Logical Constituents of Philosophical Absolutism
The discussion of the problem of the absolute knowledge cannot neglect dialectics of the absolute and relative truth, and the regular exposition of this issue in philosophical literature is not quite adequate to the Hegel’s one.
Today, we are accustomed to research dialectics of the absolute and relative knowledge mostly historically: the absolute is an unreachable scope of complete and perfect knowledge of universality of the universe as a whole, the absolute truth is just a guiding light or, rather, the horizon whereas relativeness is socially and historically conditioned by the accepted philosophical world picture, thinking style of the epoch, ethnic language, ethical, aesthetic, ideological intentions and values, etc.
Apart from this “horizontal”, temporal dimension, Hegel’s theory has a clearly expressed logical, “vertical” side that reveals knowledge in all its multiple forms – from plain to most sophisticated. Actually, Hegel was one of the first to trace various forms of knowledge – from naive sense certainty and perception to moral, religious and art conception. So, the absolute knowledge, as he sees it, is the ultimate form of mind that passes through different stages in order to conceive science as knowledge par excellence: “it is science alone which is spirit’s true knowledge of itself” (Hegel). It is no wonder that the last part of “The phenomenology of Spirit” called “The Absolute knowledge” deals exclusively with science. For it is the only sphere that demands generality and necessity as valid criteria.
Reason as Vernunft gives itself its own criteria, it can’t be led by something exceeding its bounds (in this case reason would have something over itself), so if we agree that generality and necessity are immanent to reason, then the form that may meet their requirement is science.
In the frame of German idealism Kant was the first to search for a science that would be capable of giving general and necessary knowledge. He valued mathematics as a cognitive ideal in “Critique of pure reason”: “If we desire an example from the sciences, we need only take any proposition in mathematics” (Kant). But a search for the absolute knowledge brought Kant at best to pure knowledge rather than absolute – Einstein was once asked at a classical concert if music could be rendered into language of physics, and he answered that it was possible but for what reason? Same with mathematics – it’s a priori status makes it far too abstract and too far from concrete application.
Hegel considered mathematics as cognition that is external for its material: “the movement of knowledge in mathematics takes place only on the surface; it does not touch on the thing that really matters, does not touch on the essence” (2017). Can a science, even such a strict and powerful one as mathematics, alone bear the burden of absoluteness? Or it may be borne only by the system of sciences representing the system of knowledge about all forms of reality? The absolute knowledge may be justified only as total knowledge about reality as a whole provided by the system or encyclopedia of sciences. It’s no wonder that one of English translations of “The phenomenology” renders Wissenschaft as systematic science (Baillie), which is not true in word but true in meaning.
The meaning implies that the absolute knowledge as the supreme form of spirit validates itself if it performs its function as Hegel sees it, which is to conceive all as one: “The one is made up of all things, and all things issue from the one” as Heraclitus used to formulate it. And conceiving all as one means unification of all mentioned forms of metaphysics – metaphysics of being, morals and method – in the total system of knowledge. To conceive all as one you need the one and the only principle, a kind of the First element that underlies reality in all its multivarious appearances.
It proved to be logic. As for the types of metaphysics, “Encyclopedia of the philosophical sciences” narrates about metaphysical totality of logic. Applied to the sciences of nature logic appears as metaphysics of being in the form of the law that outer world-nature complies with; applied to the sciences of spirit (that deal with practical reality actualized in human history whereof determinations are marked in state organization) logic is supplementarily positioned as metaphysics of morals or, in a broader sense, of spirit because determinations of spirit are logical as well through the law the spirit itself generates and obeys to. Then what part does philosophy play in it? Philosophy is not merely one of the sections within the philosophy of Spirit, and it’s not just a regular science among other sciences.
Since it is the last part of “Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences”, it concludes the system and, as a sublation, is the system; speculative philosophy as the mother-science produces the system of (philosophical) sciences observing all forms of reality in the face of one of the most prominent philosophers ever. “Encyclopedia” is just an explication of what the concept of philosophy implies. Thus, applied to speculative systematic philosophy, logic is positioned as method, the dialectic method.
Only the highest level of the system, the sphere of philosophy, brings logic to its proper self in the form of metaphysics of method. It is the method that distinguishes sciences and, if applied, gives way to cognition and knowledge: “On the one hand, this nature of scientific method is inseparable from the content, and on the other hand, it determines its rhythm by way of itself, and it has… its genuine exposition in speculative philosophy” (Hegel). Inseparability from the content implies inseparability of philosophy from being and morals.
The last two are united in the higher form of being – the spiritual being of the philosopher that, with the help of the true method, observes the reality in all its forms as a knowingspiritual-being. It is the philosophy that results in absolute synthesis of knowledge when it conceives the totality of logic in nature, spirit and scientific speculative method. It comprehends this comprehensive idea as distinct identity of all fundamental forms of metaphysics on the basis of the ultimate one that may be ‘detected’ in all of them thus uniting them.