Part One of the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences: The Logic

Second Subdivision: Essence

Substantiality - Causality - Reciprocity

§ 142

Actuality is the unity, become immediate, of essence with existence, or of inward with outward. The utterance of the actual is the actual itself: so that in this utterance it remains just as essential, and only is essential, in so far as it is immediate external existence.

We have ere this met Being and Existence as forms of the immediate. Being is, in general, unreflected immediacy and transition into another. Existence is immediate unity of being and reflection: hence appearance; it comes from the ground, and falls to the ground.

In actuality this unity is explicitly put, and the two sides of the relation identified. Hence the actual is exempted from transition, and its externality is its energising. In that energising it is reflected into itself: its existence is only the manifestation of itself, not of another.

Exists but not Real

Actuality and thought (or Idea) are often absurdly opposed. How commonly we hear people saying that, though no objection can be urged against the truth and correctness of a certain thought, there is nothing of the kind to be seen in reality, or it cannot be actually carried out! People who use such language only prove that they have not properly apprehended the nature either of thought or of actuality. Thought in such a case is, one the one hand, the synonym for a subjective conception, plan, intention, or the like, just as actuality, on the other, is made synonymous with external and sensible existence. This is all very well in common life, where great laxity is allowed in the categories and the names given to them; and it may of course happen that, e.g., the plan, or so-called idea, say, of a certain method of taxation , is good and advisable in the abstract, but that nothing of the sort is found in so-called actuality, or could possibly be carried out under the given conditions. But when the abstract understanding gets hold of these categories and exaggerates the distinction they imply into a hard and fast line of contrast, when it tells us that in this actual world we must knock ideas out of our heads, it is necessary energetically to protest against these doctrines, alike in the name of science and of sound reason. For on the one hand Ideas are not confined to our heads merely, nor is the Idea, on the whole, so feeble as to leave the question of its actualisation or non-actualisation dependent on our will. The Idea is rather the absolutely active as well as actual.

The Actual is Real

And on the other hand actuality is not so bad and irrational, as purblind or wrong-headed and muddle-brained would-be reformers imagine. So far is actuality, as distinguished from mere appearance, and primarily presenting a unity of inward and outward, from being in contrariety with reason, that it is rather thoroughly reasonable, and everything which is not reasonable must on that very ground cease to be held actual. The same view may be traced in the usages of educated speech, which declines to give the name of real poet or real statesman to a poet or a statesman who can do nothing really meritorious or reasonable.

In that vulgar conception of actuality which mistakes for what is palpable and directly obvious to the senses, we must seek the ground of a widespread prejudice about the relation of the philosophy of Aristotle to that of Plato. Popular opinion makes the difference to be as follows. While Plato recognises the idea and only the idea as the truth, Aristotle, rejecting the idea, keeps to what is actual, and is on that account to be considered the founder and chief of empiricism. On this it may be remarked: that it is not the vulgar actuality of what is immediately at hand, but the idea as actuality. Where then lies the controversy of Aristotle against Plato? It lies in this: Aristotle calls the Platonic idea a mere dynamis, and establishes in opposition to Plato that the idea, which both equally recognise to be the only truth, is essentially to be viewed as an energeia, in other words, as the inward which is quite to the fore, or as unity of inner and outer, or as actuality, in the emphatic sense here given to the word.

Actuality is concrete
§ 143

Such a concrete category as Actuality includes the characteristics aforesaid and their difference, and is therefore also the development of them, in such a way that, as it has them, they are at the same time plainly understood to be a show, to be assumed or imposed.


[a] Viewed as an identity in general, Actuality is first of all Possibility – the reflection-into-self which, as in contrast with the concrete unity of the actual, is taken and made an abstract and unessential essentiality. Possibility is what is essential to reality, but in such a way that it is at the same time only a possibility.

It was probably the import of Possibility which induced Kant to regard it along with necessity and actuality as Modalities, ‘since these categories do not in the least increase the notion as object, but only express its relation to the faculty of knowledge’. For Possibility is really the bare abstraction of reflection-into-self - what was formerly called the Inward, only that it is now taken to mean the external inward, lifted out of reality and with the being of a mere supposition, and is thus, sure enough, supposed only as a bare modality, an abstraction which comes short, and, in more concrete terms, belongs only to subjective thought. It is otherwise with Actuality and Necessity. They are anything but a mere sort and mode for something else: in fact the very reverse of that. If they are supposed, it is as the concrete, but not merely suppositions, but intrinsically complete.

As Possibility is, in the first instance, the mere form of identity-with-self (as compared with the concrete which is actual), the rule for it merely is that a thing must not be self-contradictory. Thus everything is possible; for an act of abstraction can give any content this form of identity. Everything however is as impossible as it is possible. In every content - which is and must be concrete - the speciality of its nature may be viewed as a specialised contrariety and in that way as a contradiction. Nothing therefore can be more meaningless than to speak of such possibility and impossibility.

In philosophy in particular, there should never be a word said of showing that "It is possible", or "There is still another possibility", or, to adopt another phraseology, "It is conceivable". The same consideration should warn the writer of history against employing a category which has now been explained to be on its own merits, untrue: but the subtlety of the empty understanding finds its chief pleasure in the fantastic ingenuity of suggesting possibilities and lots of possibilities.

