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British Journal for the History of Philosophy

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Method in Kant and Hegel

Alfredo Ferrarin

To cite this article: Alfredo Ferrarin (2018): Method in Kant and Hegel, British Journal for the
History of Philosophy, DOI: 10.1080/09608788.2018.1506314

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Method in Kant and Hegel

Alfredo Ferrarin
Dipartimento di Civilta e Forme del Sapere, University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy

For Kant as for Hegel method is not a structure or procedure imported into
philosophy from without, as, e.g. a mathematical demonstration in modern
physics or in the proof-structure of philosophies such as Spinoza’s or Wolff’s.
For both Hegel and Kant method is the arrangement that reason gives its
contents and cognitions; for both, that is, method and object do not fall
asunder, unlike in all disciplines other than philosophy. For Kant method is
the design and plan of the whole, the scientific form that guides the
organization of cognitions (KrV A 707/B 736, Ak 24, 780). Likewise, Hegel
writes that method is the consciousness of the form of its inner movement
(WL 1, 49, SL 53, W 3 47, PhS 28). Unfortunately, Hegel never considers Kant
an example or a precursor or a positive role model. It is important to ask why
Hegel never takes seriously Kant’s Doctrine of Method. Why, if he shares so
many central points with the Architectonic of the first Critique, does he never
acknowledge Kant as a possible ally? Why does he misunderstand Kant on
analysis and synthesis as he does? These are some of the questions I plan to
discuss in this paper.

ARTICLE HISTORY Received 13 November 2017; Revised 6 April and 15 June 2018; Accepted 26 July

KEYWORDS Method; Kant; Hegel; architectonic; dialectic

Quand on n’a pas de caractère, il faut bien se donner une méthode.

(Albert Camus, La chute)

For Kant as for Hegel method is not a structure or procedure that is ready-
made and imported into philosophy from without, as, e.g. a mathematical
demonstration in modern physical science or in the very proof-structure of
philosophies such as Spinoza’s or Wolff’s. For both Hegel and Kant method
is the way reason, as the source of a system of sciences, organizes itself in
the interrelation of its moments. Far from being simply an order of exposition,
method is for both the arrangement and structure that reason gives its con-
tents and cognitions; for both, that is, method and object do not fall asunder,
unlike in all disciplines other than philosophy. Both Kant and Hegel identify
one fundamental sense of scientific method for reason (respectively, the

CONTACT Alfredo Ferrarin Dipartimento di Civilta e Forme del Sapere,

Universita degli Studi di Pisa, Pisa 56127, Italy
© 2018 BSHP

architectonic method in Kant and the speculative or absolute method in Hegel)

and take all other senses of method (especially the methods adopted by
particular sciences) as derivative, subordinated to or partial moments of it.1
For Kant method is the design and plan of the whole, the scientific form
that guides the organization of cognitions (KrV A 707/B 736, Ak 24, 780). Like-
wise, Hegel writes that method is the consciousness of the form of its inner
movement (WL 1, 49, SL 53, W 3 47, PhS 28).
Unfortunately, Hegel never considers Kant an example or a precursor or a
positive role model. He writes in the Science of Logic: ‘[H]itherto, philosophy
has not found its method’ (WL 1, 48, SL 53). He thinks we must adopt a
new concept of scientific treatment in which science does not borrow any
direction from without but lets the content advance without imposing
upon it any external reflection (WL 1, 16, SL 28).
It is important to ask why Hegel never takes seriously Kant’s Doctrine of
Method. Why, if he shares so many central points with the Architectonic of
the first Critique, does he never acknowledge Kant as a possible ally? Why
does he misunderstand Kant on analysis and synthesis as he does? These
are some of the questions I plan to discuss in this paper.

1. Introduction
In the first Critique, Kant gives an almost routine characterization of method as
a procedure according to principles (A 855/B 883). Whereas in the logic
lecture-courses over the years method is invariably mentioned as the arrange-
ment of cognitions in a scientific treatment and divided into analytic and syn-
thetic, it is hardly surprising that we cannot find a more specific definition of
method in either edition of the Critique of Pure Reason. As it is famously called
a treatise on method (KrV B xxii), the whole work seems to be the candidate
for the definition we are seeking. This identification only occurs explicitly in
the Preface to the B edition, but is the result of a long evolution in Kant’s think-
ing. Back in the Deutlichkeit, the method of metaphysics had to be the same as
Newton’s method in the natural sciences (Ak 2: 286). Shortly thereafter, Kant
announces to Lambert his forthcoming work due to appear on Easter of 1766
on ‘the true method of metaphysics’ (Ak 10: 51). The problems to be solved by
this method are the relation between the universal and the individual in meta-
physics, the relation of causality (which in the 1760s Kant still thought empiri-
cal), and the distinctness of sensible cognition (in view of the antinomies). In
the Dissertation a method understood in light of these questions precedes
metaphysics itself as the determination of reason’s laws (§ 23, Ak 2: 411). As
I just said, in the critical period Kant will eventually call the first Critique a trea-
tise on method.
For a list of abbreviations to be used in this paper, see the bibliography at the end.

