II: The Antinomies of Bourgeois Thought

Modern critical philosophy springs from the reified structure of consciousness. The specific problems of this philosophy are distinguishable from the problematics of previous philosophies by the fact that they are rooted in this structure. Greek philosophy constitutes something of an exception to this. This is not merely accidental, for reification did play a part in Greek society in its maturity. But as the problems and solutions of the philosophy of the Ancients were embedded in a wholly different society it is only natural that they should be qualitatively different from those of modern philosophy. Hence, from the standpoint of any adequate interpretation it is as idle to imagine that we can find in Plato a precursor of Kant (as does Natorp), as it is to undertake the task of erecting a philosophy on Aristotle (as does Thomas Aquinas) . If these two ventures have proved feasible – even though arbitrary and inadequate – this can be accounted for in part by the use to which later ages are wont to put the philosophical heritage, bending it to their own purposes. But also further explanation lies in the fact that Greek philosophy was no stranger to certain aspects of reification, without having experienced them, however, as universal forms of existence; it had one foot in the world of reification while the other remained in a ‘natural’ society. Hence its problems can be applied to the two later traditions, although only with the aid of energetic re-interpretations.


Where, then, does the fundamental distinction lie? Kant has formulated the matter succinctly in the Preface to the Critique of Pure Reason with his well-known allusion to the “Copernican Revolution”, a revolution which must be carried out in the realm of the problem of knowledge: “Hitherto, it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to the objects.... Therefore let us for once attempt to see whether we cannot reach a solution to the tasks of metaphysics by assuming that the objects must conform to our knowledge. ...”[1] In other words, modern philosophy sets itself the following problem: it refuses to accept the world as something that has arisen (or e.g. has been created by God) independently of the knowing subject, and prefers to conceive of it instead as its own product.

This revolution which consists in viewing rational knowledge as the product of mind does not originate with Kant. He only developed its implications more radically than his predecessors had done. Marx has recalled, in a quite different context, Vico’s remark to the effect that “the history of man is to be distinguished from the history of nature by the fact that we have made the one but not the other”. [2] In ways diverging from that of Vico who in many respects was not understood and who became influential only much later, the whole of modern philosophy has been preoccupied with this problem. From systematic doubt and the Cogito ergo sum of Descartes, to Hobbes, Spinoza and Leibniz there is a direct line of development whose central strand, rich in variations, is the idea that the object of cognition can be known by us for the reason that, and to the degree in which, it has been created by ourselves. [3] And with this, the methods of mathematics and geometry (the means whereby objects are constructed, created out of the formal presuppositions of objectivity in general) and, later, the methods of mathematical physics become the guide and the touchstone of philosophy, the knowledge of the world as a totality.

The question why and with what justification human reason should elect to regard just these systems as constitutive of its own essence (as opposed to the ‘given’, alien, unknowable nature of the content of those systems) never arises. It is assumed to be self-evident. Whether this assumption is expressed (as in the case of Berkeley and Hume) as scepticism, as doubt in the ability of ‘our’ knowledge to achieve universally valid results, or whether (as with Spinoza and Leibniz) it becomes an unlimited confidence in the ability of these formal systems to comprehend the ‘true’ essence of all things, is of secondary importance in this context. For we are not concerned to present a history of modern philosophy, not even in crude outline. We wish only to sketch the connection between the fundamental problems of this philosophy and the basis in existence from which these problems spring and to which they strive to return by the road of the understanding. However, the character of this existence is revealed at least as clearly by what philosophy does not find problematic as by what it does. At any rate it is advisable to consider the interaction between these two aspects. And if we do put the question in this way we then perceive that the salient characteristic of the whole epoch is the equation which appears naïve and dogmatic even in the most ‘critical’ philosophers, of formal, mathematical, rational knowledge both with knowledge in general and also with ‘our’ knowledge.

Even the most superficial glance at the history of human thought will persuade us that neither of the two equations is self-evidently true under all circumstances. This is most obviously apparent in the origins of modern thought where it was necessary to wage prolonged intellectual wars with the quite differently based thought of the Middle Ages before the new method and the new view of the nature of thought could finally prevail. This struggle, too, can obviously not be portrayed here. A familiarity with its dominant motifs can be assumed. These were the continuity of all phenomena (in contrast to the medieval distinction between the world ‘beneath’ the moon and the world ‘above’ it); the demand for immanent causal connections in contrast to views which sought to explain and connect phenomena from some transcendental point (astronomy versus astrology); the demand that mathematical and rational categories should be applied to all phenomena (in contrast to the qualitative approach of nature philosophy which experienced a new impetus in the Renaissance – Böhme, Fludd, etc. – and even formed the basis of Bacon’s method. It can similarly be taken as read that the whole evolution of philosophy went hand in hand with the development of the exact sciences. These in turn interacted fruitfully with a technology that was becoming increasingly more rationalised, and with developments in production. [4]

These considerations are of crucial importance for our analysis. For rationalism has existed at widely different times and in the most diverse forms, in the sense of a formal system whose unity derives from its orientation towards that aspect of the phenomena that can be grasped by the understanding, that is created by the understanding and hence also subject to the control, the predictions and the calculations of the understanding. But there are fundamental distinctions to be made, depending on the material on which this rationalism is brought to bear and on the role assigned to it in the comprehensive system of human knowledge and human objectives. What is novel about modern rationalism is its increasingly insistent claim that it has discovered the principle which connects up all phenomena which in nature and society are found to confront mankind. Compared with this, every previous type of rationalism is no more than a partial system.

In such systems the ‘ultimate’ problems of human existence persist in an irrationality incommensurable with human understanding. The closer the system comes to these ‘ultimate’ questions the more strikingly its partial, auxiliary nature and its inability to grasp the ‘essentials’ are revealed. An example of this is found in the highly rationalised techniques of Hindu asceticism [5], with its ability to predict exactly all of its results. Its whole ‘rationality’ resides in the direct and immediate bond, related as means to ends, with an entirely supra-rational experience of the essence of the world.

Thus, here too, it will not do to regard ‘rationalism’ as something abstract and formal and so to turn it into a suprahistorical principle inherent in the nature of human thought. We perceive rather that the question of whether a form is to be treated as a universal category or merely as a way of organising precisely delimited partial systems is essentially a qualitative problem. Nevertheless even the purely formal delimitation of this type of thought throws light on the necessary correlation of the rational and the irrational, i.e. on the inevitability with which every rational system will strike a frontier or barrier of irrationality. However, when – as in the case of Hindu asceticism – the rational system is conceived of as a partial system from the outset, when the irrational world which surrounds and delimits it – (in this case the irrational world comprises both the earthly existence of man which is unworthy of rationalisation and also the next world, that of salvation, which human, rational concepts cannot grasp) – is represented as independent of it, as unconditionally inferior or superior to it, this creates no technical problem for the rational system itself. It is simply the means to a-non-rational-end. The situation is quite different when rationalism claims to be the universal method by which to obtain knowledge of the whole of existence. In that event the necessary correlation with the principle of irrationality becomes crucial: it erodes and dissolves the whole system. This is the case with modern (bourgeois) rationalism.

The dilemma can be seen most clearly in the strange significance for Kant’s system of his concept of the thing-in-itself, with its many iridescent connotations. The attempt has often been made to prove that the thing-in-itself has a number of quite disparate functions within Kant’s system. What they all have in common is the fact that they each represent a limit, a barrier, to the abstract, formal, rationalistic, ‘human’ faculty of cognition. However, these limits and barriers seem to be so very different from each other that it is only meaningful to unify them by means of the admittedly abstract and negative-concept of the thing-in-itself if it is clear that, despite the great variety of effects, there is a unified explanation for these frontiers. To put it briefly, these problems can be reduced to two great, seemingly unconnected and even opposed complexes. There is, firstly, the problem of matter (in the logical, technical sense), the problem of the content of those forms with the aid of which ‘we’ know and are able to know the world because we have created it ourselves. And, secondly, there is the problem of the whole and of the ultimate substance of knowledge, the problem of those ‘ultimate’ objects of knowledge which are needed to round off the partial systems into a totality, a system of the perfectly understood world.

We know that in the Critique of Pure Reason it is emphatically denied that the second group of questions can be answered. Indeed, in the section on the Transcendental Dialectic the attempt is made to condemn them as questions falsely put, and to eliminate them from science. [6] But there is no need to enlarge on the fact that the question of totality is the constant centre of the transcendental dialectic. God, the soul, etc., are nothing but mythological expressions to denote the unified subject or, alternatively, the unified object of the totality of the objects of knowledge considered as perfect (and wholly known). The transcendental dialectic with its sharp distinction between phenomena and noumena repudiates all attempts by ‘our’ reason to obtain knowledge of the second group of objects. They are regarded as things-in-themselves as opposed to the phenomena that can be known.

It now appears as if the first complex of questions, that concerning the content of the forms, had nothing to do with these issues. Above all in the form sometimes given to it by Kant, according to which: “the sensuous faculty of intuition (which furnishes the forms of understanding with content) is in reality only a receptive quality, a capacity for being affected in a certain way by ideas.... The non-sensuous cause of these ideas is wholly unknown to us and we are therefore unable to intuit it as an object.... However, we can call the merely intelligible cause of phenomena in general the transcendental object, simply so that ‘we’ should have something which corresponds to sensuousness as receptivity.”

He goes on to say of this object “that it is a datum in itself, antecedent to all experience”. [7] But the problem of content goes much further than that of sensuousness, though unlike some particularly ‘critical’ and supercilious Kantians we cannot deny that the two are closely connected. For irrationality, the impossibility of reducing contents to their rational elements (which we shall discover again as a general problem in modern logic) can be seen at its crudest in the question of relating the sensuous content to the rational form. While the irrationality of other kinds of content is local and relative, the existence and the mode of being of sensuous contents remain absolutely irreducible. [8] But when the problem of irrationality resolves itself into the impossibility of penetrating any datum with the aid of rational concepts or of deriving them from such concepts, the question of the thing-in-itself, which at first seemed to involve the metaphysical dilemma of the relation between ‘mind’ and ‘matter’ now assumes a completely different aspect which is crucial both for methodology and for systematic theory. [9] The question then becomes: are the empirical facts – (it is immaterial whether they are purely ‘sensuous’ or whether their sensuousness is only the ultimate material substratum of their ‘factual’ essence) – to be taken as ‘given’ or can this ‘givenness’ be dissolved further into rational forms, i.e. can it be conceived as the product of ‘our’ reason? With this the problem becomes crucial for the possibility of the system in general.

Kant himself had already turned the problem explicitly in this direction. He repeatedly emphasises that pure reason is unable to make the least leap towards the synthesis and the definition of an object and so its principles cannot be deduced “directly from concepts but only indirectly by relating these concepts to something wholly contingent, namely possible experience” [10]; in the Critique of Judgment this notion of ‘intelligible contingency’ both of the elements of possible experience and of all laws regulating and relating to it is made the central problem of systematisation. When Kant does this we see, on the one hand, that the two quite distinct delimiting functions of the thing-in-itself (viz. the impossibility of apprehending the whole with the aid of the conceptual framework of the rational partial systems and the irrationality of the contents of the individual concepts) are but two sides of the one problem. On the other hand, we see that this problem is in fact of central importance for any mode of thought that undertakes to confer universal significance on rational categories.