Possible and Actual

Our picture-thought is at first disposed to see in possibility the richer and more comprehensive, in actuality the poorer and narrower category. Everything, it is said, is possible, but everything which is possible is not on that account actual. In real truth, however, if we deal with them as thoughts, actuality is the more comprehensive, because it is the concrete thought which includes possibility as an abstract element. And that superiority is to some extent expressed in our ordinary mode of thought when we speak of the possible, in distinction from the actual, as only possible. Possibility is often said to consist in a thing’s being thinkable.

‘Think’ however, in this use of the word, only means to conceive any content under the form of an abstract identity. Now, every content can be brought under this form, since nothing is required except to separate it from the relation in which it stands. Hence, any content, however absurd and nonsensical, can be viewed as possible. It is possible that the moon may fall upon the Earth tonight; for the moon is a body separate from the Earth and may as well fall down upon it as a stone thrown into the air does. . . . In language like this about possibilities, it is chiefly the law of sufficient ground or reason which is manipulated in the style already explained. Everything, it is said, is possible, for which you can state some ground. The less education a man has, or in other words, the less he knows of the specific connection of the objects to which he directs his observations, the greater is his tendency to launch out into all sorts of empty possibilities. An instance of this habit in the political sphere is seen in the pot-house politician. In practical life too it is no uncommon thing to see ill will and indolence slink behind the category of possibility, in order to escape definite obligations. To such conduct the same remarks apply as were made in connection with the law of sufficient ground. Reasonable and practical men refused to be imposed upon by the possible, for the simple ground that it is possible only. They stick to the actual (not meaning by that word merely whatever immediately is now and here). Many of the proverbs of common life express the same contempt for what is abstractly possible. ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’.

Everything is Possible?

After all, there is as good reason for taking everything to be impossible as to be possible: for every content (a content is always concrete) includes not only diverse but even opposite characteristics. Nothing is so impossible for instance, as this, that I am: for ‘I’ is at the same time simple self-relation and, as undoubtedly, relation to something else. The same may be seen in every other fact in the natural or spiritual world. Matter, it may be said, is impossible: for it is the unity of attraction and repulsion. The same is true of life, law, freedom ...

Generally speaking, it is the empty understanding which haunts these empty forms: and the business of philosophy in the matter is to show how null and meaningless they are. Whether a thing is possible or impossible, depends altogether on the subject-matter: that is, on the sum total of the elements in actuality, which, as it opens itself out, discloses itself to be necessity.

§ 144

[b] Contingency (accidents) But the Actual in its distinction from possibility (which is reflection-into-self) is only the outward concrete, the unessential immediate. In other words, to such extent as the actual is primarily the simple merely immediate unity of Inward and Outward, it is obviously made an unessential outward, and thus at the same time it is merely inward, the abstraction of reflection-into-self. Hence it is itself characterised as a merely possible. When thus valued at the rate of a mere possibility, the actual is a Contingent or Accidental, and, conversely, possibility is mere Accident itself or Chance.

Possibility and Contingency
§ 145

Possibility and Contingency are the two factors of Actuality - Inward and Outward, put as mere forms which constitute the externality of the actual. They have their reflection-into-self on the body of actual fact, or content, with its intrinsic definitiveness which gives essential ground of their characterisation. The finitude of the contingent and the possible lies, therefore, as we now see, in the distinction of the form-determination from the content: and, therefore, it depends on the content alone whether anything is contingent and possible.

Free Will

As possibility is the mere inside of actuality, it is for that reason a mere outside actuality, in other words, Contingency. The contingent, roughly speaking, is what has the ground of its being not in itself but in somewhat else. Such is the aspect under which actuality first comes before consciousness, and which is often mistaken for actuality itself. But the contingent is only one side of the actual - the side namely, of reflection on somewhat else. It is the actual, in the signification of something merely possible. Accordingly we consider the contingent to be what may or may not be, what may be in one way or another, whose being or not-being, and whose being in this way or otherwise, depends not upon itself but on something else.

To overcome this contingency is, roughly speaking, the problem of science on the one hand; as in the range of practice, on the other, the end of action is to rise above the contingency of the will, or above caprice. It has however often happened, most of all in modern times, that contingency has been unwarrantably elevated, and has a value attached to it, both in nature and in the world of the mind, to which it has no just claim. Frequently, Nature, to take it first, has been chiefly admired for the richness and variety of its structures. Apart however from what disclosure it contains of the Idea, this richness gratifies none of the higher interests of Reason, and its vast variety of structures, organic and inorganic, affords us only the spectacle of a contingency losing itself in vagueness. At any rate, the chequered scene presented by the several varieties of animals and plants, conditioned as it is by outward circumstances - the complex changes in configuration and grouping of clouds, and the like - ought not to be ranked higher than the equally casual fancies of the mind which surrenders itself to its own caprices. The wonderment with which such phenomena are welcomed is a most abstract frame of mind, from which one should advance to a closer insight into the inner harmony and uniformity of nature.

Of contingency in respect of the Will it is especially important to form a proper estimate. The Freedom of the Will is an expression that often means mere free choice, or the will in the form of contingency. Freedom of choice, or the capacity for determining ourselves towards one thing or another, or is undoubtedly a vital element in the will (which is in its very notion free); but instead of being freedom itself, it is only in the first instance a freedom in form. The genuinely free will, which includes free choice as suspended, is conscious to itself that its content is intrinsically firm and fast, and knows it at the same time to be thoroughly its own. A will, on the contrary, which remains standing on the grade of option, even supposing it does decide in favour of what is in import right and true, is always haunted by the conceit that it might, if it had so pleased, have decided in favour of the reverse course. When more narrowly examined, free choice is seen to be a contradiction, to this extent, that its form and content stand in antithesis. The matter of choice is given, and known as a content dependent not on the will itself, but on outward circumstances. In reference to such a given content, freedom lies only in the form of choosing, which, as it is only a freedom in form, may consequently be regarded as freedom only in supposition. On an ultimate analysis it will be seen that the same outwardness of circumstances, on which is founded the content that the will finds to its hand, can alone account for the will giving its decision for the one and not the other of the two alternatives.

