Delivered at Heidelberg on the 28th October, 1816
Gentlemen, — Since the History of Philosophy is to be the subject of these lectures, and to-day I am making my first appearance in this University, I hope you will allow me to say what satisfaction it gives me to take my place once more in an Academy of Learning at this particular time. For the period seems to have been arrived at when Philosophy may again hope to receive some attention and love — this almost dead science may again raise its voice, and hope that the world which had become deaf to its teaching, may once more lend it an ear. The necessities of the time have accorded to the petty interests of every-day life such overwhelming attention: the deep interests of actuality and the strife respecting these have engrossed all the powers and the forces of the mind — as also the necessary means — to so great an extent, that no place has been left to the higher inward life, the intellectual operations of a purer sort; and the better natures have thus been stunted in their growth, and in great measure sacrificed. Because the spirit of the world was thus occupied, it could not look within and withdraw into itself. But since this stream of actuality is checked, since the German nation has cut its way out of its most material conditions, since its nationality, the basis of all higher life, has been saved, we may hope that, in addition to the State, which has swallowed up all other interests in its own, the Church may now resume her high position — that in addition to the kingdom of the world to which all thoughts and efforts have hitherto been directed; the Kingdom of God may also be considered. In other words, along with the business of politics and the other interests of every-day life, we may trust that Science, the free rational world of mind, may again flourish.
We shall see in the History of Philosophy that in other European countries in which the sciences and the cultivation of the understanding have been prosecuted with zeal and with respect, Philosophy, excepting in name, has sunk even from memory, and that it is in the German nation that it has been retained as a peculiar possession. We have received the higher call of Nature to be the conservers of this holy flame, just as the Eumolpidæ in Athens had the conservation of the Eleusinian mysteries, the inhabitants of the island of Samothrace the preservation and maintenance of a higher divine service; and as, earlier still, the World-spirit reserved to the Jewish nation the highest consciousness that it should once more rise from thence as a new spiritual force. We have already got so far, and have attained to a seriousness so much greater and a consciousness so much deeper, that for us ideas and that which our reason justifies, can alone have weight; to speak more plainly, the Prussian State is a State constituted on principles of intelligence. But the needs of the time and the interests of the events in the world already mentioned, have repressed a real and earnest effort after Philosophy and driven hence any general attention to it. It has thus happened that because vigorous natures turned to the practical, insipidity and dulness appropriated to themselves the preeminence in Philosophy and flourished there. It may indeed be said that since Philosophy began to take a place in Germany, it has never looked so badly as at the present time — never have emptiness and shallowness overlaid it so completely, and never have they spoken and acted with such arrogance, as though all power were in their hands! To combat the shallowness, to strive with German earnestness and honesty, to draw Philosophy out of the solitude into which it has wandered — to do such work as this we may hope that we are called by the higher spirit of our time. Let us together greet the dawn of a better time in which the spirit, hitherto a prey to externalities, may return within itself, come to itself again, and win space and room for a kingdom of its own, where true minds will rise above the interests of the moment, and obtain the power to receive the true, eternal and divine, the power to consider and to grasp the highest.
We elders, who in the storms of the age have ripened into men, may think you happy whose youth falls in the day in which you may devote the same undisturbed to Science and to Truth. I have dedicated my life to Science, and it is a true joy to me to find myself again in this place where I may, in a higher measure and more extensive circle, work with others in the interests of the higher sciences, and help to direct your way therein. I hope that I may succeed in deserving and obtaining your confidence. But in the first place, I can ask nothing of you but to bring with you, above all, a trust in science and a trust in yourselves. The love of truth, faith in the power of mind, is the first condition in Philosophy. Man, because he is Mind, should and must deem himself worthy of the highest; he cannot think too highly of the greatness and the power of his mind, and, with this belief, nothing will be so difficult and hard that it will not reveal itself to him. The Being of the universe, at first hidden and concealed, has no power which can offer resistance to the search for knowledge; it has to lay itself open before the seeker — to set before his eyes and give for his enjoyment, its riches and its depths.
