Part One of the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences: The Logic
Third Subdivision: The Notion
C. The Idea
Sensibility, Irritability, and Reproduction
The process of the vital subject within its own limits has in Nature the threefold form of Sensibility, Irritability, and Reproduction. As Sensibility, the living being is immediately simple self-relation-it is the soul omnipresent in its body, the outsideness of each member of which to others has for it no truth. As Irritability, the living being appears split up in itself; and as Reproduction, it is perpetually restoring itself from the inner distinction of its members and organs. A vital agent only exists as this continually self-renewing process within its own limits.
The matter which it assimilates
(2) But the judgment of the notion proceeds, as free… The dialectic by which the object, being implicitly null, is merged is the action of the self-assured living thing, which in this process against an inorganic nature thus retains, develops, and objectifies itself.
The living being stands face to face with an inorganic nature, to which it comports itself as a master and which it assimilates to itself. The result of the assimilation is not, as in the chemical process, a neutral product in which the independence of the two confronting sides is merged; but the living being shows itself as large enough to embrace its other which cannot withstand its power. The inorganic nature which is subdued by the vital agent suffers this fate, because it is virtually the same as what life is actually. Thus in the other the living being only coalesces with itself. But when the soul has fled from the body, the elementary powers of objectivity begin their play. These powers are, as it were, continually on the spring, ready to begin their process in the organic body; and life is the constant battle against them.
Birth, Death and Genus
The living being dies, because it is a contradiction. Implicitly it is the universal or Kind, and yet immediately it exists as an individual only. Death shows the Kind to be the power that rules the immediate individual. For the animal the process of Kind is the highest point of its vitality. But the animal never gets so far in its Kind as to have a being of its own; it succumbs to the power of Kind. In the process of Kind the immediate living being mediates itself with itself, and thus rises above its immediacy, only however to sink back into it again. Life thus runs away, in the first instance, only into the false infinity of the progress ad infinitum. The real result, however, of the process of life, in the point of its notion, is to merge and overcome that immediacy with which the idea, in the shape of life, is still beset.
This process is in general terms Cognition. In Cognition in a single act the contrast is virtually superseded, as regards both the one-sidedness of subjectivity and the one-sidedness of objectivity. At first, however, the supersession of the contrast is but implicit. The process as such is in consequence immediately infected with the finitude of this sphere, and splits into the twofold movement of the instinct of reason, presented as two different movements. On the one hand it supersedes the one-sidedness of the Idea’s subjectivity by receiving the existing world into itself, into subjective conception and thought; and with this objectivity, which is thus taken to be real and true, for its content it fills up the abstract certitude of itself. On the other hand, it supersedes the one-sidedness of the objective world, which is now, on the contrary, estimated as only a mere semblance, a collection of contingencies and shapes at bottom visionary. It modifies and informs that world by the inward nature of the subjective, which is here taken to be the genuine objective. The former is the instinct of science after Truth, Cognition properly so called — the Theoretical action of the idea. The latter is the instinct of the Good to fulfil the same — the Practical activity of the idea, or Volition.
[[a] Cognition proper
§ 226-232 are not excerpted here]
The subjective idea as original and objective determinateness, and as a simple uniform content, is the Good. Its impulse towards self-realisation is in its behaviour the reverse of the idea of truth, and rather directed towards moulding the world it finds before it into a shape conformable to its purposed End. This Volition has, on the one hand, the certitude of the nothingness of the presupposed object; but, on the other, as finite, it at the same time presupposes the purposed End of the Good to be a mere subjective idea, and the object to be independent.
This action of the Will is finite: and its finitude lies in the contradiction that in the inconsistent terms applied to the objective world the End of the Good is just as much not executed as executed, the end in question put as unessential as much as essential, as actual and at the same time as merely possible. This contradiction presents itself to imagination as an endless progress in the actualising of the Good; which is therefore set up and fixed as a mere ‘ought’, or goal of perfection.
While Intelligence merely proposes to take the world as it is, Will takes steps to make the world what it ought to be. Will looks upon the immediate and given present not as solid being, but as mere semblance without reality. It is here that we meet those contradictions which are so bewildering from the standpoint of abstract morality. This position in its ‘practical’ bearings is the one taken by the philosophy of Kant, and even by that of Fichte. The Good, say these writers, has to be realised: we have to work in order to produce it: and Will is only the Good actualising itself. If the world then were as it ought to be, the action of Will would be at an end. The Will itself therefore requires that its End should not be realised. In these words, a correct expression is given to the finitude of Will. But finitude was not meant to be the ultimate point: and it is the process of Will itself which abolishes finitude and the contradiction it involves. The reconciliation is achieved when Will in its result returns to the presupposition made by cognition. In other words, it consists in the unity of the theoretical and practical idea. Will knows the end to be its own, and Intelligence apprehends the world as the notion actual. This is the right attitude of rational cognition. Nullity and transitoriness constitute only the superficial features and not the real essence of the world. That essence is the notion in posse and in esse: and thus the world is itself the idea. All unsatisfied endeavour ceases, when we recognise that the final purpose of the world is accomplished no less than ever accomplishing itself. Generally speaking, this is the man’s way of looking; while the young imagine that the world is utterly sunk in wickedness, and that the first thing needful is a thorough transformation. The religious mind, on the contrary, views the world as ruled by Divine Providence, and therefore correspondent with what it ought to be. But this harmony between the ‘is’ and the ‘ought to be’ is not torpid and rigidly stationary. Good, the final end of the world, has being, only while it constantly produces itself. And the world of spirit and the world of nature continue to have this distinction, that the latter moves only in a recurring cycle, while the former certainly also makes progress.
Thus the truth of the Good is laid down as the unity of the theoretical and practical idea in the doctrine that the Good is radically and really achieved, that the objective world is in itself and for itself the Idea, just as it at the same time eternally lays itself down as End, and by action brings about its actuality. This life which has returned to itself from the bias and finitude of cognition, and which by the activity of the notion has become identical with it, is the Speculative or Absolute Idea.