Although contingency, as it has thus been shown, is only one aspect in the whole of actuality, and therefore not to be mistaken for the whole of actuality, and therefore not to be mistaken for actuality itself, it has no less than the rest of the forms of the idea its due office in the world of objects. This is, in the first place, seen in Nature. On the surface of Nature, so to speak, Chance ranges unchecked, and the contingency must simply be recognised, without the pretension sometimes erroneously ascribed to philosophy, in seeking to find it in a could-only-be-so-and-not-otherwise. Nor is contingency less visible in the world of Mind. The Will, as we have already remarked, includes contingency under the shape of option or free choice, but only as a vanishing and abrogated element. In respect of Mind and its works, just as in the case of Nature, we must guard against being so far misled by a well-meant endeavour after rational knowledge, as to try to exhibit the necessity of phenomena which are marked by a decided contingency, or, as the phrase is, to construe them a priori. Thus in language (although it be, as it were, the body of thought) Chance still unquestionably plays a decided part; and the same is true of the creations of law, of art, etc.

The problem of science, and especially of philosophy, undoubtedly consists in eliciting the necessity concealed under the semblance of contingency. That, however, is far from meaning that the contingent belongs to our subjective conception alone, and must therefore be simply set aside, if we wish to get at the truth. All scientific researches which pursue this tendency exclusively lay themselves open to the charge of mere jugglery and an over-strained precisionism.

§ 146

When more closely examined, what the aforesaid outward side of actuality implies is this. Contingency, which is actuality in its immediacy, is the self-identical, essentially only as a supposition which is no sooner made than it is revoked and leaves an existent externality. In this way, the external contingency is something pre-supposed, the immediate existence of which is at the same time a possibility, and has the vocation to be suspended, to be the possibility of something else. Now this possibility is the Condition.

The Contingent, as the immediate actuality, is at the same time, the possibility of somewhat else - no longer however, the abstract possibility which we had at first, but the possibility which is. And a possibility existent is a Condition. By the Condition of a thing we mean first, an existence, in short an immediate, and secondly the vocation of this immediate to be suspended and subserve the actualising of something else. Immediate actuality is in general as such never what it ought to be; it is a finite actuality with an inherent flaw, and its vocation is to be consumed. But the other aspect of actuality is its essentiality. This is primarily the inside which as a mere possibility is no less destined to be suspended. Possibility thus suspended is the issuing of a new actuality, of which the first immediate actuality was the pre-supposition. Here we see the alternation which is involved in the notion of a Condition. The Conditions of a thing seem at first sight to involve no bias any way. Really however, an immediate actuality of this kind includes in it the germ of something else altogether. At first, this something else is only a possibility: but the form of possibility is soon suspended and translated into actuality. This new actuality thus issuing is the very inside of the immediate actuality which uses it up. Thus, there comes into being quite another shape of things, and yet it is not an other: for the first actuality is only put as what it in essence was. The conditions which are sacrificed, which fall to the ground and are spent, only unite with themselves in the other actuality. Such in general is the nature of the process of actuality. The actual is no mere case of immediate Being, but, as essential Being, a suspension of its own immediacy, and thereby mediating itself with itself.

Real Possibility
§ 147

[c] When this externality (of actuality) is thus developed into a circle of the two categories of possibility and immediate actuality, showing the intermediation of the one by the other, it is what is called Real Possibility. Being such a circle, further, it is the totality, and thus the content, the actual fact or affair in its all-round definiteness. While in like manner, if we look at the distinction between the two characteristics in this unity, it realises the concrete totality of the form, the immediate self-translation of inner into outer, and of outer into inner. This self-movement of the form is Activity, carrying into effect the fact or affair as a real ground which is self-suspended to actuality, and carrying into effect the contingent actuality, the conditions, i.e. it is their reflection-into-self, and their self-suspension to another actuality of the actual fact. If all the conditions are at hand, the fact (event) must be actual; and the fact itself is one of the conditions: for being in the first place only inner, it is in fact itself only pre-supposed. Developed actuality, as the coincident alternation of inner and outer, the alternation of their opposite motions combined into a single motion, is Necessity.


Necessity has been defined, and rightly so, as the union of possibility and actuality. This mode of expression, however, gives a superficial and therefore unintelligible description of the very difficult notion of necessity. It is difficult because it is the notion itself, only that its stages or factors are still as actualities, which are yet at the same time to be viewed as forms only, collapsing and transient. In the two following paragraphs, therefore, an exposition of the factors which constitute necessity must be given at greater length.

Blind Necessity

When anything is said to be necessary, the first question we ask is: Why? Anything necessary accordingly comes before us as something due to a supposition, the result of certain antecedents. If we go no further than mere derivation from antecedents, however, we have not gained a complete notion of what necessity means. What is merely derivative, is what it is, not through itself, but through something else: and in this way, it too is merely contingent. What is necessary on the other hand, we would have to be what it is through itself: and thus, although derivative, it must still contain the antecedent whence it is derived as a vanishing element in itself. Hence we say of what is necessary, ‘It is’. We thus hold it to be simple, self-relation, in which all dependence on something else is removed.