In the History of Philosophy the observation is immediately forced upon us that it certainly presents great interest if its subject is regarded from a favourable point of view, but that it would still possess interest even if its end were regarded as opposite to what it is. Indeed, this interest may seem to increase in the degree in which the ordinary conception of Philosophy, and of the end which its history serves, is reversed; for from the History of Philosophy a proof of the futility of the science is mainly derived.
The demand that a history, whatever the subject may be, should state the facts without prejudice and without any particular object or end to be gained by its means, must be regarded as a fair one. But with a commonplace demand like this, we do not get far; for the history of a subject is necessarily intimately connected with the conception which is formed of it. In accordance with this what is important in it is determined, and the relation of the events to the end regulates the selection of facts to be recorded, the mode of comprehending them, and the point of view under which they are regarded. It may happen from the ideas formed of what a State really is, that a reader of the political history of a country may find therein nothing of what he looks for. Still more may this be the case in the history of Philosophy, and representations of this history may be instanced in which everything, excepting what was supposed to be Philosophy, appears to be found.
In other histories we have a clear conception of their subjects, at least so far as their principal points are concerned; we know whether they concern a particular land, people or race, or whether their subject is the science of mathematics, physics, &c., or an art, such as painting. The science of Philosophy has, however, this distinguishing feature, and, if you will, this disadvantage as compared with other sciences, that we find the most varied points of view as regards its Notion, and regarding that which it ought to and can accomplish. If this first assumption, the conception of the subject of the history, is not established, the history itself is necessarily made vacillating, and it only obtains consistency when it sets forth a definite conception: but then in view of the various ways of regarding its subject, it easily draws upon itself the reproach of one-sidedness.
That drawback relates, however, only to an external consideration of this narrative; there is another and greater disadvantage allied to it. If there are different Notions of the science of Philosophy, it is the true Notion alone that puts us in a position to understand the writings of philosophers who have worked in the knowledge of it. For in thought, and particularly in speculative thought, comprehension means something quite different from understanding the grammatical sense of the words alone, and also from understanding them in the region of ordinary conception only. Hence we may possess a knowledge of the assertions, propositions, or of the opinions of philosophers; we may have occupied ourselves largely with the grounds of and deductions from these opinions, and the main point in all that we have done may be wanting — the comprehension of the propositions. There is hence no lack of voluminous and even learned histories of Philosophy in which the knowledge of the matter itself about which so much ado has been made, is absent. The authors of such histories may be compared to animals which have listened to all the tones in some music, but to whose senses the unison, the harmony of their tones, has not penetrated.
The circumstance mentioned makes it in no science so necessary as in the history of Philosophy to commence with an Introduction, and in it correctly to define, in the first place, the subject of the history about to be related. For it may be said, How should we begin to treat a subject, the name of which is certainly mentioned often enough, but of whose nature we as yet know nothing? In treating the history of Philosophy thus, we could have no other guidance than that of seeking out and taking up whatever has received the name of Philosophy, anywhere or any time. But in fact, when the Notion of Philosophy is established, not arbitrarily but in a scientific way, such treatment becomes the science of Philosophy itself. For in this science the peculiar characteristic is that its Notion forms the beginning in appearance merely, and it is only the whole treatment of the science that is the proof, and indeed we may say the finding of its Notion; and this is really a result of that treatment.
In this Introduction the Notion of the science of Philosophy, of the subject of its history, has thus likewise to be set forth. At the same time, though this Introduction professes to relate to the history of Philosophy only, what has just been said of Philosophy on the whole, also holds good. What can be said in this Introduction is not so much something which may be stated beforehand, as what can be justified or proved in the treatment of the history. These preparatory explanations are for this reason only, not to be placed in the category of arbitrary assumptions. But to begin with stating what in their justification are really results, can only have the interest which may be possessed by a summary, given in advance, of the most general contents of a science. It must serve to set aside many questions and demands which might, from our ordinary prejudices, arise in such a history.
