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Faith & Knowledge

From: G.W.F.Hegel. Faith & Knowledge, translated by H S Harris, Albany 1977.

First published as Glauben und Wissen, 1802

Civilization has raised this latest era so far above the ancient antithesis of Reason
and faith, of philosophy and positive religion that this opposition of faith and
knowledge has acquired quite a different sense and has now been transferred into
the field of philosophy itself. In earlier times philosophy was said to be the
handmaid of faith. Ideas and expressions of this sort have vanished and
philosophy has irresistibly affirmed its absolute autonomy. Reason, if it is in fact
Reason that appropriates this name, has made itself into such an authority within
positive religion that a philosophical struggle against the positive, against
miracles and suchlike, is now regarded as obsolete and unenlightened. Kant tried
to put new life into the positive form of religion with a meaning derived from his
philosophy, but his attempt was received poorly, not because it would have
changed the meaning peculiar to these forms, but because they no longer
appeared to be worth the bother. The question arises, however, whether
victorious Reason has not suffered the same fate that the barbarous nations in
their victorious strength have usually suffered at the hands of civilized nations
that weakly succumbed to them. As rulers the barbarians may have held the upper
hand outwardly, but they surrendered to the defeated spiritually. Enlightened
Reason won a glorious victory over what it believed, in its limited conception of
religion, to be faith as opposed to Reason. Yet seen in a clear light the victory
comes to no more than this: the positive element with which Reason busied itself
to do battle, is no longer religion, and victorious Reason is no longer Reason. The
new born peace that hovers triumphantly over the corpse of Reason and faith,
uniting them as the child of both, has as little of Reason in it as it has of authentic

Reason had already gone to seed in and for itself when it envisaged religion
merely as something positive and not idealistically. And after its battle with
religion the best that Reason could manage was to take a look at itself and come
to self-awareness. Reason, having in this way become mere intellect,
acknowledges its own nothingness by placing that which is better than it in a faith
outside and above itself, as a beyond [to be believed in]. This is what has
happened in the philosophies of Kant, Jacobi, and Fichte. Philosophy has made
itself the handmaid of a faith once more.

According to Kant, the supersensuous is incapable of being known by Reason;

the highest Idea does not at the same time have reality. According to Jacobi,
“Reason is ashamed to beg and has no hands and feet for digging.” Only the
feeling and consciousness of his ignorance of the True is given to man, only an
inkling, a divination of the True in Reason, Reason being something subjective,
though universal – an instinct. According to Fichte, God is something
incomprehensible and unthinkable. Knowledge knows nothing save that it knows
nothing; it must take refuge in faith. All of them agree that, as the old distinction
put it, the Absolute is no more against Reason than it is for it; it is beyond Reason.

The Enlightenment, in its positive aspect, was a hubbub of vanity without a firm
core. It obtained a core in its negative procedure by grasping its own negativity.
Through the purity and infinity of the negative it freed itself from its insipidity
but precisely for this reason it could admit positive knowledge only of the finite
and empirical. The eternal remained in a realm beyond, a beyond too vacuous for
cognition so that this infinite void of knowledge could only be filled with the
subjectivity of longing and divining. Thus what used to be regarded as the death
of philosophy, that Reason should renounce its existence in the Absolute,
excluding itself totally from it and relating itself to it only negatively, became
now the zenith of philosophy. By coming to consciousness of its own
nothingness, the Enlightenment turns this nothingness into a system.

In general, imperfect philosophies immediately pertain to [i.e., arise from] an

empirical necessity just because they are imperfect. So it is through and in this
empirical necessity that their imperfect aspect is to be comprehended. The
empirical is what is there in the world as ordinary existence (Wirklichkeit). In
empirical philosophies it is present in conceptual form, as one with
consciousness, and therefore justified. [But] on the one hand, the subjective
principle shared by the philosophies of Kant, Jacobi and Fichte [does not pertain
to empirical necessity because it] is by no means a restricted expression of the
spirit of a brief epoch or a small group. [And] on the other hand, [these
philosophies taken together are not empirical or imperfect because] the mighty
spiritual form that is their principle achieved in them perfect self-consciousness,
perfect philosophical formation and definitive self-expression as cognition.