Thus the attempt to universalise rationalism necessarily issues in the demand for a system but, at the same time, as soon as one reflects upon the conditions in which a universal system is possible, i.e. as soon as the question of the system is consciously posed, it is seen that such a demand is incapable of fulfilment. [11] For a system in the sense given to it by rationalism – and any other system would be self-contradictory – can bear no meaning other than that of a co-ordination, or rather a supra- and subordination of the various partial systems of forms (and within these, of the individual forms). The connections between them must always be thought of as ‘necessary’, i.e. as visible in or ‘created ‘by the forms themselves, or at least by the principle according to which forms are constructed. That is to say, the correct positing of a principle implies – at least in its general tendency – the positing of the whole system determined by it; the consequences are contained in the principle, they can be deduced from it, they are predictable and calculable. The real evolution of the totality of postulates may appear as an ‘infinite process’, but this limitation means only that we cannot survey the whole system at once; it does not detract from the principle of systematisation in the least. [12] This notion of system makes it clear why pure and applied mathematics have constantly been held up as the methodological model and guide for modern philosophy. For the way in which their axioms are related to the partial systems and results deduced from them corresponds exactly to the postulate that systematic rationalism sets itself, the postulate, namely, that every given aspect of the system should be capable of being deduced from its basic principle, that it should be exactly predictable and calculable.

It is evident that the principle of systematisation is not reconcilable with the recognition of any ‘facticity’, of a ‘content’ which in principle cannot be deduced from the principle of form and which, therefore, has simply to be accepted as actuality. The greatness, the paradox and the tragedy of classical German philosophy lie in the fact that – unlike Spinoza – it no longer dismisses every given [donné] as non-existent, causing it to vanish behind the monumental architecture of the rational forms produced by the understanding. Instead, while grasping and holding on to the irrational character of the actual contents of the concepts it strives to go beyond this, to overcome it and to erect a system. But from what has already been said it is clear what the problem of the actually given means for rationalism: viz. that it cannot be left to its own being and existence, for in that case it would remain ineluctably ‘contingent’. Instead it must be wholly absorbed into the rational system of the concepts of the understanding.

At first sight we seem to be faced by an insoluble dilemma. For either the ‘irrational’ content is to be wholly integrated into the conceptual system, i.e. this is to be so constructed that it can be coherently applied to everything just as if there were no irrational content or actuality (if there is, it exists at best as a problem in the sense suggested above). In this event thought regresses to the level of a naïve, dogmatic rationalism: somehow it regards the mere actuality of the irrational contents of the concepts as nonexistent. (This metaphysics may also conceal its real nature behind the formula that these contents are ‘irrelevant’ to knowledge.) Alternatively we are forced to concede that actuality, content, matter reaches right into the form, the structures of the forms and their interrelations and thus into the structure of the system itself. [13] In that case the system must be abandoned as a system. For then it will be no more than a register, an account, as well ordered as possible, of facts which are no longer linked rationally and so can no longer be made systematic even though the forms of their components are themselves rational. [14]

It would be superficial to be baffled by this abstract dilemma and the classical philosophers did not hesitate for a moment. They took the logical opposition of form and content, the point at which all the antitheses of philosophy meet, and drove it to extremes. This enabled them to make a real advance on their predecessors and lay the foundations of the dialectical method. They persisted in their attempts to construct a rational system in the face of their clear acknowledgment of and stubborn adherence to the irrational nature of the contents of their concepts (of the given world).

This system went in the direction of a dynamic relativisation of these antitheses. Here too, of course, modern mathematics provided them with a model. The systems it influenced (in particular that of Leibniz) view the irrationality of the given world as a challenge. And in fact, for mathematics the irrationality of a given content only serves as a stimulus to modify and reinterpret the formal system with whose aid correlations had been established hitherto, so that what had at first sight appeared as a ‘given’ content, now appeared to have been ‘created’. Thus actuality was resolved into necessity. This view of reality does indeed represent a great advance on the dogmatic period (of ‘holy mathematics’).

But it must not be overlooked that mathematics was working with a concept of the irrational specially adapted to its own needs and homogeneous with them (and mediated by this concept it employed a similarly adapted notion of actuality, of existence). Certainly, the local irrationality of the conceptual content is to be found here too: but from the outset it is designed – by the method chosen and the nature of its axioms – to spring from as pure a position as possible and hence to be capable of being relativised. [15]

But this implies the discovery of a methodological model and not of the method itself. It is evident that the irrationality of existence (both as a totality and as the ‘ultimate’ material substratum underlying the forms), the irrationality of matter is qualitatively different from the irrationality of what we can call with Maimon, intelligible matter. Naturally this could not prevent philosophers from following the mathematical method (of construction, production) and trying to press even this matter into its forms. But it must never be forgotten that the uninterrupted ‘creation’ of content has a quite different meaning in reference to the material base of existence from what it involves in the world of mathematics which is a wholly constructed world. For the philosophers ‘creation’ means only the possibility of rationally comprehending the facts, whereas for mathematics ‘creation’ and the possibility of comprehension are identical. Of all the representatives of classical philosophy it was Fichte in his middle period who saw this problem most clearly and gave it the most satisfactory formulation. What is at issue, he says, is “the absolute projection of an object of the origin of which no account can be given with the result that the space between projection and thing projected is dark and void; I expressed it somewhat scholastically but, as I believe, very appropriately, as the projectio per hiatum irrationalem”. [16]

Only with this problematic does it become possible to comprehend the parting of the ways in modern philosophy and with it the chief stages in its evolution. This doctrine of the irrational leaves behind it the era of philosophical ‘dogmatism’ or – to put it in terms of social history – the age in which the bourgeois class naïvely equated its own forms of thought, the forms in which it saw the world in accordance with its own existence in society, with reality and with existence as such.

The unconditional recognition of this problem, the renouncing of attempts to solve it leads directly to the various theories centring on the notion of fiction. It leads to the rejection of every ‘metaphysics’ (in the sense of ontology) and also to positing as the aim of philosophy the understanding of the phenomena of isolated, highly specialised areas by means of abstract rational special systems, perfectly adapted to them and without making the attempt to achieve a unified mastery of the whole realm of the knowable. (Indeed any such attempt is dismissed as ‘unscientific’) Some schools make this renunciation explicitly (e.g. Mach Avenarius, Poincare, Vaihinger, etc.) while in many others it is disguised. But it must not be forgotten that – as was demonstrated at the end of Section I – the origin of the special sciences with their complete independence of one another both in method and subject matter entails the recognition that this problem is insoluble. And the fact that these sciences are ‘exact’ is due precisely to this circumstance. Their underlying material base is permitted to dwell inviolate and undisturbed in its irrationality (‘non-createdness’, ‘givenness’) so that it becomes possible to operate with unproblematic, rational categories in the resulting methodically purified world. These categories are then applied not to the real material substratum (even that of the particular science) but to an ‘intelligible’ subject matter.

Philosophy – consciously – refrains from interfering with the work of the special sciences. It even regards this renunciation as a critical advance. In consequence its role is confined to the investigation of the formal presuppositions of the special sciences which it neither corrects nor interferes with. And the problem which they by-pass philosophy cannot solve either, nor even pose, for that matter. Where philosophy has recourse to the structural assumptions lying behind the form-content relationship it either exalts the ‘mathematicising’ method of the special sciences, elevating it into the method proper to philosophy (as in the Marburg School) [17], or else it establishes the irrationality of matter, as logically, the ‘ultimate’ fact (as do Windelband, Rickert and Lask). But in both cases, as soon as the attempt at systematisation is made, the unsolved problem of the irrational reappears in the problem of totality. The horizon that delimits the totality that has been and can be created here is, at best, culture (i.e. the culture of bourgeois society). This culture cannot be derived from anything else and has simply to be accepted on its own terms as ‘facticity’ in the sense given to it by the classical philosophers. [18]

To give a detailed analysis of the various forms taken by the refusal to understand reality as a whole and as existence, would be to go well beyond the framework of this study. Our aim here was to locate the point at which there appears in the thought of bourgeois society the double tendency characteristic of its evolution. On the one hand, it acquires increasing control over the details of its social existence, subjecting them to its needs. On the other hand, it loses – likewise progressively – the possibility of gaining intellectual control of society as a whole and with that it loses its own qualifications for leadership.

Classical German philosophy marks a unique transitional stage in this process. It arises at a point of development where matters have progressed so far that these problems can be raised to the level of consciousness. At the same time this takes place in a milieu where the problems can only appear on an intellectual and philosophical plane. This has the drawback that the concrete problems of society and the concrete solutions to them cannot be seen. Nevertheless, classical philosophy is able to think the deepest and most fundamental problems of the development of bourgeois society through to the very end – on the plane of philosophy. It is able – in thought – to complete the evolution of class. And – in thought – it is able to take all the paradoxes of its position to the point where the necessity of going beyond this historical stage in mankind’s development can at least be seen as a problem.


Classical philosophy is indebted for its wealth, its depth and its boldness no less than its fertility for future thinkers to the fact that it narrowed the problem down, confining it within the realm of pure thought. At the same time it remains an insuperable obstacle even within the realm of thought itself. That is to say, classical philosophy mercilessly tore to shreds all the metaphysical illusions of the preceding era, but was forced to be as uncritical and as dogmatically metaphysical with regard to some of its own premises as its predecessors had been towards theirs. We have already made a passing reference to this point: it is the – dogmatic – assumption that the rational and formalistic mode of cognition is the only possible way of apprehending reality (or to put it in its most critical form: the only possible way for ‘us’), in contrast to the facts which are simply given and alien to ‘us’. As we have shown, the grandiose conception that thought can only grasp what it has itself created strove to master the world as a whole by seeing it as self-created. However, it then came up against the insuperable obstacle of the given, of the thing-in-itself. If it was not to renounce its understanding of the whole it had to take the road that leads inwards. It had to strive to find the subject of thought which could be thought of as producing existence without any hiatus irrationalis or transcendental thing-in-itself. The dogmatism alluded to above was partly a true guide and partly a source of confusion in this enterprise. It was a true guide inasmuch as thought was led beyond the mere acceptance of reality as it was given, beyond mere reflection and the conditions necessary for thinking about reality, to orientate itself beyond mere contemplation and mere intuition. It was a source of confusion since it prevented the same dogmatism from discovering its true antidote, the principle that would enable contemplation to be overcome, namely the practical. (The fact that precisely for this reason the given constantly re-emerges as untranscended in its irrationality will be demonstrated in the course of the following account.)

In his last important logical work [19] Fichte formulates the philosophical starting-point for this situation as follows: “We have seen all actual knowledge as being necessary, except for the form of ‘is’, on the assumption that there is one phenomenon that must doubtless remain as an absolute assumption for thought and concerning which doubt can only be resolved by an actual intuition. But with the distinction that we can perceive the definite and qualitative law in the content of one part of this fact, namely the ego-principle. Whereas for the actual content of this intuition of self we can merely perceive the fact that one must exist but cannot legislate for the existence of this one in particular. At the same time we note clearly that there can be no such law and that therefore, the qualitative law required for this definition is precisely the absence of law itself Now, if the necessary is also that which is known a priori we have in this sense perceived all facticity a priori, not excluding the empirical since this we have deduced to be non-deducible.”

