Thursday, 20 July 2017

Wilhelm Dilthey on Hegel's "Grundfragment"

Hegels Theologische Jugendschriften (1907)

This post analyses a manuscript sketch by Hegel for his early essay The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate, based on the account Wilhelm Dilthey gives of it. The subjects covered include the origins of Christianity and some criticisms of Kant's philosophy.

Introduction (Stephen Cowley)

This post summarizes a remarkable chapter of Wilhelm Dilthey’s Die Jugendgeschichte Hegels [History of Hegel’s Youth] (1905) on a little-known preliminary sketch by Hegel for his early essay The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate. In the sketch, Hegel revises his views on the origins and nature of Christianity and distances himself from Kant. The essay itself, but not the sketch, is translated in T.M. Knox's edition of Hegel's Early Theological Writings (1948). Wilhelm Dilthey calls this document the Grundfragment.

In his account of the significance of this sketch, Dilthey distinguishes, among Hegel’s early theological manuscripts, between the three texts of Enlightenment rationalism up to around 1796 and the “mystical pantheism” of the series of manuscripts knows as The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate dating from 1797 on. The change of position that this distinction highlights coincides roughly with Hegel’s move from Bern to Frankfurt. The Grundfragment dates from the start of this second period. (We leave aside the political writings.) Dilthey characterizes the first period as follows:
“Already at Tübingen, there were three problems which Hegel saw formed a whole and which he now treated equally, one after the other, starting from his new point of view: the life and teaching of Jesus considered as a representation of the struggle between moral faith and Jewish legality, the false development of this belief into a positive religion, into ecclesiastical power and ritual service and now, on the basis of philosophical knowledge, the task of putting into effect a popular religion by means of Christianity.” (140; GS IV, 27)
The three texts that correspond to this division of the first period are known to us as the Life of Jesus, The Positivity of the Christian Religion and the Fragments on Folk Religion. The unity of these early essays, published together by Nohl (1907) is masked by their being divided between the English volumes of Knox (1948) and Fuss/Dobbins' Hegel: Three Essays 1793-1795 (1984). However, they represent a decidedly superseded phase of Hegel’s thought, as opposed to The Spirit of Christianity, which Dilthey finds echoed closely in the standpoint of both Hegel’s early published essays (1801-03) and the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807).

The main significance of Hegel’s The Spirit of Christianity for Dilthey is the move it marks from the Enlightenment rationalism and Kantian morality of Hegel’s earliest writings to the literary movement of “mystical pantheism” in which he participated prior to his early Jena publications. The Grundfragment reflects this "mystical pantheism". The main sections are on:
  • Jesus and the Jewish People
  • The Earliest Critique of Kant
  • Three Levels of Ethical Life
  • The Development of Ethico-religious Consciousness
The first section rehearses the contrast in Spirit of Christianity of Greek and Jewish religious beliefs and practices. Dilthey thinks that Hegel relies principally on the New Testament and the writings of Josephus for this. The church histories of Eusebius and Mosheim may also be relevant. The sustained concern for the social role of religion is notable.

The discussion of Kant needs to be considered in light of Dilthey’s account of the shift between the skepticism of Kant's First Critique, the moral focus of the Second Critique and the more expansive “objective idealism” of the Third Critique in which the concepts of life, purpose and aesthetic harmony emerge. The discussions of morality and religion also reflect this shift.

The Grundfragment corresponds to the document in Hermann Nohl’s Hegels Theologische Jugendschriften (1907), pages 385-401, and is also included in the “Frankfurter Manuskripte” section of the Meiner edition of Hegel’s Gesammelte Werke (GW) Volume 2, where it has the title “”Zu der Zeit da Jesus”.