There are various aspects under which the History of Philosophy may possess interest. We shall find the central point of this interest in the essential connection existing between what is apparently past and the present stage reached by Philosophy. That this connection is not one of the external considerations which may be taken into account in the history of Philosophy, but really expresses its inner character: that the events of this history, while they perpetuate themselves in their effects like all other events, yet produce their results in a special way — this it is which is here to be more clearly expounded.
What the history of Philosophy shows us is a succession of noble minds, a gallery of heroes of thought, who, by the power of Reason, have penetrated into the being of things, of nature and of spirit, into the Being of God, and have won for us by their labours the highest treasure, the treasure of reasoned knowledge.
The events and actions of this history are therefore such that personality and individual character do not enter to any large degree into its content and matter. In this respect the history of Philosophy contrasts with political history, in which the individual, according to the peculiarity of his disposition, talents, affections, the strength or weakness of his character, and in general, according to that through which he is this individual, is the subject of actions and events. In Philosophy, the less deserts and merits are accorded to the particular individual, the better is the history; and the more it deals with thought as free, with the universal character of man as man, the more this thought, which is devoid of special characteristic, is itself shown to be the producing subject.
The acts of thought appear at first to be a matter of history, and, therefore, things of the past, and outside our real existence. But in reality we are what we are through history: or, more accurately, as in the history of Thought, what has passed away is only one side, so in the present, what we have as a permanent possession is essentially bound up with our place in history. The possession of self-conscious reason, which belongs to us of the present world, did not arise suddenly, nor did it grow only from the soil of the present. This possession must be regarded as previously present, as an inheritance, and as the result of labour — the labour of all past generations of men. Just as the arts of outward life, the accumulated skill and invention, the customs and arrangements of social and political life, are the result of the thought, care, and needs, of the want and the misery, of the ingenuity, the plans and achievements of those who preceded us in history, so, likewise, in science, and specially in Philosophy, do we owe what we are to the tradition which, as Herder has put it, like a holy chain, runs through all that was transient, and has therefore passed away. Thus has been preserved and transmitted to us what antiquity produced.
But this tradition is not only a stewardess who simply guards faithfully that which she has received, and thus delivers it unchanged to posterity, just as the course of nature in the infinite change and activity of its forms ever remains constant to its original laws and makes no step in advance. Such tradition is no motionless statue, but is alive, and swells like a mighty river, which increases in size the further it advances from its source. The content of this tradition is that which the intellectual world has brought forth, and the universal Mind does not remain stationary. But it is just the universal Mind with which we have to do. It may certainly be the case with a single nation that its culture, art, science — its intellectual activities as a whole — are at a standstill. This appears, perhaps, to be the case with the Chinese, for example, who may have been as far advanced in every respect two thousand years ago as now. But the world-spirit does not sink into this rest of indifference; this follows from its very nature, for its activity is its life. This activity presupposes a material already present, on which it acts, and which it does not merely augment by the addition, of new matter, but completely fashions and transforms. Thus that which each generation has produced in science and in intellectual activity, is an heirloom to which all the past generations have added their savings, a temple in which all races of men thankfully and cheerfully deposit that which rendered aid to them through life, and which they had won from the depths of Nature and of Mind. To receive this inheritance is also to enter upon its use. It constitutes the soul of each successive generation, the intellectual substance of the time; its principles, prejudices, and possessions; and this legacy is degraded to a material which becomes metamorphosed by Mind. In this manner that which is received is changed, and the material worked upon is both enriched and preserved at the same time.
This is the function of our own and of every age: to grasp the knowledge which is already existing, to make it our own, and in so doing to develop it still further and to raise it to a higher level. In thus appropriating it to ourselves we make it into something different from what it was before. On the presupposition of an already existing intellectual world which is transformed in our appropriation of it, depends the fact that Philosophy can only arise in connection with previous Philosophy, from which of necessity it has arisen. The course of history does not show us the Becoming of things foreign to us, but the Becoming of ourselves and of our own knowledge.
