Paul Janet and Hegel, 1 by W. T. Harris

Journal of Speculative Philosophy

[In the following article the passages quoted are turned into English, and the original French is omitted for the sake of brevity and lucid arrangement. As the work reviewed is accessible to most readers, a reference to the pages from which we quote will answer all purposes.--EDITOR.]


Since the death of Hegel in 1831, his philosophy has been making a slow but regular progress into the world at large. At home in Germany it is spoken of as having a right wing, a left wing, and a centre; its disciples are very numerous when one counts such widely different philosophers as Rosenkrantz, Michelet, Kuno Fischer, Erdmann, I. H. Fichte, Strauss, Feuerbach, and their numerous followers. Sometimes when one hears who constitute a "wing" of the Hegelian school, he is reminded of the "lucus a non" principle of naming, or rather of misnaming things. But Hegelianism has, as we said, made its way into other countries. In France we have the Æsthetics "partly translated and partly analyzed," by Professor Bénard; the logic of the small Encyclopædia, translated with copious notes, by Professor Vera, who has gone bravely on, with what seems with him to be a work of love, and given us the Philosophy of Nature and the Philosophy of Spirit, and promises us the "Philosophy of Religion"--all accompanied with abundant introduction and commentary. We hear of others very much influenced by Hegel: M. Taine, for example, who writes brilliant essays. In English, too, we have a translation of the Philosophy of History (in Bohn's Library); a kind of translation and analysis of the first part of the third volume of the Logic (Sloman & Wallon, London, 1855); and an extensive and elaborate work on The Secret of Hegel, by James Hutchison Stirling. We must not forget to mention a translation of Schwegler's History of Philosophy--a work drawn principally from Hegel's labors--by our American Professor Seelye; and also (just published) a translation of the same book by the author of the Secret of Hegel. Articles treating of Hegel are to be found by the score--seek them in every text-book on philosophy, in every general Cyclopædia, and in numerous works written for or against German Philosophy. Some of these writers tell us in one breath that Hegel was a man of prodigious genius, and in the next they convict him of confounding the plainest of all common-sense distinctions. Some of them find him the profoundest of all thinkers, while others cannot "make a word of sense out of him." There seems to be a general understanding in this country and England on one point: all agree that he was a Pantheist. Theodore Parker, Sir William Hamilton, Mansel, Morell, and even some of the English defenders of Hegelianism admit this. Hegel holds, say some, that God is a becoming; others say that he holds God to be pure being. These men are careful men apparently--but only apparently, for it must be confessed that if Hegel has written any books at all, they are, every one of them, devoted to the task of showing the inadequacy of such abstractions when made the highest principle of things.

The ripest product of the great German movement in philosophy, which took place at the beginning of this century, Hegel's philosophy is likewise the concretest system of thought the world has seen. This is coming to be the conviction of thinkers more and more every day as they get glimpses into particular provinces of his labor. Bénard thinks the Philosophy of Art the most wonderful product of modern thinking, and speaks of the Logic--which he does not understand--as a futile and perishable production. Another thinks that his Philosophy of History is immortal, and a third values extravagantly his Philosophy of Religion. But the one who values his Logic knows how to value all his labors. The History of Philosophy is the work that impresses us most with the unparalleled wealth of his thought; he is able to descend through all history, and give to each philosopher a splendid thought as the centre of his system, and yet never is obliged to confound different systems, or fail in showing the superior depth of modern thought. While we are admiring the depth and clearness of Pythagoras, we are surprised and delighted to find the great thought of Heraclitus, but Anaxagoras is a new surprise; the Sophists come before us bearing a world-historical significance, and Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle lead us successively to heights such as we had not dreamed attainable by any thinking.

But thought is no immediate function, like the process of breathing or sleeping, or fancy-making: it is the profoundest mediation of spirit, and he who would get an insight into the speculative thinkers of whatever time, must labor as no mere flesh and blood can labor, but only as spirit can labor: with agony and sweat of blood. A philosophy which should explain the great complex of the universe, could hardly be expected to be transparent to uncultured minds at the first glance. Thus it happens that many critics give us such discouraging reports upon their return from a short excursion into the true wonder-land of philosophy. The Eternal Verities are miraculous only to those eyes which have gazed long upon them after shutting out the glaring sunlight of the senses.

