Aristotle said that naming things is the beginning of our knowledge of things. For we cannot
talk about them until we name them. At that point in our search for knowledge the origin of
things is irrelevant. We simply name them because we find them in the world around us. Once
we have converted a thing to a name we can apply his categories to the thing we have named. In
this way we develop a list of attributes that we associate with the thing we have named.
However, the knowledge we have thus acquired is not of the thing itself, it is just the list of
attributes that we have applied to it. These attributes do not belong to it, they are universal, they
can be applied to any thing, and not just what we have named. Since the attributes we apply to
things are things that we name, we must find them too in the world around us. But naming is an
activity of reasoning man. Therefore names are ambiguous until we as reasoning humans have
given them definite meanings. These universal attributes, like the things we apply them to, are
real. We can know them because though, like the things themselves, they are found not created,
they are recognized by intuition and not by the senses. In Aristotelian thought intuition served
the same role as recollection did for Plato, it was the connection between mind and knowledge.
In John Locke's theory of knowledge things create ideas in the mind and names are applied not
to the things but to the ideas. Because intuition in an Aristotelian sense, Aristotelian categories,
and Platonic forms are a priori, prior to experience, they were rejected by Locke as innate. This
led to the Humean problem that there is no connection at all between experience and knowledge.
Kant, by making his categories prior to experience, re-instituted a connection between
experience and knowledge. But it is a tenuous connection which led him to the conclusion that
we can not really know about things as they are. What we can know is only things as we
experience them to be. This was the state of philosophical concepts of knowledge as they stood
when Hegel began to philosophize.
Kant's categories are the tools we apply to experience in order to make sense out of the world
around us. But Hegel pointed out that they are applied only to appearances. He expanded Kant's
categories, but utilized them much the same. The categories, universals if you will, are real.
They are the source of our knowledge of the world. But things are not real. They are merely
appearances because we cannot know them. They have particularity because they are individual.
They have existence, their being does not depend on their being known. But they are not real,
they are only appearances. This is important for our discussion of political philosophy because it
underlies some powerful currents of thought occurring in Europe in the eighteenth, nineteenth,
and even the twentieth centuries.
The problem that Hegel saw in the thinking of his predecessors was their reliance on coming to
be of things through causation. If we are searching for the first cause of the world, then we are
searching for a thing. Only things can cause things. This brings us to the idea of God as the
creator and first mover of the universe. But this makes God a thing. Even if he is considered a
self-created thing, and the cause of the universe itself, he is still only a thing and a cause. Things
are mere appearances. If God is to be real, and Hegel professed to be a staunch Lutheran, then
he must be a universal, and not a thing. And if things are appearances and therefore not real,
then to talk about them as having been caused is an absurdity. We can avoid such a reliance on
the reality of things and causation by seeing that every thing exists for a reason rather than a
cause. If that is true then the first mover of the universe must be reason. Not a reason, but
reason itself. This Hegelian study of Aristotle's first mover is not accurate. Aristotle's God was
an abstraction. His first mover was not God but the love of God. But love as seen by the Greeks
was both a power and the source of all reason and thus still very much in line with Hegel's
thought. Therefore the world is the consummation of reason. If you have been following the
evolution of western thought closely you should recognize The Liebnizian undercurrent in this
idea. What Leibniz said was that God made his decision regarding the development of the
universe through the principle of "sufficient reason." Hegel called his philosophy a "universal
philosophy" because he fully admitted the influence past philosophers had on his thought. His
aim was to unify all philosophy into a complete system.
The concept of cause was introduced into philosophy by Aristotle and the most important of his
four causes was the final cause, or the purpose for which the thing was created. But if we shift
the focus from causation to reason, and at the same time shift our emphasis from Aristotelian
final causes to Galilean efficient causes, then it becomes clear that reasons do not refer to things,
they refer to events. It is possible to view the Neo-Platonism concept of the absolute which is the
prime cause of the existence of the universe as equivalent to the abstract portion of the Christian
God. The shift from absolute causation in the Neo-Platonic sense to absolute reason in the
Hegelian sense would then provide a very different view of the abstract portion of the Christian
God's existence. God seen in this way is pure rationality, pure reason. And history is the
unfolding of that reason. This makes the world as it is the present condition of the unfolding of
God's reason. And, like Leibniz before him, the best of all possible worlds.
Hegel would not speculate on the future direction of the world, but Marx did. And, Hegel was not interested in developing theories concerning what
ought to be. He was concerned with understanding what is, and for that he is only equiped
to deal with the world in which he lives.
To understand that which exists is the task of philosophy for what exists is reason. As to
the individual, everyone is the son of his time, and therefore philosophy is its time
comprehended in thought. It is as silly to imagine that any philosophy could transcend its
own time as that an individual could jump out of his time, jump beyond Rhodes. If a
man's theory goes beyond its time, if it builds a world as it ought to be, it may exist, but
only in his opinion. . . .
Most of the philosophy behind Marxism is economic and not political, but his interpretation of
Hegel had strong political ramifications. First, What Hegel saw as the development of God's
plan for the universe, Marx interpreted in a materialistic sense. As a result much of the power of
Marxism came from the assumption that Communism was the ultimate fate of the world so that
Marxists were simply trying to bring about the inevitable. However, as Hegel would see it,
Marx, by stepping out of his own time, was trying to redefine the world in his own terms,
defining the world as it "ought to be," which can only be an opinion.
To say one more word about preaching what the world ought to be like, philosophy
arrives always too late for that. As thought of the world it appears at a time when
actuality has completed its developmental process and is finished. What the conception
teaches, history also shows as necessary, namely, that only in a maturing actuality the
ideal appears and confronts the real. It is then that the ideal rebuilds for itself this same
world in the shape of an intellectual realm, comprehending this world in its substance.
When philosophy paints its gray in gray, a form of life has become old, and this gray in
gray cannot rejuvenate it, only understand it. The owl of Minerva begins its flight when
dusk is falling.
The undercurrent of optimism about the world permeates much of eighteenth and nineteenth
century thought. As long as we see the world as the unfolding of a divine plan then we must
infer that what has gone on before was necessary and that the present is the highest point in
human evolution. It was more evident in the nineteenth century when Marx was writing than it
was in the eighteenth. Thus, this step beyond Hegel that Marx and others took was very much in
line with the culture of their day. This led Europe to Modernism, or the idea that the west
represents the future of the world and that non-western cultures must be "helped along" in their
movement toward what the west has already accomplished. In America it brought about an
attitude called "Manifest Destiny," or the idea that it was God's plan that the white man should
occupy all the land of America from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and drive out the Indian
As you can see, even in the midst of the European rejection of reason, the assumption of a
rational world is a necessary factor in their discussions. It is not rationality that is the culprit in
all of the trials of mankind, but his attempt to use reason to understand it. Thus even for
Emmanuel Kant there must exist a single entity above reason and above the law in order for the
world of man to remain stable, the absolute sovereign.