hegel.net - Homepage   Articles   Life   Phenomenology   System   Reception   Resources   Poster+CD   Game   Info  
Triangle   FAQ   e-Texts   Hyptertext   Links   Discuss   Sitemap   Email

The knowledge of the absolute truth

by Thomas Bauer nov.2005

 

A: Introduction: Quid est veritas?
a short review

"Quid est veritas?" It was not a philosopher who asked this important question. Pontius Pilatus, a roman prefect inquired one of the most important questions in philosophy. From the gospel of St. John, we can see that he was not really interested in the answer. But before and after him philosophers attempted to find an answer. For Plato, a sentence is true if it says from whom it exists, that it exists. After Aristotle something becomes true not because we are thinking about it, we are thinking about it because it is true. For Augustine truth is, "quod ita est, ut videtur"(De vera relig. 36). The truth is eternal, timeless, non versatile and absolute. In the Scholastic, philosophers defined the truth as: adaequatio rerum et intellectuum. In the summa contra gentiles (I, 59.), Thomas Aquinas tells us : "Veritas intellectus est adaequatio intellectus et rei, secundum quod intellectus dicit esse quod est, vel non esse quod non est." For Descartes, the eternal truths of the mathematicians are given us by God, the truths are timeless and absolute but they can not exist outside our thoughts: "Aeternas veritates - nullam existentiam extra cogitationem nostram habentes" (Pr.ph. I, 48). Leibnitz tells us that the truth exists out of correspondence between the propositions with the things. The truth for Kant is a correspondence among the thoughts which correspond with the regulars of the mind. The eternal truth is turned into an a priority judgment. Now, we can not talk anymore of adaequatio rerum et intellectum, because the thing in itself can not be perceived anymore. Kant drew out the limits of our mind and because of this we can not have a knowledge of the absolute truth. Goethe now gives us a relative point of view: everyone can have his own truth: "Kenne ich mein Verhältnis zu mir selbst und zur Außenwelt, so heiße ich's Wahrheit. Und so kann jeder seine eigene Wahrheit haben, und es ist doch immer dieselbige"( WW. XIX, 53). Since Kant, the knowledge of the absolute truth is not available anymore, but there is a well known Philosopher, who wants to teach us that we can have a knowledge of the absolute truth. For Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, to seek the truth, to come to a knowledge of the absolute truth is the duty of a philosopher. In his first lecture at the University of Berlin, Hegel laments: "So ist das, was von jeher für das Schmählichste und Unwürdigste gegolten hat, der Erkenntnis der Wahrheit entsagen, vor unsern Zeiten zum höchsten Triumphe des Geistes erhoben worden."

In this essay, I will try to show why Hegel believes that we can have knowledge of the absolute truth.

B: The knowledge of the absolute truth

 

I. What does "absolute knowledge" mean?

"… das absolute Wissen; es ist der sich in Geistsgestalt wissende Geist oder das be-

greifende Wissen." Hegel says that absolute knowledge is apprehended (begreifende) knowledge. What kind of knowledge are we talking about? Knowledge in the phenomenology is not a theoretical one, "das absolute Wissen, das Hegel in Anspruch nimmt, [ist] nicht gleichzusetzen mit dem gewöhnlich gemeinten theoretischen Wissen." Absolute knowledge is about the speculation of reason; it is a speculative knowledge of things. The difference between a theoretical knowledge or theoretical truth and a speculative one is that in the first one there is a known result expressed in an statement. The second one has a philosophical truth, it is conceived thinking, expressed in a speculative sentence which should express the essence (when Hegel speaks about the essence [Wesen] then it is not identical with the substance or the medieval essentia. The Wesen is the basis of all existence/being: it stays always the same, stabile during all time variation.) and destroys the difference between the subject and predicate.

"Formell kann das Gesagte so ausgedrückt werden, daß die Natur des Urteils oder Satzes überhaupt, die den Unterschied des Subjekts und Prädikats in sich schließt, durch den spekulativen Satz zerstört wird und der identische Satz, zu dem der erstere wird, den Gegenstoß zu jenem Verhältnisse enthält."

What meaning does the word absolute have? Absolute comes from the Latin absolvere and means to detach. If something is absolute, then, it is detached, it is perfect it is unconditional; it is not-related to anything else. It is important to see here that the term relative only has a quantitative meaning. But as Heidegger says, for Hegel the terms of absolute and relative related to knowledge have a qualitative character. We have to see the terms relative and absolute in the light of the "WIE", (the how) in the manner of knowledge. Martin Heidegger gives us an explanation: When we are thinking about all beings, everything which exists and all this as a creation of a supernatural being, then this knowledge knows everything, it does not have a lack but it is related to this supernatural being. Thus this omniscience is only known relatively which for Hegel is awareness. "Dieses relative Wissen – das in seinem Gewußten befangene und gefangene Wissen – nennt Hegel ‘das Bewußtsein’."