Those who criticise a philosophy must imply a philosophical method of their own, and thus measure themselves while they measure others. A literary man who criticises Goethe, or Shakespeare, or Homer, is very apt to lay himself bare to the shaft of the adversary. There are, however, in our time, a legion of writers who pass judgment as flippantly upon a system of the most comprehensive scope--and which they confess openly their inability to understand--as upon a mere opinion uttered in a "table-talk." Even some men of great reputation give currency to great errors. Sir William Hamilton, in his notes to Reid's Philosophy of "Touch," once quoted the passage from the second part of Fichte's Bestimmung des Menschen (wherein one-sided idealism is pushed to its downfall), in order to show that Fichte's Philosophy ended in Nihilism. The Bestimmung des Menschen was a mere popular writing in which Fichte adopted the Kantian style of exhibiting the self-refutation of sense and reflection, in order to rest all ultimate truth in the postulates of the Practical Reason. Accordingly he shows the practical results of his own system in the third part of the work in question, and enforces the soundest ethical views of life. He never thought of presenting his theoretical philosophy in that work. Thus, too, in Hamilton's refutation of Cousin and Schelling: he polemicises against all "Doctrines of the Absolute," saying that to think is to limit; hence to think God would be to determine or limit Him; and hence is inferred the impossibility of thinking God as he truly is. This, of course, is not pushed to its results by his followers, for then its skeptical tendency would become obvious. Religion demands that we shall do the Will of God; this Will must, therefore, be known. But, again, Will is the realization or self-determination of one's nature--from it the character proceeds. Thus in knowing God's will we know his character or nature. If we cannot do this at all, no religion is possible; and in proportion as Religion is possible, the Knowledge of God is possible.

If it be said that the Absolute is unthinkable, in this assertion it is affirmed that all predicates or categories of thought are inapplicable to the Absolute, for to think is to predicate of some object, the categories of thought; and in so far as these categories apply, to that extent is the Absolute thinkable. Since Existence is a category of thought, it follows from this position that to predicate existence of the Absolute is impossible; "a questionable predicament" truly for the Absolute. According to this doctrine--that all thought is limitation--God is made Pure Being, or Pure Thought. This is also the result of Indian Pantheism, and of all Pantheism; this doctrine concerning the mere negative character of thought, in fact, underlies the Oriental tenet that consciousness is finitude. To be consistent, all Hamiltonians should become Brahmins, or, at least, join some sect of modern Spiritualists, and thus embrace a religion that corresponds to their dogma. However, let us not be so unreasonable as to insist upon the removal of inconsistency--it is all the good they have.

After all this preliminary let us proceed at once to examine the work of Professor Paul Janet, which we have named at the head of our article: Etudes sur la dialectique dans Platon et dans Hegel.

After considering the Dialectic of Plato in its various aspects, and finding that it rests on the principle of contradiction, M. Janet grapples Hegel, and makes, in order, the following points:

I. TERMINOLOGY.--He tells us that the great difficulty that lies in the way of comprehending German Philosophy is the abstract terminology employed, which is, in fact, mere scholasticism preserved and applied to modern problems. No nation of modern times, except the Germans, have preserved the scholastic form. He traces the obscurity of modern German philosophy to "Aristotle subtilized by the schools." This he contrasts with the "simple and natural philosophy of the Scotch." [This "simplicity" arises from the fact that the Scotch system holds that immediate sensuous knowing is valid. Of course this implies that they hold that the immediate existence of objects is a true existence--that whatever is, exists thus and so without any further grounds. This is the denial of all philosophy, for it utterly ignores any occasion whatever for it. But it is no less antagonistic to the "natural science" of the physicist: he, the physicist, finds the immediate object of the senses to be no permanent or true phase, but only a transitory one; the object is involved with other beings--even the remotest star--and changes when they change. It is force and matter (two very abstract categories) that are to him the permanent and true existence. But force and matter cannot be seen by the senses; they can only be thought.] Our author proceeds to trace the resemblance between Hegel and Wolff: both consider and analyze the pure concepts, beginning with Being. To M. Janet this resemblance goes for much, but he admits that "Hegel has modified this order (that of Wolff) and rendered it more systematic." If one asks "How more systematic?" he will not find the answer. "The scholastic form is retained, but not the thought," we are told. That such statements are put forward, even in a book designed for mere surface-readers may well surprise us. That the mathematical method of Wolff or Spinoza--a method which proceeds by definitions and external comparison, holding meanwhile to the principle of contradiction--that such a method should be confounded with that of Hegel which proceeds dialectically, i.e. through the internal movement of the categories to their contradiction or limit, shows the student of philosophy at once that we are dealing with a littérateur, and not with a philosopher. So far from retaining the form of Wolff it is the great object of Hegel (see his long prefaces to the Logik and the Phänomenologie des Geistes) to supplant that form by what he considers the true method--that of the objective itself. The objective method is to be distinguished from the arbitrary method of external reflection which selects its point of view somewhere outside of the object considered, and proceeds to draw relations and comparisons which, however edifying, do not give us any exhaustive knowledge. It is also to be distinguished from the method of mere empirical observation which collects without discrimination a mass of characteristics, accidental and necessary, and never arrives at a vivifying soul that unites and subordinates the multiplicity. The objective method seizes somewhat in its definition and traces it through all the phases which necessarily unfold when the object is placed in the form of relation to itself. An object which cannot survive the process of self-relation, perishes, i.e. it leads to a more concrete object which is better able to endure. This method, as we shall presently see, is attributed to Plato by M. Janet.