The ideas and questions which may be present to our mind regarding the character and ends of the history of Philosophy, depend on the nature of the relationship here given. In this lies the explanation of the fact that the study of the history of Philosophy is an introduction to Philosophy itself. The guiding principles for the formation of this history are given in this fact, the further discussion of which must thus be the main object of this introduction. We must also, however, keep in mind, as being of fundamental importance, the conception of the aim of Philosophy. And since, as already mentioned, the systematic exposition of this conception cannot here find a place, such discussion as we can now undertake, can only propose to deal with the subject provisionally and not to give a thorough and conclusive account of the nature of the Becoming of Philosophy.
This Becoming is not merely a passive movement, as we suppose movements such as those of the sun and moon to be. It is no mere movement in the unresisting medium of space and time. What we must represent to ourselves is the activity of free thought; we have to present the history of the world of thought as it has arisen and produced itself.
There is an old tradition that it is the faculty of thought which separates men from beasts; and to this tradition we shall adhere. In accordance with this, what man has, as being nobler than a beast, he has through thinking. Everything which is human, however it may appear, is so only because the thought contained in it works and has worked. But thought, although it is thus the essential, substantial, and effectual, has many other elements. We must, however, consider it best when Thought does not pursue anything else, but is occupied only with itself — with what is noblest — when it has sought and found itself. The history which we have before us is the history of Thought finding itself, and it is the case with Thought that it only finds itself in producing itself; indeed, that it only exists and is actual in finding itself. These productions are the philosophic systems; and the series of discoveries on which Thought sets out in order to discover itself, forms a work which has lasted twenty-five hundred years.
If the Thought which is essentially Thought, is in and for itself and eternal, and that which is true is contained in Thought alone, how, then, does this intellectual world come to have a history? In history what appears is transient, has disappeared in the night of the past and is no more. But true, necessary thought — and it is only with such that we have to do — is capable of no change. The question here raised constitutes one of those matters first to be brought under our consideration. But in the second place, there are also many most important things outside of Philosophy, which are yet the work of Thought, and which are left unconsidered. Such are Religion, Political History, forms of Government, and the Arts and Sciences. The question arises as to how these operations differ from the subject of consideration, and how they are related in history? As regards these two points of view, it is desirable to show in what sense the history of Philosophy is here taken, in order to see clearly what we are about. Moreover, in the third place, we must first take a general survey before we descend to particulars, else the whole is not seen for the mere details — the wood is not seen for the trees, nor Philosophy for mere philosophies. We require to have a general idea of the nature and aim of the whole in order to know what to look for. Just as we first desire to obtain a general idea of a country, which we should no longer see in going into detail, so we desire to see the relation which single philosophies bear to the whole; for in reality, the high value of the detail lies in its relation to the whole. This is nowhere more the case than with Philosophy, and also with its history. In the case of a history, indeed, the establishment of the Universal seems to be less needful than in that of one of the sciences proper. For history seems at first to be a succession of chance events, in which each fact stands isolated by itself, which has Time alone as a connecting-link. But even in political history we are not satisfied with this. We see, or at least divine in it, that essential connection in which the individual events have their place and relation to an end or aim, and in this way obtain significance. For the significant in history is such only through its relation to and connection with a Universal. To perceive this Universal is thus to apprehend the significance.
There are, therefore, the following points with which I wish to deal in this introduction.
The first of these will be to investigate the character of the history of Philosophy, its significance, its nature, and its aim, from which will follow inferences as to its treatment. In particular, we shall get an insight into the relation of the history of Philosophy to the science of Philosophy, and this will be the most interesting point of all. That is to say, this history represents, not merely the external, accidental, events contained within it, but it shows how the content, or that which appears to belong to mere history, really belongs to the science of Philosophy. The history of Philosophy is itself scientific, and thus essentially becomes the science of Philosophy.