What is relevant to our problem here is the statement that the subject of knowledge, the ego-principle, is known as to its content and, hence, can be taken as a starting-point and as a guide to method. In the most general terms we see here the origin of the philosophical tendency to press forward to a conception of the subject which can be thought of as the creator of the totality of content. And likewise in general, purely programmatic terms we see the origin of the search for a level of objectivity, a positing of the objects, where the duality of subject and object (the duality of thought and being is only a special case of this), is transcended, i.e. where subject and object coincide, where they are identical.

Obviously the great classical philosophers were much too perceptive and critical to overlook the empirically existing duality of subject and object. Indeed, they saw the basic structure of empirical data precisely in this split. But their demand, their programme was much more concerned with finding the nodal point, from which they could ‘create’, deduce and make comprehensible the duality of subject and object on the empirical plane, i.e. in its objective form. In contrast to the dogmatic acceptance of a merely given reality – divorced from the subject – they required that every datum should be understood as the product of the identical subject-object, and every duality should be seen as a special case derived from this pristine unity.

But this unity is activity. Kant had attempted in the Critique of Practical Reason (which has been much misunderstood and often falsely opposed to the Critique of Pure Reason) to show that the barriers that could not be overcome by theory (contemplation) were amenable to practical solutions. Fichte went beyond this and put the practical, action and activity in the centre of his unifying philosophical system. “For this reason,” he says, “it is not such a trivial matter as it appears to some people, whether philosophy should begin from a fact or from an action (i.e. from pure activity which presupposes no object but itself creates it, so that action immediately becomes deed). For if it starts with the fact it places itself inside the world of existence and of finitude and will find it hard to discover the way that leads from there to the infinite and the suprasensual; if it begins from action it will stand at the point where the two worlds meet and from which they can both be seen at a glance.” [20]

Fichte’s task, therefore, is to exhibit the subject of the ‘action’ and, assuming its identity with the object, to comprehend every dual subject-object form as derived from it, as its product. But here, on a philosophically higher plane, we find repeated the same failure to resolve the questions raised by classical German philosophy. The moment that we enquire after the concrete nature of this identical subject-object, we are confronted with a dilemma. On the one hand, this configuration of consciousness can only be found really and concretely in the ethical act, in the relation of the ethically acting (individual) subject to itself. On the other hand, for the ethical consciousness of the acting individual the split between the self-generated, but wholly inwardly turning form (of the ethical imperative in Kant) and of the reality, the given, the empirical alien both to the senses and the understanding must become even more definitive than for the contemplative subject of knowledge.

It is well known that Kant did not go beyond the critical interpretation of ethical facts in the individual consciousness. This had a number of consequences. In the first place, these facts were thereby transformed into something merely there and could not be conceived of as having been ‘created’. [21]

Secondly, this intensifies the ‘intelligible contingency’ of an ‘external world’ subject to the laws of nature. In the absence of a real, concrete solution the dilemma of freedom and necessity, of voluntarism and fatalism is simply shunted into a siding. That is to say, in nature and in the ‘external world’ laws still operate with inexorable necessity [22], while freedom and the autonomy that is supposed to result from the discovery of the ethical world are reduced to a mere point of view from which to judge internal events. These events, however, are seen as being subject in all their motives and effects and even in their psychological elements to a fatalistically regarded objective necessity. [23]

Thirdly, this ensures that the hiatus between appearance and essence (which in Kant coincides with that between necessity and freedom) is not bridged and does not, therefore, give way to a manufactured unity with which to establish the unity of the world. Even worse than that: the duality is itself introduced into the subject. Even the subject is split into phenomenon and noumenon and the unresolved, insoluble and henceforth permanent conflict between freedom and necessity now invades its innermost structure.

Fourthly, in consequence of this, the resulting ethic becomes purely formal and lacking in content. As every content which is given to us belongs to the world of nature and is thus unconditionally subject to the objective laws of the phenomenal world, practical norms can only have bearing on the inward forms of action. The moment this ethic attempts to make itself concrete, i.e. to test its strength on concrete problems, it is forced to borrow the elements of content of these particular actions from the world of phenomena and from the conceptual systems that assimilate them and absorb their ‘contingency’. The principle of creation collapses as soon as the first concrete content is to be created. And Kant’s ethics cannot evade such an attempt. It does try, it is true, to find the formal principle which will both determine and preserve content – at least negatively – and to locate it in the principle of non-contradiction. According to this, every action contravening ethical norms contains a self-contradiction. For example, an essential quality of a deposit is that it should not be embezzled, etc. But as Hegel has pointed out quite rightly: “What if there were no deposit, where is the contradiction in that? For there to be no deposit would contradict yet other necessarily determined facts; just as the fact that a deposit is possible, is connected with other necessary facts and so it itself becomes necessary. But it is not permissible to involve other purposes and other material grounds; only the immediate form of the concept may decide which of the two assumptions is correct. But each of the opposed facts is as immaterial to the form as the other; either can be acceptable as a quality and this acceptance can be expressed as a law.” [24]

Thus Kant’s ethical analysis leads us back to the unsolved methodological problem of the thing-in-itself. We have already defined the philosophically significant side of this problem, its methodological aspect, as the relation between form and content, as the problem of the irreducibility of the factual, and the irrationality of matter. Kant’s formalistic ethics, adapted to the consciousness of the individual, is indeed able to open up the possibility of a metaphysical solution to the problem of the thing-in-itself by enabling the concepts of a world seen as a totality, which had been destroyed by the transcendental dialectic, to reappear on the horizon as the postulates of practical reason. But from the point of view of method this subjective and practical solution remains imprisoned within the same barriers that proved so overwhelming to the objective and contemplative analysis in the Critique of Pure Reason.

This sheds light on a new and significant structural aspect of the whole complex of problems: in order to overcome the irrationality of the question of the thing-in-itself it is not enough that the attempt should be made to transcend the contemplative attitude. When the question is formulated more concretely it turns out that the essence of praxis consists in annulling that indifference of form towards content that we found in the problem of the thing-in-itself Thus praxis can only be really established as a philosophical principle if, at the same time, a conception of form can be found whose basis and validity no longer rest on that pure rationality and that freedom from every definition of content. In so far as the principle of praxis is the prescription for changing reality, it must be tailored to the concrete material substratum of action if it is to impinge upon it to any effect.

Only this approach to the problem makes possible the clear dichotomy between praxis and the theoretical, contemplative and intuitive attitude. But also we can now understand the connection between the two attitudes and see how, with the aid of the principle of praxis, the attempt could be made to resolve the antinomies of contemplation. Theory and praxis in fact refer to the same objects, for every object exists as an immediate inseparable complex of form and content. However, the diversity of subjective attitudes orientates praxis towards what is qualitatively unique, towards the content and the material substratum of the object concerned. As we have tried to show, theoretical contemplation leads to the neglect of this very factor. For, theoretical clarification and theoretical analysis of the object reach their highest point just when they reveal at their starkest the formal factors liberated from all content (from all ‘contingent facticity’). As long as thought proceeds ‘naïvely’, i.e. as long as it fails to reflect upon its activity and as long as it imagines it can derive the content from the forms themselves, thus ascribing active, metaphysical functions to them, or else regards as metaphysical and non-existent any material alien to form, this problem does not present itself. Praxis then appears to be consistently subordinated to the theory of contemplation. [25] But the very moment when this situation, i.e. when the indissoluble links that bind the contemplative attitude of the subject to the purely formal character of the object of knowledge become conscious, it is inevitable either that the attempt to find a solution to the problem of irrationality (the question of content, of the given, etc.) should be abandoned or that it should be sought in praxis.

It is once again in Kant that this tendency finds its clearest expression. When for Kant “existence is evidently not a real predicate, i.e. the concept of something that could be added to the concept of a thing” [26], we see this tendency with all its consequences at its most extreme. It is in fact so extreme that he is compelled to propose the dialectics of concepts in movement as the only alternative to his own theory of the structure of concepts. “For otherwise it would not be exactly the same thing that exists, but something more than I had thought in the concept and I would not be. able to say that it is precisely the object of my concept that exists.” It has escaped the notice of both Kant and the critics of his critique of the ontological argument that here – admittedly in a negative and distorted form arising from his purely contemplative viewpoint – Kant has hit upon the structure of true praxis as a way of overcoming the antinomies of the concept of existence. We have already shown how, despite all his efforts, his ethics leads back to the limits of abstract contemplation.

Hegel uncovers the methodological basis of this theory in his criticism of this passage. [27] “For this content regarded in isolation it is indeed a matter of indifference whether it exists or does not exist; there is no inherent distinction between existence and nonexistence; this distinction does not concern it at all.... More generally, the abstractions existence and non-existence both cease to be abstract when they acquire a definite content; existence then becomes reality . . .” That is to say, the goal that Kant here sets for knowledge is shown to be the description of that structure of cognition that systematically isolates ‘pure laws’ and treats them in a systematically isolated and artificially homogeneous milieu. (Thus in the physical hypothesis of the vibrations of the ether the ‘existence’ of the ether would in fact add nothing to the concept.) But the moment that the object is seen as part of a concrete totality, the moment that it becomes clear that alongside the formal, delimiting concept of existence acknowledged by this pure contemplation other gradations of reality are possible and necessary to thought (being [Dasein], existence [Existenz], reality [Realitat], etc. in Hegel), Kant’s proof collapses: it survives only as the demarcation line of purely formal thought.

In his doctoral thesis Marx, more concrete and logical than Hegel, effected the transition from the question of existence and its hierarchy of meanings to the plane of historical reality and concrete praxis. “Didn’t the Moloch of the Ancients hold sway? Wasn’t the Delphic Apollo a real power in the life of the Greeks? In this context Kant’s criticism is meaningless.” [28] Unfortunately Marx did not develop this idea to its logical conclusion although in his mature works his method always operates with concepts of existence graduated according to the various levels of praxis.

The more conscious this Kantian tendency becomes the less avoidable is the dilemma. For, the ideal of knowledge represented by the purely distilled formal conception of the object of knowledge, the mathematical organisation and the ideal of necessary natural laws all transform knowledge more and more into the systematic and conscious contemplation of those purely formal connections, those ‘laws’ which function in-objective-reality without the intervention of the subject. But the attempt to eliminate every element of content and of the irrational affects not only the object but also, and to an increasing extent, the subject. The critical elucidation of contemplation puts more and more energy into its efforts to weed out ruthlessly from its own outlook every subjective and irrational element and every anthropomorphic tendency; it strives with ever increasing vigour to drive a wedge between the subject of knowledge and ‘man’, and to transform the knower into a pure and purely formal subject.