The only resemblance that remains to be noted between the scholastics and Hegel is this: they both treat of subtle distinctions in thought, while our modern "common-sense" system goes only so far as to distinguish very general and obvious differences. This is a questionable merit, and the less ado made about it by such as take pride in it, the better for them.

Our author continues: "The principal difficulty of the system of Kant is our ignorance of the ancient systems of logic. The Critique of Pure Reason is modelled on the scholastic system." Could we have a more conclusive refutation of this than the fact that the great professors of the ancient systems grossly misunderstand Kant, and even our essayist himself mistakes the whole purport of the same! Hear him contrast Kant with Hegel: "Kant sees in Being only the form of Thought, while Hegel sees in Thought only the form of Being." This he says is the great difference between the Germans and French, interpreting it to mean: "that the former pursues the route of deduction, and the latter that of experience"!

He wishes to consider Hegel under three heads: 1st, The Beginning; 2d, the dialectical deduction of the Becoming, and 3d, the term Dialectic.

II. THE BEGINNING.--According to M. Janet, Hegel must have used this syllogism in order to find the proper category with which to commence the Logic.


(a) The Beginning should presuppose nothing;
(b) Pure Being presupposes nothing;
(c) Hence Pure Being is the Beginning.


This syllogism he shows to be inconclusive: for there are two beginnings, (a) in the order of knowledge, (b) in the order of existence. Are they the same? He answers: "No, the thinking being--because it thinks--knows itself before it knows the being which it thinks." Subject and object being identical in that act, M. Janet in effect says, "it thinks itself before it thinks itself"--an argument that the scholastics would hardly have been guilty of! The beginning is really made, he says, with internal or external experience. He quotes (page 316) from Hegel a passage asserting that mediation is essential to knowing. This he construes to mean that "the determined or concrete (the world of experience) is the essential condition of knowing!" Through his misapprehension of the term "mediation," we are prepared for all the errors that follow, for "mediation in knowing" means with Hegel that it involves a process, and hence can be true only in the form of a system. The "internal and external experience" appertains to what Hegel calls immediate knowing. It is therefore not to be wondered at that M. Janet thinks Hegel contradicts himself by holding Pure Being to be the Beginning, and afterwards affirming mediation to be necessary. He says (page 317), "In the order of knowing it is the mediate which is necessarily first, while in the order of existence the immediate is the commencement." Such a remark shows him to be still laboring on the first problem of Philosophy, and without any light, for no Speculative Philosopher (like Plato, Aristotle, Leibnitz, or Hegel) ever held that Pure Being--or the immediate--is the first in the order of existence, but rather that God or Spirit (self-thinking, "pure act," , "Logos," &c.) is the first in the order of existence. In fact, M. Janet praises Plato and Aristotle for this very thing at the end of his volume, and thereby exhibits the unconsciousness of his procedure. Again, "The pure thought is the end of philosophy, and not its beginning." If he means by this that the culture of consciousness ends in arriving at pure thought or philosophy, we have no objection to offer, except to the limiting of the application of the term Philosophy to its preliminary stage, which is called the Phenomenology of Spirit. The arrival at pure thought marks the beginning of the use of terms in a universal sense, and hence is the beginning of philosophy proper. But M. Janet criticises the distinction made by Hegel between Phenomenology and Psychology, and instances Maine de Biran as one who writes Psychology in the sense Hegel would write Phenomenology. But M. Biran merely manipulates certain unexplained phenomena,--like the Will, for example--in order to derive categories like force, cause, &c. But Hegel shows in his Phenomenology the dialectical unfolding of consciousness through all its phases, starting from the immediate certitude of the senses. He shows how certitude becomes knowledge of truth, and wherein it differs from it. But M. Janet (p. 324) thinks that Hegel's system, beginning in empirical Psychology, climbs to pure thought, "and then draws up the ladder after it."