The great form of the world spirit that has come to cognizance of itself in these
philosophies, is the principle of the North, and from the religious point of view,
of Protestantism. This principle is subjectivity for which beauty and truth present
themselves in feelings and persuasions, in love and intellect. Religion builds its
temples and altars in the heart of the individual. In sighs and prayers he seeks for
the God whom he denies to himself in intuition, because of the risk that the
intellect will cognize what is intuited as a mere thing, reducing the sacred grove
to mere timber. Of course, the inner must be externalized; intention must become
effective in action; immediate religious sentiment must be expressed in external
gesture; and faith, though it flees from the objectivity of cognition, must become
objective to itself in thoughts, concepts, and words. But the intellect,
scrupulously distinguishes the objective from the subjective, and the objective is
what is accounted worthless and null. The struggle of subjective beauty must be
directed precisely to this end: to defend itself properly against the necessity
through which the subjective becomes objective. That beauty should become real
in objective form, and fall captive to objectivity, that consciousness should seek
to be directed at exposition and objectivity themselves, that it should want to
shape appearance or, shaped in it, to be at home there – all this should cease; for
it would be a dangerous superfluity, and an evil, as the intellect could turn it into
a thing (zu einem Etwas). Equally, if the beautiful feeling passed over into an
intuition that was without grief, it would be superstition.
That it is subjective beauty which grants this might to the intellect seems at first
glance to contradict its yearning which flies beyond the finite and to which the
finite is nothing. But the grant is as much a necessary aspect [of its relation to the
intellect] as is its striving against the intellect. This will be brought out more fully
in our exposition of the philosophies of this subjectivity. It is precisely through
its flight from the finite and through its rigidity that subjectivity turns the
beautiful into things – the grove into timber, the images into things that have eyes
and do not see, ears and do not hear. And if the Ideals cannot be reduced to the
block and stones of a wholly explicable (verständig) reality, they are made into
fictions. Any connection with the Ideals will then appear as a play without
substance, or as dependence upon objects and as superstition.

Yet alongside of this intellect which everywhere sees nothing but finitude in the
truth of being, religion has its sublime aspect as feeling (Empfindung), the love
filled with eternal longing; for it does not get hung up on any transitory sight
(Anschauung) or enjoyment, it yearns for eternal beauty and bliss. Religion, as
this longing, is subjective; but what it seeks and what is not given to it in intuition,
is the Absolute and the eternal. For if the longing were to find its object, then the
temporal beauty of a subject in his singularity would be its happiness, it would
be the perfection of a being belonging to the world; but to the extent that religion
as longing actually singularized beauty it would be nothing beautiful [as far as
the longing itself is concerned]. But [what the longing does not recognize is that]
when empirical existence is the pure body of inward beauty, it ceases to be
something temporal and on its own. The intention abides unpolluted by its
objective existence as an action; and neither the deed nor the enjoyment will be
built up by the intellect into something that is opposed to the true identity of the
inner and the outer. The highest cognition would be the cognition of what that
body is wherein the individual would not be single [and separate], and wherein
longing reaches perfect vision and blissful enjoyment.

When the time had come, the infinite longing that yearns beyond body and world,
reconciled itself with existence. But the reality with which it became reconciled,
the objective sphere acknowledged by subjectivity, was in fact merely empirical
existence, the ordinary world and ordinary matters of fact (Wirklichkeit). Hence,
this reconciliation did not itself lose the character of absolute opposition implicit
in beautiful longing. Rather, it flung itself upon the other pole of the antithesis,
the empirical world. Although the reconciliation was sure of itself and firm in its
inner ground because of the absolute and blind natural necessity [of empirical
existence] it was still in need of an objective form for this [inner] ground. Being
immersed in the reality of empirical existence this reconciliation has an
unconscious certainty which must, by the same necessity of nature, seek to secure
justification and a good conscience. At the conscious level it was the doctrine of
happiness that brought about this reconciliation. The fixed point of departure here
is the empirical subject, just as what it becomes reconciled with is ordinary life
(Wirklichkeit): the empirical subject is allowed to confide in ordinary life and
surrender to it without sin. The utter crudity and vulgarity that are at the bottom
of this doctrine of eudaemonism are redeemed only by its striving toward
justification and good conscience. But Reason cannot achieve this justification
and good conscience through the Idea, since the empirical is [here] absolute. Only
the objectivity of the intellect can attain the concept, which has presented itself
in its most highly abstract form as so-called pure Reason.