A certain redundancy in a treatise on method divided into a Doctrine of

Elements and a Doctrine of Method seems apparent, but it can be, if not dis-
pelled, then surely better understood when we look at the passage. Kant
claims that the Critique is not a system of science but rather the ‘catalogue
of the entire outline of the science of metaphysics, both in respect of its
boundaries and in respect of its entire internal structure’ (B xxii).
Philosophy is the study of reason’s limits, laws and ends as a propaedeutic
to metaphysics. Well before the first Critique Kant was quite clear on that. ‘In
philosophy we must acquire not cognitions but a method to philosophize’, we
read in the Philosophical Encyclopaedia (Ak 29: 6). And a Reflexion of the same
years claims: ‘All philosophy has as its object reason: maxims, limits and the
end. The rest is art of reason’ (Refl. 4987, Ak 18: 52).
These terms deserve some comments. Maxims and ends suggest that phil-
osophy is a practice, indeed reason’s highest form of life and activity, but a
practice that can become technical in some of its objectivizations. Artists of
reason in the Architectonic, the third section of the Doctrine of Method, are
scientists such as logicians, mathematicians and natural scientists. These
scientists are very important for philosophy, but as means to an end. They
employ a method they take for granted in their sciences and are solely
focused on their object, which they presuppose as given. As a result, they
do not care about the final end of their science or about the limits of the
scope they are investigating. This is the philosopher’s concern, as the philoso-
pher is the legislator of reason who arranges, controls, and disposes (ansetzt,
KrV A 839/B 867) the artists of reason in view of reason’s ends.
The contrast between the method of mathematics and of philosophy is
especially pronounced. In the Discipline of the Doctrine of Method Kant
warns against the temptation to imitate the ‘most shining example’ (das glän-
zendste Beispiel, KrV A 712/B 7402) of the scientific a priori progress offered by
mathematics, which philosophy cannot hope to achieve. If philosophy has a
higher systematic task, mathematics enjoys a clear privilege: its concepts
can be constructed in pure intuition and thus admit of a medium seemingly
denied to philosophy which accounts for mathematical a priori synthesis.3
Notice further that the Doctrine of Method, here as in the logic lecture-
courses, is a retrospective gaze at the principles that have made possible the
construction. It comes at the end of the scientific treatment: like the principle
of organization of the elements. Unless cognitions have systematic form and
are transformed into a science, they remain an aggregate, while they have to
be understood as an organism, which comes to mean that you cannot treat
determinate contents apart from their organization. Only philosophy is a
full-fledged science, i.e. a system as an organized whole of different sciences.

This phrase recurs at several points (e.g. A 4/B 8, A 39/B 55).
See Ferrarin, ‘Construction and Mathematical Schematism’, 131–74, and The Powers of Pure Reason, 137–69.

Differently stated, only an architect can direct the effort of a team of workers at
building a solid edifice. Once this is clear, we can realize that an architect had
been planning the edifice all along, thought out its design and followed its con-
struction. In other words, a certain philosophical principle has always organized
the hierarchy and order of the sciences. It is a matter of identifying it.
Hegel shares many of these points. Philosophy does not have the privilege
of presupposing different objects or a method (ENZ § 1). It owes particular
sciences the universals and concepts they have skimmed things to, the
genera and laws it works with, but only philosophy can turn this material
into a system or encyclopaedia of sciences, and thereby into the development
of thought considering its categories in their interrelation and necessity (ENZ
§ 12 A). In Hegel, too, reason is an organism with different organs existing for
the sake of the whole. It has a force, a life and a development thanks to which
it grows internally, as an activity of self-realization. As a self-directed activity,
thinking cannot have its procedure dictated by its object, or take anything for
granted, so that mathematics cannot be a model for philosophy.
What method comes to mean in this picture is thus a movement and a
relation that cannot assume its relata as independent and antecedently
given. More to the point, method is a way of proceeding (ein Gang), ‘a
purely continuous course in which nothing extraneous is introduced’ (WL 1,
49, SL 54) insofar as it becomes conscious of itself. Method ‘is not something
distinct from its object and content’ (WL 1, 49, SL 54). For this reason in the
Absolute Idea at the end of the Science of Logic Hegel speaks of method as
a ‘movement’, an ‘activity’, a ‘soul and substance’, a ‘power’, and ‘an urge’
which now come to the fore (WL 2, 551–2, SL 825–6) as the force that has
been animating the movement of thought all along.
Upon closer scrutiny, what Hegel most deeply shares with the Architec-
tonic is the problem of the relation between understanding and reason.
The understanding is focused exclusively on its objects which it tries to turn
into concepts, whereas reason has the understanding’s concepts as its
object in view of ends. It is necessary not to let the understanding overstep
its boundaries or impose its ways on to reason. In Kant the understanding’s
concepts aim at grasping their object simply but cannot pretend to do
without reason’s ideas, which are ends and principles of organization of
parts, a comprehensive design pointing beyond the given. Concepts
instead have no similar connotation of plan or project. Reason is thus a pur-
posive activity as it subordinates the understanding to its comprehensive
vision. In Hegel reason or the concept must make fluid the rigid shape intel-
lectual determinacies have, and it does so qua reflection and return upon
itself. The understanding is the power of separation and abstraction,
holding fast to the limits it identifies. It is the principle of determinacy and
identity. Its work is indispensable, for one cannot know rationally unless
one first distinguishes between contingency and necessity, essence and

