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the being in its relations to other beings, but it is also, and especially, an internal movement from the visible to the invisible, from the real to the ideal, from the finite to the infinite.
The conscience of the true, the beautiful and the good, is the sense of the perfect, which is in itself indefinite. Endeavour to conceive the beautiful in art, truth in science, goodness in morals, without the indefinite, and you will find it impossible; the sense of the beautiful is a sentiment infinite in variety and inexhaustible in modification. The delight dissolving into tears caused by the perception of the beautiful in music, painting and poetry, is the stretching onward of the soul towards perfection; and that which satisfies to-day will not satisfy to-morrow, for the ideal is never stationary. The restless thirst after knowledge in man is consequent on the idea of the unlimited. The acquisition of certainty in one branch of science spurs him on to discover it in another. Without the idea of the indefinite, mathematics would have halted at addition and subtraction, and never have risen through geometry to astronomy. The moral sense is also unlimited: it is well known that the better a man is, the higher is the ideal of virtue he sets before him, and the less satisfied he is with himself.
1 I may mention here a remarkable fact. When I was about fifteen years old, I dreamt that I saw an angel with a coloured light in his hand, standing in the grass on a starry night. The colour was entirely different from any that we know. I recall it at times, and try to express my idea of it; but I am paralyzed, for it is an idea so entirely sui generis and so primitive that I can no more describe it than I could describe red or blue. The only way to express it would be by coining a new word. This fact has often led me to suppose that perhaps colours, forms of beauty and musical notes may be infinite in variety, but that our limited faculties can only catch and retain some. It is well known that many notes of music are inaudible to the ear.
What is the beautiful? what is truth? what is goodness? These ideas cannot be defined; they can be seen, felt, but they cannot be formulated. For a moment they receive definition, but they are permanently indefinable; they are not fixed points in themselves, but, like the cardinal points, fixed by the position man occupies towards them. This is one of the conditions inseparable from the perfectability of man. The danger to him is lest he should consider those points which are gratuitously assumed to facilitate his advance as fixed realities; just as the astronomer would fall into error if he were to regard the cardinal points as real entities, and not as relative terms, which never occupy the same place in the horizon for two minutes successively, although they always express the same relation of the globe to its centre. Now this is precisely the mistake philosophers have made who have sought to enclose life, that is to say, movement, within fixed, immovable points.
How is man to be defined who is precisely the indefinable ? how is he who excludes limits to be shut within them? but also, how is he to be known except by definition and the limitation he implies ? Such is the antinomy everywhere and always reappearing.
The indefinite, we have said, is that which at the same time implies and excludes limitation. Such is the true sense of Hegel's logical method, which we shall apply to the subject under consideration.
By his famous axiom, “I think, therefore I am,” Descartes placed the principle of the absolute in the I-myself. Spinoza, applying this principle to God, or rather to the totality of things, deduced from it pantheism, as a logical consequence. But Kant was the first, by turning philosophy into a true metaphysical algebra, to demonstrate that from this point of view theoretical and practical reason
cannot arrive at the certainty of the real existence of any exterior object, and that consequently man can veritably know nothing. Fichte, Schelling, and all the German philosophers, using with marvellous subtlety the metaphysical system of the Königsberg philosopher, essayed in vain to break through this fatal result, and to pass from the absolute Ego of Descartes and Kant to objective reality. Then arose Hegel, enlightened and warned by the failure of his predecessors, and he laid down the problem under a new form, inaking it rise out of the absolute. Being, said he, is the undetermined absolute, in face of which you are situated like the eye that gazes on the sun, dazzled and blinded, and incapable of perceiving anything clearly, because everything strikes you simultaneously.
That which is absolutely unlimited is to you equal to zero, all becomes identical with nothing; absolute being is equivalent to entire negation.
The rigorous consequence of this doctrine was the impossibility of knowing God, the Absolute, directly, and by any other means than by an intermediary, a mediator between Him and us. It was a mortal blow struck at rationalism and at deism, though this has not been generally perceived and acknowledged. Hegel, who foresaw the inconceivable fecundity of his system, became himself bewildered, seized with giddiness, and partially blinded by it. By one of those mysterious contradictions so often found in great thinkers, he was unfaithful to his own theory, and erected that very theory into the Absolute.
According to Hegel's system, contraries do not exclude, but on the contrary imply, one another. This proposition, which ignorance can alone prevent us from accepting, is a vulgar, palpable, universal fact, presenting itself to our eyes incessantly in Nature and in ourselves. We cannot take a step without striking against this inevitable antinomy of two terms opposed, which imply and define each other, as the down thrust at one end of a lever and the upward thrust at the other. Night implies and defines day, so does cold imply and define heat, movement repose, unity diversity, force matter. Suppress one of these two terms, and the other instantaneously disappears.
Every proposition, therefore, is a negative; every notion has in it the idea of the opposite to itself. But again, all negation is affirmation. Admit a third, intermediate term, and in it these mutual contradictions are resolved into friendly contrast. Thus, in this one hypothetical concept diversities are included, differences are conciliated, and contradictions are effaced; for this "moment” which is the Ideal embraces all in its entirety, and binds every moment phase and expression of being, which relatively negative each other, into unity.
Thus, in man, the Indefinite conciliates the relative and the personal, the limited and the unlimited, reason and sentiment. And man himself is the moment" between the world and the Absolute, part divine, part animal, united in the simplicity of an unique personality, destined to live in other men and in all creatures, to make all live in God. What more admirable conception than this, of man restoring the universe to unity, its eternal principle, without anywhere effacing distinction.
According to the Hegelian method, unity can never become uniformity, for unity exacts diversity as its antinomical moment, without which it could not exist; and diversity implies unity as its raison d’ítre. Thus nature constantly engaged in analysis, in developing individualities, in particularizing and specializing, is incapable of falling into a chaos of conflicting elements, for this analytical process implies the opposite, or synthetic process which unifies all these individualities, and conciliates all in a totality of being
Thus man is also an antinomy. He represents Being under the two contradictory terms which constitute him; 1st, that which is indefinite and indetermined, which is called Spirit; 2nd, that which is determined and definite, which is vulgarly called body, and in philosophical language, limit. Such is the radical antinomy. But these terms are only fixed points imagined for our orientation. The body is always changing and shifting its relations, and the spirit is in incessant progress also. Man, in reality, is movement; and these terms express, not places of arrest, but the double orientation, one towards God, the other towards the world. Though these two words signify opposition, we might almost say contradiction, it by no means follows that they exclude each other. On the contrary, if the undetermined, the spirit, was always unlimited, without formulæ to define and determine it, it would know nothing, it would be incapable of knowing anything. These terms, apparently opposed and contradictory, imply one another, and unite in a simple term which, giving to the undetermined a form which defines and limits it, constitutes the conception, the idea.
But the contraries thus conciliated, the antinomy reappears; for this conception or idea contains in itself two things opposed, the living spirit which is the essence, and the form or letter which is the boundary and limit. Thus, for instance, the astronomer, after having determined the rotation of the earth on its own axis in twenty-four hours, determines its movement about the sun in three hundred and sixty-five days. These two opposed movements are identified by him in a sole force which produces both.