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Teddy Larkin

Philosophy 100
Osman Nemli
Kant, Hegel, and Reason
Immanuel Kant, born in 1724, is regarded as the father of classical German
philosophy and best know for his most important work, Critique of Pure Reason. Kants
compatriot, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born in 1770, and his and his most
important is known as The Science of Logic. Kant advanced the science of Logic by
developing the logical categories given by Aristotle, such as cause and effect, and said
that to have scientific validity they must be universally true. What he failed to fully
appreciate, however, was that if they were universal then they were all inter-related,
united, in this very universality. This brings us to Hegel, who discovered precisely how
all categories of thought are interconnected, how they can be deduced one from another,
and went on to unite all the concepts and categories of thought into a single whole system
of logic. Hegel began by tracking down the most fundamental and universal of all
categories, being. Before any existing thing, material object or thought, can exist in any
quantity or have any quality such a shape, color, hardness or softness, it must first be.
Kant defines reason as the highest faculty of the human subject, to which all other
faculties are subordinated. It abstracts completely from the conditions of sensibility. The
second Critique examines the form of our de-sires in order to construct a system based on
the practical standpoint. Reason's primary function is practical; its theoretical function,
though often believed to be more important, should be viewed as having a secondary

importance. Kant recognizes reason in its generic connotation as the knowing faculty;
however, he also provides it with a specific meaning in the dialectic. For Kant, reason is
both a logical and a transcendental faculty. As a logical faculty, it produces so-called
mediated conclusions through abstractions; as a transcendental faculty, it creates
conceptions and contains a priori cognitions whose object cannot be given empirically.
For Kant, reason is different from understanding, he writes: In the first part of
our transcendental logic, we treated the understanding as being the faculty of rules;
reason we shall here distinguish from understanding by entitling it the faculty of
principles. (Ibid. p. 301, B356). Understanding cannot supply synthetic cognitions from
conceptions, in other words it cannot produce principles. Principles for Kant are a priori
cognitions, like mathematical axioms (there can be only one straight line between two
points). Kant ascribes them a purely regulative, rather than constitutive function.
Knowledge from principles is, therefore, that knowledge alone in which I apprehend the
particular in the universal through concepts.(Ibid. p. 301, B357). So whilst the
understanding operates by linking its structures to a given content, Reason, in its logical
and pure use, operates independently of experience.
In Kants Introduction to The Philosophy of History he discusses the various
ideas of reason, and how they mislead the mind into posing inexplicable metaphysical
questions. Kant expresses the cosmological ideas as four distinct metaphysical
propositions: (1) that the world has a definite beginning, (2) all things are made up of
simple parts against the claim that nothing is simple but everything is composite, (3) we
can act in accordance with our own free will against the claim that everything we do is
determined by nature, and (4) that there is some necessary being against the claim that

nothing is necessary and everything is contingent (Kant 75). Reason by itself appears
capable of proving either side of each proposition. Kant goes on to show how each
proposition results from a misunderstanding of the matter being discussed.
Kant gives an in depth explication of the flaws in the proofs for the existence of a
God. He states that any "proof" of God's existence is purely intellectual, and cannot lead
to fundamental and substantial conclusions regarding the nature of experience. While
there exist many mysteries regarding what we experience, there should not be any
inexplicable problems in the realm of pure reason. This is due to the fact that these
problems do not reach beyond our own minds into experience. Kant furthermore
speculates that the emergence of reason has generated in us a host of complicated,
artificial desires, such as the desires for esteem, power, and beauty. In addition, we have
developed an appreciation for reason itself, for the special power it gives us to control our
destiny and choose a way of life. Over time, then, we have come to value reasons ability
to give itself law. We have acquired an interest in freedom.
Kant goes on to argue that pure reason, not experience, that is the author of moral
laws, including the supreme moral law or categorical imperative. We bring to experience,
rather than abstract out of experience, what Kant sometimes refers to as our moral
compass. As rational natures, each of us already knows the difference between right and
wrong, between good and evil. We no more have to learn these distinctions, he writes in
one passage, than we have to learn to distinguish our right hand from our left. Kant notes
that it would be easy to show how common human reason, with its compass in
hand, is able to distinguish good from evil. It would be easy to show this, he says, as
did Socrates.

