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Amihud Gilead

The Problem of Immediate Evidence:
The Case of Spinoza and Hegel

Hegel-Studien, Bd. 20 (1985)


Descartes’ concept of self- or immediate evidence, e.g. that of the cogito, is a problematic one. He attempts to construct our certain knowledge of ourselves, the world and God out of basic, simple, clear and distinct ideas which are self or immediate, evident. Some empiricists, such as Locke and Hume, or the Logical Positivists, or philosophers such as Carnap and Russell, attempt to do the same. Whether we are dealing with „Protocol Sentences” or with clear and distinct ideas or with „sense data”, the problem is the same: Can we construct a coherent, „systematic” knowledge of the world and ourselves on a certain, self-evident „basis” of knowledge made up of immediate data? It seems that die Cartesian program on these lines is doomed in principle to failure: each immediate datum of consciousness is distinct, independent and separable from the others; whereas a coherent, „systematic” world-view requires necessary relations and connections among dependent, inseparable „elements”, ideas or perceptions. Such connections are, for instance, causality and substantiality. Descartes’ failure to solve this problem, i.e. to reconcile the independence of those elements with necessary connections and the systematic requirements of the certain knowledge, is most adequately demonstrated by his employment of God as Deus ex machina. Unlike the exemplary geometrician, Descartes has to use a „datum” which, by definition, transcends the human mind: his transcendent God is necessarily outside our mind, although we can have some „idea” of it. This employment of „God” is not immanent and systematic, and, therefore, Descartes’ „God” is a Deus which is ex machina. If the source of the evidence which guarantees the necessary connections (even though not the clear arid distinct ideas as such) is not part and parcel of our mind, the human cogito loses its eminent position, since there is a authority over its capacity. In this way philosophy may collapse into religion, and philosophical knowledge may be „replaced” by belief, [145] consistent perhaps with religion but not with philosophy, which should not recognize any authority but itself concerning philosophical issues.

The Cartesian world-view has to be broken into many „self-evident” ideas: we may believe that the good God connects our clear and distinct ideas, and guarantees the continuity of consciousness and time, but we do not know how this is done. This then is Descartes’ difficult and defeat.

It seems that self, immediate evidence, attributed to cognizance, means rupture, disconnection, severance and even prevention of necessary connections. This is because such a cognizance is independent, „atomic” and unconditioned (for instance, each cogito is not dependent on other cogitos or on facts outside our minds, the state of the world). Such independence or unconditionedness is not consistent with necessary connections requiring dependence and conditionedness. However, only whole, complete knowledge is unconditioned, independent or ratio sui. In an attempt to construct such a body of knowledge we must employ necessary connections among the many data of our knowledge, which as connecting are dependent, conditioned and not self-evident.

David Hume, holding some of Descartes’ principal theses, especially that of the clearness and distinctness of ideas, is much more consequential, as we can see in this passage: „... there are two principles, which I cannot render consistent; nor is it in my power to renounce either of them, viz. that all our distinct perceptions are distinct existences, and that the mind never perceives any real connexion among distinct existences. Did our perceptions either inhere in something simple and individual, or did the mind perceive some real connexion among them, there would be no difficulty in the case. For my part, I must plead the privilege of a sceptic, and confess, that this difficulty is too hard for my understanding. I pretend not, however, to pronounce it absolutely insuperable. Others, perhaps, or myself, upon more mature reflections, may discover some hypothesis, that will reconcile those contradictions.” 1 Hume recognizes that we cannot reconcile separate, clear and distinct (or self-evident) perceptions with necessary connections among them. He implicitly refuses to use Descartes’ transcendent God, and we may rightly assume that the aspired-for hypothesis which would solve Hume’s problems is Kant’s „Copernican Revolution”: the origin of the necessary, logical connections is human Understanding, [146] the source of the logos of the world. On the other hand, Kant rejects the idea of clear and distinct, self-evident ideas, images or perceptions. Kant’s logical necessity does not consist of simple, „self-evident”, „atomic”, independent data but of necessary connections, a product of our Understanding, the successor of the precritical concept of God, „God of the philosophers”. Hume does not „dare” to think in such a way or to pay the price that Kant accepts. Hume’s Cartesian assumption concerning clearness and distinctness prevents him from finding a solution for this cardinal problem and, consequently, he has to admit his sceptical, undesirable conclusions: necessary connections of substance, personal identity and causality are not possible, philosophically speaking, even though we rightly use them in everyday life and in natural science. On the other hand, Kant’s solution has its own „weak” side: rejecting self-evidence or the clearness and distinctness of elementary, basic and simple data of knowledge makes these data inconceivable or incomprehensible as such. We do not understand the data of our sensuous experience, and, at the best, our Understanding can necessarily connect them by means of its categories. In some way Kant perhaps replaces the unattainable, transcendent God of Descartes with another limitation: the unattainable logos of experience’s data as such – the Given as such, as a brute fact, is not understood by us. We cannot analyze it in order to understand it, neither can we reduce it to a more rational, understandable element. Kant delineates the boundaries of human Reason: our Understanding is not intuitive and we cannot derive the Given or the manifold from the principles of our Understanding. However, experience supplies us with sensuous data which are the materials for building a systematic knowledge of the world without employing a Cartesian „Deus ex machina”. Be that as it may, as Hume so clearly understands, we are dealing here with a severe dilemma: rejecting immediate self-evidence demands the heavy price of accepting data which as such are not comprehensible, rational or logical, but, on the other hand, holding and accepting such evidence means that making necessary connections, without which there is no systematic, scientific knowledge, becomes impossible.