manifestation, universality and particularity. Hegel often exemplifies the

understanding by the firmness of character, analogous to the capacity of
attention of holding fast to its object without being distracted or diverted
by anything (ENZ § 448). It is this ‘identische Richtung’ (ENZ § 448) of the under-
standing that offers its determinations to the concept. To put it differently, the
shape of the understanding is a straight line. If the shape of reason is the
circle, it is because reason has curved the line of the understanding on to
itself – because reason is comprehension of the understanding.
A pertinent example of this rectilinear procedure is Descartes. In the Regulae
ad directionem ingenii Descartes seems to anticipate Kant when he writes that the
mind needs discipline and has to be ruled methodically. Descartes intends to
eliminate all opinion and discriminate between truth and error (whereby verisi-
militude is equated to falsehood). For Descartes, only the straightness of a
thought built on firm foundations is true (the second maxim in the third part
of the Discourse on Method insists on firmness and resoluteness, such that –
when lost in a forest – the only way not to wander vainly in a circle is to
choose to march straight on until we get to any destination whatever). In
Kantian and Hegelian terms, this resoluteness to hold fast to determinacy is
the understanding’s way. By contrast, Kant and Hegel define the understanding
by reference to and difference from reason: neither can subsist without the other.
Between straightness and circularity there is no strict opposition. Falsehood is
not the subjective error that one can correct once and for all with discipline
and vigilant conduct, for it is unavoidable and necessary. This applies strongly
to Hegel, for whom falsehood cannot be opposed to truth like oil to water, but
rather the false represents the one-sidedness of the true. It also applies partly
to Kant, for whom illusion is necessary to the thought of the unconditioned,
except that Kant considers his critical philosophy the remedy to reason’s errors.
The reference to Descartes proves useful to gauge in more accurate detail the
affinities between Kant and Hegel on method as well as their distance. What I
move on to in the next section is a critical appraisal of Hegel’s notion of a math-
ematical method by the help of Descartes’ Rules. Then in Section 3, I want to
probe further some tensions that have meanwhile emerged on mathematical
and philosophical method in Kant and Hegel, to conclude finally (§ 4) with the
reasons why Hegel misconstrues Kant on analytic and synthetic method.

2. The so-called mathematical method

For Kant, like all artists of reason the mathematician risks being a cyclops,
whose vision is impaired by the lack of a second eye putting things in perspec-
tive.4 Reason seeking a system cannot import a method, mathematical,
I am thinking of Reflexion 903, Ak. 15, p. 395. For commentary, see Ferrarin, ‘The Unity of Reason’, 213–28
and The Powers of Pure Reason, 60–6.

scientific or otherwise, from without. A philosophical method is something

philosophy can only make and refine as it goes along and which gives
shape to its comprehensive gaze. In it, autonomy and critique go hand in
hand, and when reason undertakes its self-examination all cognitions must
be subjected to reason’s public scrutiny (KrV A xi). The idea of thinking for
oneself, and even more so the idea of cosmic philosophy, are reason’s reflec-
tive gaze from which nothing is farther than reason’s mathematical construc-
tion of concepts in pure intuition. It is not only that philosophy cannot imitate
mathematics then. Philosophy would deeply misunderstand its mission if it
contemplated such a task for itself.
Hegel is even more straightforward in his criticism of the kind of cognition
mathematics is. Its evidence ‘rests solely on the poverty of its end and the
defectiveness of its material’ (W 3 44, PhS 25). For him a non-speculative
method, the mathematical in particular, is necessarily external with respect
to the content. The method can be more or less scientific, analytic, geometric,
but it must systematize entities that are given independently of the method
itself. The method must be understood as a form of behaving towards
objects;5 it is a form of organization that intervenes upon antecedently
formed and thereby readily given objects. Mathematical method is especially
treacherous insofar as its adoption seems to promote all hopes for a limitless
progress in science, irrespective of its object.
It seems as if Hegel reproached modern philosophy inspired by the math-
ematical method for ascribing it too much importance, but actually it turns
out that for Hegel method is even more decisive insofar as it is the soul
that animates thought’s process and constitutes its objects. As if appealing
to its etymology, Hegel calls method ‘the way’ (Weg) for the construction of
concepts (WL 1, 49, SL 54). If the mutual externality of method and content
is clearly the problem, still it is hard to see what rules a method understood
as the consciousness of the form of its inner movement might come down
to. But this is precisely Hegel’s point: all preliminary stipulation is arbitrary;
thought cannot be bound by rules it has specified beforehand.
In a way this takes up again Kant’s notion of critique: nothing has authority
over reason, which cannot undergo rules but must give itself rules as it verifies
its own claims. In a different sense, however, Kant is on a par with Descartes
rather than Hegel. When Kant writes in the opening page of the second
edition of the Critique (B vii) that philosophy must travel the secure path of
science to avoid getting stuck and groping about for concepts (herumtappen),
he echoes Descartes. For Descartes a method is necessary to avoid moving à
tatons in the search for truth. A method indeed gives us certain and easy rules