I will now compare the structure and content of Dilthey’s chapter in Die Jugendgeschichte Hegels (1905) on The Spirit of Christianity with the published versions in Hermann Nohl’s Hegels Theologische Jugendschriften (1907) and T. M. Knox’s Hegel’s Early Theological Writings (1948). Nohl published Hegel’s text without headings in the text, though on the contents page he distinguishes 23 headings and subheadings. Two headings are misplaced after relevant subheadings. Knox has five headings. The two editions correspond as follows:

1. Knox’s The Spirit of Judaism, 182, starts with Nohl’s Der Geist des Judentums, 241;
2. Knox’s The Moral Teaching of Jesus (α) The Sermon on the Mount contrasted with the Mosaic Law and with Kant’s ethics, 205, starts with Nohl’s Das Auftreten Jesu [The Advent of Jesus], 261;
3. Knox’s The Moral Teaching of Jesus (β) Love as the transcendence of Penal Justice and the Reconciliation of Fate, 224, starts with Nohl’s Gesetz und Strafe, Schicksal, Liebe und Versöhnung [Law and Punishment, Destiny, Love and Reconciliation], 274;
4. Knox’s The Religion of Jesus, 253, starts with Nohl’s Die Religion Jesu, 302;
5. Knox’s The Fate of Jesus and his Church, 281 starts with Nohl’s Das Schicksal Jesu [The Fate of Jesus], 325.

Dilthey’s chapter has eight sections. The first corresponds directly to The Spirit of Judaism in Nohl and Knox. The second is on the Grundfragment. Knox describes this as an “earlier draft” does not translate it, save for a single sentence (205n). The remaining six sections of Dilthey’s chapter follow the manuscript. They are: (3) Teachings and Sermon on the Mount; (4) Reconciliation with Fate through Love; (5) The Virtues and Love; (6 ) The Ideal of Love; (7) The Piety of Jesus and the Metaphysical Content of his Fundamental Ideas; (8 ) The Fate of Jesus and the Religion of his Community. Dilthey describes the manuscript as follows:
“The collection of Hegel’s manuscripts that led from the beginning of the Jewish History to the presentation of the preaching and Sermon on the Mount, to which we could add the three following pieces only by their content, finds its continuation, which may fill intervening gaps, in the collection of manuscripts that we now enter on. This order results from several reasons. As in the previous period, ethical life was always the foundation of piety for Hegel, so the Grundfragment also says: “With the transformation of the objective laws, other aspects of the relationships of the Jews also had to change.”, namely their relationship to God.” (209, GS IV, 100)
Hence both the content of the material and the guidance of the Grundfragment have been used to structure Dilthey's account and, apparently, the published text.

The principle of declining marginal returns has long since set on Hegel translations, but this fragment seems to me to have an interest as a key to the longer text. Hegel at this time is plainly wrestling with religious ideas and scripture, though it is dubious whether his views can be called properly Christian in the sense of Trinitarian theology. The subheadings in the following summary are mine. Page references for extracts are to J-C Merle’s French edition; save that "GS" refers to Dilthey's Gesammelte Schriften. I translate Dilthey's citations from Hegel in full. My own comments are in [square brackets].