The cognitive system to which Spinoza aspires has to adequately reflect the system of Reality. This unified system of knowledge is characterized [147] by Spinoza as the idea which reflects objectively, i.e. in our cognition, the formal order (as it is, in reality or „extra intellectum”) and the unity of nature, both as a whole and as particularized into „parts” (TIE 91). 2 In certain places Spinoza describes this system as the order and connection of ideas which is the same as the order and connection of things or causes (E II.7 Sch.; E II.20 Dem.), the order of the whole of Nature (E II.7 Sch.); in other places – as the concatenation of the intellect (understanding) which has to reflect or to represent the concatenation of nature (TIE 95). 3 Such a system is a matter of aspiration, since our finite mind cannot grasp the whole order of Reality as a unity composed of an infinitude of particulars.

Spinoza requires a principle of individuation and personal identity – an adequate causality 4 – which constitutes the systematic coherent whole with all of its particulars which are mutually interdependent. The personal identity of a particular thing, which as such is perceived as distinct from other particulars, consists in its necessary causal linkage with the whole of Reality, since such a particular is a unique and indispensable finite expression or manifestation of the whole of Reality (Deus quatenus finitus est). No self-evidence can be attributed to the finite mode or to the particular cognition. Only the whole knowledge of the unified coherent Reality (Substantia sive Deus sive Natura) is self-evident since it is causa sui, independent and not conditioned by another being. Unconditioned self-evidence of any finite cognition is a contradiction in terms according to Spinoza, since no finite and conditioned particular can be either infinite and unconditioned or independent and discrete – as if it were causa sui. No cognition [148] except the complete, infinite and coherent system of knowledge may be called self-evident.

What about a foundational system in general or a deductive one in particular 5 – are they not consistent with immediate self-evidence? The answer might be ‘yes’ but with this qualification: a deductive philosophical or metaphysical system seems as such to be illegitimate. To illustrate this let us consult Kant’s considerations on this issue. Kant, criticizing philosophers because of their use of axioms as if they were immediately evident principles, says: „the possibility of mathematics must itself be demonstrated in transcendental philosophy. Philosophy has therefore no Axiom, and may never prescribe its a priori principles in any such absolute manner, but must resign itself to establishing its authority in their regard by a thorough deduction [demonstration]” (Critique of Pure Reason. B 761-762). 6 Indeed, Spinoza’s Ethics has a priori principles and axioms; however, all of them must submit to this imperative: any principle should be capable of justification and no principle can be accepted as if it were self-evident or immediately certain. It should be considered how Spinoza’s philosophy does submit to this imperative. Be that as it may, the rejection of self-evidence is but a philosophical-metaphysical obligation: i.e. not accepting any principle without justification. Such an obligation is recognized by Plato and it characterizes his Dialectics which has no hypotheses and which attempts to attain an unconditioned principle which is the first principle of any certain knowledge. Hence, if metaphysics is called rightly by the name „independent discipline”, affording a unique contribution to knowledge, then it has to refrain from using unjustifiable suppositions. Plato does not satisfy this obligation, and his unconditioned first principle is supposed to be known to us by „mystical” means, although it has to justify itself and all of its derivatives as well (Kant speaks, rightly, of Plato’s „mystical deduction of ideas” – Critique of Pure Reason. B 371, Note). 7


Spinoza is entitled to attribute a status of evident knowledge only to the complete in concreto cognition of Substance as a whole, and not to Substance’s [149] definition in the Ethics or to any of the other definitions there. The Definitions, Axioms and Postulates of the Ethics consist in general cognitions which require justification, explication, concretization, and sometimes even correction and restriction (e.g. E  IV. Ax. by E V.37 Sch.). Only if we succeed in reaching the „end of our enquiries” (to use Kant’s language, B 759), only if we succeed in constructing the aspired-for system, will we possess an absolute evident knowledge. This knowledge is scientia intuitiva as a whole, at the „end of our enquiries”. Scientia intuitiva too is necessarily mediate, since it employs complete inferences and conclusive demonstrations (E  V. 36 Sch.). The evidence or intuition of this supreme knowledge is not at all immediate, since the inferences, demonstrations and conclusions which it employs are mediations. Moreover, Spinoza’s philosophy demands that no datum of cognition is self-evident or self-understood: i.e., understanding consists in the correction (emendatio) of data, the perception of which is always mediate. In the most simple of the perceptions of imaginatio time, place, images of things, etc., are involved necessarily. Only by the correction of those data and by their purification from this dross can we guarantee their true perception. This can be achieved by the exacting process of inferences, deductions and considerations. The correction of data consists in interlocking them into a causal chain and not in analyzing them into „simple elements” which are „self-evident”.