‘Method may appear at first as the mere manner [Art und Weise] peculiar to the process of cognition’ (WL
2, 550–1, SL 825). See also this passage in the Introduction to the Phenomenology: ‘Diese Darstellung, als
ein Verhalten der Wissenschaft zu dem erscheinenden Wissen und als Untersuchung und Prüfung der
Realität des Erkennens … ’ (W 3, 75; Miller does not translate the Verhalten).

which, thanks to a linear orderly disposition of concepts (ordo et mensura),

make possible arriving at truth and eliminating error. Method is about clear
rules set out at the beginning, not about a retrospective gaze at the end. It
is the most important starting point for a science, not a result.
To Hegel this is an assumption that risks vitiating all conclusions. We
cannot reduce the concept to quantity, and the form of its internal connec-
tions to the identity of equations leaving its referents untouched. In the Lec-
tures on the History of Philosophy (W 20, 187), Hegel believes that Descartes
adopts a mathematical method for philosophical arguments: ‘philosophical
principles must be treated and demonstrated mathematically’, for mathemat-
ics is ‘ein so glänzendes Beispiel’ of this form which is unfit for philosophy (W 20,
187 – I find it striking that Hegel’s words should repeat Kant’s). Hegel believes
that Spinoza uses Descartes’ method even in his language: different elements
in a sentence such as subject and predicate must be made equal in a geo-
metrical demonstration (W 20, 188). The determinate contents are means
(Hilfsmittel, W 20, 188) for a form that must result in identity. According to
Hegel Descartes adopts a geometrical method – in fact he says it is nothing
but Euclid’s method – starting from definitions which are not grounded or
developed but assumed (W 20, 167).
In all of this, it seems to me that Hegel reduces Descartes’ supposed
method to Spinoza’s way of exposition whose formality he criticizes. If I am
right, this is a sheer prejudice, and a misunderstanding. It is important to
point out that Hegel knows the Discourse on Method but not the Rules for
the Direction of the Mind, and it is a likely conjecture that if he had known
the Rules and the Geometry he might have shown a keener interest in under-
standing what method means for Descartes. However that may be, he takes
Euclid’s method as paradigmatic, as if it did not have a history and were a
ready-made formalism in a neatly defined packaging established by Euclid
once and for all; he ignores Descartes’ distance from Euclid; and he does
not see that method for Descartes is not a manner of exposition of contents
assumed from the outset.
Hegel believes that the problem with a mathematical method is that it
imposes its strictures on thought, which must be plastic and cannot tolerate
any reduction to the limits and structure of a specific science. The problem,
however, is that Descartes does not want to give philosophy a mathematical
exposition: he wants to ground a mathesis which is indeed related to ordinary
mathematics but is far from reducible to it because of its universality. ‘One will
readily see that ordinary mathematics is far from my mind here, that it is
another discipline I am expounding […]. This discipline should contain the
primary rudiments of human reason and extend to the discovery of truth in
any field whatever […]. I am convinced that it is a more powerful instrument
of knowledge than any other with which human beings are endowed, as it is
the source of all the rest’ (AT X374, italics mine). Later on in Rule IV he adds:

‘there must be a general science which explains all the points that can be raised
concerning order and measure irrespective of the subject-matter, and […] this
should be termed mathesis universalis’ (AT X378). The method simplifies knowl-
edge into a general science and makes all realms of investigation of nature
homogeneous; and this means that mathematics is not imposed on to philos-
ophy because philosophy and mathematics are different aspects of a more fun-
damental method. Furthermore, if Euclid took his bearings from the discrete
identity of different forms, given and defined before their use, Descartes’ geo-
metric figures are wholly unlike Euclid’s. For him mathematical beings are not
eidetic natures but formulae with respect to which the stable identity of a
figure is derivative. As limitations of a continuous space as locus of points,
figures are homogeneous and can become different by variations in the
value of the coefficients of the equation. Order and measure are not externally
imposed on particular things given otherwise and beforehand; they give rise to
their object. The method is indeed constitutive.6
This is groundbreaking: concepts no longer derive from an insight or
abstraction but are generated through a definition, the result of a methodical
procedure and a constructive art. If science is knowledge, an art is not simply
science but promotes knowledge: it is an ars inveniendi which makes discovery
possible. If it can be extended to other sciences and is potentially applicable to
all problems, method is not only a new and unprecedented fact, a present
gain; it is also an indefinite promise that puts its name on the future, and
on the solution to all scientific problems.
Hegel, who teaches us many important truths about the difference
between ancients and moderns, seems strangely uninterested in this trans-
formation. By contrast Kant, who is not as keen on tracing historical turns
as Hegel, has reflected on the scientific revolution more closely and is there-
fore more prone to hearing out Descartes than is Hegel. This is true of one of
the differences between mathematics and philosophy, where Kant writes that
you can learn mathematics but not philosophy, for at most you can learn to
philosophize.7 But it is especially true of the next point I want to discuss,
the seductive power of mathematics and Kant’s ambivalence on method
and philosophy.
The tension with regard to this is palpable, and Kant seems intent on tread-
ing treacherous ground. On the one hand, as we have seen he teaches that
philosophy cannot and must not imitate mathematics. On the other, in the
Preface to the B edition of the first Critique he suggests that in order to
enter the secure path of science philosophy must follow the example of geo-
metry (Thales) and physics (Galilei, Torricelli, Stahl).