Hegel's Grundfragment: an Early Outline on Religion

Model of the Second Temple, Jerusalem (1966).
Following the history of Judaism [in Spirit of Christianity and its Fate, an important subject in its own right – SC], there is a five page fragment (the Grundfragment). It begins: 
“At the time when Jesus appeared among the Jewish nation, he found himself in a situation that is the precondition of a sooner or later approaching revolution that always bears the same universal characteristics. When the spirit has fled from a constitution and laws and each [person] through transformation no longer accords with them, there results a seeking, a striving for something else, that each soon finds in something different, from which there proceeds a multiplicity of educational paths [Bildungen], ways of life, requirements and needs that, if they by and by diverge so far that they can no longer coexist, finally provoke an eruption and bring forth a new universal form, a new bond between men.” (GS IV 161; 265-66)
Dilthey supposes the origin of this doctrine to be Aristotle's Politics. Hegel uses it describe the necessity of the change of consciousness that led to the consciousness of Christ, so much had the spirit [of the time] been in contradiction with the outward order of life. He also applies it to the idea of the Messiah, to “the necessity of Jesus’s appearance”, his destiny and the character of the sect of the community he founded. Hegel wrote:
“Thus, at the time of Jesus, the Jewish people no longer present the image of a whole. Something universal still connects them together, but there are so many varied foreign materials, so many lives and ideals and so many unsatisfied aspirations that look on curiously at what is around them, that any reformer who presents himself confidently and awakens hopes can consider himself assured of having followers, as well as a hostile party. The outward independence of the Jewish state was lost. That is why the Romans and the kings tolerated or put in place by the Romans united against them almost all the secret and universal hate of the Jews. Their assertion of independence was too deeply anchored in their religion, which hardly rejoiced over co-existence with other peoples. How could it have found bearable the domination of one of those peoples over the children [of Israel]? The people, who were not yet affected in the rest of their [lives], had not yet reached the point of being able to sacrifice it [their religion], and consequently awaited a foreign [in nature, presumably – SC] Messiah endowed with great power that would do for them what they dared not do for themselves, or would embolden them to the point of making them dare it and carry them along with this power. Many distinguished themselves by a stricter and more precise observance of the letter of this religion and the mere fact that they so distinguished themselves shows us the loss of their genius, their efforts and their struggle to attain something that does not go without saying. Their service was against a blind fate, not, as with the Greeks, against one that was within nature. Their greatest piety was of attachment and continual dependence on something manifold [the Mosaic Law? – SC] that referred back to the One, but excluded all consciousness of something other. The Pharisees tried with all their strength to be perfect Jews, and that proves that they knew the possibility that they were not. The Sadducees let what they had that was Jewish remain in them as something real, because that was how things were, and contented themselves with little, though that seemed to cloak no direct interest for them, save only in that degree to which it happened to be the condition of their other enjoyments. Otherwise, they and their own concerns were the highest law for them. No more did the Essenes engage in a struggle against what was truly Jewish, but set it aside, for to flee this quarrel, they absorbed themselves in their uniform way of life. There had to appear at last someone who would attack Judaism from the front, but since he did not find the means to dispute with it what he could preserve and means with which to overturn Judaism, he had to give way and he too founded only a sect.” (185-86)
[The possibility that this refers to John the Baptist or a character from Josephus lends some obscurity to the end of this passage. – SC] Hegel explains that Jesus preached a new doctrine of reconciliation that brought him into conflict with the authorities of the time. In a situation where he could neither back down nor prevail by force, he laid down his life for his new vision. Hegel then attributes an active role to the consciousness of the early church in developing Christian life and doctrine. Dilthey comments that Hegel used notation to connect this fragment to his exegeses of the teachings of Christ. He claims that the historical method that Hegel first practiced here of explaining situations of conflict and their resolution through concepts was formative for him and decisive for the Phenomenology of Spirit.

[The Earliest Critique of Kant]

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).
Hegel begins by raising again the opposition between Christ and Judaism. [This is more a Lutheran theme than a Calvinist one, but for Hegel it arises from his attempt at a naturalist, historicized account of Christianity. – SC] Before, he had contrasted Kant’s rational moral law with the rule of external commandments. Now he asks: “Is morality opposed to law? According to Kant, morality is the subjection of the universal to the particular, the victory of the universal over the particular that is opposed to it.” (187)

But Christ’s actions and true morality [Sittlichkeit] consist in: “the raising of the particular to the universal in the overcoming of the two alternatives thanks to their reunification” (187) i.e. love. Hegel now attacks, harshly, even cruelly, the Kantian principle. This is the first formulation of the criticism of Kant’s practical philosophy later found in the Essay on Natural Law. Schleiermacher and Hegel joined together to attack the giant who had dominated their youth. 