Each degree of knowledge has its own mediation. There is a difference between the mediation of imaginatio and that of the other, adequate, degree of knowledge. The former does not require legitimate demonstrations and valid inferences; however, its mediation is manifested in false, abstract generalizations. The latter’s mediation, on the contrary, consists of those very inferences and demonstrations. Consequently, according to Spinoza there is no knowledge or degree of knowledge which is immediate.

Descartes extols the immediacy of knowledge because he sees this as the source of its certainty. In the analysis of the wax (in the Second Meditation) Descartes concludes by saying that we get acquainted with the wax immediately by mentis inspectio which is clear and distinct. In this manner our mind gets acquainted with its whole treasury of innate concepts, the source of all cognitions about reality. What does Spinoza say about such an immediate knowledge? – „If anyone tells us that it is not necessary to understand the Divine attributes, but that we must believe them simply without proof, he is plainly trifling. For what is invisible and can only be an object of the mind, cannot be seen by any eye but by proofs; if these [150] are absent the object remains unseen [ungrasped]; the repetition of what has been heard on such subjects no more indicates or attains to their meaning than the word of a parrot or an automaton speaking without sense or understanding [significance].” (TTP, Ch. XIII, 178 [170]) 8 Moreover: „For the mind is no less sensible of those things which it conceives through intelligence than of those which it remembers, for demonstrations are the eyes of the mind by which it sees and observes things.” (E  V.23 Sch.) Our intellect is unable to conceive things „immediately”: the mind’s eyes, by which we contact most intimately the objects of our knowledge, are but demonstrations. By them we have the most reliable contact with reality. Demonstration or proof is not a Cartesian immediate mentis inspectio („intuition of the mind”, „mental contemplation”) but an inference or a chain of inferences.

Yet Spinoza speaks of „perceptible things” (res perceptibiles) which we accept with moral certainty, „though they are incapable of proof”; moreover, „Everyone can see the truth of Euclid’s propositions before they are proved. So also the histories of things... which do not surpass human credence, laws, institutions, manners, I call perceptible [conceivable] and clear, though they cannot be proved mathematically” (TTP, Note 8 to Ch. VII, 270-271 [253]). Nevertheless, Spinoza refers here, according to the context of Ch. VII, to „quite rudimentary acquaintance” (TTP 113 [111]), or better – „quite puerile a knowledge”, i.e. „of matters very simple and easily understood” (Ibid.). Actually, those things are capable of conclusive demonstration by learned people; however, the masses (vulgus) accept them without proof, an acceptation which typifies imaginatio, the lowest and false degree of cognition which the masses usually employ. Only for the masses are they unprovable. This is not the case for philosophers: e.g., moral imperatives can be seen by the masses as absolutely clear and as obligatory without proof, while the philosopher requires proof for them, accepting them only after they have been justified by reason.

Those „self-evident” propositions which are indubitable are epistemically worthless. These are the „eternal truths” which are called „analytical” in modern terminology: „those which do not explain any thing or any [151] state of thing, as, for instance, nothing is produced from nothing. This, I say, and similar propositions, are called absolutely eternal truths, by which they wish to indicate nothing else than that such things have no place outside the intellect [extra intellectum]” (Epi. 10, 109 [47]). Indeed, Leibniz’s program to reach an ideal situation where a reduction of all truths concerning matters of fact to the eternal truths of reason – and these to identity propositions – such a program would have appeared to Spinoza as an absurdity, since from analytical truths we can infer nothing about things and their situation, things which exist „outside the intellect”, which have a real ontic status. Analytical truths are only productions of our mind which cannot help our intellect to know Reality and its particulars. As a rule, Spinoza disagrees in principle with such a rationalistic program whether stemming from Descartes’ analysis of the wax or from the approach of Leibniz (had Spinoza known it). According to these considerations of Spinoza, a rejection of the possibility of a foundational system can be deduced, since such a system requires basic assumptions which are, as it were, „self-provable”, „obvious by themselves”, „self-understood” or self-evident. Spinoza is devoted to the supposition that understanding, proof and justification consist in linkage and connection and not in analysis and decomposition into „self-evident” and „immediate-given” elements. Justification of philosophical propositions is consistent with the attempt to construct a system but not with immediate self-evidence. This is more so when we are speaking of the system of coherence (Epi. 30 and 32) to which Spinoza aspires and which opposes any foundational type of system.