It might seem as if this characterisation of contemplation might be thought to contradict our earlier account of the problem of knowledge as the knowledge of what ‘we’ have created. This is in fact the case. But this very contradiction is eminently suited to illuminate the difficulty of the question and the possible solutions to it. For the contradiction does not lie in the inability of the philosophers to give a definitive analysis of the available facts. It is rather the intellectual expression of the objective situation itself which it is their task to comprehend. That is to say, the contradiction that appears here between subjectivity and objectivity in modern rationalist formal systems, the entanglements and equivocations hidden in their concepts of subject and object, the conflict between their nature as systems created by ‘us’ and their fatalistic necessity distant from and alien to man is nothing but the logical and systematic formulation of the modern state of society. For, on the one hand, men are constantly smashing, replacing and leaving behind them the ‘natural’, irrational and actually existing bonds, while, on the other hand, they erect around themselves in the reality they have created and ‘made’, a kind of second nature which evolves with exactly the same inexorable necessity as was the case earlier on with irrational forces of nature (more exactly: the social relations which appear in this form). “To them, their own social action”, says Marx, “takes the form of the action of objects, which rule the producers instead of being ruled by them.”

1. From this it follows that the powers that are beyond man’s control assume quite a different character. Hitherto it had been that of the blind power of a – fundamentally – irrational fate, the point where the possibility of human knowledge ceased and where absolute transcendence and the realm of faith began. [29] Now, however, it appears as the ineluctable consequence of known, knowable, rational systems of laws, as a necessity which cannot ultimately and wholly be grasped, as was indeed recognised by the critical philosophers, unlike their dogmatic predecessors. In its parts, however – within the radius in which men live – it can increasingly be penetrated, calculated and predicted. It is anything but a mere chance that at the very beginning of the development of modern philosophy the ideal of knowledge took the form of universal mathematics: it was an attempt to establish a rational system of relations which comprehends the totality of the formal possibilities, proportions and relations of a rationalised existence with the aid of which every phenomenon-independently of its real and material distinctiveness – could be subjected to an exact calculus. [30]

This is the modern ideal of knowledge at its most uncompromising and therefore at its most characteristic, and in it the contradiction alluded to above emerges clearly. For, on the one hand, the basis of this universal calculus can be nothing other than the certainty that only a reality cocooned by such concepts can truly be controlled by us. On the other hand, it appears that even if we may suppose this universal mathematics to be entirely and consistently realised, ‘control’ of reality can be nothing more than the objectively correct contemplation of what is yielded – necessarily and without our intervention – by the abstract combinations of these relations and proportions. In this sense contemplation does seem to come close to the universal philosophical ideal of knowledge (as in Greece and India). What is peculiar to modern philosophy only becomes fully revealed when we critically examine the assumption that this universal system of combinations can be put into practice.

For it is only with the discovery of the ‘intelligible contingency’ of these laws that there arises the possibility of a ‘free’ movement within the field of action of such overlapping or not fully comprehended laws. It is important to realise that if we take action in the sense indicated above to mean changing reality, an orientation towards the qualitatively essential and the material substratum of action, then the attitude under discussion will appear much more contemplative than, for instance, the ideal of knowledge held by Greek philosophers. [31] For this ‘action’ consists in predicting, in calculating as far as possible the probable effects of those laws and the subject of the ‘action’ takes up a position in which these effects can be exploited to the best advantage of his own purposes. It is therefore evident that, on the one hand, the more the whole of reality is rationalised and the more its manifestations can be integrated into the system of laws, the more such prediction becomes feasible. On the other hand, it is no less evident that the more reality and the attitude of the subject ‘in action’ approximate to this type, the more the subject will be transformed into a receptive organ ready to pounce on opportunities created by the system of laws and his ‘activity’ will narrow itself down to the adoption of a vantage point from which these laws function in his best interests (and this without any intervention on his part). The attitude of the subject then becomes purely contemplative in the philosophical sense.

2. But here we can see that this results in the assimilation of all human relations to the level of natural laws so conceived. It has often been pointed out in these pages that nature is a social category. Of course, to modern man who proceeds immediately from ready-made ideological forms and from their effects which dazzle his eye and exercise such a profound effect on his whole intellectual development, it must look as if the point of view which we have just outlined consisted simply in applying to society an intellectual framework derived from the natural sciences. In his youthful polemic against Fichte, Hegel had already pointed out that his state was “a machine”, its substratum “an atomistic . . . multitude whose elements are . . . a quantity of points. This absolute substantiality of the points founds an atomistic system in practical philosophy in which, as in the atomism of nature, a mind alien to the atoms becomes law.” [32]

This way of describing modern society is so familiar and the attempts to analyse it recur so frequently in the course of later developments that it would be supererogatory to furnish further proof of it. What is of greater importance is the fact that the converse of this insight has not escaped notice either. After Hegel had clearly recognised the bourgeois character of the ‘laws of nature’ [33], Marx pointed out [34] that “Descartes with his definition of animals as mere machines saw with the eyes of the manufacturing period, while in the eyes of the Middle Ages, animals were man’s assistants”; and he adds several suggestions towards explaining the intellectual history of such connections. Tonnies notes the same connection even more bluntly and categorically: “A special case of abstract reason is scientific reason and its subject is the man who is objective, and who recognises relations, i.e. thinks in concepts. In consequence, scientific concepts which by their ordinary origin and their real properties are judgements by means of which complexes of feeling are given names, behave within science like commodities in society. They gather together within the system like commodities on the market. The supreme scientific concept which is no longer the name of anything real is like money. E.g. the concept of an atom, or of energy.” [35]

It cannot be our task to investigate the question of priority or the historical and causal order of succession between the ‘laws of nature’ and capitalism. (The author of these lines has, however, no wish to conceal his view that the development of capitalist economics takes precedence.) What is important is to recognise clearly that all human relations (viewed as the objects of social activity) assume increasingly the objective forms of the abstract elements of the conceptual systems of natural science and of the abstract substrata of the laws of nature. And also, the subject of this ‘action’ likewise assumes increasingly the attitude of the pure observe of these – artificially abstract – processes, the attitude of the experimenter.

* * *

I may be permitted to devote a few words – as a sort of excursus – to the views expressed by Friedrich Engels on the problem of the thing-in-itself. In a sense they are of no immediate concern to us, but they have exercised such a great influence on the meaning given to the term by many Marxists that to omit to correct this might easily give rise to a misunderstanding. He says: [36] “The most telling refutation of this as of all other philosophical crotchets is practice, namely, experiment and industry. If we are able to prove the correctness of our conception of a natural process by making it ourselves, bringing it into being out of its conditions and making it serve our own purposes into the bargain, then there is an end to the ungraspable Kantian ‘thing-in-itself’. The chemical substances produced in the bodies of plants and animals remained such ‘things-in-themselves’ until organic chemistry began to produce them one after another, whereupon the ‘thing in-itself’ became a thing for us, as, for instance, alizarin, the colouring matter of the madder, which we no longer trouble to grow in the madder roots in the field, but produce much more cheaply and simply from coal tar.”

Above all we must correct a terminological confusion that is almost incomprehensible in such a connoisseur of Hegel as was Engels. For Hegel the terms ‘in itself’ and ‘for us’ are by no means opposites; in fact they are necessary correlatives. That something exists merely ‘in itself’ means for Hegel that it merely exists ‘for us’. The antithesis of ‘for us or in itself’ [37] is rather ‘for itself’, namely that mode of being posited where the fact that an object is thought of implies at the same time that the object is conscious of itself. [38] In that case, it is a complete misinterpretation of Kant’s epistemology to imagine that the problem of the thing-in-itself could be a barrier to the possible concrete expansion of our knowledge. On the contrary, Kant who sets out from the most advanced natural science of the day, namely from Newton’s astronomy, tailored his theory of knowledge precisely to this science and to its future potential. For this reason he necessarily assumes that the method was capable of limitless expansion. His ‘critique’ refers merely to the fact that even the complete knowledge of all phenomena would be no more than a knowledge of phenomena (as opposed to the things-in-themselves). Moreover, even the complete knowledge of the phenomena could never overcome the structural limits of this knowledge, i.e. in our terms, the antinomies of totality and of content. Kant has himself dealt sufficiently clearly with the question of agnosticism and of the relation to Hume (and to Berkeley who is not named but whom Kant has particularly in mind) in the section entitled ‘The Refutation of Idealism’. [39]

But Engels’ deepest misunderstanding consists in his belief that the behaviour of industry and scientific experiment constitutes praxis in the dialectical, philosophical sense. In fact, scientific experiment is contemplation at its purest. The experimenter creates an artificial, abstract milieu in order to be able to observe undisturbed the untrammelled workings of the laws under examination, eliminating all irrational factors both of the subject and the object. He strives as far as possible to reduce the material substratum of his observation to the purely rational ‘product’, to the ‘intelligible matter’ of mathematics. And when Engels speaks, in the context of industry, of the “product” which is made to serve “our purposes”, he seems to have forgotten for a moment the fundamental structure of capitalist society which he himself had once formulated so supremely well in his brilliant early essay. There he had pointed out that capitalist society is based on “a natural law that is founded on the unconsciousness of those involved in it”. [40] Inasmuch as industry sets itself ‘objectives’ – it is in the decisive, i.e. historical, dialectical meaning of the word, only the object, not the subject of the natural laws governing society.

Marx repeatedly emphasised that the capitalist (and when we speak of ‘industry’ in the past or present we can only mean the capitalist) is nothing but a puppet. And when, for example, he compares his instinct to enrich himself with that of the miser, he stresses the fact that “what in the miser is a mere idiosyncrasy, is, in the capitalist, the effect of the social mechanism, of which he is but one of the wheels. Moreover, the development of capitalist production makes it constantly necessary to keep increasing the amount of the capital invested in a given industrial undertaking, and competition makes the immanent laws of capitalist production to be felt as external coercive laws by each individual capitalist.” [41] The fact, therefore, that ‘industry’, i.e. the capitalist as the incarnation of economic and technical progress, does not act but is acted upon and that his ‘activity’ goes no further than the correct observation and calculation of the objective working out of the natural laws of society, is a truism for Marxism and is elsewhere interpreted in this way by Engels also.

* * *

3. To return to our main argument, it is evident from all this that the attempt at a solution represented by the turn taken by critical philosophy towards the practical, does not succeed in resolving the antinomies we have noted. On the contrary it fixes them for eternity. [42] For just as objective necessity, despite the rationality and regularity of its manifestations, yet persists in a state of immutable contingency because its material substratum remains transcendental, so too the freedom of the subject which this device is designed to rescue, is unable, being an empty freedom, to evade the abyss of fatalism. “Thoughts without content are empty,” says Kant programmatically at the beginning of the ‘Transcendental Logic’, “Intuitions without concepts are blind.” [43] But the Critique which here propounds the necessity of an interpretation of form and content can do no more than offer it as a methodological programme, i.e. for each of the discrete areas it can indicate the point where the real synthesis should begin, and where it would begin if its formal rationality could allow it to do more than predict formal possibilities in terms of formal calculations.

