciousness is not self-developing nor is it possible to exist in an isolated, per-social individual.

This theme is found in Schelling and Hegel and in post-German Idealism philosophers such as Karl Marx. Viz:

"Feuerbach resolves the religious essence into the human essence. But the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality, it is the ensemble of the social relations." Karl Marx. Thesis on Feuerbach VI. The German Ideology. Lawrence & Wishart. 1996. Ed. CJ. Arthur. P. 122.

"It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence but, their social existence which determines their consciousness" Karl Marx. Preface. A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy. Foreign Languages Press. Peking. 1976. Pp.3/4.

6. J.G. Fichte. Foundations of Natural Right. 29. Cited in Will Dudley. Understanding German Idealism. Acumen. 2007. p.97.

7. Alexandre Guilherme. Fichte and Schelling: The Spinoza Connection. The Influence of Spinoza on the Fichtean and Shellingian Systems of Philosophy. VDM Verlag. 2009.

8. ibid Pp. 83/4. Further, in Fichte's later writings, the Absolute I is explicitly referred to as God. See for example his The Way Towards a Blessed Life. 1806. Biblio Life. 2009

Outlines of the Doctrine of Knowledge. 1810. https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/fichte.htm

9. Terry Pinkard. German Philosophy 1760-1860. The Legacy of Idealism. Cambridge University Press. 2002. P. 114.

10. Guilherme. Op cite. p.94.

11. Fichte. Science of Knowledge. Op cite. p. 212.

12. B. Spinoza. The Ethics. Penguin. 1996.

The new Philosophy Pathways e-journal: published by the ISFP

Philosophy Pathways is back!

The Philosophy Pathways electronic journal is looking for articles on Philosophy, Book Reviews and the like.

Please send contributions and suggestions to the Editor Martin Jenkins at martin.jenkins866@gmail.com.

Articles must not exceed 3,000 words.

Martin has a BA{Hons) in Philosophy from the University of Bolton and a Masters in Philosophy from the University of Liverpool. A PhD from the latter awaits completion.

He has been involved with Pathways to Philosophy since 2003. Interested in most branches of Philosoophy, he is particularly interested in the Philosophy of Politics, of Religion, Continental Philosophy and the writings of Martin Heidegger and Friedrich Nietzsche. Copious articles published including two books:

Nietzsche: Aristocratic Radicalism or Anarchy? and Introduction to the Dialectic: From Hegel to Althusser.

The views expressed in this newsletter do not necessarily reflect those of the Editor.

Geoffrey Klempner


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International Society for Philosophers

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          RIP. Dr Geoffrey Klempner (1951-2022).           Absolute pleasure to have known and work with you since 2003. ...