III. THE BECOMING.--We are told by the author that consciousness determining itself as Being, determines itself as a being, and not as the being. If this be so we cannot think pure being at all. Such an assertion amounts to denying the universal character of the Ego. If the position stated were true, we could think neither being nor any other object.

On page 332, he says, "This contradiction (of Being and non-being) which in the ordinary logic would be the negative of the posited notion, is, in the logic of Hegel, only an excitant or stimulus, which somehow determines spirit to find a third somewhat in which it finds the other conciliated." He is not able to see any procedure at all. He sees the two opposites, and thinks that Hegel empirically hunts out a concept which implies both, and substitutes it for them. M. Janet thinks (pp. 336-7) that Hegel has exaggerated the difficulties of conceiving the identity of Being and nought. (P. 338) "If the difference of Being and nought can be neither expressed nor defined, if they are as identical as different--if, in short, the idea of Being is only the idea of the pure void, I will say, not merely that Being transforms itself into Nothing, or passes into its contrary; I will say that there are not two contraries, but only one term which I have falsely called Being in the thesis, but which is in reality only Non-being without restriction--the pure zero." He quotes from Kuno Fischer (p. 340) the following remarks applicable here:


If Being were in reality the pure void as it is ordinarily taken, Non-being would not express the same void a second time; but it would then be the non-void, i.e. the abhorrence of the void, or the immanent contradiction of the void.--


and again from his Logik und Metaphysik, II, §29:


The logical Being contradicts itself; for thought vanishes in the immovable repose of Being. But as Being comes only from thought (for it is the act of thought), it contradicts thus itself in destroying thought. Consequently thought manifests itself as the negation of Being--that is to say, as Non-being. The Non-being (logical) is not the total suppression of Being--the pure zero--it is not the mathematical opposition of Being to itself as a negative opposed to a positive, but it is the dialectical negative of itself, the immanent contradiction of Being. Being contradicts itself, hence is Non-being, and in the concept of Non-being, thought discovers the immanent contradiction of Being--thought manifests itself at first as Being, and in turn the logical Being manifests itself as Non-being; thought can hence say, "I am the Being which is not."


"Such," continues our author, "is the deduction of M. Fischer. It seems to me very much inferior in clearness to that of Hegel." How he could say this is very mysterious when we find him denying all validity to Hegel's demonstration. Although Fischer's explanation is mixed--partly dialectical and partly psychological--yet, as an explanation, it is correct. But as psychology should not be dragged into Logic, which is the evolution of the forms of pure thinking, we must hold strictly to the dialectic if we would see the "Becoming." The psychological explanation gets no further than the relation of Being and nought as concepts. The Hegelian thought on this point is not widely different from that of Gorgias, as given us by Sextus Empiricus, nor from that of Plato in the Sophist. Let us attempt it here:

Being is the pure simple; as such it is considered under the form of self-relation. But as it is wholly undetermined, and has no content, it is pure nought or absolute negation. As such it is the negation by itself or the negation of itself, and hence its own opposite or Being. Thus the simple falls through self-opposition into duality, and this again becomes simple if we attempt to hold it asunder, or give it any validity by itself. Thus if Being is posited as having validity in and by itself without determination (omnis determinatio est negatio), it becomes a pure void in nowise different from nought, for difference is determination, and neither Being nor nought possess it. What is the validity of the nought? A negative is a relative, and a negative by itself is a negative related to itself, which is a self-cancelling. Thus Being and nought, posited objectively as having validity, prove dissolving forms and pass over into each other. Being is a ceasing and nought is a beginning, and these are the two forms of Becoming. The Becoming, dialectically considered, proves itself inadequate likewise.