Is not every knowledge related to something else? Is it possible to have another opportunity of qualitative knowledge? When we have this it means that this knowledge must be itself detached from its self known but still known as knowledge, and therefore it is not related anymore, it is absolute. "Das Sichloslösen aus und von dem Gewußten weg ist kein Verlassen des Gewußten, keine ’Verlassung’, sondern ’erhaltende Aufhebung’, ein wissendes Sichlösen; das heißt: das Gewußte wird noch gewußt, aber so, daß es jetzt in seiner Gewußtheit sich ändert." Awareness detaches itself from things and comes to knowledge about itself and this is self-confidence. But self-confidence is still related, related to its knowledge, it knows itself and therefore it is related to itself and the ‘I’. This self-confidence knowledge is a free relative, but not an absolute, not a totally free one. To become an absolute one the knowledge has to detach itself from self-confidence. It has to be a: "Sichwissen als der nicht gebundene Ursprung der Einheit und Zusammengehörigkeit beider, des Selbstbewußtsein und des Bewußtseins, dieses Wissen ist das rein nicht gebundene, rein losgelöste, das absolute Wissen – in der vorläufigen Benennung: die Vernunft. In seiner Absolutheit, Abgelöstheit, ist es das Wissen, das, nicht relativ wissend, gerade das relative Gewußte wissend an sich bindet, es wissend eigentlich besetzt und behält."

Thus, absolute means not related to anything and absolute must be seen as a result. Because it is developed out of awareness through self-confidence to reason. For Hegel the absolute can be found in God. The pure being, the absolute, this is God.

II. How can we know the absolute?

"Der Anfang der Bildung und des Herausarbeitens aus der Unmittelbarkeit des substantiellen Lebens wird immer damit gemacht werden müssen, Kenntnisse allgemeiner Grundsätze und Gesichtspunkte zu erwerben, sich nur erst zu dem Gedanken der Sache überhaupt heraufzuarbeiten, nicht weniger sie mit Gründen zu unterstützen oder zu widerlegen, die konkrete und reiche Fülle nach Bestimmtheiten aufzufassen und ordentlichen Bescheid und ernsthaftes Urteil über sie zu erteilen zu wissen." Before we start to acquire knowledge one must already have knowledge, knowledge of basic things. Another important thing is to come to a absolute knowledge we must already have the absolute in us. "Wir verstehen von vornherein nichts, wenn wir nicht schon von Anfang an in der Weise des absoluten Wissens wissen." But with what method do we come to the knowledge of the absolute? The way to lift the treasure of absolute knowledge is the scientific way. In the systems of science one can find the truth. "Die wahre Gestalt, in welcher die Wahrheit existiert, kann allein das wissenschaftliche System derselben sein. Daran mitzuarbeiten, daß die Philosophie der Form der Wissenschaft näherkomme - dem Ziele, ihren Namen der Liebe zum Wissen ablegen zu können und wirkliches Wissen zu sein." The system of science of philosophy brings us to knowledge. What task does this system have? In his first lecture at the University of Berlin, Hegel tells us that we must have faith and courage to the truth; we must believe that the truth can be known by us through philosophy. And we must believe that philosophy already has found the truth. This does not mean that we are not allowed to criticise. Hegel says we have to criticise but before we do this we must understand things; the things as they appear as sensitive objects. To come to knowledge we first have to pick up things. Then we can judge, criticise and after all this we have to criticise the critique and doubt the doubt. It is in human nature to have the desire to prove knowledge. One has to start to think in the right way, to think about things how they are. Hegel wants us not to think subjectively. When one thinks one has to give thoughts to the things. "Das wissenschaftliche Erkennen erfordert aber vielmehr, sich dem Leben des Gegenstandes zu übergeben oder, was dasselbe ist, die innere Notwendigkeit desselben vor sich zu haben und auszusprechen."

Not our single thoughts are important; to draw the thoughts to the things itself, to go into the process of the objects is the way to think. The thoughts have to become identical with the being because only in the identity of thought and being is the truth. (In brief it seems to be that Hegel rehabilitates the old adaequatio formula. But he does this only to re-interpret it in a new way. Professor Schnaedelbach figures this out in his first lecture at the University of Berlin: "Hegels Begriff der Wahrheit, ‚welche der absolute Gegenstand, nicht bloß das Ziel der Philosophie sein soll’, verdankt sich der wirklichkeitstheoretischen Wendung einer erkenntnistheoretischen Figur. Aus der Übereinstimmung zwischen Erkenntnis und Gegenstand wird zunächst die zwischen dem Gegenstand und unserer Erkenntnis, was genau der Kantischen Lehre entspricht, derzufolge sich die Gegenstände nach unserer Erkenntnisart zu richten haben oder der Verstand der Natur die Gesetze vorschreibt; Wahrheit findet nach Kant nur dort statt, wo das gegenständlich Gegebene die subjektiven Bedingungen der Gegenständlichkeit erfüllt. Entscheidend ist aber, daß Hegel diesen Gedanken objektiv wendet und dem ersten Anschein nach damit in vorkritische Metaphysik zurückfällt.")