For a detailed discussion, see J. Klein, ‘Die griechische Logistik und die Entstehung der Algebra’, Lachter-
man, The Ethics of Geometry, and Ferrarin, Galilei e la matematica della natura, 84–90.
Strikingly, Kant’s distinction between cognitio ex datis and ex principiis, which is the target of Hegel’s
sharp irony at W 4, 411–12, repeats virtually verbatim Descartes’ words at AT X 367.

Likewise, philosophy must be cosmic, i.e. arrange scientific cognitions in a

system in view of ends and according to an idea: the understanding is subor-
dinated to the search for wisdom. On the other hand, when the B Preface con-
cludes that it is thanks to the scientific method that the Copernican revolution
inspiring the critical turn in philosophy takes place, it but explicitly sanctions
tendencies lurking at different stages of Kant’s philosophy. Kant even invites
metaphysics to borrow the new method that has made the revolution poss-
ible (die veränderte Methode der Denkungsart, KrV B xviii). While in the 1781
Preface metaphysics is compared to Hecuba, a queen, however destitute, in
the 1787 Preface metaphysics is ancillary to sciences that have meanwhile
gained their superior power through the method they originally devised. Phil-
osophy must imitate the experiment that has granted mathematics and
physics their success: see if metaphysics can make progress in its problems
by assuming that objects must conform to our cognition, so that we can
establish truths about objects before they are given to us (KrV B xvi).
I speak about ambivalence and not ambiguity because these passages are
not unclear or hiding obscurities; they seem to me quite obviously to manifest
Kant’s oscillation, as well as philosophy’s envy of mathematics. This, if any-
thing, is what we will never find in Hegel. For him, with regard to the
poverty of end and content of mathematics, philosophy is justified in its con-
tempt (verschmähen, W 3 44, PhS 25).

3. A closer look at mathematical and philosophical method in

Kant and Hegel
Often Hegel will criticize Kant as he seems to repeat his own words. For
example, no sooner has Hegel claimed that his logic is ‘the system of pure
reason’ (WL 1 44, SL 50) than he proceeds to criticize the timidity and incom-
pleteness of critical philosophy. While Hegel appropriates Kant’s notion of
reason as an organism growing internally, he behaves as if Kant had
spoken about finality only in the (again timid) form of the third Critique –
that is, Hegel ignores the teleologia humanae rationis of the Architectonic
and opposes to Kant the example of Aristotle whom he praises for under-
standing reason as ein zweckmässiges Tun (purposive activity, W 3 26, PhS 12).
For Hegel’s curt and dismissive attitude towards Kant it is hard to find excuses.
Yet, some philosophical reasons for his distance from Kant begin to emerge. For
Hegel the poverty of mathematical arguments rests on their dealing with quantity,
which is poor in concept (unwesentlich, begrifflos, W 3 44, PhS 25). For Kant instead,
in spite of common preconceptions mathematics and philosophy do not differ as
to their object but only as to their form or method (KrV A 713–19/B 741–7).
Take the issue of definitions in mathematics and philosophy. Kant writes:
‘Mathematical definitions can never err. For since the concept is first given
through the definition, it contains just that which the definition would think