Yet there are certain paragraphs in Spinoza’s writings in which immediate cognitions are considered (e.g. TTP, Ch. IV, 64 [64]). Nevertheless, what Spinoza is actually dealing with here is cognition “from hearsay” which is not first-hand, not from a primary source, and which is rejected by him; knowledge from a primary source, on the contrary, can be verified by the sovereign reason which every man can use to judge for himself, without relying on other people’s judgment or on his own unstable and dubious experience (his experientia vaga). Word are part of imaginatio (e.g. TIE 88). Hence when Spinoza is speaking, for example, about Jesus’ „wordless message” he is characterizing Jesus’ adequate knowledge, which is not [152] mediated by the words of the masses; therefore, this knowledge is supposed to be „immediate”, as unmediated by those words. The false mediation of imaginatio is replaced by the adequate, legitimate mediation of ratio.

Yet, despite what has been said above, it seems that some sections of the Treatise on the Improvement of the Understanding might be interpreted as if Spinoza had adopted the Cartesian manner of evidence: e.g. section 61: „if the thing hypothetical be in its nature true, and the mind pays attention to it, so as to understand it, and deduce the truths which are derivable from it, the mind will proceed with an uninterrupted series of apt conclusions”, echoes, as it were, Rule III of Descartes’ Rules for the Direction of the Mind [intellect] (published only after Spinoza’s death): many things are known with certainty although they are not self-evident; they are deduced from true and self-evident principles by continuous and uninterrupted acts of thinking. However, such a similarity between Descartes’ Rule and the above-quoted passage of Spinoza is but superficial. Spinoza’s principles are not perceived by immediate mentis inspectio as with Descartes; on the contrary the indication of true knowledge according to Spinoza is that it can be interlocked into a wide network, that, if it is fruitful, is true – since the mind can continue successfully and uninterruptedly to deduce truths from it (TIE 104). This is the starting point according to Spinoza: not a knowledge which from the beginning is known to be absolutely true, but a knowledge whose truth is substantiated in so far as we can connect (to produce, to infer and to deduce are but to connect – TIE 41 and Note) it with as many true ideas as possible.

When Spinoza says that truth reveals itself (makes itself manifest) he is stating actually that „all things would flow, as it were, spontaneously towards” truth’s owner (TIE 44). There is not any self-evidence here but a nucleus of knowledge linked with a wide truth context which always surpasses any distinct idea. This is the status of an adequate idea (TIE 35) which is the norm of truth for itself, since it can be connected with other ideas by the necessary connection of the intellect. Adequacy, which is the clarity and distinctness of ideas (E II.36), consists in what is common to all things and which is true whether the whole is considered or its parts (E II.38): i.e. adequacy consists of necessary (intellectual) connections between the whole of unified Reality and each of its particulars. Hence, clarity and distinctness according to Spinoza differ entirely from the Cartesian clarity and distinctness, which consist in separation, discreteness and analysis and not in connection and synthesis. Spinoza holds that even truths which are clear in themselves are not absolutely clear in themselves (TIE 107); he [153] also rejects any theory of definition qua evidently known (Epi. 8, 102 [39]).

Yet how can we interpret Spinoza’s statement that a simple idea is always clear and distinct in contrast to a complex idea (TIE 63, 64 and 68)? – Each idea consists of a judgment which is a combination or coherence of subject and predicate (TIE 62), and in so far as this combination is legitimate, a simple, clear and distinct idea is formed. Such an idea is contrasted to an illegitimate complex idea. Even the simplest idea is a function of the intellect (TIE 68), and intellect, according to Spinoza, connects and combines. It is said of the simple idea that „it shows how and why something is or has been made” (TIE  85), and were it not a link in a chain of reasons (which reflects the causal chain of things) it would not function thus. Indeed, in the next sentence Spinoza mentions the procedure of true science from cause to effect. Error and falsehood consist in partiality, in so far as a part is either taken for the whole or taken in isolation (TIE  73). Hence, we arrive at the conclusion that one idea alone in the mind can evoke neither doubt nor certainty, but only some sensation (TIE 78), since only by knowing its connections with other ideas can we consider whether it is certain and true or false and dubious. Clarity and distinctness, qua consisting of a nexus of ideas, or the „natural light” of A Theologico-Political Treatise are not properties of discrete ideas. No wonder, therefore, that Spinoza speaks of paying „attention to a certain number of very simple notions, called communes notiones, and by their help to associate conceptions” (TTP, Note 6 to Ch. VI, 270 [253]; Italics mine). Consequently, we can conclude that all these join together into an unambiguous critique of Cartesian evidence in general and of the cogito in particular. 9

Indeed, Spinoza rejects any possibility of immediate self-knowledge: „The idea which forms the nature of the mind is... not... clear and distinct when considered in itself” (E II.28 Sch.); the mind does not know itself except in so far as it perceives the ideas of the modifications of its body (E 11.23). Can we find more emphatic a statement to demonstrate that Spinoza’s theory has nothing in common with Cartesian evidence? Spinoza would entirely reject the title of the Second Meditation, „that the mind is more easily known than the body”.