In the second place, the Notion of Philosophy must be more adequately determined, and from it must be deduced what should be excluded from the history of Philosophy out of the infinite material and the manifold aspects of the intellectual culture of the nations. Religion, certainly, and the thoughts contained in and regarding it, particularly when these are in the form of mythology, are, on account of their matter, and the sciences with their ideas on the state, duties and laws, on account of their form, so near Philosophy that the history of the science of Philosophy threatens to become quite indefinite in extent. It might be supposed that the history of Philosophy should take account of all these ideas. Has not everything been called Philosophy and philosophizing? On the one hand, the close connection has to be further considered in which Philosophy stands with its allied subjects, religion, art, the other sciences, and likewise with political history. On the other hand, when the province of Philosophy has been correctly defined, we reach, with the determination of what Philosophy is and what pertains to it, the starting-point of its history, which must be distinguished from the commencements of religious ideas and mere thoughtful conjectures.
From the idea of the subject which is contained in these first two points of view, it is necessary to pass on to the consideration of the third point, to the general review of this history and to the division of its progress into natural periods — such an arrangement to exhibit it as an organic, progressive whole, as a rational connection through which this history attains the dignity of a science. And I will not occupy further space with reflections on the use of the history of Philosophy, and other methods of treating it. The use is evident. But, in conclusion, I wish to consider the sources of the history of Philosophy, for this is customary.
The thought which may first occur to us in the history of Philosophy, is that the subject itself contains an inner contradiction. For Philosophy aims at understanding what is unchangeable, eternal, in and for itself: its end is Truth. But history tells us of that which has at one time existed, at another time has vanished, having been expelled by something else. Truth is eternal; it does not fall within the sphere of the transient, and has no history. But if it has a history, and as this history is only the representation of a succession of past forms of knowledge, the truth is not to be found in it, for the truth cannot be what has passed away.
It might be said that all this argument would affect not only the other sciences, but in like degree the Christian religion, and it might be found inconsistent that a history of this religion and of the other sciences should exist; but it would be superfluous further to examine this argument, for it is immediately contradicted by the very fact that there are such histories. But in order to get a better understanding of this apparent contradiction, we must distinguish between the outward history of a religion or a science and the history of the subject itself. And then we must take into account that the history of Philosophy because of the special nature of its subject-matter, is different from other histories. It is at once evident that the contradiction in question could not refer to the outward history, but merely to the inward, or that of the content itself. There is a history of the spread of Christianity and of the lives of those who have avowed it, and its existence has formed itself into that of a Church. This in itself constitutes an external existence such that being brought into contact with temporal affairs of the most diverse kind, its lot is a varied one and it essentially possesses a history. And of the Christian doctrine it is true that it, too, has its history, but it necessarily soon reached its full development and attained to its appointed powers. And this old creed has been an acknowledged influence to every age, and will still be acknowledged unchanged as the Truth, even though this acknowledgment were become no more than a pretence, and the words an empty form. But the history of this doctrine in its wider sense includes two elements: first the various additions to and deviations from the truth formerly established, and secondly the combating of these errors, the purification of the principles that remain from such additions, and a consequent return to their first simplicity.
The other sciences, including Philosophy, have also an external history like Religion. Philosophy has a history of its origin, diffusion, maturity, decay, revival; a history of its teachers, promoters, and of its opponents — often, too, of an outward relation to religion and occasionally to the State. This side of its history likewise gives occasion to interesting questions. Amongst other such, it is asked why Philosophy, the doctrine of absolute Truth, seems to have revealed itself on the whole to a small number of individuals, to special nations, and how it has limited itself to particular periods of time. Similarly with respect to Christianity, to the Truth in a much more universal form than the philosophical, a difficulty has been encountered in respect to the question whether there is a contradiction in the fact that this religion should have appeared so late in time, and that it should have remained so long and should still remain limited to special races of men. But these and other similar questions are too much a matter of detail to depend merely on the general conflict referred to, and when we have further touched upon the peculiar character of philosophic knowledge, we may go more specially into the aspects which relate to the external existence and external history of Philosophy.
But as regards the comparison between the history of Religion and that of Philosophy as to inner content, there is not in the latter as there is in Religion a fixed and fundamental truth which, as unchangeable, is apart from history. The content of Christianity, which is Truth, has, however, remained unaltered as such, and has therefore little history or as good as none. Hence in Religion, on account of its very nature as Christianity, the conflict referred to disappears. The errors and additions constitute no difficulty. They are transitory and altogether historical in character.
