Jacques Maritain Center : Natural Theology / by Bernard Boedder, S.J.

SECTION 7. -- Remarks on the theories of Fichte, Hegel, and others.

125. According to Fichte the Ego is the embodiment of all reality. All individual things, to the existence of which consciousness and experience testify, are nothing but different aspects of the infinite reality of the Ego, bound by fatal necessity to oppose itself to itself. Whatever therefore man perceives is properly speaking in himself, inasmuch as his own being is one reality with the many-sided infinite Ego.

The foundation upon which this pantheistic idealism rests is the belief that knowledge of existences separate from that of the person knowing transcends the bounds of possibility.

"Whatever you are looking at as outside yourself," says Fichte, "is always your own self; whatever you are conscious of in it, you are really contemplating yourself."{66} This opinion grew upon him by reading the first edition of Kant's Criticism of Pure Reason. Following out logically what Kant had said about the impossibility of giving a satisfactory account of the objectivity of our knowledge by speculative reason, Fichte did away with the object, and thus converted the world into a necessary illusion of the One Infinite Subject. The general refutation of pantheism given by us above (§§ 78-81, inclus.) suffices abundantly to show how utterly Fichte's system is opposed to sound reason. And we may add that those who like Fichte consider the entire world to be but a series of interesting games played by consciousness with its subjective phenomena, are quite unreasonable in challenging their opponents to point out a bridge by which they may pass from real subject to real object. Either they believe that they have opponents or they do not. If they do not, why ask the question? If they do, therein is the acknowledgment that in their own cognitive faculties they possess a bridge which is sufficiently safe.{67}

126. In a quarrel between the followers of Fichte and those of Hegel, the latter may claim for their master the distinction of greater dialectical skill, but it will be impossible to show that the Hegelian system considered in its essence is more in harmony with reason than that of Fichte.

Hegel calls the Divine Essence the Idea, and explains it so as in reality to signify by the term the abstract concept of being. Thought and Being are one in his system. If he had said this of the Divine Nature distinct from and above the world, he would have been perfectly right. God is at once Infinite Being and Infinite Thought. What is thus true of God, Hegel affirms of the Idea of Being, under which our mind conceives whatever is and can be. This Idea of Being, as Hegel regards it, is something infinite, something generating within itself by natural evolution all finite things, opposed as they are to one another, and persevering in its own reality as the unity of these opposites.{68}

The basis of this theory is the fiction, that not the singular, but the universal is properly real. Hence it follows that as there is one concept which expresses the most universal object, i.e., Being as such, that concept must be the foundation of all reality, so much so, that all existing things are but determinations of abstract Being, evolving itself into finite beings opposed to one another. This fiction has its origin in the confusion of the real order of things with the ideal order; in other words, in the confusion of the beings conceived by us with our way of conceiving them. Though our external and internal experience bears witness that there are many finite beings altogether distinct from one another, and though by reasoning we arrive at the knowledge of one Infinite Being, really existing apart from all finite beings, yet with our intellect we can abstract from all the differences between Finite and Infinite, and from all the differences between various finite beings, and come to consider whatever is, simply in so far as it is not nothing.

Thus we form one indeterminate concept of Being, applicable to all beings, however vast the difference between them. But from this abstraction producing the concept of universal Being, it does not follow that there is in reality one universal Being, of which all particular beings are modes or determinations. On the grounds which moved Hegel to maintain that all being is properly one being, we should have just as much right to say that all Englishmen are properly one Englishman, and that the English race dies out as often as an Englishman breathes his last, and nevertheless lives on as precisely the same Englishman in another shape.

127. The system of Schopenhauer, who takes the world to be the evolution of an underlying "will," and that of Hartmann, who makes the "unconscious" answerable for the multitude of creatures, exhibit the self-evolution of the First Cause in a form more offensive not only to Christian but also to human Sentiment.

Another form of monistic error is the materialistic evolutionism according to which "material and mental groupings have gradually advanced from the simple to the complex, until the extraordinary complexity of the human brain and human thought processes have been reached."{69} Such hypotheses spring from erroneous opinions on the nature of intellect and causality, and they suppose the possibility of eternal succession. These subjects have been sufficiently dealt with, partly in the present volume and partly in other of the series.

The adherents of these various systems like to be called "monists," and they are wont to apply the name of God to their One Reality, into which they profess to resolve all existence. But the true name for them is "atheists," and we must protest against the practice of giving to the name of God a meaning distinct from that which it has hitherto borne, and even opposite to it in all that gives to the idea of God its special value as the basis of moral conduct and obligation.

{66} Fichte, Die Bestimmung des Menschen, p. 228.

{67} The idealism contained in Fichte's system has found a fuller refutation in the treatise of this series entitled First Principles.

{68} Cf. Encyclopädie, Band. i. §§ 79-82.

{69} Nature, October 28, 1886. In a review of Sidgwick's Outlines of Ethics, by C. LL. M.

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