The freedom (of the subject) is neither able to overcome the sensuous necessity of the system of knowledge and the soullessness of the fatalistically conceived laws of nature, nor is it able to give them any meaning. And likewise the contents produced by reason, and the world acknowledged by reason are just as little able to fill the purely formal determinants of freedom with a truly living life. The impossibility of comprehending and ‘creating’ the union of form and content concretely instead of as the basis for a purely formal calculus leads to the insoluble dilemma of freedom and necessity, of voluntarism and fatalism. The ‘eternal, iron’ regularity of the processes of nature and the purely inward freedom of individual moral practice appear at the end of the Critique of Practical Reason as wholly irreconcilable and at the same time as the unalterable foundations of human existence. [44] Kant’s greatness as a philosopher lies in the fact that in both instances he made no attempt to conceal the intractability of the problem by means of an arbitrary dogmatic resolution of any sort, but that he bluntly elaborated the contradiction and presented it in an undiluted form.


As everywhere in classical philosophy it would be a mistake to think that these discussions are no more than the problems of intellectuals and the squabbles of pedants. This can be seen most clearly if we turn back a page in the growth of this problem and examine it at a stage in its development when it had been less worked over intellectually, when it was closer to its social background and accordingly more concrete. Plekhanov strongly emphasises the intellectual barrier that the bourgeois materialism of the eighteenth century came up against and he puts it into perspective by means of the following antinomy: on the one hand, man appears as the product of his social milieu, whereas, on the other hand, “the social milieu is produced by ‘public opinion’, i.e. by man”. [45] This throws light on the social reality underlying the antinomy which we encountered in the – seemingly – purely epistemological problem of production, in the systematic question of the subject of an ‘action’, of the ‘creator’ of a unified reality. Plekhanov’s account shows no less clearly that the duality of the contemplative and the (individual) practical principles which we saw as the first achievement and as the starting-point for the later development of classical philosophy, leads towards this antinomy.

However, the naïver and more primitive analysis of Holbach and Helvetius permits a clearer insight into the life that forms the true basis of this antinomy. We observe, firstly, that following on the development of bourgeois society all social problems cease to transcend man and appear as the products of human activity in contrast to the view of society held by the Middle Ages and the early modern period (e.g. Luther). Secondly, it becomes evident that the man who now emerges must be the individual, egoistic bourgeois isolated artificially by capitalism and that his consciousness, the source of his activity and knowledge, is an individual isolated consciousness a la Robinson Crusoe. [46] But, thirdly, it is this that robs social action of its character as action. At first this looks like the after-effects of the sensualist epistemology of the French materialists (and Locke, etc.) where it is the case, on the one hand, that “his brain is nothing but wax to receive the imprint of every impression made in it” (Holbach according to Plekhanov, op. cit.) and where, on the other hand, only conscious action can count as activity. But examined more closely this turns out to be the simple effect of the situation of bourgeois man in the capitalist production process.

We have already described the characteristic features of this situation several times: man in capitalist society confronts a reality ‘made’ by himself (as a class) which appears to him to be a natural phenomenon alien to himself; he is wholly at the mercy of its ‘laws’, his activity is confined to the exploitation of the inexorable fulfilment of certain individual laws for his own (egoistic) interests. But even while ‘acting’ he remains, in the nature of the case, the object and not the subject of events. The field of his activity thus becomes wholly internalised: it consists on the one hand of the awareness of the laws which he uses and, on the other, of his awareness of his inner reactions to the course taken by events.

This situation generates very important and unavoidable problem-complexes and conceptual ambivalences which are decisive for the way in which bourgeois man understands himself in his relation to the world. Thus the word ‘nature’ becomes highly ambiguous. We have already drawn attention to the idea, formulated most lucidly by Kant but essentially unchanged since Kepler and Galileo, of nature as the “aggregate of systems of the laws” governing what happens. Parallel to this conception whose development out of the economic structures of capitalism has been shown repeatedly, there is another conception of nature, a value concept, wholly different from the first one and embracing a wholly different cluster of meanings.

A glance at the history of natural law shows the extent to which these two conceptions have become inextricably interwoven with each other. For here we can see that ‘nature’ has been heavily marked by the revolutionary struggle of the bourgeoisie: the ‘ordered’, calculable, formal and abstract character of the approaching bourgeois society appears natural by the side of the artifice, the caprice and the disorder of feudalism and absolutism. At the same time if one thinks of Rousseau, there are echoes of a quite different meaning wholly incompatible with this one. It concentrates increasingly on the feeling that social institutions (reification) strip man of his human essence and that the more culture and civilisation (i.e. capitalism and reification) take possession of him, the less able he is to be a human being. And with a reversal of meanings that never becomes apparent, nature becomes the repository of all these inner tendencies opposing the growth of mechanisation, dehumanisation and reification.

Nature thereby acquires the meaning of what has grown organically, what was not created by man, in contrast to the artificial structures of human civilisation. [47] But, at the same time, it can be understood as that aspect of human inwardness which has remained natural, or at least tends or longs to become natural once more. “They are what we once were,” says Schiller of the forms of nature, “they are what we should once more become.” But here, unexpectedly and indissolubly bound up with the other meanings, we discover a third conception of nature, one in which we can clearly discern the ideal and the tendency to overcome the problems of a reified existence. ‘Nature’ here refers to authentic humanity, the true essence of man liberated from the false, mechanising forms of society: man as a perfected whole who has inwardly overcome, or is in the process of overcoming, the dichotomies of theory and practice, reason and the senses, form and content; man whose tendency to create his own forms does not imply an abstract rationalism which ignores concrete content; man for whom freedom and necessity are identical.

With this we find that we have unexpectedly discovered what we had been searching for when we were held up by the irreducible duality of pure and practical reason, by the question of the subject of an ‘action’, of the ‘creation’ of reality as a totality. All the more as we are dealing with an attitude (whose ambivalence we recognise as being necessary but which we shall not probe any further) which need not be sought in some mythologising transcendent construct; it does not only exist as a ‘fact of the soul’, as a nostalgia inhabiting the consciousness, but it also possesses a very real and concrete field of activity where it may be brought to fruition, namely art. This is not the place to investigate the ever-increasing importance of aesthetics and the theory of art within the total world-picture of the eighteenth century. As everywhere in this study, we are concerned solely to throw light on the social and historical background which threw up these problems and conferred upon aesthetics and upon consciousness of art philosophical importance that art was unable to lay claim to in previous ages. This does not mean that art itself was experiencing an unprecedented golden age. On the contrary, with a very few exceptions the actual artistic production during this period cannot remotely be compared to that of past golden ages. What is crucial here is the theoretical and philosophical importance which the principle of art acquires in this period.

This principle is the creation of a concrete totality that springs from a conception of form orientated towards the concrete content of its material substratum. In this view form is therefore able to demolish the ‘contingent’ relation of the parts to the whole and to resolve the merely apparent opposition between chance and necessity. It is well known that Kant in the Critique of Judgment assigned to this principle the role of mediator between the otherwise irreconcilable opposites, i.e. the function of perfecting the system. But even at this early stage this attempt at a solution could not limit itself to the explanation and interpretation of the phenomenon of art. If only because, as has been shown, the principle thus discovered was, from its inception, indissolubly bound up with the various conceptions of nature so that its most obvious and appropriate function seemed to provide a principle for the solution of all insoluble problems both of contemplative theory and ethical practice. Fichte did indeed provide a succinct programmatic account of the use to which this principle was to be put: art “transforms the transcendental point of view into the common one”, [48] that is to say, what was for transcendental philosophy a highly problematic postulate with which to explain the world, becomes in art perfect achievement: it proves that this postulate of the transcendental philosophers is necessarily anchored in the structure of human consciousness.

However, this proof involves a vital issue of methodology for classical philosophy which – as we have seen – was forced to undertake the task of discovering the subject of ‘action’ which could be seen to be the maker of reality in its concrete totality. For only if it can be shown that such a subjectivity can be found in the consciousness and that there can be a principle of form which is not affected by the problem of indifference vis-a-vis content and the resulting difficulties concerning the thing-in-itself, ‘intelligible contingency’, etc., only then is it methodologically possible to advance concretely beyond formal rationalism. Only then can a logical solution to the problem of irrationality (i.e. the relation of form to content) become at all feasible. Only then will it be possible to posit the world as conceived by thought as a perfected, concrete, meaningful system ‘created’ by us and attaining in us the stage of self-awareness. For this reason, together with the discovery of the principle of art, there arises also the problem of the ‘intuitive understanding’ whose content is not given but ‘created’. This understanding is, in Kant’s words [49] , spontaneous (i.e. active) and not receptive (i.e. contemplative) both as regards knowledge and intuitive perception. If, in the case of Kant himself, this only indicates the point from which it would be possible to complete and perfect the system, in the works of his successors this principle and the postulate of an intuitive understanding and an intellectual intuition becomes the cornerstone of systematic philosophy.

But it is in Schiller’s aesthetic and theoretical works that we can see, even more clearly than in the systems of the philosophers (where for the superficial observer the pure edifice of thought sometimes obscures the living heart from which these problems arise), the need which has provided the impetus for these analyses as well as the function to be performed by the solutions offered. Schiller defines the aesthetic principle as the play-instinct (in contrast to the form-instinct and the content-instinct) and his analysis of this contains very valuable insights into the question of reification, as is indeed true of all his aesthetic writings) . He formulates it as follows: “For it must be said once and for all that man only plays when he is a man in the full meaning of the word, and he is fully human only when he plays.” [50] By extending the aesthetic principle far beyond the confines of aesthetics, by seeing it as the key to the solution of the question of the meaning of man’s existence in society, Schiller brings us back to the basic issue of classical philosophy. On the one hand, he recognises that social life has destroyed man as man. On the other hand, he points to the principle whereby man having been socially destroyed, fragmented and divided between different partial systems is to be made whole again in thought. If we can now obtain a clear view of classical philosophy we see both the magnitude of its enterprise and the fecundity of the perspectives it opens up for the future, but we see no less clearly the inevitability of its failure. For while earlier thinkers remained naïvely entangled in the modes of thought of reification, or at best (as in the cases cited by Plekhanov) were driven into objective contradictions, here the problematic nature of social life for capitalist man becomes fully conscious.

“When the power of synthesis”, Hegel remarks, “vanishes from the lives of men and when the antitheses have lost their vital relation and their power of interaction and gain independence, it is then that philosophy becomes a felt need.” [51] At the same time, however, we can see the limitations of this undertaking. Objectively, since question and answer are confined from the very start to the realm of pure thought. These limitations are objective in so far as they derive from the dogmatism of critical philosophy. Even where its method has forced it beyond the limits of the formal, rational and discursive understanding enabling it to become critical of thinkers like Leibniz and Spinoza its fundamental systematic posture still remains rationalistic. The dogma of rationality remains unimpaired and is by no means superseded. [52] The limitations are subjective since the principle so discovered reveals when it becomes conscious of itself the narrow confines of its own validity. For if man is fully human “only when he plays”, we are indeed enabled to comprehend all the contents of life from this vantage point. And in the aesthetic mode, conceived as broadly as possible, they may be salvaged from the deadening effects of the mechanism of reification. But only in so far as these contents become aesthetic. That is to say, either the world must be aestheticised, which is an evasion of the real problem and is just another way in which to make the subject purely contemplative and to annihilate ‘action’. Or else, the aesthetic principle must be elevated into the principle by which objective reality is shaped: but that would be to mythologise the discovery of intuitive understanding.