The other sciences, indeed, have also according to their content a History, a part of which relates to alterations, and the renunciation of tenets which were formerly current. But a great, perhaps the greater, part of the history relates to what has proved permanent, so that what was new, was not an alteration on earlier acquisitions, but an addition to them. These sciences progress through a process of juxtaposition. It is true that in Botany, Mineralogy, and so on, much is dependent on what was previously known, but by far the greatest part remains stationary and by means of fresh matter is merely added to without itself being affected by the addition. With a science like Mathematics, history has, in the main, only the pleasing task of recording further additions. Thus to take an example, elementary geometry in so far as it was created by Euclid, may from his time on be regarded as having no further history.
The history of Philosophy, on the other hand, shows neither the motionlessness of a complete, simple content, nor altogether the onward movement of a peaceful addition of new treasures to those already acquired. It seems merely to afford the spectacle of ever-recurring changes in the whole, such as finally are no longer even connected by a common aim.
At this point appear these ordinary superficial ideas regarding the history of Philosophy which have to be referred to and corrected. As regards these very current views, which are doubtless known to you, gentlemen, for indeed they are the reflections most likely to occur in one’s first crude thoughts on a history of Philosophy, I will shortly explain what requires explanation, and the explanation of the differences in philosophies will lead us further into the matter itself.
History, at the first glance, includes in its aim the narration of the accidental circumstances of times, of races, and of individuals, treated impartially partly as regards their relation in time, and partly as to their content. The appearance of contingency in time-succession is to be dealt with later on. It is contingency of content which is the idea with which we have first to deal — the idea of contingent actions. But thoughts and not external actions, or griefs, or joys, form the content of Philosophy. Contingent thoughts, however, are nothing but opinions, and philosophical opinions are opinions relating to the more special content of Philosophy, regarding God, Nature and Spirit.
Thus we now meet the view very usually taken of the history of Philosophy which ascribes to it the narration of a number of philosophical opinions as they have arisen and manifested themselves in time. This kind of matter is in courtesy called opinions; those who think themselves more capable of judging rightly, call such a history a display of senseless follies, or at least of errors made by men engrossed in thought and in mere ideas. This view is not only held by those who recognize their ignorance of Philosophy. Those who do this, acknowledge it, because that ignorance is, in common estimation, held to be no obstacle to giving judgment upon what has to do with the subject; for it is thought that anybody can form a judgment on its character and value without any comprehension, of it whatever. But the same view is even held by those who write or have written on the history of Philosophy. This history, considered only as the enumeration of various opinions, thus becomes an idle tale, or, if you will, an erudite investigation. For erudition is, in the main, acquaintance with a number of useless things, that is to say, with that which has no intrinsic interest or value further than being known. Yet it is thought that profit is to be derived from learning the various opinions and reflections of other men. It stimulates the powers of thought and also leads to many excellent reflections; this signifies that now and then it occasions an idea, and its art thus consists in the spinning one opinion out of the other.
If the history of Philosophy merely represented various opinions in array, whether they be of God or of natural and spiritual things existent, it would be a most superfluous and tiresome science, no matter what advantage might be brought forward as derived from such thought-activity and learning. What can be more useless than to learn a string of bald opinions, and what more unimportant? Literary works, being histories of Philosophy in the sense that they produce and treat the ideas of Philosophy as if they were opinions, need be only superficially glanced at to find how dry and destitute of interest everything about them is.
An opinion is a subjective conception, an uncontrolled thought, an idea which may occur to me in one direction or in another: an opinion is mine, it is in itself a universal thought which is existent in and for itself. But Philosophy possesses no opinions, for there is no such thing as philosophical opinions. When we hear a man speaking of philosophical opinions, even though he be an historian of philosophy itself, we detect at once this want of fundamental education. Philosophy is the objective science of truth, it is science of necessity, conceiving knowledge, and neither opinion nor the spinning out of opinions.