Necessity is often said to be blind. If that means that in the process of necessity the End or final cause is not explicitly and overtly present, the statement is correct. The process of necessity begins with the existence of scattered circumstances which appear to have no interconnection and no concern one with another. These circumstances are an immediate actuality which collapses, and out of this negation a new actuality proceeds. Here we have a content which in point of form is doubled, once as content of the final realised fact, and once as content of the scattered circumstances which appear as if they were positive, and make themselves at first felt in that character. The latter content is in itself nought and is accordingly inverted into its negative, thus becoming content of the realised fact. The immediate circumstances fall to the ground as conditions, but are at the same time retained as content of the ultimate reality. From such circumstances and conditions there has, as we say, proceeded quite another thing, and it is for that reason that we call this process of necessity blind. If on the contrary we consider teleological action, we have in the end of action a content which is already foreknown. This activity therefore is not blind but seeing. To say that the world is ruled by Providence implies that design, as what has been absolutely predetermined, is the active principle, so that the issue corresponds to what has been fore-known and forewilled.

The theory however which regards the world as determined through necessity and the belief in a divine providence are by no means mutually excluding points of view. The intellectual principle underlying the idea of divine providence will hereafter be shown to be the notion. But the notion is the truth of necessity, which it contains in suspension in itself; just as, conversely, necessity is the notion implicit. Necessity is blind only so long as it is not understood. There is nothing therefore more mistaken than the charge of blind fatalism made against the Philosophy of History, when it takes for its problem to understand the necessity of every event. The philosophy of history rightly understood takes the rank of a Theodicee; and those, who fancy they honour Divine Providence by excluding necessity from it, are really degrading it by this exclusiveness to a blind and irrational caprice. In the simple language of the religious mind which speaks of God’s eternal and immutable decrees, there is implied an express recognition that necessity forms part of the essence of God. In his difference from God, man, with his own private opinion and will, follows the call of caprice and arbitrary humour, and thus often finds his acts turn out something quite different from what he had meant and willed. But God knows what he wills, is determined in his eternal will neither by accident from within nor from without, and what he wills he also accomplishes, irresistibly.

Necessity gives a point of view which has important bearings upon our sentiments and behaviour. When we look upon events as necessary, our situation seems at first sight to lack freedom completely. In the creed of the ancients, as we know, necessity figured as Destiny. The modern point of view, on the contrary, is that of Consolation. And Consolation means that, if we renounce our aims and interests, we do so only in prospect of receiving compensation. Destiny, on the contrary, leaves no room for Consolation. But a close examination of the ancient feeling about destiny will not by any means reveal a sense of bondage to its power. Rather the reverse. This will clearly appear, if we remember that the sense of bondage springs from inability to surmount the antithesis, and from looking at what is, and what happens, as contradictory to what ought to be and happen. In the ancient mind the feeling was more of the following kind: Because such a thing is, it is, and as it is, so ought it to be. Here there is no contrast to be seen, and therefore no sense of bondage, no pain, and no sorrow. True, indeed, as already remarked, this attitude towards destiny is void of consolation. But then, on the other hand, it is a frame of mind which does not need consolation, so long as personal subjectivity has not acquired its infinite significance. It is this point on which special stress should be laid in comparing the ancient sentiment with that of the modern and Christian world.

By Subjectivity, however, we may understand, in the first place, only the natural and finite subjectivity, with its contingent and arbitrary content of private interests and inclinations — all, in short, that we call person as distinguished from thing: taking ‘thing’ in the emphatic sense of the word (in which we use the (correct) expression that it is a question of things and not of persons). In this sense of subjectivity we cannot help admiring the tranquil resignation of the ancients to destiny, and feeling that it is a much higher and worthier mood than that of the moderns, who obstinately pursue their subjective aims, and when they find themselves constrained to resign the hope of reaching them, console themselves with the prospect of a reward in some other shape. But the term subjectivity is not to be confined merely to the bad and finite kind of it which is contrasted with the thing (fact). In its truth subjectivity is immanent in the fact, and as a subjectivity thus infinite is the very truth of the fact. Thus regarded, the doctrine of consolation receives a newer and a higher significance. It is in this sense that the Christian religion is to be regarded as the religion of consolation, and even of absolute consolation. Christianity, we know, teaches that God wishes all men to be saved. That teaching declares that subjectivity has an infinite value. And that consoling power of Christianity just lies in the fact that God himself is in it known as the absolute subjectivity, so that, inasmuch as subjectivity involves the element of particularity, our particular personality too is recognised not merely as something to be solely and simply nullified, but as at the same time something to be preserved. The gods of the ancient world were also, it is true, looked upon as personal; but the personality of a Zeus and an Apollo is not a real personality: it is only a figure in the mind. In other words, these gods are mere personifications, which, being such, do not know themselves, and are only known. An evidence of this defect and this powerlessness of the old gods is found even in the religious beliefs of antiquity. In the ancient creeds not only men, but even gods, were represented as subject to destiny, a destiny which we must conceive as necessity not unveiled, and thus as something wholly impersonal, selfless, and blind. On the other hand, the Christian God is God not known merely but also self-knowing; he is a personality not merely figured in our minds, but rather absolutely actual.