So the dogmatism of the Enlightenment flurry and of eudaemonism did not

consist in declaring virtuous happiness and enjoyment to be the highest good; for
when happiness is conceived as Idea, it ceases to be something empirical and
contingent, and it ceases to be something sensuous. In the highest being (Dasein)
rational action and highest enjoyment are one. Only if we isolate the ideal aspect
of the highest being, can we then call it rational action. And only if we isolate the
real aspect can we call it enjoyment and feeling. It does not matter whether we
wish to apprehend the highest being from the side of its ideality or from the side
of its reality; [for] if highest bliss is highest Idea, then rational action and highest
enjoyment, ideality and reality, are equally contained in it and are identical. Every
philosophy sets forth nothing else but the construction of highest bliss as Idea. In
Reason’s cognition of the highest enjoyment, the possibility of distinguishing
them [rational action and enjoyment] vanishes immediately; concept and infinity
which dominate action, and reality and finitude which dominate enjoyment are
absorbed into one another. Polemics against happiness will be dismissed as
empty chatter when this happiness is recognized to be the blissful enjoyment of
eternal intuition. But of course what is nowadays called eudaemonism refers to a
happiness that is empirical, a sensual enjoyment, not the bliss of eternal vision.

Infinity or the concept is so directly opposed to this absoluteness of the empirical

and finite being (Wesen) that they condition one another and they are one with
each other. Since the one is absolute in its being-for-itself, so is the other; and the
third, which is the true first, the eternal, is beyond this antithesis. The infinite, the
concept, being in itself empty, the nothing, receives its content from what it is
connected with as its opposite, that is, the empirical happiness of the individual.
What is called wisdom and science consists in positing everything under the unity
of the concept whose content is absolute singularity, and in calculating [the worth
of] each and every form of beauty and expression of an Idea, wisdom and virtue,
art and science from this point of view. That is to say, all this has to be treated as
something that does not exist in itself, for the only thing that is in itself is the
abstract concept of something that is not Idea but absolute singularity.

The fixed principle of this system of culture is that the finite is in and for itself,
that it is absolute, and is the sole reality. According to this principle, the finite
and singular stands on one side, in the form of manifoldness; and anything
religious, ethical and beautiful is thrown onto this side because it can be
conceived as singular by the intellect. On the other side there is this very same
absolute finitude but in the form of the infinite as concept of happiness. The
infinite and the finite are here not to be posited as identical in the Idea; for each
of them is for itself absolute. So they stand opposed to each other in the
connection of domination; for in the absolute antithesis of infinite and finite the
concept is what does the determining. However, above this absolute antithesis
and above the relative identities of domination and empirical conceivability,
there is the eternal. Because the antithesis [between the infinite and the finite] is
absolute, the sphere of the eternal is the incalculable, the inconceivable, the
empty – an incognizable God beyond the boundary stakes of Reason. It is a
sphere that is nothing for intuition since intuition is only allowed to be sensuous
and limited. Equally, it is nothing for enjoyment since only empirical happiness
exists, and nothing for cognition since what is here called Reason consists solely
in calculating the worth of each and every thing with respect to the singularity,
and in positing [i.e., subsuming] every Idea under finitude.