If our thoughts are totally objective then thinking gets the trueness back. It is in unity with the things and through this we have knowledge of the absolute.

C: Critical discussion of Hegel’s knowledge of the absolute

"Back to Kant!" is the claim of a lot of Hegel opponents. Since Kant we think that we cannot have knowledge of the absolute, yet to know the truth it is impossible. For Kant, the "world of the absolute", the unlimited is outside of our world of experience. For us as limited beings it is not possible to reach the unlimited. But here, Hegel says if one knows his/her limits one is above his/her limits. The other thing is when the absolute, the unlimited, the infinity is infinitive why should it have its limits at our finite world? Infinite does not stop at the finite; the finite must include the infinite, too. And so through scientific ways we can come to the infinite. If the human wants to see the truth, then one has to have a look into the world, in the world. Through the world we can have knowledge of the truth. It depends on "in dem Scheine des Zeitlichen und Vorübergehenden die Substanz, die immanent, und das Ewige, das gegenwärtig ist, zu erkennen." Indeed if we separate the infinite and finite world then it is really hard to acquire knowledge about the absolute. But I do not see a reason why we should separate these "two worlds".

Another claim against Hegel is that there is not only "the one and only" truth outside. Everyone can have their own truth, things appear in different ways to us and so we can see it in different ways. For example, people in a certain place at a certain time see things in another way than we do now. Hegel does not deny this point of view; indeed he sees history as a factor to the truth. Our ancestors saw things in a different way but this does not mean that they did not have the truth. Their knowledge was the absolute knowledge for their times and their knowledge built up our knowledge. Like a growing plant our knowledge grows with history. "Die Knospe verschwindet in dem Hervorbrechen der Blüte, und man könnte sagen, daß Jene von dieser widerlegt wird; ebenso wird durch die Frucht die Blüte für ein falsches Dasein der Pflanzeerklärt, und als ihre Wahrheit tritt jene an die Stelle von dieser. Diese Formen unterscheiden sich nicht nur, sondern verdrängen sich auch als unverträglich miteinander. Aber ihre flüssige Natur macht sie zugleich zu Momenten der organischen Einheit, worin sie sich nicht nur nicht widerstreiten, sondern eins so notwendig als das andere ist, und diese gleiche Notwendigkeit macht erst das Leben des Ganzen aus."

Hegel’s "organic growing view"of the truth can be compared with Thomas Kuhn’s "Paradigmenwechsel" or with the evolutionary scientific view. "Mit dem Bemühen um das je Einzelne statt des Gesetzmäßigen, des Vorübergehenden und sich Wandelnden statt des Allgemeinen rückt die Gschichtlichkeit alles irdischen in das Zentrum der Aufmerksamkeit."

Despite the similarity between the evolutionary scientific view and Hegel’s growing plant there is a difference. Everything grows like a plant; but we must see the whole. For Hegel only the whole is the truth. "Das Wahre ist das Ganze. Das Ganze aber ist nur das durch seine Entwicklung sich vollendende Wesen." Only through evolution the whole can come to a complete essence, and this is then the truth.

Another critique joins on here directly. Professor Schnädelbach says in his first lecture in Berlin that out of Hegel’s claim that the truth is the whole, one gets trouble in a logical, semantic and methodical way. In brief, I will turn my interest to the semantic problem. Professor Schnädelbach says: "Ist nur das Ganze wahr, dann kann es das Falsche nicht außer sich haben; also müssen wir Wahrheit als wahre Einheit von Wahrheit und Falschheit denken - aber können wir so etwas überhaupt verstehen?" I do not know if we really get into trouble when we think the truth and the untruth at the same time. To know something as wrong, to know the untruth, one has to know the truth. We can only know the untruth in relation to the truth; otherwise we do not know it. Untrue and true are related to each other and so we have to think both. And I think Hegel means this when he tells us that through the wrong, through the untruth we come in a dialectical way through reconciliation, to the whole truth.

D: Conclusion

In this essay I tried to show why Hegel believes that we can have knowledge of the absolute truth. It is important to see that this knowledge is not an empirical knowledge. We can not know what happens in a place thousands of kilometres away or what will happen in the future. I can even not know what the reader of this essay thinks at the moment. When Hegel speaks about the truth he means a philosophical one which we can prove through speculative sentences. The system of philosophy provides us the opportunity and the tools for the whole enterprise. Hegel gives us a whole philosophical system and I think that we have to study his whole system to understand his claim. We must take Hegel as a whole and not only pick out spots as I did. But it is also important to have the desire for more knowledge. Socrates once said it is not a shame not to know everything, but it is a shame not to have the desire for knowledge. With this essay I hope that I could awaken the love and desire for knowledge of the reader, because this is the important thing for philosophy. Philosophy starts with the desire to understand the things around us and when we dry to understand the things, and then we are on the path to the truth.

 

 

 



Email? [email protected]

^
Copyright © 1997-2006 by T.Bauer.

Terms of Use   Privacy Policy