We must refer to the Philosophy of Religion for a further discussion of the points here touched. But we may note in passing how important it is for any man to meet everything that befalls him with the spirit of the old proverb which describes each man as the architect of his own fortune That means that it is only himself after all of which a man has the usufruct. The other way would be to lay the blame of whatever we experience upon other men, upon unfavourable circumstances, and the like. And this is a fresh example of the language of unfreedom, and at the same time the spring of discontent. If man saw, on the contrary, that whatever happens to him is only the outcome of himself, and that he only bears his own guilt, he would stand free, and in everything that came upon him would have the consciousness that he suffered no wrong. A man who lives in dispeace with himself and his lot commits much that is perverse and amiss, for no other reason than because of the false opinion that he is wronged by others. No doubt too there is a great deal of chance in what befalls us. But the chance has its root in the ‘natural’ man. So long however as a man is otherwise conscious that he is free, his harmony of soul and peace of mind will not be destroyed by the disagreeables that befall him. It is their view of necessity, therefore, which is at the root of the discontent of men, and which in that way determines their destiny itself.

The Process of Necessity
§ 148

Among the three elements in the process of necessity, the Condition, the Fact, and the Activity:

a. The Condition is [a] what is presupposed or ante-stated, i.e. it is not only supposed or stated, and so only a correlative to the fact, but also prior, and so independent, a contingent and external circumstance which exists without respect to the fact. While thus contingent, however, this presupposed or ante-stated term, in respect withal of the fact, which is the totality, is a complete circle of conditions. [b] The conditions are passive, and used as materials for the fact, into the content of which they thus enter. They are likewise intrinsically conformable to this content, and already contain its whole characteristic.

b. The Fact is also [a] something presupposed or ante-stated, i.e. it is at first, and as supposed, only inner and possible, and also, being prior, as independent content by itself. [b] By using up the conditions, it receives its external existence, the realisation of the articles of its content, which reciprocally correspond to the conditions, so that while it presents itself out of these as the facts, it also proceeds from them.

c. The Activity similarly has [a] an independent existence of its own (as man, a character), and at the same time it is possible only where the conditions are and the fact. [b] It is the movement which translates the conditions into fact, and the latter into the former as the side of existence, or rather the movement which educes the fact from the conditions in which it is potentially present, and which gives existence to the fact by abolishing the existence possessed by the conditions.

In so far as these three elements stand to each other in the shape of independent existences, this process has the aspect of an outward necessity. Outward necessity has a limited content for its fact. For the fact is this whole, in phase of singleness. But since in its form this whole is external to itself, it is self-externalised even in its own self and in its content, and this externality, attaching to the fact, is a limit of its content.

The Circle of Circumstances
§ 149

Necessity, then, is potentially the one essence, self-same, but not full of content, in the reflected light of which its distinctions take the form of independent realities. This self-sameness is at the same time, as absolute form, the activity which reduces into dependency and mediates into immediacy. Whatever is necessary is through another, which is broken up into mediating ground (the Fact and the Activity) and an immediate actuality, or accidental circumstance, which is at the same time a Condition. The necessary, being through an other, is not in and for itself: hypothetical, it is a mere result of assumption. But this intermediation is just as immediate however as the abrogation of itself. The ground and contingent condition is translated into immediacy, by which that dependency is now lifted up into actuality, and the fact has closed with itself. In this return to itself, the necessary simply and positively is, as unconditioned actuality. The necessary is so, mediated through a circle of circumstances: it is so, because the circumstances are so, and at the same time it is so, unmediated: it is so, because it is.

(a) The Relationship of Substantiality

§ 150

The necessary is in itself an absolute correlation of elements, i.e. the process developed (in the preceding paragraphs), in which the correlation also suspends itself to absolute identity.

In its immediate form it is the relationship of Substance and Accident. The absolute self-identity of this relationship is Substance as such, which as necessity gives the negative to this form of inwardness, and thus invests itself with actuality, but which also gives the negative to this outward thing. In this negativity, the actual, as immediate, is only an accidental which through this bare possibility passes over into another actuality. This transition is the identity of substance, regarded as form-activity.

§ 151

Substance is accordingly the totality of the Accidents, revealing itself in them as their absolute negativity (that is to say, as absolute power) and at the same time as the wealth of all content. This content however is nothing but that very revelation, since the character (being reflected in itself to make content) is only a passing stage of the form which passes away in the power of substance. Substantiality is the absolute form-activity and the power of necessity: all content is but a vanishing element which merely belongs to this position, where there is an absolute revulsion of form and content into one another.

In the history of philosophy we meet with Substance as the principle of Spinoza’s system. On the import and value of this much-praised and no-less decried philosophy there has been great misunderstanding and a deal of talking since the days of Spinoza. The atheism, and as a further charge, the pantheism of the system has formed the commonest ground of accusation. These cries arise because of Spinoza’s conception of God as substance, and substance only. What we are to think of this charge follows, in the first instance, from the place which substance takes in the system of the logical idea. Though an essential stage in the evolution of the idea, substance is not the same with absolute idea, but the idea under the still limited form of necessity.

It is true that God is necessity, or, as we may also put it, that he is the absolute Thing: he is however no less the absolute Person. That he is the absolute Person however is a point which the philosophy of Spinoza never reached: and on that side it falls short of the true notion of God which forms the content of religious consciousness in Christianity. Spinoza was by descent a Jew; and it is upon the whole the Oriental way of seeing things, according to which the nature of the finite world seems frail and transient, that has found its intellectual expression in his system. This Oriental view of the unity of substance certainly gives the basis for all real further development. Still it is not the final idea. It is marked by the absence of the principle of the Western world, the principle of individuality, which first appeared under a philosophic shape, contemporaneously with Spinoza, in the Monadology of Leibnitz.