through it’ (KrV A 731/B 759). Mathematical definitions are not logical or
nominal but real definitions, insofar as they show the objective reality of
their concepts by providing the corresponding pure intuition, insofar, that is,
as they give rise to their object. The definition is then the guide for the construc-
tion of the object. Conversely, the construction is the realization in pure intui-
tion of the concept expressed in the definition. At the end of the Discipline Kant
draws his conclusions. Mathematics begins by positing its real definitions, has
axioms as immediately certain synthetic a priori principles, and is capable of
apodictic demonstrations insofar as it has intuitive proofs. In none of this can
philosophy hope to imitate mathematics. Definitions at best come last, as
the crown of a clarificatory effort. Philosophy cannot avail itself of any immedi-
ately certain principles. Its apodicticity is at best acroamatic or discursive.
And yet, not only does philosophy have no business spurning mathemat-
ics; mathematics is a model for all a priori synthesis, as Kant writes to Reinhold
(Ak 11: 43–4). In the Discipline itself, where we may expect the contrast of
mathematics and philosophy to be at its strongest, Kant does not only
oppose mathematics and philosophy, he also puts them on a par (which is
natural as they are the two kinds of rational cognitions). More importantly,
he even shows the affinities of their procedures, which means of their syn-
thesis. Kant writes that ‘an a priori concept […] either contains a pure intuition
in itself, in which case it can be constructed; or else it contains nothing but the
synthesis of possible intuitions’ (KrV A 719/B 747). The first is the mathematical
synthesis, the latter is the transcendental synthesis ‘with which in turn only
the philosopher can succeed, but which never concerns more than a thing
in general’ (KrV A 719/B 747). In mathematics intuition guides my synthesis,
‘in transcendental cognition […] this guideline is possible experience’ (KrV
A 783/B 811).
As we can see, it is simply not true that philosophy is analytic while mathemat-
ics is synthetic. If pure reason’s production is the anticipated form of the object of
experience, and if transcendental philosophy shows how pure concepts can be
made sensible, we must conclude that mathematics and philosophy differ in the
method they follow, but not in the ambition to realize concepts.
This synthesis is something at which ‘speculative a priori knowledge’ (KrV B 13)
aims (here at B 13 the example of philosophical synthesis is causality). Except that
in philosophy the synthesis is indirect and cannot determine its object exhaus-
tively. In fact, it cannot give us an object in intuition to begin with. What it
does give us is the principle on which all intuitions rest. Here what acquires objec-
tive reality is the synthesis of possible objects, not the intuition of real ones.8

See Ferrarin, The Powers, 231–6. On method in Kant the secondary literature is replete with important
essays. See, among others, Tonelli, ‘Analysis and Synthesis’, 176–213; Tonelli, Kant’s Critique of Pure
Reason. A valuable recent addition to the bibliography on analytic and synthetic method is Gava,
‘Kant’s Synthetic and Analytic Method’, 1–22.

As we can see, mathematics is more than just a rival for philosophy. If a

priori synthesis is what we must account for, mathematics is both a model
for philosophy, and the issue on which Kant has painstakingly reflected and
which has inspired him to ask the question of an a priori synthesis in philos-
ophy. Far from being thoughtless, the category of quantity enjoys in Kant a
prominent role as he struggles to define the objective validity of our concepts.
In fact, once he has established the objective reality of mathematical con-
cepts, Kant realizes he can use the issue of objective reality to solve the ques-
tion of the reference of pure concepts to possible experience. We must
therefore go beyond the simplistic opposition of mathematics and philosophy
from the Deutlichkeit to the Discipline and realize that the relation between
the two rational disciplines is much more intricate than Hegel would allow.
Nevertheless, I am convinced that none of that is on Hegel’s mind as he
dismisses Kant. Hegel should have given much more thought to the problems
internal to the first Critique than he is willing to afford. So we are still left with
the question I asked earlier: why is Hegel so simplistic about Kant on method?

4. Hegel on Kant: analysis, synthesis and dialectic

Even though analysis and synthesis are the moments of the Idea of Cognition
at the end of the Science of Logic, the historical development of these notions
can hardly be recognized in Hegel’s considerations. Hegel is quite aware of
the synthetic method traditionally identified with Euclid and the Posterior Ana-
lytics, but never once mentions Pappus’ analytic method or Viète in his corpus
(published as well as unpublished works and letters); and the analysis of con-
cepts in their partial representations, from Lull to Leibniz and Kant, is not what
he means by analysis either.9 In sum, Hegel disregards all traditional senses of
analysis and synthesis as he discusses these notions in his logic. In keeping
with this, he disregards also Kant’s several distinctions: between analytic
and synthetic judgments (as in the Introduction to the first Critique), analytic
and synthetic methods (as in the Discipline or the logic lectures), analytic and
synthetic manners of exposition (e.g. the Prolegomena and Groundwork as
opposed to respectively the first and the second Critiques) – all of which, it
bears noting, is itself almost irrelevant in the method of cosmic philosophy
in the Architectonic and must not be confused with the question of a priori
synthesis (the advancement of our cognitions independently of experience).
Briefly put, of the many diverse aspects and layers of this conceptual pair
there is no trace whatsoever in Hegel.
What Hegel makes of the notion of construction is no less idiosyncratic, and
reflects his diffidence for Schelling’s use of it, an ostensibly more pressing
On all these notions of analysis and synthesis see Engfer, Philosophie als Analysis. See also Arndt, Methodo
scientifica pertractatum.