Spinoza uses the term, evidence’ in several places in his writings. However, it refers only to post factum affirmation and is not a methodological [154] criterion, but a usage expressing confidence in his own conclusions. Such evidence is not a priori but post factum, post demonstration (see, e.g., E 1.11. Another Dem. 2, Sch.; E 1.33, Sch. 2; TTP, Ch. XII, 166 [159] et al.). Consequently, the Axioms, Definitions and Postulates of the Ethics are not per se clara data at all. They require complete justification according to their ability to interlock within a complete and particulars-rich system, even to render such a system possible. Their truth is but their adequacy. We may begin with them in order to lay out a wide network beyond them, to proceed forward in so far as they make possible; their justification depends entirely on the success of this process.

Spinoza’s philosophy, in so far as it requires adequacy qua condition of truth and adequate causality qua principle of individuation and personal identity, and in so far as it aspires to a coherent system of knowledge, must necessarily reject immediate evidence.


It is generally supposed that Hegel’s well-known criticism of Spinoza’s philosophy strongly emphasizes the differences between their theories. This criticism has been discussed and even criticized. 10 It is possible to object that Hegel’s criticism is sometimes not altogether justified: for instance, he misunderstands Spinoza in speaking of „das eleatische Sein oder die Spinozische Substanz” (WL 1.151). 11 Be that as it may, Hegel’s [155] criticism of Spinoza’s philosophy should not prevent us from recognizing what they have in common, in spite of their differences. I attempt to show that Spinoza’s rejection of immediate evidence has something of the spirit of Hegel’s attitude towards our problem. Actually, they both reject incipient immediate evidence, as being an obstacle in constructing a philosophical system. Using an anachronistic language, we may say that such an immediate, self-evidence is, mutatis mutandis, part and parcel of Cartesian and Humean philosophies or the philosophy of Russell and Logical Positivism, but is not consistent with, mutatis mutandis, Spinozistic or Hegelian attempts at constructing total systems of knowledge, a constructing which requires relations and necessary connections among our cognizances. It seems to me that both Spinoza and Hegel are well aware of this „truism”. In the above sections I have attempted to show that in spite of his employment of the Cartesian terminology concerning clarity and distinctness, Spinoza actually rejects the possibility of immediate, self-evidence in human knowledge. Let us now consider Hegel’s way of dealing with our problem.


According to Hegel „the True is the Whole” („das Wahre ist das Ganze” – Phän 21). That Whole is the total System (Phän 24, 556) of Scientific Knowledge, the Notion, the Substance which has become a Subject, the Absolute Spirit (Phän 24). Such a system is not foundational but rather a network system, like a circle whose actual end-goal is its potential beginning (Phän 20, 22), namely its actual Result-Consequence is its potential Presupposition-Principle (Phän 559, cf. WL 1.56-57). The simple, incipient, basic „immediacy” of that principle must be overcome, sublated and developed into a mediated, proven, reflected certainty or real immediacy (Phän 138, 530-531, 563-564). Such is the real unity of Spirit and Being, which is so different from the simple, crude „immediacy” of the Beginning (Anfang), the simple unity of mind and being, e.g., in the Cartesian cogito (Enz 91, 99-100; WL 1.61). Indeed, Hegel rejects any kind of foundationalism which is based on the concept of self-evident, unconditioned basic principles, as if they were the axioms, definitions and postulates of Euclidean Geometry (Phän 33-35; cf. Enz 91, WL 1.56-57, WL 2.165).

Hegel speaks of the formalism of the mathematical evidence (Phän 37), lacking self, internal development. A „basic” proposition (or principle) of [156] philosophy „is also [always] false, just because it is only a principle..., the beginning” (PhänE 13; Phän 23). Making that false principle true means refuting it (as false), which is its process of self-development (PhänE 13; Phän 23-24). This principle, therefore, is the „basis” of the System (PhänE 14; Phän 24). Indeed, the spiritual becoming, process, development or progress towards the systematic Truth is „rather just this return into simplicity” (PhänE 12; Phän 22; cf. WL 1.56) – the simplicity of the Beginning. This is knowledge in its first phase as immediate Spirit – the non-spiritual phase which is sense-consciousness (Phän 26). Hegel speaks of the abstractness of that phase, of that beginning as such (Phän 30-32), of its non-spirituality (Phän 541), emptiness (Enz 95) and passive indifference (Phän 28, cf. 537) because, as dogmatic and fixed (Phän 34), it is not developing itself. Sense-certainty, the so-called immediate knowledge, is „the most abstract and poorest truth” (PhänE 8, Phän 79). Hegel also deals with the „undeveloped immediate”, which is the object of imagining (Phän 557), the „Unmittelbarkeit des Ansich” (Phän 558). The Ansichsein of the given Beginning must become Fürsichsein too, i.e., An-und-Fürsichsein (Phän 24). This is the process of actual „Reason, which has made itself into what it is in it self (PhänE 12; Phän 22). Only this Reason is free (Ibid.; cf. Phän 562, 564), i.e., unconditioned. On this point we should bear in mind Spinoza’s attribution of freedom (E  I. Def. 7) to causa sui (E  I. Def. 1). The unilateral so-called certainty of the incipient principle (Beginning, αρχή) is replaced by the actual, immediate certainty of the unconditioned Whole (Phän 25), which is Hegel’s causa sui as an actualized goal-purpose. The empty beginning becomes actual knowledge (PhänE 12; Phän 22). However, that beginning, in so far as it is a moment of the development of Spirit, is necessary and „has to be lingered over” (PhänE 17; Phän 27).