From this point we glance back to the alleged atheism of Spinoza. The charge will be seen to be unfounded if we remember that his system, instead of denying God, rather recognises that he alone really is. Nor can it be maintained that the God of Spinoza, although he is described as alone true, is not the true God, and therefore as good as no God. If that were a just charge, it would only prove that all other systems, where speculation has not gone beyond a subordinate stage of the idea — that the Jews and Mohammedans who know God only as the Lord — and that even the many Christians for whom God is merely the most high, unknowable, and transcendent being, are as much atheists as Spinoza. The so-called atheism of Spinoza is merely an exaggeration of the fact that he defrauds the principle of difference or finitude of its due. Hence his system, as it holds that there is properly speaking no world, at any rate that the world has no positive being, should rather be styled Acosmism. These considerations will also show what is to be said of the charge of Pantheism. If Pantheism means, as it often does, the doctrine which takes finite things in their finitude and in the complex of them to be God, we must acquit the system of Spinoza of the crime of Pantheism. For in that system, finite things and the world as a whole are denied all truth. On the other hand, the philosophy which is Acosmism is for that reason certainly pantheistic.

The shortcoming thus acknowledged to attach to the content turns out at the same time to be a shortcoming in respect of form. Spinoza puts substance at the head of his system, and defines it to be the unity of thought and extension, without demonstrating how he gets to this distinction, or how he traces it back to the unity of substance. The further treatment of the subject proceeds in what is called the mathematical method. Definitions and axioms are first laid down: after them comes a series of theorems, which are proved by an analytical reduction of them to these unproved postulates. Although the system of Spinoza, and that even by those who altogether reject its contents and results, is praised for the strict sequence of its method, such unqualified praise of the form is as little justified as an unqualified rejection of the content. The defect of the content is that the form is not known as immanent in it, and therefore only approaches it as an outer and subjective form. As intuitively accepted by Spinoza without a previous mediation by dialectic, Substance, as the universal negative power, is as it were a dark shapeless abyss which engulfs all definite content as radically null, and produces from itself nothing that has a positive subsistence of its own.

§ 152

At the stage where substance, as absolute power, is the self-relating power (itself a merely inner possibility), which thus determines itself to accidentality — from which power the externality it thereby creates is distinguished — necessity is a correlation strictly so called, just as in the first form of necessity it is substance. This is the correlation of Causality.

(b) The Relationship of Causality

§ 153

Substance is Cause, in so far as substance reflects into self as against its passage into accidentality and so stands as the primary fact, but again no less suspends this reflection-into-self (its bare possibility), lays itself down as the negative of itself, and thus produces an Effect, an actuality, which, though so far only assumed as a sequence, is through the process that effectuates it at the same time necessary.

As primary fact, the cause is qualified as having absolute independence, and a subsistence maintained in face of the effect: but in the necessity, whose identity constitutes that primariness itself, it is wholly passed into the effect. So far again as we can speak of a definite content, there is no content that is not in the cause. That identity in fact is the absolute content itself: but it is no less also the form-characteristic. The primariness of the cause is suspended in the effect in which the cause makes itself a dependent being. The cause however does not for that reason vanish and leave the effect to be alone actual. For this dependency is in like manner directly suspended, and is rather the reflection of the cause in itself, its primariness: in short, it is in the effect that the cause first becomes actual and a cause. The cause consequently is in its full truth causa sui. Jacobi, sticking to the partial conception of mediation (in his Letters on Spinoza), has treated the causa sui (and the effectus sui is the same), which is the absolute truth of the cause, as a mere formalism. He has also made the remark that God ought to be defined not as the ground of things, but essentially as cause. A more thorough consideration of the nature of cause would have shown that Jacobi did not by this means gain what he intended. Even in the finite cause and its conception we can see this identity between cause and effect in point of content. The rain (the cause) and the wet (the effect) are the self-same existing water. In point of form the cause (rain) is dissipated or lost in the effect (wet): but in that case the result can no longer be described as effect; for without the cause it is nothing, and we should have only the unrelated wet left.

In the common acceptation of the causal relation the cause is finite, to such extent as its content is so (as is the case with finite substance), and so far as cause and effect are conceived as two several independent existences: which they are, however, only when we leave the causal relation out of sight. In the finite sphere we never get over the difference of the form-characteristics in their relation: and hence we turn the matter around and define the cause also as something dependent or as an effect. This again has another cause, and thus there grows up a progress from effects to causes ad infinitum. There is a descending progress too: the effect, looked at in its identity with the cause, is itself defined as a cause, and at the same time as another cause, which again has other effects, and so on for ever.