concern for him than Kant’s philosophy of mathematics. Hegel misunder-

stands the concept of mathematical construction and exhibition in intuition
in Kant: according to him, Kant has popularized the notion that mathematics
operates with a construction of its concepts, but this is ‘the process of giving
an account of sensory determinations taken up from perception’ (sic, ENZ § 231
A). As we can see, Hegel conflates pure and empirical intuition, in fact has no
idea of a pure intuition. And his examination of the a priori synthesis in math-
ematics is even more cavalier: he treats it as a synthesis completely analytic in
nature (WL 1, 238, SL 208, ENZ § 256 A). It is unsurprising that he should under-
stand so little of Kant’s mathematical method if he altogether misses the
notion of pure intuition to begin with.10 The truth is that he cares very little
about that: for him Kant does not call into question the categories and
method of ordinary cognition (ENZ § 60 A), and nothing will convince
Hegel otherwise.
The meaning of analysis and synthesis becomes peculiar. For Hegel it is not
as if it were up to us to choose between them. They are not independent
methods. They do not pertain specifically to mathematics or to one discipline
or science. Nor are they alternative. In fact, analysis must precede and be inte-
grated by synthesis (ENZ § 231 A). They are complementary moments of finite
knowing. The method in the Idea of Cognition is the shape the Idea takes on
qua understanding at work in the sciences. Analytic cognition comes first in
that it brings the particular to its universal: it is the transformation pursued
by empiricism and experimental sciences of the material we find into abstract
concepts. Synthetic cognition, in turn, is the internal self-specification of the
universal: the definition is the starting point, its division is the movement of
the concept. This method is therefore the articulation of the logical
moments of the transformation of the given and the immediate into concepts
which turn out to be a self-division.11
This is finite cognition, though. As such it differs from speculative cognition.
It is only in the Absolute Idea that the method and the content coincide in a
self-enclosed totality. It turns out now that in method ‘the retrogressive
founding of the beginning and the progressive further determining of it
coincide and are the same’ (WL 2, 570, SL 841). In philosophy ‘the advance
is a retreat into the ground, to what is primary and true, on which depends
and, in fact, from which originates that with which the beginning is made’
(WL 1 70, SL 71). This is crucial: in philosophy the beginning is immanent in
its own subsequent development; the basis persists once it is negated and for-
gotten; at the end we realize that penetrating deeper into the thing as we
advance comes down to valuing and bringing out what was in the beginning

See Ferrarin, ‘Pure Intuition in Mathematics’, 31–44.

On the Idea of Cognition in Hegel see A. Di Riccio’s excellent book I modi del conoscere, Pisa
2018. A. Nuzzo’s essays are the most valuable among the works I know about the Hegelian notion of
absolute idea. See the bibliography for a list of her titles.

in the form of an instinct. If at the end we realize that we have made the
beginning true, all linearity is alien to the speculative method of philosophy.
Thought is a circle returning upon itself (WL 1 70, SL 71 and WL 2 571, SL 842).
If speculative logic infuses life into its concepts, we can better grasp why for
Hegel the absolute method of his logic differs from the architectonic method:
Kant takes thought-determinations as inert and unmoved. Method in a specu-
lative logic is the soul, or the way, or a power and an urge, because it is the life
of thought. It generates the movement and the content of the logic as the
speculative science of the true.12
It is called the immanent objective development of thought. The develop-
ment is animated by determinate negation, the realization that every positive
moment includes a negative moment in itself. This is the meaning of dialectic
as life and activity and movement, and this is why the transformation of the
meaning of method and the shift in meaning of dialectic are one and the
same thing. The ‘only true method […] is not something distinct from its
object and content; for it is the inwardness of the content, the dialectic it pos-
sesses within itself, which is the mainspring of its advance’ (WL 1 50, SL 54). To
understand this dialectic all that is required is ‘the recognition of the logical
principle that the negative is just as much the positive’ (WL 1 49, SL 54).
Section 79 of the Encyclopaedia reads: ‘In terms of form, the logical domain has
three sides: (a) the abstract side or that of the understanding, (b) the dialectical or
negatively rational side, (c) the speculative or positively rational side. These three
sides do not constitute three parts of logic, but are moments of every proper logical
content, that is to say, of every concept or everything true in general’. Logic is not
separated from metaphysics and truth, but it is not separated from dialectic
either, whereby dialectic is no longer the arbitrary and extrinsic art of producing
the appearance of contradiction. As one can see from the quoted passage, think-
ing is the logical element that determines itself in each of its three moments, not
only as speculative thought. Each concept is a determinate and fixed abstraction
that, when examined in light of its demand for absolute validity, realizes its limit-
edness and aims beyond itself.
Unlike the previous tradition, which distinguished between deduction and
exposition, separating the method from the content, speculative Darstellung is
deduction precisely because it is the exposition of a thought that is already in
itself necessity, movement and inner articulation, the progressive self-

I think that what Hegel says on method in the Phenomenology of Spirit is in no way independent of the
speculative treatment of the logic. There is nothing like a phenomenological method as opposed to a
logical-speculative method, as it were. The movement of shapes of consciousness which the Phenom-
enology calls the self-fulfilling scepticism – the adequation of certainty and truth, consciousness’ pro-
gressive realization of truth – is run through by a logical method which Hegel’s later philosophy
construes as the dialectic of logical determinations. The introduction of the question of method in
the Phenomenology reads as follows: ‘the method of this movement, i.e., … of science … and its
proper exposition belongs to Logic, or rather it is Logic. For the method is nothing but the structure
of the whole set forth in its pure essentiality’ (W 3, p. 47, PhS, p. 28).