Hegel regards Spinoza’s philosophy as an essential starting-point for any philosophizing 12, but this starting-point can be refuted by progressing, proceeding and sublating from and of it (WL 2.218). By relating this Hegelian attitude to that of the Phenomenology (Phän 23-24) we may conclude that Hegel employs Spinoza’s philosophy as if it were a basic, „intuitive” proposition or principle of philosophy, the „refutation” of which is only the pointing out its defect or deficiency, showing that it is general and only a beginning from which one has to go forward to its development, [157] explication and concretization. Only in this way can we, according to Hegel, correct the defect of that philosophy and complete its deficiency. It seems that Hegel conceives his own „final, closed and all-embracing” system as the complete, full, development of Spinoza’s philosophy, its accomplished concretization and explication; as if Spinoza’s philosophy, embodied as embryo in the aspired-for System, had become actual and been realized in Hegel’s System.


It is worth noting that Spinoza and Hegel reject incipient, foundational, immediate evidence-certainty for different reasons. However, one reason they hold in common is that the possibility of such an evidence-certainty contradicts the essential requirements of both their philosophies, mutatis mutandis, in constructing a philosophical, total system of science (Spinoza’s Scientia Intuitiva and Hegel’s Wissenschaft). Their different reasons can be stated thus: Spinoza thinks that so-called immediate knowledge has to do with the error of fragmentating, of taking the part as if it were the Whole; whereas Hegel believes that incipient („simple”) immediate certainty is not consistent with his own idea concerning development, process and Sublation (Aufhebung), without which the Truth-System cannot be actual. According to Hegel incipient or „simple” immediate knowledge is possible only as a beginning, Anfang, of process. It is the initial, undeveloped, crude, primitive or simple stage of the process of realization, embodiment and making actual. Immediate knowledge becomes actual and real by means of mediation, of negation, which is also conservation, i.e. Sublation. On the other hand, Spinoza’s philosophy is exempt from the distinction between potentiality and actuality as well as of development, process and progress: according to Spinoza there is no potentiality in the reality of Nature (E I.33, Cor. 2 and Props. 34 and 35), there is no development, realization or progress directed towards some „unrealized goal”. Conceiving Reality by means of concepts like these means to make mistakes because of fragmentating, to cast our limited, conditioned, subjective concepts over Reality itself.

Anachronistically speaking, Spinoza „replaces” Hegel’s Aufhebung by Spinozistic emendatio – Correction, Emendation or Improvement. According to Spinoza, we may correct the given fragments of our knowledge by interlacing them with their widest coherent context of knowledge, all of [158] whose parts are necessarily, logically and causally connected. Both Spinoza and Hegel criticize and reject the attribution of independence, absoluteness or „unconditionedness” to any finite, specific part or principle of knowledge. Spinoza does this by displaying the necessary connections between that part and the widest body of knowledge, whereas Hegel attempts to show us the deficiency and dependence of that specific part by demonstrating its requirement for sublation by means of development, process and progress towards the final, complete Whole.

Anachronistically speaking again, we may say that it is possible to criticize Hegel in the name of Spinoza’s philosophy by arguing that ideas such as „The End of History”, „The Absolute Spirit in History”, „Spirit completed itself as World-Spirit” (Phän 559) etc. are but human, limited, subjective, unilateral concepts not adequately expressing Reality as a Whole, because they are fragments of Knowledge serving limited, human, subjective purposes only. Human experience, knowledge and activity, whether in the domain of individuals or in history, cannot exhaust the whole of Reality, which, as such, is exempt from development, realization or progress. These are but symptoms of human limitation. In other words, according to this criticism, immediacy should be not assigned to any kind of human knowledge which, as such, cannot be absolute or unconditioned. Any immediacy of knowledge is unilateral, requires sublation and refutation. We, using some of Spinoza’s insights, can criticize Hegel’s philosophy on behalf of his philosophy itself. Only super-human, infinite intellect can perhaps conceive Reality as a whole by means of self-evident, immediate knowledge. That knowledge is beyond the capacity of any philosophy which is only human.