From Fichte onwards it became increasingly necessary to make the mythologising of the process of ‘creation’ into a central issue, a question of life and death for classical philosophy; all the more so as the critical point of view was constrained, parallel with the antinomies which it discovered in the given world and our relationship with it, to treat the subject in like fashion and to tear it to pieces (i.e. its fragmentation in objective reality had to be reproduced in thought, accelerating the process as it did so). Hegel pours scorn in a number of places on Kant’s ‘soul-sack’ in which the different ‘faculties’ (theoretical, practical, etc.) are lying and from which they have to be ‘pulled out’. But there is no way for Hegel to overcome this fragmentation of the subject into independent parts whose empirical reality and even necessity is likewise undeniable, other than by creating this fragmentation, this disintegration out of a concrete, total subject. On this point art shows us, as we have seen, the two faces of Janus, and with the discovery of art it becomes possible either to provide yet another domain for the fragmented subject or to leave behind the safe territory of the concrete evocation of totality and (using art at most by way of illustration) tackle the problem of ‘creation’ from the side of the subject. The problem is then no longer – as it was for Spinoza – to create an objective system of reality on the model of geometry. It is rather this creation which is at once philosophy’s premise and its task. This creation is undoubtedly given (“There are synthetic judgements a priori – how are they possible ?” Kant had once asked). But the task is to deduce the unity – which is not given – of this disintegrating creation and to prove that it is the product of a creating subject. In the final analysis then: to create the subject of the ‘creator’.


This extends the discussions to the point where it goes beyond pure epistemology. The latter had aimed at investigating only the ‘possible conditions’ of those forms of thought and action which are given in ‘our’ reality. Its cultural and philosophical tendency, namely the impulse to overcome the reified disintegration of the subject and the – likewise reified – rigidity and impenetrability of its objects, emerges here with unmistakable clarity. After describing the influence Hamann had exercised upon his own development, Goethe gives a clear formulation to this aspiration: “Everything which man undertakes to perform, whether by word or deed, must be the product of all his abilities acting in concert; everything isolated is reprehensible.” [54] But with the shift to a fragmented humanity in need of reconstruction (a shift already indicated by the importance of the problem of art), the different meanings assumed by the subjective ‘we’ at the different stages of development can no longer remain concealed. The fact that the problematics have become more conscious, that it is harder to indulge confusions and equivocations than was the case with the concept of nature only makes matters more difficult. The reconstitution of the unity of the subject, the intellectual restoration of man has consciously to take its path through the realm of disintegration and fragmentation. The different forms of fragmentation are so many necessary phases on the road towards a reconstituted man but they dissolve into nothing when they come into a true relation with a grasped totality, i.e. when they become dialectical.

“The antitheses,” Hegel observes, “which used to be expressed in terms of mind and matter, body and soul, faith and reason, freedom and necessity, etc., and were also prominent in a number of more restricted spheres and concentrated all human interests in themselves, became transformed as culture advanced into contrasts between reason and the senses, intelligence and nature and, in its most general form, between absolute subjectivity and absolute objectivity. To transcend such ossified antitheses is the sole concern of reason. This concern does not imply hostility to opposites and restrictions in general; for the necessary course of evolution is one factor of life which advances by opposites: and the totality of life at its most intense is only possible as a new synthesis out of the most absolute separation.” [55] The genesis, the creation of the creator of knowledge, the dissolution of the irrationality of the thing-in-itself, the resurrection of man from his grave, all these issues become concentrated henceforth on the question of dialectical method. For in this method the call for an intuitive understanding (for method to supersede the rationalistic principle of knowledge) is clearly, objectively and scientifically stated. Of course, the history of the dialectical method reaches back deep into the history of rationalistic thought. But the turn it now takes distinguishes it qualitatively from all earlier approaches. (Hegel himself underestimates the importance of this distinction, e.g. in his treatment of Plato.) In all earlier attempts to use dialectics in order to break out of the limits imposed by rationalism there was a failure to connect the dissolution of rigid concepts clearly and firmly to the problem of the logic of the content, to the problem of irrationality.

Hegel in his Phenomenology and Logic was the first to set about the task of consciously recasting all problems of logic by grounding them in the qualitative material nature of their content, in matter in the logical and philosophical sense of the word. [56] This resulted in the establishment of a completely new logic of the concrete concept, the logic of totality – admittedly in a very problematic form which was not seriously continued after him.

Even more original is the fact that the subject is neither the unchanged observer of the objective dialectic of being and concept (as was true of the Eleatic philosophers and even of Plato), nor the practical manipulator of its purely mental possibilities (as with the Greek sophists): the dialectical process, the ending of a rigid confrontation of rigid forms, is enacted essentially between the subject and the object. No doubt, a few isolated earlier dialecticians were not wholly unaware of the different levels of subjectivity that arise in the dialectical process (consider for example the distinction between ‘ratio’ and ‘intellectus’ in the thought of Nicholas of Cusa). But this relativising process only refers to the possibility of different subject-object relations existing simultaneously or with one subordinated to the other, or at best developing dialectically from each other; they do not involve the relativising or the interpenetration of the subject and the object themselves. But only if that were the case, only if “the true [were understood] not only as substance but also as subject”, only if the subject (consciousness, thought) were both producer and product of the dialectical process, only if, as a result the subject moved in a self-created world of which it is the conscious form and only if the world imposed itself upon it in full objectivity, only then can the problem of dialectics, and with it the abolition of the antitheses of subject and object, thought and existence, freedom and necessity, be held to be solved. It might look as if this would take philosophy back to the great system-builders of the beginning of the modern age. The identity, proclaimed by Spinoza, of the order to be found in the realm of ideas with the order obtaining in the realm of things seems to come very close to this point of view. The parallel is all the more plausible (and made a strong impression on the system of the young Schelling) as Spinoza, too, found the basis of this identity in the object, in the substance. Geometric construction is a creative principle that can create only because it represents the factor of self-consciousness in objective reality. But here [in Hegel’s argument] objectivity tends in every respect in the opposite direction to that given it by Spinoza for whom every subjectivity, every particular content and every movement vanishes into nothing before the rigid purity and unity of this substance. If, therefore, it is true that philosophy is searching for an identical order in the realms of ideas and things and that the ground of existence is held to be the first principle, and if it is true also that this identity should serve as an explanation of concreteness and movement, then it is evident that the meaning of substance and order in the realm of things must have undergone a fundamental change.

Classical philosophy did indeed advance to the point of this change in meaning and succeeded in identifying the substance, now appearing for the first time, in which philosophically the underlying order and the connections between things were to be found, namely history. The arguments which go to show that here and here alone is the concrete basis for genesis are extraordinarily diverse and to list them would require almost a complete recapitulation of our analysis up to this point. For in the case of almost every insoluble problem we perceive that the search for a solution leads us to history. On the other hand, we must discuss some of these factors at least briefly for even classical philosophy was not fully conscious of the logical necessity of the link between genesis and history and for social and historical reasons to be spelled out later, it could not become fully conscious of it.

The materialists of the eighteenth century were aware that history is an insuperable barrier to a rationalist theory of knowledge. [57] But in accordance with their own rationalistic dogma they interpreted this as an eternal and indestructible limit to human reason in general. The logical and methodological side of this fallacy can easily be grasped when we reflect that rationalist thought by concerning itself with the formal calculability of the contents of forms made abstract, must define these contents as immutable – within the system of relations obtaining at any given time. The evolution of the real contents, i.e. the problem of history, can only be accommodated by this mode of thought by means of a system of laws which strives to do justice to every foreseeable possibility.

How far this is practicable need not detain us here; what we find significant is the fact that thanks to this conclusion the method itself blocks the way to an understanding both of the quality and the concreteness of the contents and also of their evolution, i.e. of history: it is of the essence of such a law that within its jurisdiction nothing new can happen by definition and a system of such laws which is held to be perfect can indeed reduce the need to correct individual laws but cannot calculate what is novel. (The concept of the ‘source of error’ is just a makeshift to cover up for the fact that for rational knowledge process and novelty have the [unknowable] quality of things-in-themselves.) But if genesis, in the sense given to it in classical philosophy, is to be attained it is necessary to create a basis for it in a logic of contents which change. It is only in history, in the historical process, in the uninterrupted outpouring o f what is qualitatively new that the requisite paradigmatic order can be found in the realm of things. [58]

For as long as this process and this novelty appear merely as an obstacle and not as the simultaneous result, goal and substratum of the method, the concepts – like the objects of reality as it is experienced – must preserve their encapsulated rigidity which only appears to be eliminated by the juxtaposition of other concepts. Only the historical process truly eliminates the-actual-autonomy of the objects and the concepts of objects with their resulting rigidity As Hegel remarks with reference to the relation between body and soul: “Indeed, if both are presumed to be absolutely independent of each other they are as impenetrable for each other as any material is for any other and the presence of one can be granted only in the non-being, in the pores of the other; just as Epicurus assigned to the gods a dwelling place in the pores but was logical enough not to impose upon them any community with the world.” [59] But historical evolution annuls the autonomy of the individual factors. By compelling the knowledge which ostensibly does these factors justice to construct its conceptual system upon content and upon what is qualitatively unique and new in the phenomena, it forces it at the same time to refuse to allow any of these elements to remain at the level of mere concrete uniqueness. Instead, the concrete totality of the historical world, the concrete and total historical process is the only point of view from which understanding becomes possible.

With this point of view the two main strands of the irrationality of the thing-in-itself and the concreteness of the individual content and of totality are given a positive turn and appear as a unity. This signals a change in the relation between theory and practice and between freedom and necessity. The idea that we have made reality loses its more or less fictitious character: we have – in the prophetic words of Vico already cited – made our own history and if we are able to regard the whole of reality as history (i.e. as our history, for there is no other), we shall have raised ourselves in fact to the position from which reality can be understood as our ‘action’. The dilemma of the materialists will have lost its meaning for it stands revealed as a rationalistic prejudice, as a dogma of the formalistic understanding. This had recognised as deeds only those actions which were consciously performed whereas the historical environment we have created, the product of the historical process was regarded as a reality which influences us by virtue of laws alien to us.

Here in our newly-won knowledge where, as Hegel puts it in the Phenomenology, “the true becomes a Bacchantic orgy in which no one escapes being drunk”, reason seems to have lifted the veil concealing the sacred mystery at Saïs and discovers, as in the parable of Novalis, that it is itself the solution to the riddle. But here, we find once again, quite concretely this time, the decisive problem of this line of thought: the problem of the subject of the action, the subject of the genesis. For the unity of subject and object, of thought and existence which the ‘action’ undertook to prove and to exhibit finds both its fulfilment and its substratum in the unity of the genesis of the determinants of thought and of the history of the evolution of reality. But to comprehend this unity it is necessary both to discover the site from which to resolve all these problems and also to exhibit concretely the ‘we’ which is the subject of history, that ‘we’ whose action is in fact history.