The more precise significance of this idea is that we get to know opinions only, thus laying emphasis upon the word Opinion. Now the direct opposite of opinion is the Truth; it is Truth before which mere opinion pales. Those who in the history of Philosophy seek mere theories, or who suppose that on the whole only such are to be found within it, also turn aside when that word Truth confronts them. Philosophy here encounters opposition from two different sides. On the one hand piety openly declares Reason or Thought to be incapable of apprehending what is true, and to lead only to the abyss of doubt; it declares that independent thought must be renounced, and reason held in bounds by faith in blind authority, if Truth is to be reached. Of the relation existing between Religion and Philosophy and of its history, we shall deal later on. On the other hand, it is known just as well, that so-called reason has maintained its rights, abandoning faith in mere authority, and has endeavoured to make Christianity rational, so that throughout it is only my personal insight and conviction which obliges me to make any admissions. But this affirmation of the right of reason is turned round in an astonishing manner, so that it results in making knowledge of the truth through reason an impossibility. This so-called reason on the one hand has combated religious faith in the name and power of thinking reason, and at the same time it has itself turned against reason and is true reason’s adversary. Instinct and feeling are maintained by it against the true reason, thus making the measure of true value the merely subjective — that is a particular conviction such as each can form in and for himself in his subjective capacity. A personal conviction such as this is no more than the particular opinion that has become final for men.
If we begin with what meets us in our very first conceptions, we cannot neglect to make mention of this aspect in the history of Philosophy. In its results it permeates culture generally, being at once the misconception and true sign of our times. It is the principle through which men mutually understand and know each other; an hypothesis whose value is established and which is the ground of all the other sciences. In theology it is not so much the creed of the church that passes for Christianity, as that every one to a greater or less degree makes a Christianity of his own to tally with his conviction. And in history we often see theology driven into acquiring the knowledge of various opinions in order that an interest may thus be furnished to the science, and one of the first results of the attention paid them is the honour awarded to all convictions, and the esteem vouchsafed to what has been constituted merely by the individual. The endeavour to know the Truth is then of course relinquished. It is true that personal conviction is the ultimate and absolute essential which reason and its philosophy, from a subjective point of view, demand in knowledge. But there is a distinction between conviction when it rests on subjective grounds such as feelings, speculations and perceptions, or, speaking generally, on the particular nature of the subject, and when it rests on thought proceeding from acquaintance with the Notion and the nature of the thing. In the former case conviction is opinion.
This opposition between mere opinion and truth now sharply defined, we already recognize in the culture of the period of Socrates and Plato — a period of corruption in Greek life — as the Platonic opposition between opinion δόξα and Science ἐπιστήμη. It is the same opposition as that which existed in the decadence of Roman public and political life under Augustus, and subsequently when Epicureanism and indifference set themselves up against Philosophy. Under this influence, when Christ said, “I came into the world that I should bear witness unto the Truth,” Pilate answered, “What is Truth?” That was said in a superior way, and signifies that this idea of truth is an expedient which is obsolete: we have got further, we know that there is no longer any question about knowing the Truth, seeing that we have gone beyond it. Who makes this statement has gone beyond it indeed. If this is made our starting point in the history of Philosophy, its whole significance will consist in finding out the particular ideas of others, each one of which is different from the other: these individual points of view are thus foreign to me: my thinking reason is not free, nor is it present in them: for me they are but extraneous, dead historic matter, or so much empty content, and to satisfy oneself with empty vanity is mere subjective vanity itself.
To the impartial man, the Truth has always been a heart-stirring word and one of great import. As to the assertion that the Truth cannot be known, we shall consider it more closely in the history of Philosophy itself where it appears. The only thing to be here remarked is that if this assumption be allowed, as was the case with Tennemann, it is beyond conception why anyone should still trouble about Philosophy, since each opinion asserts falsely in its turn that it has found the truth. This immediately recalls to me the old belief that Truth consists in knowledge, but that an individual only knows the Truth in so far as he reflects and not as he walks and stands: and that the Truth cannot be known in immediate apprehension and perception, whether it be external and sensuous, or whether it be intellectual perception (for every perception as a perception is sensuous) but only through the labour of thought.