According to Spinoza, movement is real and the immediate infinite mode of God as extended Being is movement and rest; however, time is not real but a product of our imagination (E II.44 Cor.). Whereas in Hegel’s philosophy there is room for both real time and progress. However, Hegel thinks that both are final and have an end. It seems that he makes them final by accommodating the whole of Reality to our concepts. By doing so he lays himself open to much criticism. Continuing to speak anachronistically by employing Spinoza’s criticism of teleology as a product of human imagination (E I. App.) or of the first kind of knowledge, we may criticize Hegel’s employment of human goal (or „final cause”) as if it were the end of Reality as a whole, not subsumed to human concepts. However, both Spinoza and Hegel must overcome the problem of incipient, „simple” immediacy or „self-evident” principles in order to render [159] philosophical system possible. Both rightly reject the mathematical model of a foundational system consisting of a self-evident, given „basis” or „foundation” of definitions, axioms and postulates. By doing so they both „share” (anachronistically speaking again) a Kantian attitude expressed in the „Discipline of Pure Reason” of the Critique of Pure Reason. In this respect there is something of Kantian critical philosophy in both their philosophies. Be that as it may, Hegel, like Spinoza before him, is quite consistent as long as he rejects the possibility of incipient or simple immediate evidence-certainty while looking for a philosophical system.


Spinoza understands that incipient self-evidence prevents necessary connections without which a coherent system of knowledge is impossible. Whereas Hegel clearly sees that such evidence prevents relatedness which is more basic than necessary connections. In the „truth” of sense-certainty there is neither relatedness nor connection of one sensuous detail with another (Phän 80, 551). Relatedness has to do with mediation (Vermittlung). No system is possible without such a mediation. Moreover, every immediacy must be mediated (Phän 530-531, 544; cf. Enz 45, WL 1.52) in order to be actual or real. Even „the ‘This’ show itself to be a mediated simplicity, or a universality” (PhänE 61, Phän 82). Mediation or universality means relatedness of each particular thing to the others. By pointing out the particular an sich we mean its particularity, but actually we are refuting what we mean, because recognizing that particular thing as such requires its locating in space and time, which are universal systems. The meaning of particular things consists of their relatedness to wholes and of location; ‘Here’ and ‘Now’ are context-dependent concepts, and hence they are mediated and not immediate. In that way, ‘This’ becomes universal or part of the System. „So it is in fact the universal that is the true [content] of sense-certainty” (PhänE 60; Phän 82). Hegel emphasizes the transience, illusoriness and evanescence of the single Now and Here (PhänE 61-63; Phän 83-85). Only by locating-relating them in a universal system can they be recognized as real, and gaining their reality. Language too requires universality in order to express particular things (Phän 88-89). Perceiving particular things by immediate perception means not conceiving them as moments of a process but as if they were „independent” although not wholes (compare Phän 543). However, conceiving them as moments means their [160] sublation (Ibid.). Sublation is but the mediation of the immediacy which is only a given, factual starting-point, from which one must go on – so mediation and immediacy are united (Enz 91). Hegel assigns immediacy to Spinoza’s philosophical principles, an immediacy contradicting itself because it requires proof: for instance, the necessity of God’s existence has to be proved in the first sentences of the Ethics, although Spinoza presupposes the necessary existence of causa sui (Def. 1 which, as definition, is supposed to be self-evident, immediate, known) (Enz 100), It seems that Hegel, and many others following him, misunderstand Spinoza on this point: the Ethics’ axioms, definitions and postulates are not per se clara datis but require proofs, demonstration, interpretation and elaboration by the Ethics as a whole. It seems that in this respect Spinoza’s philosophy answers some of Hegel’s critical demands better than Hegel’s philosophy itself, because it does not purpose to stop at an immediate knowledge which is actually unilateral and fragmentary while pretending to be absolute and final. The system that Spinoza aspires for is much more open than the closed, final, total System of Hegel. Spinoza does not forget that human aspiration for the Absolute (God) does not permit us, as conditioned, finite beings, to pretend to hold the whole Truth. It seems that Hegel forgets this true commonplace. He was justified in avoiding incipient, immediate evidence as absolute, certain truth, but he was not consistent enough to conclude that sublated, certain, real immediate (although mediated) evidence is also beyond our reach. While recognizing what is common to human intellect and the infinite intellect of God, Spinoza does not blur the principal difference between the two. Hegel himself compares his own concept of the Absolute to Spinoza’s Substance (WL 2.164). Hegel argues that since Spinoza does not conceive the idea of the self-negated negation, therefore the reflection and determination of multiplicity are outside that Substance. This is the defect of Spinoza’s philosophy (Ibid.). I cannot agree with this criticism. Be that as it may, Spinoza shows that any attempt at assigning absoluteness, infinity or unconditionedness to human knowledge and activity is a sheer absurdity (according to E IV.4 Dem.). Unrecognizing of this point is a severe deficiency of Hegel’s theory in general and his idea of the immediacy of the Absolute Spirit in particular. It is true that the „Absolute kann nicht ein Erstes, Unmittelbares sein” (WL 2.165), but this is not the case in Spinoza’s philosophy and if the „Absolute ist wesentlich sein Resultat” (Ibid.), this Resultat is beyond the reach of any human capacity of knowing or understanding. Hegel’s attempt at recognizing Spinoza’s philosophy as an essential, necessary and true Standpunkt [161] (WL 2.217-218) may be sympathized with and understood. However, it seems that his attempt at „refuting” this starting-point in order to sublate and overcome it (WL 2.218) is not successful. Hegel’s Absolute Notion (Begriff) is not attained in his theory nor realized in actual human history. However, whether Hegel’s attempt at constructing a total philosophical system succeeds or fails, such an attempt, like that of Spinoza, is, however controversial, essential for philosophy, and also essential for it is the rejection of incipient, immediate self-evidence. [162]