However, at this point classical philosophy turned back and lost itself in the endless labyrinth of conceptual mythology. It will be our task in the next section to explain why it was unable to discover this concrete subject of genesis, the methodologically indispensable subject-object. At this stage it is only necessary to indicate what obstacle it encountered as a result of this aberrancy.

Hegel, who is in every respect the pinnacle of this development, also made the most strenuous search for this subject. The ‘we’ that he was able to find is, as is well known, the World Spirit, or rather, its concrete incarnations, the spirits of the individual peoples. Even if we – provisionally – ignore the mythologising and hence abstract character of this subject, it must still not be overlooked that, even if we accept all of Hegel’s assumptions without demur, this subject remains incapable of fulfilling the methodological and systematic function assigned to it, even from Hegel’s own point of view. Even for Hegel, the spirit of a people can be no more than a ‘natural’ determinant of the World Spirit, i.e. one “which strips off its limitation only at a higher moment, namely at the moment when it becomes conscious of its own essence and it possesses its absolute truth only in this recognition and not immediately in its existence.” [60]

From this follows above all that the spirit of a people only seems to be the subject of history, the doer of its deeds: for in fact it is the World Spirit that makes use of that ‘natural character’ of a people which corresponds to the actual requirements and to the idea of the World Spirit and accomplishes its deeds by means of and in spite of the spirit of the people. [61] But in this way the deed becomes something transcendent for the doer himself and the freedom that seems to have been won is transformed unnoticed into that specious freedom to reflect upon laws which themselves govern man, a freedom which in Spinoza a thrown stone would possess if it had consciousness. It is doubtless true that Hegel whose realistic genius neither could nor would disguise the truth about the nature of history as he found it did nevertheless seek to provide an explanation of it in terms of “the ruse of reason”. But it must not be forgotten that “the ruse of reason” can only claim to be more than a myth if authentic reason can be discovered and demonstrated in a truly concrete manner. In that case it becomes a brilliant explanation for stages in history that have not yet become conscious. But these can only be understood and evaluated as stages from a standpoint already achieved by a reason that has discovered itself. At this point Hegel’s philosophy is driven inexorably into the arms of mythology. Having failed to discover the identical subject-object in history it was forced to go out beyond history and, there, to establish the empire of reason which has discovered itself. From that vantage point it became possible to understand history as a mere stage and its evolution in terms of “the ruse of reason”. History is not able to form the living body of the total system: it becomes a part, an aspect of the totality that culminates in the ‘absolute spirit’, in art, religion and philosophy.

But history is much too much the natural, and indeed the uniquely possible life-element of the dialectical method for such an enterprise to succeed. On the one hand, history now intrudes, illogically but inescapably into the structure of those very spheres which according to the system were supposed to lie beyond its range. [62] On the other hand, this inappropriate and inconsistent approach to history deprives history itself of that essence which is so important precisely within the Hegelian system.

For, in the first place, its relation to reason will now appear to be accidental. “When, where and in what form such self-reproductions of reason make their appearance as philosophy is accidental,” Hegel observes in the passage cited earlier concerning the “needs of philosophy”. [63] But in the absence of necessity history relapses into the irrational dependence on the ‘given’ which it had just overcome. And if its relation to the reason that comprehends it is nothing more than that of an irrational content to a more general form for which the concrete hic et nunc, place, time and concrete content are contingent, then reason itself will succumb to all the antinomies of the thing-in-itself characteristic of pre-dialectical methods.

In the second place, the unclarified relation between absolute spirit and history forces Hegel to the assumption, scarcely comprehensible in view of this method, that history has an end and that in his own day and in his own system of philosophy the consummation and the truth of all his predecessors are to be found. This necessarily means that even in the more mundane and properly historical spheres, history must find its fulfilment in the restored Prussian state.

In the third place, genesis, detached from history, passes through its own development from logic through nature to spirit. But as the historicity of all categories and their movements intrudes decisively into the dialectical method and as dialectical genesis and history necessarily belong together objectively and only go their separate ways because classical philosophy was unable to complete its programme, this process which had been designed to be suprahistorical, inevitably exhibits a historical structure at every point. And since the method, having become abstract and contemplative, now as a result falsifies and does violence to history, it follows that history will gain its revenge and violate the method which has failed to integrate it, tearing it to pieces. (Consider in this context the transition from the logic to the philosophy of nature.)

In consequence, as Marx has emphasised in his criticism of Hegel, the demiurgic role of the ‘spirit’ and the ‘idea’ enters the realm of conceptual mythology.” [64] Once again – and from the standpoint of Hegel’s philosophy itself – it must be stated that the demiurge only seems to make history. But this semblance is enough to dissipate wholly the attempt of the classical philosophers to break out of the limits imposed on formal and rationalistic (bourgeois, reified) thought and thereby to restore a humanity destroyed by that reification. Thought relapses into the contemplative duality of subject and object. [65]

Classical philosophy did, it is true, take all the antinomies of its life-basis to the furthest extreme it was capable of in thought; it conferred on them the highest possible intellectual expression. But even for this philosophy they remain unsolved and insoluble. Thus classical philosophy finds itself historically in the paradoxical position that it was concerned to find a philosophy that would mean the end of bourgeois society, and to resurrect in thought a humanity destroyed in that society and by it. In the upshot, however, it did not manage to do more than provide a complete intellectual copy and the a priori deduction of bourgeois society. It is only the manner of this deduction, namely the dialectical method that points beyond bourgeois society. And even in classical philosophy this is only expressed in the form of an unsolved and insoluble antinomy. This antinomy is admittedly the most profound and the most magnificent intellectual expression of those antinomies which lie at the roots of bourgeois society and which are unceasingly produced and reproduced by it – albeit in confused and inferior forms. Hence classical philosophy had nothing but these unresolved antinomies to bequeath to succeeding (bourgeois) generations. The continuation of that course which at least in method started to point the way beyond these limits, namely the dialectical method as the true historical method was reserved for the class which was able to discover within itself on the basis of its life-experience the identical subject-object, the subject of action; the ‘we’ of the genesis: namely the proletariat.



1 Reclam, p. 17.

2 Capital I, p. 372 (note).

3 Cf. Tönnies, Hobbes' Leben und Lehre and especially Ernst Cassirer, Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie und Wissenschaft der neueren Zeit. We shall return to the conclusions of this book which are of value for us because they have been arrived at from a completely different point of view and yet describe the same process, showing the impact of the rationalism of mathematics and the 'exact' sciences upon the origins of modern thought.

4 Capital I, p. 486. See also Gottl, op. cit., pp. 238-45. for the contrast with antiquity. For this reason the concept of 'rationalism' must not be employed as an unhistorical abstraction, but it is always necessary precisely to determine the object (or sphere of life) to which it is to be related, and above all to define the objects to which it is not related.

5 Max Weber, Gesammelle Aufsdtze zur Religionssoziologie II, pp. 165-70. A like structure can be found in the development of all the 'special' sciences in India: a highly advanced technology in particular branches without reference to a rational totality and without any attempt to rationalise the whole and to confer universal validity upon the rational categories. Cf. also Ibid., pp. 146-7, 166-7. The situation is similar with regard to the 'rationalism' of Confucianism. Op. cit. I, p. 527.

6 In this respect Kant is the culmination of the philosophy of the eighteenth century. Both the line from Locke to Berkeley. and Hume and also the tradition of French materialism move in this direction. It would be beyond the scope of this inquiry to outline the different stages of this development with its various divergent strands.

7 Kritik der reinen Vernunft, pp. 403-4. Cf. also pp. 330 et seq.

8 Feuerbach also connected the problem of the absolute transcendence of sensuousness (by the understanding) with a contradiction in the existence of God. "The proof of the existence of God goes beyond the bounds of reason; true enough; but in the same sense in which seeing, hearing, smelling go beyond the bounds of reason." Das Wesen des Christentums, Reclam., p. 303. See Cassirer, op. cit. II, p. 608, for similar arguments in Hume and Kant.

9 This problem is stated most clearly by Lask: "For subjectivity" (i.e. for the logically subjective status of judgement), "it is by no means self-evident, but on the contrary it is the whole task of the philosopher to ascertain the categories into which logical form divides when applied to a particular subject-matter or, to put it differently, to discover which subjects form the particular province of the various categories." Die Lehre vom Urteil, p. 162.

10 Die Kritik der reinen Vernunft, p. 564.

11 This is not the place to show that neither Greek philosophy (with the possible exception of quite late thinkers, such as Proclus) nor medieval philosophy were acquainted with the idea of a 'system' in our sense. The problem of systems originates in modern times, with Descartes and Spinoza and from Leibniz and Kant onwards it becomes an increasingly conscious methodological postulate.

12 The idea of "infinite understanding", of intellectual intuition, etc., is partly designed as an epistemological solution to this difficulty. However, Kant had already perceived quite clearly that this problem leads on to the one we are about to discuss.

13 Once again it is Lask who perceives this most clearly and uncompromisingly. Cf. Die Logik der Philosophie, pp. 60-2. But he does not draw all the consequences of his line of reasoning, in particular that of the impossibility of a rational system in principle.

14 We may point for example to Husserl's phenomenological method in which the whole terrain of logic is ultimately transformed into a 'system of facts' of a higher order. Husserl himself regards this method as purely descriptive. Cf. Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie in Vol. I of his jahrbuch, p. 113.

15 This fundamental tendency of Leibniz's thought attains maturity in the philosophy of Maimon where it appears in the form of the dissolution of the problem of the thing-in-itself and of "intelligible chance"; from here a path leads directly to Fichte and through him to later developments. The problem of the irrationality of mathematics is analysed incisively in an essay by Rickert, "Das Eine, die Einheit und das Eins," in Logos II, p. 1.

16 Die Wissenschaftslehre of 1804, Lecture XV, Werke (Neue Ausgabe) IV, p. 288. My italics. The problem is put similarly - though with varying degrees of clarity - by later 'critical' philosophers. Most clearly of all by Windelband when he defines existence as "content independent of form". In my opinion his critics have only obscured his paradox without providing a solution to the problem it contains.

17 This is not the place to offer a critique of particular philosophical schools. By way of proof of the correctness of this sketch I would only point to the relapse into natural law (which methodologically belongs to the pre-critical period) observable - in substance, though not in terminology - in the works of Cohen and also of Stammler whose thought is related to that of the Marburg School.

18 Rickert, one of the most consistent representatives of this school of thought, ascribes no more than a formal character to the cultural values underlying historiography, and it is precisely this fact that highlights the whole situation. On this point see Section III.

19 Transcendentale Logik, Lecture XXIII, Werke VI, p. 335. Readers unfamiliar with the terminology of classical philosophy are reminded that Fichte's concept of the ego has nothing to do with the empirical ego.

20 Second Introduction to the Wissenschaftslehre, Werke III, p. 52. Although Fichte's terminology changes from one work to the next, this should not blind us to the fact that he is always concerned with the same problem.

21 Cf. Die Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, Philosophische Bibliothek, p. 72.

22 "Now nature is in the common view the existence of things subject to laws." Ibid., p. 57.