determination of the concept. A gap, a difference between each thought-deter-

mination and its capacity of accounting for itself ensures that this movement
develops. It is the content that moves and progresses; it is not the method
that reflects upon an external object. Determinate negation is not a functional
operator introduced by an external examiner. It is one side of each thought,
the side that generates a new form out of the discrepancy between the intended
and the true.
At the end of the first Critique method and elements are distinct; at the end
of the Science of Logic method and science coincide. They coincide because of
dialectic. But in Hegel we no longer have, as in Kant, a dialectic. Hegel intro-
duces the substantivization of an adjective and speaks of das wahrhaft Dialek-
tische (WL 1, 51, SL 55) as one element or moment of every concept. In other
words, the Dialectic is no longer one section opposed to the Analytic as the
logic of illusion is opposed to the logic of truth. The dialectic is no longer
simply the seat of antinomies and paralogisms and ideal, i.e. the inability on
the part of reason proper to know its objects; for Hegel it constitutes the
second moment of development of each concept, the negative side of deter-
minacy. Hegel writes in the Logic: ‘the dialectical moment as we take it here,
i.e., in conceiving the opposite in its unity or the positive in the negative, is
nothing but the speculative’ (WL 1, 52, SL 56). The consequence is that it is
not only transcendental ideas that are dialectical, or reason insofar as it
does not pay attention to the limits of its use: every concept has a nega-
tive-dialectical and determinate moment (WL 1, 217–18, SL 191, ENZ § 81).
I think we must conclude that the dialectical moment is the soul of the
scientific progress. A necessary mutual relation links method and dialectic,
while nothing of the sort holds for Kant.13

5. Conclusion
We have started from the unsuspectedly broad common ground Hegel and Kant
share with regard to method. They both identify one fundamental sense of scien-
tific method for reason and take all other senses as derivative. For both, method is
the design and plan of the whole, the scientific form that guides the organization
of cognitions. For both, the relation between understanding and reason is the
main point at stake. I have emphasized how this conception sets them partly
against modern philosophy as to the role and definition of method, especially
mathematical method in the particular sciences.
Upon further examination, however, it turns out that what modern math-
ematical method exactly amounts to is less clear than Hegel’s generalization
and dismissive tones would seem to imply. A brief discussion of Descartes’
Rules shows that method is not about a manner of exposition of contents
For a fuller treatment of Kant and Hegel on reason and science, see Ferrarin, Thinking and the I, Chap. 5.

assumed from without and from the outset, but is constitutive of its objects;
and Kant takes this understanding of method more seriously than does Hegel.
The different relation between philosophy and mathematics as well as that
between analysis and synthesis draw the demarcating line between Kant
and Hegel. From this vantage point, the reason for their striking divergences
appears finally intelligible. For Kant method is the systematic form of reason’s
cognitions because method, including the lesson we can draw from the cog-
nitive model of mathematics, is central for reason’s self-examination. For
Hegel method is the form of reason’s self-cognition because it is in itself dia-
lectical and its object is the life and inner movement of the concept as
opposed to the mathematical investigation of dead abstract quantity
through the external application of the understanding. Method and science
coincide in Hegel because they are at heart equally dialectical.


Primary sources and abbreviations

AT = Oeuvres de Descartes, edited by C. Adam and P. Tannery, 11 volumes, rev. edition
Paris 1996.
Ak = Akademie-Ausgabe (Kants gesammelte Schriften, ed. Preussischen Akademie der
Wissenschaften zu Berlin, Berlin, 1910 ff.).
KrV = Kritik der reinen Vernunft (A: 1781 / B: 1787).
Refl = Reflexionen (Ak 14–19).
Critique of Pure Reason, ed. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1998.
HEGEL, G. W. F.:
W = G. W. F. Hegel, Werke in zwanzig Bänden, Red. E. Moldenhauer and K. M. Michel,
Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 1969–71 (followed by the volume and page numbers).
ENZ = Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften (W 8–10), followed by §
(number of section), A (Remark, Anmerkung), Z (oral addition, Zusatz).
PhS (= W 3) = Phänomenologie des Geistes; Phenomenology of Spirit, translated by
A. V. Miller, with analysis and Foreword by J. N. Findlay, Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1977.
WL 1 and 2 = Wissenschaft der Logik (= W 5 and 6).
SL = Hegel’s Science of Logic, translated by A. V. Miller, with Foreword by J. N. Findlay,
London and New York: Prometheus Books, 1969.

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Di Riccio, A. I modi del conoscere. Pisa: ETS, 2018.
Engfer, H.-J. Philosophie als Analysis. Studien zur Entwicklung philosophiscer
Analysiskonzeptionen unter dem Einfluß mathematischer Methodenmodelle im 17.
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