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.