From another point of view another consequence ensues from the above conception of the history of Philosophy which may at will be looked at as an evil or a benefit. In view of such manifold opinions and philosophical systems so numerous, one is perplexed to know which one ought to be accepted. In regard to the great matters to which man is attracted and a knowledge of which Philosophy would bestow, it is evident that the greatest minds have erred, because they have been contradicted by others. “Since this has been so with minds so great, how then can ego homuncio attempt to form a judgment?” This consequence, which ensues from the diversity in philosophical systems, is, as may be supposed, the evil in the matter, while at the same time it is a subjective good. For this diversity is the usual plea urged by those who, with an air of knowledge, wish to make a show of interest in Philosophy, to explain the fact that they, with this pretence of good-will, and, indeed, with added motive for working at the science, do in fact utterly neglect it. But this diversity in philosophical systems is far from being merely an evasive plea. It has far more weight as a genuine serious ground of argument against the zeal which Philosophy requires. It justifies its neglect and demonstrates conclusively the powerlessness of the endeavour to attain to philosophic knowledge of the truth. When it is admitted that Philosophy ought to be a real science, and one Philosophy must certainly be the true, the question arises as to which Philosophy it is, and when it can be known. Each one asserts its genuineness, each even gives different signs and tokens by which the Truth can be discovered; sober reflective thought must therefore hesitate to give its judgment.
This, then, is the wider interest which the history of Philosophy is said to afford. Cicero (De natura Deorum I. 8 sq.) gives us from this point of view, a most slovenly history of philosophic thought on God. He puts it in the mouth of an Epicurean, but he himself knew of nothing more favourable to say, and it is thus his own view. The Epicurean says that no certain knowledge has been arrived at. The proof that the efforts of philosophy are futile is derived directly from the usual superficial view taken of its history; the results attendant on that history make it appear to be a process in which the most various thoughts arise in numerous philosophies, each of which opposes, contradicts and refutes the other. This fact, which cannot be denied, seems to contain the justification, indeed the necessity for applying to Philosophy the words of Christ, “Let the dead bury their dead; arise, and follow Me.” The whole of the history of Philosophy becomes a battlefield covered with the bones of the dead; it is a kingdom not merely formed of dead and lifeless individuals, but of refuted and spiritually dead systems, since each has killed and buried the other. Instead of “Follow thou Me,” here then it must indeed be said, “Follow thine own self” — that is, hold by thine own convictions, remain steadfast to thine own opinion, why adopt another?
It certainly happens that a new philosophy makes its appearance, which maintains the others to be valueless; and indeed each one in turn comes forth at first with the pretext that by its means all previous philosophies not only are refuted, but what in them is wanting is supplied, and now at length the right one is discovered. But following upon what has gone before, it would rather seem that other words of Scripture are just as applicable to such a philosophy — the words which the Apostle Peter spoke to Ananias, “Behold the feet of them that shall carry thee out are at the door.” Behold the philosophy by which thine own will be refuted and displaced shall not tarry long as it has not tarried before.
Certainly the fact is sufficiently well established that there are and have been different philosophies. The Truth is, however, one; and the instinct of reason maintains this irradicable intuition or belief. It is said that only one philosophy can be true, and, because philosophies are different, it is concluded that all others must be erroneous. But, in fact, each one in turn gives every assurance, evidence and proof of being the one and true Philosophy. This is a common mode of reasoning and is what seems in truth to be the view of sober thought. As regards the sober nature of the word at issue — thought — we can tell from every-day experience that if we fast we feel hunger either at once or very soon. But sober thought always has the fortunate power of not resulting in hunger and desire, but of being and remaining as it is, content. Hence the thought expressed in such an utterance reveals the fact that it is dead understanding; for it is only death which fasts and yet rests satisfied. But neither physical life nor intellectual remains content with mere abstention; as desire it presses on through hunger and through thirst towards Truth, towards knowledge itself. It presses on to satisfy this desire and does not allow itself to feast and find sufficiency in a reflection such as this.