1 David Hume: A Treatise of Human Nature. Edited with an Introduction by E.C. Mossner. London 1969. „Appendix”, 678.
2 I use the following abbreviations: E  = Ethics, e.g. E I.3. Dem. and Sch. =  Ethics Part I, Proposition 3, Demonstration and Scholium; Ax. = Axiom; Def. = Definition; Cor. = Corollary; TIE = Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione; Epi. 1, 2 [4] = Epistle in the Correspondence below, p. 2; in brackets – page number in Vol. IV of Gebhardt’s edition (Heidelberg 1925); TTP = Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. – I quote from the following translations with some changes, in so far as required by collation with the original texts in Gebhardt’s edition: (a) Ethics. (Hale White’s translation as revised by A. Hutchinson Stirling.) Preceded by On the Improvement of the Understanding. (R.H.M. Elwes’ translation.) Edited with an Introduction by James Gutmann. New York 1949. – (b) The Correspondence of Spinoza. Translated and edited with an Introduction by A. Wolf. London 1928. – (c) A Theologico-Political Treatise. In: The Chief Works of Benedict Spinoza. Vol. I. Translated by R.H.M. Elwes. New York 1951. 1-278. The number in brackets indicates the page number in Vol. III of Gebhardt’s edition.
3 Cf. TIE 99, 42, and 13: „The knowledge of the union which the mind has with the whole of nature.”
4 See my Spinoza’s Principium Individuationis and Personal Identity. In: International Studies in Philosophy. 15 (1983), 41-57.
5 These terms are used and clarified by N.  Rescher: Foundationalism, Coherentism, and the Idea of Cognitive Systematization. In: The Journal of Philosophy. 71 (1974), 695-706.
6 Norman Kemp Smith’s translation (London 1970). 590.
7 Norman Kemp Smith. 311.
8 I have to depart from Elwes’ translation as required by collation with the original. The Hebrew translation by the late Ch. Wirszubski (Jerusalem 1961) renders this passage most beautifully, since ‘demonstration’ and ‘seeing’ are translated into Hebrew by two words which share the same root (דאה). The Hebrew connotations of words are especially important in TTP which is replete with Hebrew biblical quotations and their linguistic analyses.
9 This conclusion is not consistent with G.H.R. Parkinson: Spinoza’s Theory of Knowledge. Oxford 1954. 134.
10 See, for instance, K.E. Gilbert: Hegel’s Criticism of Spinoza. In: Philosophical Essays in Honor of J.E. Creighton. New York 1917. 26-41; J. B. McMinn: A Critique on Hegel’s Criticism of Spinoza’s God. In: Kant-Studien. 51 (1959/60), 294-314; G.H.R. Parkinson: Hegel, Pantheism, and Spinoza. In: Journal of the History of Ideas. 38 (1977), 449-459; Jon Wetlesen: The Sage and the Way. Assen 1979. 39-40 and Note 25, 415, concerning Gueroult’s refutation of an Hegelian interpretation of Spinoza. For comparisons of the two philosophies see, for instance, Laurence Foss: Hegel, Spinoza, and a Theory of Experience as Closed. In: The Thomist. 35 (1971), 435-446; B. Meyer: Spinozas System – eine Wurzel von Hegels Philosophie des Absoluten Geistes. In: Hegel-Jahrbuch 1972, 223-231. My interpretation differs from theirs.
11 Wissenschaft der Logik. Hrsg. von G. Lasson. Teil 1. Hamburg 1971. 151. – Teil 2. Hamburg 1975 (= WL2). See a criticism of this Hegelian interpretation in my article (Note 4 supra), Section I and Notes 5 and 7, 41-45, 55-56. – The other abbreviations employed in this paper are the following: Phän =  Phänomenologie des Geistes. Hrsg. von J. Hoffmeister. Hamburg 1952; – the English translation: PhänE = Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by A.V. Miller with Analysis of the Text and Foreword by J.N. Findlay. Oxford 1979; and Enz = Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse (1830). Hrsg. von F. Nicolin und O. Pöggeler. Hamburg 1969.
12 Hegel’s History of Philosophy. Volume III. Translated by E.S. Haldane and F.H. Simson. London 1895. 257: „thought must begin by placing itself at the standpoint of Spinozism; to be a follower of Spinoza is the essential commencement of all philosophy”.