According to Kant, moral action excludes an alternative course of action, because it is a choice. Hegel says: “The more this alternative that it excludes is connected to us, the more unfortunate is the sacrifice, the separation, even the fate.” The command of duty is clothed in the form of universality. It becomes unbearable when a certain duty “carries in itself the contradiction of being at the same time limited and universal and that, in the name of the universal form, it raises the hardest claims for one-sidedness.” He cries out: “Woe to the human relation [Beziehung] that does not wholly and straight away lie under the concept of duty which, as it is not just the empty idea of universality, but has to present itself in an action, excludes or dominates all other relations.” Morality is rather “the overcoming of a separation in life”. Hegel says that “the principle of morality is love.” (187) [The concept of life and love as fundamental ideas and realities underlying and justifying concrete moral rules dates from this period of Hegel’s thought. - SC] This is pursued in his account of the Sermon on the Mount [to which Dilthey devotes a separate chapter.] 

Kantian morality is based on a spontaneous exercise of reason and to that extent its commands lose their positive character. [The opposition to “positivity”, or to what Kant calls “heteronomy of the will”, was key to Hegel’s earliest position, which he has now turned away from. – SC] We are not “in the service of a stranger”. But we do not restore a human totality thereby, though it is rooted in one human faculty. Our own power reigns over us. It creates strife between two living forces. Hegel says: “Kant’s practical reason is the faculty of the universal, that is to say the faculty of exclusion. Its watch-spring is respect. What is excluded is subjected by fear. [This is] a disorganization: the exclusion of something still unified.” (187-88) He takes up Kant’s comparison with the eastern shamans and moguls. The difference is not between slaves and free men, but between those with an external master and those with an internal one. It lies not, says Hegel, in the fact:
“that the former make themselves slaves while the latter would be free, but in the fact that the former find their master outside themselves, while the latter bear it within themselves, though he become thereby his own slave. The universal is necessarily and everlastingly something foreign and objective for the particular, the instincts, inclinations, pathological love, sensibility or however it is called. It remains an unbreakable imposition.” (188)
Hegel opposes to this “the union of man in his wholeness”. (188) Jesus had a new commandment above the law; “Love God and your neighbour”, but Hegel thinks this is a commandment in a different sense than Kantian duty. He rejects the idea of a commandment in general. Christ’s words are a command only because: “the living is thought and expressed in the form of the concept that is foreign to it, whilst as universal the command of duty is a concept in its essence.” (188) It is the difference between a form of expression and what something is conceived to be. Separation, the domination of the command of duty, presupposes “a being, a modification of life”. [These expressions are vague, but it is clear that the concept of life is being invoked. One might compare this to John Rawls’ identification of the supposition that life is worth living as a precondition of morality in A Theory of Justice (1971), but it leaves the door open to a flouting of legitimate rules, or in theological terms, to antinomianism. – SC]

This critique of Kant is taken up again by Hegel in the Natural Law essay of 1802 and he extends it in the critique of the moral point of view in the Phenomenology (1807). The decisive steps are first formulated in these fragments though. The Natural Law essay underscores that what is of value in Kant’s practical reason is that it makes manifest the absolute in the will, that practical reason acquires the character of infinitude. Its limit is that it is faced with a finite manifold of empirical impulses. The real and ideal face each other like foreigners. The restriction of sensibility by moral reason is a universal experience. However, Dilthey summarizes:
“to isolate these sides of life, is very precisely to suppress ethical life [Sittlichkeit], for it is in this last that the essence of reason realizes itself as the inner unified connection of the manifold with unity, of the empirical and ideas, instincts and reason.” (188)
There is, argues Hegel, no internal relation between the universal formula and particular duties. In Dilthey’s words, the Grundfragment says that “the particular duty bears in it the contradiction of being both determined and universal.” (189) The Natural Law essay says that our interest lies in knowing what has to be done. A maxim thus has to be determinate and thus to exclude other possibilities. A tearing apart of matter and form, of maxim and universal formula, of determinate and universal, makes ethical life impossible as a system. Kant’s greatness was to recognize something unconditioned in practical reason. His limitation was to possess this unconditioned only in the form of an opposition of the one and universal to the manifold and particular. 