This is the basic character of eudaemonism and the Enlightenment. The beautiful
subjectivity of Protestantism is transformed into empirical subjectivity; the
poetry of Protestant grief that scorns all reconciliation with empirical existence
is transformed into the prose of satisfaction with the finite and of good conscience
about it. What is the relation of this basic character to the philosophies of Kant,
Jacobi and Fichte? So little do these philosophies step out of this basic character
that, on the contrary, they have merely perfected it to the highest degree. Their
conscious direction is flatly opposed to the principle of eudaemonism. However,
because they are nothing but this direction, their positive character is just this
principle itself; so that the way these philosophies modify eudaemonism merely
gives it a perfection of formation, which has no importance in principle, no
significance for Reason and philosophy. The absoluteness of the finite and of
empirical reality is still maintained in these philosophies. The infinite and the
finite remain absolutely opposed. Ideality (das Idealische) is conceived only as
the concept. And in particular, when this concept is posited affirmatively, the
only identity of the finite and infinite that remains possible is a relative identity,
the domination of the concept over what appears as the real and the finite,
everything beautiful and ethical being here included. And on the other hand,
when the concept is posited negatively, the subjectivity of the individual is
present in empirical form, and the domination is not that of the intellect but is a
matter of the natural strength and weakness of the subjectivities opposed to one
another. Above this absolute finitude and absolute infinity there remains the
Absolute as an emptiness of Reason, a fixed realm of the incomprehensible, of a
faith which is in itself non-rational (vernunftlos), but which is called rational
because the Reason that is restricted to its absolute opposite recognizes
something higher above itself from which it is self-excluded.

In the form of eudaemonism the principle of an absolute finitude has not yet
achieved perfect abstraction. For on the side of infinity, the concept is not posited
in purity; because it is filled with content it stays fixed as happiness. Because the
concept is not pure, it has positive equality with its opposite; for its content is
precisely the same reality, which is manifoldness on the other side [the side of
finitude] – but on the side of infinity it is posited in conceptual form.

Hence, there is no reflection on the opposition, which is to say that the opposition
is not objective: the empirical is not posited as negativity for the concept nor the
concept as negativity for the empirical nor the concept as that which is in itself
negative. When abstraction achieves perfection, there is reflection on this
opposition, the ideal opposition becomes objective, and each of the opposites is
posited as something which is not what the other is. Unity and the manifold now
confront one another as abstractions, with the result that the opposites have both
positive and negative aspects for one another: the empirical is both an absolute
something and absolute nothing for the concept. In the former perspective the
opposites are the preceding empiricism ; in the latter they are at the same time
idealism and scepticism. The former is called practical philosophy, the latter
theoretical philosophy. In practical philosophy, the empirical has absolute reality
for the concept, that is, it has absolute reality in and for itself; in theoretical
philosophy knowledge of the empirical is nothing.

The fundamental principle common to the philosophies of Kant, Jacobi and

Fichte is, then, the absoluteness of finitude and, resulting from it, the absolute
antithesis of finitude and infinity, reality and ideality, the sensuous and the
supersensuous, and the beyondness of what is truly real and absolute. Within this
common ground, however, these philosophies form antitheses among
themselves, exhausting the totality of possible forms of this principle. The
Kantian philosophy establishes the objective side of this whole [subjective]
sphere: the absolute concept, existing strictly for itself as practical Reason, is the
highest objectivity within the finite realm, and it is absolute as ideality postulated
in and for itself. Jacobi’s philosophy is the subjective side. It transposes the
antithesis and the identity, postulated as absolute, into the subjectivity of feeling,
into infinite longing, and incurable grief. The philosophy of Fichte is the
synthesis of both. It demands the form of objectivity and of basic principles as in
Kant, but it posits at the same time the conflict of this pure objectivity with the
subjectivity as a longing and a subjective identity. In Kant the infinite concept is
posited as that which is in and for itself and as the only thing philosophy
acknowledges. In Jacobi, the infinite appears as affected by subjectivity, that is,
as instinct, impulse, individuality. In Fichte, the infinite as affected by
subjectivity is itself objectified again, as obligation and striving.