The way understanding bristles up against the idea of substance is equalled by its readiness to use the relation of cause and effect. Whenever it is proposed to view any sum of facts as necessary, it is especially the relation of causality to which the reflective understanding makes a point of tracing of it back. Now, although this relation does undoubtedly belong to necessity, it forms only one aspect in the process of that category. That process equally requires the suspension of the mediation involved in causality and the exhibition of it as simple self-relation. If we stick to causality as such, we have it not in its truth. Such a causality is merely finite, and its finitude lies in retaining the distinction between cause and effect unassimilated. But these two terms, if they are distinct, are also identical. Even in ordinary consciousness that identity may be found. We say that a cause is a cause, only where it has an effect, and vice versa. Both cause and effect are thus one and the same content: and the distinction between them is primarily only that the one lays down, and the other is laid down. This formal difference however again suspends itself, because the cause is not only a cause of something else, but also a cause of itself; while the effect is not only an effect of something else, but also an effect of itself. The finitude of things consists accordingly in this. While cause and effect are in their motion identical, the two forms present themselves severed so that, though the cause is also an effect, and the effect also a cause, the cause is not an effect in the same connection as it is an effect. This again gives the infinite progress, in the shape of an endless series of causes, which shows itself at the same time as an endless series of effects.

Action and Reaction
§ 154

The effect is different from the cause. The former as such has a being dependent on the latter. But such a dependence is likewise reflection-into-self and immediacy: and the action of the cause, as it constitutes the effect, is at the same time the pre-constitution of the effect, so long as effect is kept separate from cause. There is already in existence another substance on which the effect takes place. As immediate, this substance is not a self-related negativity and active, but passive. Yet it is a substance, and it is therefore active also: it therefore suspends the immediacy it was originally put forward with, and the effect which was put into it: it reacts, i.e. suspends the activity of the first substance. But this first substance also in the same way sets aside its own immediacy, or the effect which is put into it; it thus suspends the activity of the other substance and reacts. In this manner causality passes into the relation of Action and Reaction, or Reciprocity.

In Reciprocity, although causality is not yet invested with its true characteristic, the rectilinear movement out from causes to effects, and from effects to causes, is bent round and back into Itself, and thus the progress ad infinitum of causes and effects is, as a progress, really and truly suspended. This bend, which transforms the infinite progression into a self-contained relationship, here as always the plain reflection that in the above meaningless repetition there is only one and the same thing, viz. one cause and another, and their connection with one another. Reciprocity — which is the development of this relation — itself however only distinguishes turn and turn about — not causes, but factors of causation, in each of which, just because they are inseparable (on the principle of the identity that the cause is cause in the effect, and vice versa), the other factor is also equally supposed.

(c) Reciprocity, or Action & Reaction

§ 155

The characteristics which in Reciprocal Action are retained as distinct are [a] potentially the same. The one side is a cause, is primary, active, passive, etc., just as the other is. Similarly the presupposition of another side and the action upon it, the immediate primariness and the dependence produced by the alternation, are one and the same on both sides. The cause assumed to be first is on account of its immediacy passive, a dependent being, and an effect. The distinction of the causes spoken of as two is accordingly void: and properly speaking there is only one cause, which, while it suspends itself (as substance) in its effect, also rises in this operation only to independent existence as a cause.

§ 156

But this unity of the double cause is also [b] actual. All this alternation is properly the cause in act of constituting itself and in such constitution lies its being. The nullity of the distinctions is not only potential, or a reflection of ours (155). Reciprocal action just means that each characteristic we impose is also to be suspended and inverted into its opposite, and that in this way the essential nullity of the ‘moments’ is explicitly stated. An effect is introduced into the primariness; in other words, the primariness is abolished: the action of a cause becomes reaction and so on.

Reciprocal action realises the causal relation in its complete development. It is this relation, therefore, in which reflection usually takes shelter when the conviction grows that things can no longer be studied satisfactorily from a causal point of view, on account of the infinite progress already spoken of. Thus in historical research the question may be raised in a first form, whether the character and manners of a nation are the cause of its constitution and its laws, or if they are not rather the effect. Then, as the second step, the character and manners on one side and the Constitution and laws on the other are conceived on the principle of reciprocity: and in that case the cause in the same connection as it is a cause will at the same time be an effect, and vice versa.

The same thing is done in the study of Nature, and especially of living organisms. There the sexual organs and functions are similarly seen to stand to each other in the relation of reciprocity.

Reciprocity is undoubtedly the proximate truth of the relation of cause and effect, and stands, so to say, on the threshold of the notion; but on that very ground, supposing that our aim is a thoroughly comprehensive idea, we should not rest content with applying this relation. If we get no further than studying a given content under the point of view of reciprocity, we are taking up an attitude which leaves matters utterly incomprehensible. We are left with a mere dry fact; and the call for mediation, which is the chief motive in applying the relation of causality, is still unanswered. And if we look more narrowly into the dissatisfaction felt in applying the relation of reciprocity, we shall see that it consists in the circumstance that this relation, instead of being treated as an equivalent for the notion, ought, first of all, to be known and understood in its own nature. And to understand the relation of action we must not let the two sides rest in their state of mere given facts, but recognise them, as has been shown in the two paragraphs preceding, for factors of a third and higher, which is the notion and nothing else.

To make, for example, the manners of the Spartans the cause of their constitution and their constitution conversely the cause of their manners, may no doubt be in a way correct. But, as we have comprehended neither the manners nor the constitution of the nation, the result of such reflections can never be final or satisfactory. The satisfactory point will be reached only when these two, as well as all other, special aspects of Spartan life and Spartan history are seen to be founded in this notion.

§ 157

This pure self-reciprocation is therefore Necessity unveiled or realised. The link of necessity qua necessity is identity, as still inward and concealed, because it is the identity of what are esteemed actual things, although their very self-subsistence is bound to be necessity. The circulation of substance through causality and reciprocity therefore only expressly makes out or states that self-subsistence is the infinite negative self-relation — a relation negative in general, for in it the act of distinguishing and intermediating becomes a primariness of actual things independent one against the other — and infinite self-relation, because their independence only lies in their identity.