[Three Levels of Ethical Life]

Hegel next distinguishes three levels of the new morality [Sittlichkeit - This seems to predate the distinction of (individual) Moralität and (social) Sittlichkeit. - SC]. The first is that of “moral feeling, that is, the inclination so to act”. Hegel continues: “inclination is based on itself, has its ideal object in itself and not in something foreign” (189) (i.e. neither in a foreign master, nor in an ethical law). Jesus opposes it to the joyless obedience of the Jews of his day. Its limitation is that it is inert, conditioned by its own particularity and active only when its condition presents itself. It is only visible in action, and then incompletely, for the action has a particular goal and so does not express the unity intended in the background.

There must then be a second, higher level. This need for an enduring union that makes up a whole, is love. This love seeks a unity in the manifold of actions. It performs many acts to create the appearance of a whole, of infinitude, but it has the vulnerability, according to Hegel, that: “It knots together points into moments, but the world, man in the world, and his domination of this world, still stands.” (189) Thus there are limits that condition the destiny of the beautiful soul, the profusion of whose heart does not satisfy him. Hegel says: “It knows beautiful moments of enjoyment, but they are only moments, and the tears of compassion and emotion for a beautiful deed of this sort are only melancholy caused by its limitation.” (190) Its “hidden generosity” that will not hear of reward is but “shame before the deficiency of the situation”. [C.f. Jacques D’Hondt’s description in Hegel Secret (1968) of Hegel’s response to Louis-Sébastien Mercier's play Montesquieu in Marseille, which deals with the logic of apparent generosity between unequal individuals in a social hierarchy. – SC]

There is then something further beyond love: this third stage is religion. Religion knows nothing of the limits of this love. There is still division in the most living union of men. “That is the law of humanity”, says Hegel, but “beautiful religion” lives in “the ideal of complete union.” (191) Hegel adds that: “religious action, what is most spiritual and most beautiful, aspires also to reunite what the necessity of development has separated, and presents this union as perfectly realized in the ideal, and no longer as opposed to reality.” (191) The religious consciousness that would unite all that lives surpasses love as a state in life. Thus we pass from moral conscience to love, to the beautiful soul, to religion.

[The Development of ethico-religious Consciousness]

There is also in this fragment the first sketch of the history of the development of ethico-religious consciousness, as later found in the Essay on Natural Law and the Phenomenology of Spirit. Once aware of its infinitude, ethical life progresses towards reconciliation, towards consciousness of the Unconditioned. It is this that contains the connection between the particular, multiple and contingent and what is One, universal and necessary. 

According to Hegel, the upheaval of Jesus’ consciousness led him from the Jewish law to a new form of piety which changed his relationship with God, in his “metaphysical consciousness” (Dilthey’s expression). The overcoming of heteronomy leads to a living connection, a love of God in which God, Jesus and his community are reunited. Hegel says:
“If man himself has a will, he stands in a relationship to God that is quite other than a merely passive relationship. There are not two independent wills, two substances. God and man must be one, but man the Son, God the Father. Man does not stand independently on his own ground. He is only, insofar as he opposes himself, a modification, and thereby also the Father in him.” (190; GS IV, 80)  
[The capitalization of “Father” and “Son” are normal practice for German nouns. There is no implication as to a Trinitarian or other interpretation in the original. – SC] This was, says Hegel, for Jesus: “a real transubstantiation, a real immanence of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in his disciples.” There latter “were not to be substances quite simply separated from each other and reunited only in the universal concept, but were to be like a vine root and its branches, that they should have the true life of divinity in them.” (190) This piety finds full expression in the following professions:
“God is love, love is God; there is no other divinity than love. Only what is not Godly, which does not love, has to place divinity in the Idea, outside itself. He who is unable to believe that God is in Jesus and that he be alive in man, mistrusts men. If love, if God, lives among men, there can be gods. Where not, so it must be said of him, and no gods are possible. If everything is separate, there is only an ideal.” (191)
This though there “must always be” a whole. [In my view, this is true only if “love” be taken to include justice as well as mercy, a qualification that is present elsewhere in scripture that is not made explicit here in this language drawn from 1 John 4:8. The text confuses one divine attribute (benevolence) with the whole of the divine nature, but without the underpinning of the other metaphysical and moral attributes of divinity, it is liable to mislead. Moreover, the low Christology at work here is not consistent with scripture. – SC]