So these philosophers are as completely confined within eudaemonism as they

are diametrically opposed to it. It is their exclusive, their only articulate tendency,
their programmatic principle, to rise above the subjective and empirical and to
justify the absoluteness of Reason, its independence from common existence
(Wirklichkeit). But since this Reason is simply and solely directed against the
empirical, the infinite has a being of its own only in its tie with the finite. Thus,
although these philosophies do battle with the empirical, they have remained
directly within its sphere. The Kantian and Fichtean philosophies were able to
raise themselves to the concept certainly, but not to the Idea, and the pure concept
is absolute ideality and emptiness. It gets its content and dimensions quite
exclusively in, and hence through, its connection with the empirical. In this way
their pure concept is the ground of that very same absolute moral and
philosophical (wissenschaftlich) empiricism for which they reproach
eudaemonism. Jacobi’s philosophy does not take this detour. It does not first
sunder the concept from empirical reality and then let the concept get its content
from this very same empirical reality because outside of it there is nothing for the
concept but its nullification. Instead, since the principle of his philosophy is
straightforward subjectivity, Jacobi’s philosophy is straightforward
eudaemonism, except that it is tinged with negativity. For whereas to
eudaemonism thought is not yet the ideal realm, the negative of reality, Jacobi’s
philosophy does reflect on thought and holds it to be nothing in itself.

The philosophy of Locke and the doctrine of happiness were the earlier
philosophical manifestations (Erscheinungen) of this realism of finitude (to
which the non-philosophical manifestations, all the hustle and bustle of
contemporary civilization, still belong). Locke and the eudaemonists transformed
philosophy into empirical psychology. They raised the standpoint of the subject,
the standpoint of absolutely existing finitude, to the first and highest place. They
asked and answered the question of what the universe is for a subjectivity that
feels and is conscious by way of calculations typical of the intellect, or in other
words, for a Reason solely immersed in finitude, a Reason that renounces
intuition and cognition of the eternal. The philosophies of Kant, Jacobi, and
Fichte are the completion and idealization of this empirical psychology; they
consist in coming to understand that the infinite concept is strictly opposed to the
empirical. They understood the sphere of this antithesis, a finite and an infinite,
to be absolute: but [they did not see that] if infinity is thus set up against finitude,
each is as finite as the other. They understood the eternal to be above this [sphere
of] opposition, beyond the concept and the empirical; but they understood the
cognitive faculty and Reason simply to be that sphere. Now a Reason that thinks
only the finite will naturally be found to be able to think only the finite; and
Reason as impulse and instinct will naturally be found not to be able to think the

The idealism of which these philosophies are capable is an idealism of the finite;
not in the sense that the finite is nothing in them, but in the sense that the finite
is received into ideal form: they posit finite ideality, i.e., the pure concept, as
infinity absolutely opposed to finitude, together with the finite that is real and
they posit both equally absolutely. (In its subjective dimension, that is, in Jacobi’s
philosophy, this idealism can only have the form of scepticism, and not even of
true scepticism, because Jacobi turns pure thinking into something merely
subjective, whereas idealism consists in the assertion that pure thinking is
objective thinking.)

The one self-certifying certainty (das an sich und einzig Gewisse), then, is that
there exists a thinking subject, a Reason affected with finitude; and the whole of
philosophy consists in determining the universe with respect to this finite Reason.
Kant’s so-called critique of the cognitive faculties, Fichte’s [doctrine that]
consciousness cannot be transcended nor become transcendent, Jacobi’s refusal
to undertake anything impossible for Reason, all amount to nothing but the
absolute restriction of Reason to the form of finitude, [an injunction] never to
forget the absoluteness of the subject in every rational cognition; they make
limitedness into an eternal law and an eternal being both in itself and for
philosophy. So these philosophies have to be recognized as nothing but the
culture (Kultur) of reflection raised to a system. This is a culture of ordinary
human intellect which does, to be sure, rise to the thinking of a universal; but
because it remains ordinary intellect it takes the infinite concept to be absolute
thought and keeps what remains of its intuition of the eternal strictly isolated
from the infinite concept. It does so either by renouncing that intuition altogether
and sticking to concept and experience, or by keeping both [intuition and
concept] although unable to unite them – for it can neither take up its intuition
into the concept, nor yet nullify both concept and experience [in intuition]. The
torment of a nobler nature subjected to this limitation, this absolute opposition,
expresses itself in yearning and striving; and the consciousness that it is a barrier
which cannot be crossed expresses itself as faith in a realm beyond the barrier.
But because of its perennial incapacity this faith is simultaneously the
impossibility of rising above the barrier into the realm of Reason, the realm which
is intrinsically clear and free of longing.