§ 158

The truth of necessity is, therefore, Freedom: and the truth of substance is the Notion - an independence which, though self-repulsive into distinct independent elements, yet in that repulsion is self-identical, and in the movement of reciprocity still at home and conversant only with itself.

Freedom and Necessity

Necessity is often called hard, and rightly so, if we keep to necessity as such, i.e. to its immediate shape. Here we have, first of all, some state or, generally speaking, fact, possessing an independent subsistence: and necessity primarily implies that there falls upon such a fact something else by which it is brought low. This is what is hard and sad in necessity immediate or abstract. The identity of the two things, which necessity presents as bound to each other and thus bereft of their independence, is at first only inward, and therefore has no existence for those under the yoke of necessity. Freedom too from this point of view is only abstract, and is preserved only by renouncing all that we immediately are and have. But, as we have already seen, the process of necessity is so directed that it overcomes the rigid externality which it first had and reveals its inward nature. It then appears that the members, linked to one another, are not really foreign to each other, but only elements of one whole, each of them, in its connection with the other, being, as it were, at home, and combining with itself. In this way, necessity is transfigured into freedom - not the freedom that consists in abstract negation, but freedom concrete and positive. From which we may learn what a mistake it is to regard freedom and necessity as mutually exclusive. Necessity indeed, qua necessity, is far from being freedom: yet freedom presupposes necessity, and contains it as an unsubstantial element in itself.

A good man is aware that the tenor of his conduct is essentially obligatory and necessary. But this consciousness is so far from making any abatement from his freedom, that without it, real and reasonable freedom could not be distinguished from arbitrary choice - a freedom which has no reality and is merely potential. A criminal, when punished, may look upon his punishment as a restriction of his freedom. Really the punishment is not a foreign constraint to which he is subjected, but the manifestation of his own act. In short, man is most independent when he knows himself to be determined by the absolute idea throughout. It was this phase of mind and conduct which Spinoza called Amor intellectualis Dei.


Thus the Notion is the truth of Being and Essence, inasmuch as the shining or show of self-reflection is itself at the same time independent immediacy, and this being of a different actuality is immediately only a shining or show on itself.

The Notion has exhibited itself as the truth of Being and Essence as the ground to which the regress of both leads. Conversely it has been developed out of being as its ground. The former aspect of the advance may be regarded as a concentration of being into its depth, thereby disclosing its inner nature: the latter aspect as an issuing of the more perfect from the less perfect. When such development is viewed on the latter side only, it does prejudice to the method of philosophy. The special meaning which these superficial thoughts of more imperfect and more perfect have in this place is to indicate the distinction of being, as an immediate unity with itself, from the notion, as free mediation with itself. Since being has shown that it is an element in the notion, the latter has thus exhibited itself as the truth of being. As this its reflection in itself and as an absorption of the mediation, the notion is the pre-supposition of the immediate — a presupposition which is identical with the return to self; and in this identity lie freedom and the notion. If the partial element therefore be called the imperfect, then the notion, or the perfect, is certainly a development from the imperfect; since its very nature is thus to suspend its pre-supposition. At the same time it is the notion alone which, in the act of supposing itself, makes its presupposition; as has been made apparent in causality in general and especially in reciprocal action.

Thus in reference to Being and Essence the Notion is defined as Essence reverted to the simple immediacy of Being — the shining or show of Essence thereby having actuality, and its actuality being at the same time a free shining or show in itself. In this manner the notion has being as its simple self-relation, or as the immediacy of its immanent unity. Being is so poor a category that it is the least thing which can be shown to be found in the notion. The passage from necessity to freedom, or from actuality into the notion, is the very hardest, because it proposes that independent actuality shall be thought as having all its substantiality in the passing over and identity with the other independent actuality. The notion, too, is extremely hard, because it is itself just this very identity. But the actual substance as such, the cause, which in its exclusiveness resists all invasion, is ipso facto subjected to necessity or the destiny of passing into dependency: and it is this subjection rather where the chief hardness lies. To think necessity, on the contrary, rather tends to melt that hardness. For thinking means that, in the other, one meets with one’s self. It means a liberation, which is not the flight of abstraction, but consists in that which is actual having itself not as something else, but as its own being and creation, in the other actuality with which it is bound up by the force of necessity. As existing in an individual form, this liberation is called I: as developed to its totality, it is free Spirit; as feeling, it is Love; and as enjoyment, it is Blessedness. The great vision of substance in Spinoza is only a potential liberation from finite exclusiveness and egotism: but the notion itself realises for its own both the power of necessity and actual freedom.

When, as now, the notion is called the truth of Being and Essence, we must expect to be asked, why do we not begin with the notion? The answer is that, where knowledge by thought is our aim, we cannot begin with the truth, because the truth, when it forms the beginning, must rest on mere assertion. The truth when it is thought must as such verify itself to thought. If the notion were put at the head of Logic, and defined, quite correctly in point of content, as the unity of Being and Essence, the following question would come up: What are we to think under the terms ‘Being’ and ‘Essence’, and how do they come to be embraced in the unity of the Notion? But if we answered these questions, then our beginning with the notion would merely be nominal. The real start would be made with Being, as we have here done: with this difference, that the characteristics of Being as well as those of Essence would have to be accepted uncritically from figurate conception, whereas we have observed Being and Essence in their own dialectical development and learnt how they lose themselves in the unity of the notion.

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