IV. THE DIALECTIC.--To consider an object dialectically we have merely to give it universal validity; if it contradicts itself then, we are not in anywise concerned for the result; we will simply stand by and accept the result, without fear that the true will not appear in the end. The negative turned against itself makes short work of itself; it is only when the subjective reflection tries to save it by hypotheses and reservations that a merely negative result is obtained.

(Page 369): "In Spinozism the development of Being is Geometric; in the System of Hegel it is organic." What could have tempted him to use these words, it is impossible to say, unless it was the deep-seated national proclivity for epigrammatic statements. This distinction means nothing less (in the mouth of its original author) than what we have already given as the true difference between Wolff's and Hegel's methods; but M. Janet has long since forgotten his earlier statements. (Page 369) He says, "Hegel's method is a faithful expression of the movement of nature," from which he thinks Hegel derived it empirically!

On page 372 he asks: "Who proves to us that the dialectic stops at Spirit as its last term? Why can I not conceive a spirit absolutely superior to mine, in whom the identity between subject and object, the intelligible and intelligence would be more perfect than it is with this great Philosopher [Hegel]? * * * * * In fact, every philosopher is a man, and so far forth is full of obscurity and feebleness." Spirit is the last term in philosophy for the reason that it stands in complete self-relation, and hence contains its antithesis within itself; if it could stand in opposition to anything else, then it would contain a contradiction, and be capable of transition into a higher. M. Janet asks in effect: "Who proves that the dialectic stops at God as the highest, and why cannot I conceive a higher?" Judging from his attempt at understanding Hegel, however, he is not in a fair way to conceive "a spirit in whom the identity between subject and object" is more perfect than in Hegel. "What hinders" is his own culture, his own self; "Du gleichst dem Geist den du begreifst, nicht mir," said the World-spirit to Faust.

He asks (p. 374): "When did the 'pure act' commence?" From Eternity; it always commences, and is always complete, says Hegel. "According to Hegel, God is made from nought, by means of the World." Instead of this, Hegel holds that God is self-created, and the world eternally created by him (the Eternally-begotten Son). "What need has God of Nature?" God is Spirit; hence conscious; hence he makes himself an object to himself; in this act he creates nature; hence Nature is His reflection. (P. 386): "The Absolute in Hegel is spirit only on condition that it thinks, and thinks itself; hence it is not essentially Spirit, but only accidentally." To "think itself" is to be conscious, and, without this, God would have no personality; and hence if Hegel were to hold any other doctrine than the one attributed to him, he would be a Pantheist. But these things are not mere dogmas with Hegel; they appear as the logical results of the most logical of systems. "But in Plato, God is a Reason in activity, a living thought." M. Janet mentions this to show Plato's superiority; he thinks that it is absurd for Hegel to attribute thinking to God, but thinks the same thing to be a great merit in Plato. (P. 392): "Behold the Platonic deduction [or dialectic]: being given a pure idea, he shows that this idea, if it were all alone [i.e. made universal, or placed in self-relation, or posited as valid for itself] would be contradictory of itself, and consequently could not be. Hence, if it exists, it is on condition that it mingles with another idea. Take, for example, the multiple: by itself, it loses itself in the indiscernible, for it would be impossible without unity." This would do very well for a description of the Dialectic in Hegel if he would lay more stress on the positive side of the result. Not merely does the "pure idea mingle with another"--i.e. pass over to its opposite--but it returns into itself by the continuation of its own movement, and thereby reaches a concrete stage. Plato sometimes uses this complete dialectical movement, and ends affirmatively; sometimes he uses only the partial movement and draws negative conclusions.

How much better M. Janet's book might have been--we may be allowed to remark in conclusion--had he possessed the earnest spirit of such men as Vera and Hutchison Stirling! Stimulated by its title, we had hoped to find a book that would kindle a zeal for the study of the profoundest philosophical subject, as treated by the profoundest of thinkers.

1. Etudes sur la dialectique dans Platon et dans Hegel, par Paul Janet, Membre de L'Institut, professeur à la Faculté des lettres de Paris.--Paris: Ladrange, 1860.