The fixed standpoint which the all-powerful culture of our time has established
for philosophy is that of a Reason affected by sensibility. In this situation
philosophy cannot aim at the cognition of God, but only at what is called the
cognition of man. This so-called man and his humanity conceived as a rigidly,
insuperably finite sort of Reason form philosophy’s absolute standpoint. Man is
not a glowing spark of eternal beauty, or a spiritual focus of the universe, but an
absolute sensibility. He does, however, have the faculty of faith so that he can
touch himself up here and there with a spot of alien supersensuousness. It is as if
art, considered simply as portraiture, were to express its ideal aspect (ihr
Idealisches) through the longing it depicts on an ordinary face and the
melancholy smile of the mouth, while it was strictly forbidden to represent the
gods in their exaltation above longing and sorrow, on the grounds that the
presentation of eternal images would only be possible at the expense of humanity.
Similarly philosophy is not supposed to present the Idea of man, but the abstract
concept of an empirical mankind all tangled up in limitations, and to stay
immovably impaled on the stake of the absolute antithesis; and when it gets clear
about its restriction to the sensuous – either analyzing its own abstraction or
entirely abandoning it in the fashion of the sentimental bel esprit-philosophy is
supposed to prettify itself with the surface colour of the supersensuous by
pointing, in faith to something higher.

Truth, however, cannot be deceived by this sort of hallowing of a finitude that

remains what it was. A true hallowing should nullify the finite. If an artist cannot
give true truth to what actually exists by casting an ethereal light upon it, and
taking it wholly up therein; if he is only able to represent actuality in and for itself
– which is what is commonly called reality and truth, though it is neither the one
nor the other – then he will take refuge in feeling, in yearning and sentimentality
as his remedy against actuality, spreading tears on the cheeks of the vulgar and
bringing an “Oh Lord” to their lips. Thus his figures will indeed look away
beyond the actual situation toward heaven, but they will do so like bats that are
neither bird nor beast, and belong neither to earth nor to sky. There cannot be
beauty of this sort without ugliness, nor a moral ethos of this kind without
weakness and perfidy, nor such intellect as here occurs without platitude; good
fortune cannot come to pass without meanness, nor ill fortune without fear and
cowardice, nor any kind of fortune, without being contemptible. In the same way,
when philosophy after its own fashion, takes up the finite and subjectivity as
absolute truth in the form of the concept, it cannot purify them [i.e., the finite and
subjectivity] by connecting subjectivity with an infinite [the concept]. For this
infinite is itself not the truth since it is unable to consume and consummate
finitude (die Endlichkeit aufzuzehren).

In philosophy, however, the actual and the temporal as such disappear. This is
called cruel dissection destructive of the wholeness of man, or violent abstraction
that has no truth, and particularly no practical truth. This abstraction is conceived
of as the painful cutting off of an essential part from the completeness of the
whole. But the temporal and empirical, and privation, are thus recognized as an
essential part and an absolute In-itself. It is as if someone who sees only the feet
of a work of art were to complain, when the whole work is revealed to his sight,
that he was being deprived of his deprivation and that the incomplete had been
in-completed. Finite cognition is this sort of cognition of a part and a singular. If
the absolute were put together out of the finite and the infinite, abstracting from
the finite would indeed be a loss. In the Idea, however, finite and infinite are one,
and hence finitude as such, i.e., as something that was supposed to have truth and
reality in and for itself, has vanished. Yet what was negated was only the negative
in finitude; and thus the true affirmation was posited.

The supreme abstraction (Abstractum) of this absolutized negation is the Ego-

concept, just as the thing is the highest abstraction (Abstraction) pertaining to
position [i.e., to affirmation]. Each of them is only a negation of the other. Pure
being like pure thinking – an absolute thing and absolute Ego-concept – are
equally finitude made absolute. Eudaemonism and the Enlightenment fuss belong
to this same level – not to mention much else – and so do the philosophies of
Kant, Jacobi, and Fichte. We shall now proceed to a more detailed confrontation
of these three philosophers with one another.