The differences drawn by Kant between reason and understanding have shown to
be and will continue to be crucial for philosophy. Hegel praises Kant for this distinction,
whilst criticizing his idea of the functions of reason. Hegels own account of practical
reason and of its relation to history is more than a mere continuation or elaboration of the
Kantian program. Hegel doubts that our practical laws are a priori in the Kantian sense.
He also doubts that our freedom is transcendental and that our will is pure. Hegel does
not hold that we discover what is rational by accessing the already given nature of reason.
According to Hegel, a careful study of the history of philosophy reveals that there is no
already given nature of reason, and no fixed and eternally valid moral compass. The
history of philosophy instructs us that reason is a result, and that the philosophy that is
the latest in time is the result of all the previous philosophies.
Hegel begins his Introduction to The Philosophy of History by describing three
types of written history: original history , reflective history , and philosophic history.
Original history consists of an account of actions, events, and situations lived through and
witnessed by the historian. Other sources are secondary as the account depends
fundamentally on the historian's own witnessing of the times. Hegel states original
history excludes "legends, folksongs, and traditions," because these are "obscure modes
of memory, proper to the mentality of pre-literate peoples." Therefore original history is
involved with the "observed and observable reality".
The second type of written history, reflective history, is "history whose
presentation goes beyond the present in spirit and does not refer to the historian's own
time." A reflective historian is absent during the events of which he gives an account.
Universal history aims to give an account of the whole history of a people or even of the

world, pragmatic history has a theory or ideology behind it, critical history tests the
accuracy of given accounts by posing alternative accounts, and specialized history
focuses on a single historical concept by taking a "universal viewpoint." The third type of
written history, philosophic history, emphasizes thought over history, describing events
using solely philosophical ideas.
Hegel is consistent in his assertion that history follows a specific path, one
predetermined by the purposeful movement of Spirit through time: Spirit does not toss
itself about in the external play of chance occurrences; on the contrary, it is that which
determines history absolutely, and it stands firm against the chance occurrences which it
dominates and exploits for its own purpose. Hegel views the course of history as a
fixed, immutable fact. To Hegel, "world history is thus the unfolding of Spirit in time, as
nature is the unfolding of the Idea in space." The dialectical process thus virtually defines
the meaning of history for Hegel. Hegels history is fundamentally the striving of Spirit
for its own freedom.
Kant argues that we cannot know a thing-in-itself. We can only know the
appearance, not the essence of reality. Hegel agrees that contradictions are inherent in
reality, but does not believe it matters that everything is made of opposites. To quote
Hegel, "Everything that surrounds us may be viewed as an instance of Dialectic."
(Hegel's Logic, page 118.) Hegel believed that it is the interplay between opposites that
leads to all observable phenomena and our interactions with the world.
For Kant, a mark of reasons dialectical nature is its insatiable curiosity, its
persistent questioning. He writes thats human reason is burdened with questions that it
cannot dismiss, questions rooted in the nature of reason itself (Critique of Pure Reason,

A vii). But Kant also holds that reasons dialectic results from its propensity to fall prey
to certain kind of illusion. By this definition, it is the nature of human reason to extend
beyond its proper limits. It does so when it misapplies its a priori concepts and laws, and
expects them to yield knowledge of objects outside the realm of possible experience. This
natural dialectic condemns reason to obscurity, he says; in some instances, it results in
self-contradictions reason can neither resolve nor put to rest.
For Hegel as well, reasons dialectical nature is exhibited in its persistent
questioning. But for Hegel, reasons dialectic does not rest on a mistake or illusion. This
dialectic instead reveals a positive feature of reason, a feature he believes Kant overlooks.
In particular, dialectic on Hegels conception instructs us that reasons nature is not
settled in advance. Dialectic exposes the error of assuming that reason can be the author
of laws and concepts that are pre-given or a priori, laws and concepts that in no way
reflect its engagement with experience. Dialectic reveals that the content of reason is
picked up in the course of its history. In itself, reason is empty and abstract, on Hegels
account; in itself, reason has no determinate content.
There is a vitally important connection between these two great philosophers, a
historical process which was begun by the Kant and continued by Hegel. This historical
process is not in the physical sense, but in the mental sense, the history of human thought.
The history of philosophy instructs us that reason is a result. One is incorrect if they
suppose that by asking the right questions and providing the right conditions they can
access reasons pre-given inner light. For Hegel, history teaches us that the questions we
ask change over time and that they dont just elicit, but also shape, the answers we get.

Hegel's Science of Logic,, Translated by A.V. Miller, London, George Allen & Unwin
Ltd., 1969, page 191).