One passage from elsewhere sheds light on the transition from moral consciousness to love. Hegel interprets Christ’s command to “love God” as meaning to find oneself in the world of life, infinitely and harmoniously. “Love your neighbour as yourself" means to overcome opposition to this harmony. [The famous passage cited is in all the synoptic Gospels (Matt. 22.37, Luke 10.27, Mark 12.30-31). Cf. Deuteronomy 6.5. – SC] Hegel says:
“To “Love God” is to feel oneself in the fullness [im All] of life, boundlessly in the infinite. In this feeling of harmony, there is admittedly no universality, for in the harmony the particular is not in conflict, but in agreement; if not, there would be no harmony. “Love your neighbour as thyself” does not mean to love as much as thyself, for to love oneself is a word without sense, but it means to love him because he is you. It is a matter of feeling the same life, not of a stronger or a weaker life.” (191; GS IV 81) 
[I have to say, I get a different literary effect from going straight to the German than translating from the French in the above.  - SC] That then, is the sum and value of the Grundfragment. Love is present as a reunification of what is separate, as a resolution of oppositions in a unity. There is a unity of human and divine spirit in the “religion of Jesus” [in der Religion Jesu. – the ambiguity of subjective and objective genitive is in the original. – SC] Dilthey says in summary:
“Thus was formulated the metaphysical interpretation of Christianity that constitutes the kernel of Hegel’s philosophy of religion and according to which Christian dogma is the symbolic expression of the unity of the divine and the human.” (191)
[However, the New Testament (NT) does not support this reading. Hence it was later necessary to interpret the NT as myth, as in David Strauss’ Life of Jesus (1835) to bolster the naturalist historical-metaphysical thesis, which has other grounds than the reading of scripture. To speak plainly, it seems that Hegel is struggling authentically with faith and Scripture, but not expressing Christian ideas. – SC] Hegel’s interpretation of the Trinity is in preparation from this point on. [This latter at least appears more Christian than the above, and may in fact represent a later layer of his thought that comes closer to orthodox Christian faith. It is found in the Berlin Lectures on Religion. – SC]

Hegel at this point is opposed both to rationalism and to an “exalted mysticism” based on a supernatural act of mind. Rationalism remains prosaically within the separation (of divine and human). Hegel says: “The passivity [or receptiveness] of the exalted [person] wishes to produce in himself the immanence of God and of Christ.” (192) Yet it makes a distinction between them which implies the domination of the divine over the human. Against rationalism, he says: “To make Jesus a simple teacher of men calls Godhood out of the world, from nature and from men.” (192) The unity of God and man is misconstrued by rationalism as something supernatural.

These passages and related notes, that Dilthey later uses in presenting his mystical pantheism, will show that Hegel engaged in a deeper metaphysical interpretation of these teachings, against Kant’s moral interpretation. Hegel then begins to value the concept of Christian freedom. Relations become apparent from now on with the big fragment on destiny, such as lead us from one fragment to the other. [The Fragment on Destiny is also absent from Knox’s edition (1948). One point of importance is the stress that Dilthey places on the change from Hegel’s early Kantian moral interpretation of Christ and his later “mystical pantheist” interpretation. This has been influential on later Hegel interpretation, but it can be missed in the English translations, as the Fuss/Dobbins volume is all from the earlier period and Knox includes material from both periods in his volume. – SC]

In our next two posts, we will address Dilthey's account of the "mystical pantheism" he attributes to Hegel.