23 Ibid., pp. 125-6.

24 Ober die wissenschaftliche Behandlungsarien des Naturrechts, Werke 1, pp. 352-3. Cf. ibid., p. 351. "For it is the absolute abstraction from every subject-matter of the will; every content posits a heteronomy of the free will." Or, with even greater clarity, in the Phenomenology of Mind: "For pure duty is . . . absolutely indifferent towards every content and is compatible with every content." Werke II, p. 485.

25 This is quite clear in the case of the Greeks. But the same structure can be seen in the great systems at the beginning of the modern age, above all in Spinoza.

26 Die Kritik der reinen Vernunft, pp. 472-3.

27 Hegel, Werke III, pp. 78 et seq.

28 Nachlass I, p. 117. [Fragments on The Difference between the Democritean and Epicurean philosophies of nature].

29 From this ontological situation it becomes possible to understand the point of departure for the belief, so alien to modern thought, in 'natural' states, e.g. the "credo ut intellegam" of Anselm of Canterbury, or the attitude of Indian thought ("Only by him whom he chooses will he be understood," it has been said of Atman). Descartes' systematic scepticism, which was the starting-point of exact thought, is no more than the sharpest formulation of this antagonism that was very consciously felt at the birth of the modern age. It can be seen again in every important thinker from Galileo to Bacon.

30 For the history of this universal mathematics, see Cassirer, op. cit. I, pp. 446, 563; II, 138, 156 et seq. For the connection between this mathematicisation of reality and the bourgeois 'praxis' of calculating the anticipated results of the 'laws', see Lange, Geschichte des Materialismus (Reclam) I, pp. 321-32 on Hobbes, Descartes and Bacon.

31 For the Platonic theory of ideas was indissolubly linked - with what right need not be discussed here - both with the totality and the qualitative existence of the given world. Contemplation means at the very least the bursting of the bonds that hold the 'soul' imprisoned within the limitations of the empirical. The Stoic ideal of ataraxy is a much better instance of this quite pure contemplation, but it is of course devoid of the paradoxical union with a feverish and uninterrupted 'activity'.

32 Die Differenz des Fichteschen und Schellingschen Systems, Werke I, p. 242. Every such 'atomic' theory of society only represents the ideological reflection of the purely bourgeois point of view; this was shown conclusively by Marx in his critique of Bruno Bauer, Nachlass II, p. 227. But this is not to deny the 'objectivity' of such views: they are in fact the necessary forms of consciousness that reified man has of his attitude towards society.

33 Hegel, Werke IX, p. 528.

34 Capital I, 390 (footnote).

35 Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, 3rd edition, p. 38.

36 Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy in S.W. II, p. 336.

37 E.g. the Phenomenology of Mind, Preface, Werke II, p. 20; and also ibid., pp. 67-8, 451, etc.

38 Marx employs this terminology in the important, oft-quoted passage about the proletariat (it is to be found in these pages too). The Poverty of Philosophy, p. 195. For this whole question, see also the relevant passages in the Logik, especially in Vol. III, pp. 127 et. seq., 166 et seq., and Vol. IV, pp. 120 et seq., and see also the critique of Kant in a number of places.

39 Die Kritik der reinen Vernunft, pp. 208 et seq.

40 Nachlass I, p. 449. [An Outline of a Critique of National Economy].

41 Capital I, p. 592, etc. Cf. also the essay on "Class Consciousness" for the question of the 'false consciousness' of the bourgeoisie.

42 It is this that provokes repeated attacks from Hegel. But in addition Goethe's rejection of the Kantian ethic points in the same direction although Goethe's motives and hence his terminology are different. That Kant's ethics is faced with the task of solving the problem of the thing-in-itself can be seen in innumerable places, e.g. the Grundlegung der Metaphysik der Sitien, Philosophische Bibliothek, p. 87; Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, p. 123.

43 Die Kritik der reinen Vernunft, p. 77.

44 Cf. also the essay "The Marxism of Rosa Luxemburg" on the question of the methodological interrelatedness of these two principles.

45 Beiträge zur Geschichte des Materialismus, pp. 54 et seq., 122 et seq. How near Holbach and Helvetius came to the problem of the thing-in-itself - admittedly in a more naive form - can likewise be seen there on pp. 9, 51, etc.

46 The history of the stories 5 la Robinson cannot be undertaken here. I refer the reader to Marx's comments (A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, pp. 266 et seq., and to Cassirer's subtle remarks about the role of Robinson Crusoe in Hobbes' epistemology. Op. cit. II, pp. 61 et seq.

47 On this point cf. especially Die Kritik der Urteilskraft § 42. Via Schiller the illustration of the real and the imitated nightingale strongly influenced later thinkers. It would be of absorbing interest to follow through the historical development leading from German Romanticism via the historical school of law, Carlyle, Ruskin, etc., in the course of which the concept of 'organic growth' was converted from a protest against reification into an increasingly reactionary slogan. To do so, however, would be outside the scope of this work. Here it is only the structure of the objects that need concern us: namely the fact that what would seem to be the highpoint of the interiorisation of nature really implies the abandonment of any true understanding of it. To make moods [Stimmung] into the content presupposes the existence of unpenetrated and impenetrable objects (things-in-themselves) just as much as do the laws of nature.

48 Das System der Sittenlehre, 3. Hauptstück, § 31, Werke II, p. 747. It would be both interesting and rewarding to show how the so rarely understood Nature philosophy of the classical epoch necessarily springs from this state of affairs. It is not by chance that Goethe's Nature philosophy arose in the course of a conflict with Newton's 'violation' of nature. Nor was it an accident that it set the pattern for all later developments. But both phenomena can only be understood in terms of the relation between man, nature and art. This also explains the methodological return to the qualitative Nature philosophy of the Renaissance as being the first assault upon a mathematical conception of nature.

49 Die Kritik der Urteilskraft, § 77.

50 On the Aesthetic Education of Man, 15th Letter.

51 Die Differenz des Fichteschen und Schellingschen Systems, Werke I, p. 174.

52 It is in his opposition to this that we can locate the substantive core in Schelling's later philosophy. However, his mythologising approach now became wholly reactionary. Hegel represents - as we shall show - the absolute consummation of rationalism, but this means that he can be superseded only by an interrelation of thought and existence that has ceased to be contemplative, by the concrete demonstration of the identical subject-object. Schelling made the absurd attempt to achieve this by going in the reverse direction and so to reach a purely intellectual solution. He thus ended up, like all the epigones of classical philosophy, in a reactionary mythology that glorified an empty irrationality.

53 It is not possible to examine the question in detail here, but I should like to point out that this is the point at which to begin an analysis of the problematics of Romanticism. Familiar, but seldom understood concepts, such as 'irony' spring from this situation. In particular the incisive questions posed by Solger who has wrongly been allowed to slide into oblivion, place him together with Friedrich Schlegel as a pioneer of the dialectical method between Schelling and Hegel, a position in some ways comparable to that occupied by Maimon in between Kant and Fichte. The role of mythology in Schelling's aesthetics becomes clearer with this in mind. There is an obvious connection between such problems and the conception of nature as a mood. The truly critical, metaphysically non-hypostatised, artistic view of the world leads to an even greater fragmentation of the unity of the subject and thus to an increase in the symptoms of alienation; this has been borne out by the later evolution of consistently modern views of art (Flaubert, Konrad Fiedler, etc.) On this point cf. my essay, Die Subjekt-Objekt-Beziehung in der Asthetik, Logos, jahrgang iv.

54 Dichtung und Wahrheit, Book 12. The subterranean influence of Hamann is much greater than is usually supposed.

55 Werke I, pp. 173-4. The Phenomenology is an attempt - unsurpassed hitherto, even by Hegel - to develop such a method.

56 Lask, the most ingenious and logical of the modern Neo-Kantians, clearly perceives this development in Hegel's Logic. "In this respect, too, the critic must admit that Hegel is in the right: irrationality can be overcome if and only if dialectically changing concepts are acceptable." Fichtes Idealismus und die Geschichte, p. 67.

57 Cf. Plekhanov, op. cit., pp. 9, 51, etc. But methodologically only formalistic rationalism is confronted by an insoluble problem at this point. Setting aside the substantive scientific value of medieval solutions to these questions, it is indubitable that the Middle Ages did not see any problem here, let alone an insoluble one. We may compare Holbach's statement, quoted by Plekhanov, that we cannot know "whether the chicken preceded the egg, or the egg the chicken" with e.g. the statement of Master Eckhard, "Nature makes the man from the child and the chicken from the egg; God makes the man before the child and the chicken before the egg" (Sermon of the noble man). Needless to say, we are here concerned exclusively with the contrast in methodology. On the basis of this methodological limitation as the result of which history is made to appear as a thing-in-itself, Plekhanov has rightly judged these materialists to be naive idealists in their approach to history. Zu Hegels 60. Todestag, Neue Zeit X. 1. 273.

58 Here too we can do no more than refer in passing to the history of this problem. The opposed positions were clearly established very early on. I would point to e.g. Friedrich Schlegel's critique of Condorcet's attempt (1 795) to provide a rationalist explanation of history (as it were, of the type of Comte or Spencer). " The enduring qualities of man are the subject of pure science, but the changing aspects of man, both as an individual and in the mass, are the subject of a scientific history of mankind." Prosaische jugendschriften, Vienna, 1906. Vol. II, p. 52.

59 Die Encyclopädie, § 309. For us, of course, only the methodological aspect has any significance. Nevertheless, we must emphasise that all formal, rationalist concepts exhibit this same reified impenetrability. The modern substitution of functions for things does not alter this situation in the least, as concepts of function do not at all differ from thing-concepts in the only area that matters, i.e. the form-content relationship. On the contrary, they take their formal, rationalist structure to its extreme logical conclusion.

60 Hegel, Werke II, p. 267.

61 Die Philosophie des Rechts, § 345-7. Encyclopädie, § 548-52.

62 In the last versions of the system history represents the transition from the philosophy of right to the absolute spirit. (In the Phenomenology the relation is more complex but methodologically just as ambiguous and undefined.) 'Absolute spirit' is the truth of the preceding moment, of history and therefore, in accordance with Hegel's logic, it would have to have annulled and preserved history within itself. However, in the dialectical method history cannot be so transcended and this is the message at the end of Hegel's Philosophy of History where at the climax of the system, at the moment where the 'absolute spirit' realises itself, history makes its reappearance and points beyond philosophy in its turn: "That the determinants of thought had this importance is a further insight that does not belong within the history of philosophy. These concepts are the simplest revelation of the spirit of the world: this in its most concrete form is history." Werke XV, p. 618.

63 Werke 1, p. 174. Needless to say, Fichte places an even heavier emphasis on chance.

64 Cf. the essay "What is orthodox Marxism?"

65 With this the Logic itself becomes problematic. Hegel's postulate that the concept is "reconstituted being" (Werke V, 30) is only possible on the assumption of the real creation of the identical subject-object. A failure at this point means that the concept acquires a Kantian, idealistic emphasis which is in conflict with its dialectical function. To show this in detail would be well beyond the scope of this study.