below: Henry the Fourth, part two, III, i, 44
table of contents commented bibliography and index say what? noframes


O God, that one might read the book of fate,
And see the revolution of the times.
Earlier ways thinking had shifted in its relations with ideas; Kant's critical philosophy, Hegel's dialectics, the emergence of ideology.
As remarked above, thinkers at the turn of the century had not been naive about how we can be deceived by our ideas. Nor even was the emphasis on Time or Process a new way to try to make ideas more answerable for what they exclude. Earlier thinking had left to Twentieth century Max Ernst's 'Europe After the Rain' (1942) thinkers a battleground, where carefully considered critical machinery had made it possible to put ideas into motion against each other in new and devastating ways. Kant is usually credited with the critical breakthroughs that showed newly how to expose ideas, while Hegel's subsequent dialectics then exemplify a principle - a kind of time - by which the movement and collision of ideas can be described.

Briefly, the 'great light' which dawned on Kant: Mind and Reality are in principle indistinguishable insofar as experience depends on apriori synthesis. Such synthesis is responsible for the FORMS of experience that guarantee that experienced contents have characteristics in common through which they can be related. Kant's overall illumination remains a historical deliverance comparable to Newton's physics or the music of J.S. Bach: a student of thinking needs to cultivate some sense of what it might be, about Kant's insight, that ever and again is found adhering to subsequent thinkers' mental experience.
Earlier thinkers had long pondered how to make sense of pairs of ideas that both seemed true, but resisted being brought into a common space of understanding. Immanuel Kant Typical of such pairs of ideas are freedom versus determinism, or continuity versus discontinuity, or totality versus infinity. Before Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) these kinds of contradictory ideas were construed usually either as evidence of an inherent aptitude for error in human understanding, or as a way in which God showed Himself to us as beyond the comprehension of the intellect. Kant tried to use such pairs of ideas (he called them antinomies) to map necessary apriori forms of mental experience.

One but painted thus
would be interpreted
a thing perplexed
beyond self-explication.

Part of philosophy's enduring fascination with Hegel stems from his way of trying to be at once inside and outside of an Idea; and how his thinking tries to accept the instability of that experience as the essence of that Idea's dynamism. Again, as an instance of the rather special kind of Time he called Spirit.
The Romantic philosophers took to heart Kant's uses of incommensurable ideas for giving positive evidence on the nature of Mind, but unlike Kant they were more concerned with the mind's development than with its architecture. G.W.F. Hegel Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) characterized the one-sided validity belonging to each side of such paired ideas as moments in a dialectic enacted not just in the mind but also in the world. For Hegel, Time and Ideas moved together to bring such contradictory ideas toward synthesis into higher kinds of ideas. Hegel gave the name Spirit to the special kind of Time through which Mind and World together transformed.

Truths would be tales,
where now half-tales
be truths.
In general, the Romantics took the ideas of classical philosophy, ideas which had given meaning to mind as a classifier of experience, and introduced principles of becoming which made stories from sequences of those ideas. Those stories, tuned now to the meaning of mind's own productivity, claimed for themselves both fateful necessity and personal significance, almost like the Ancient Greeks' stories of heroes and gods: they told how the very course of human experience unfolded dramatically as the development of Mind.
Albert P. Ryder's 'Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens' (1900?)

Drama found its way into music even more than into thinking: The coherence of most Nineteenth century musical compositions could no longer be heard only as a kind of architectural cumulation. The dramatic dimension in Nineteenth century music involved not only setbacks and struggles, rebellions and redemptions, but also the dismantling as well as accumulation of structures.
Friedrich Schelling (1775-1854) was perhaps the most eloquent amongst the Nineteenth century's 'transcendental mythologists'.
In thinking, Hegel interpreted the kind of time that linked ideas, calling it Spirit, to be a kind of transcendental negation. At the beginning of his most seminal work, his dialectic introduces becoming as the 'Negation' of immediacy (presence), which occurs as the passing of time. Like the other Romantics, Friedrich SchellingHegel replaced classical philosophy's 'eternal truths' with a 'transcendental mythology'. For Hegel this was the story of the movement of Negation through which the world came to illuminate the Logic of Spirit. Twentieth century thinking as well would make much of the difference of absence from presence, but now as conditioning experience more fundamentally than only actions through ideas.

Hegel's thought, for example, continues to dominate much political philosophy even today. It is as if human history is made by human systems, each one still animated by the ideas that shaped it. Hegel's way of looking at how ideas reach for extremes and polarize in relation to other ideas seems to give important clues about why the world makes the kind of (non)sense it does.

In the Nineteenth century, the Romantic thinkers who linked the ideas of classical philosophy into unifying transcendental mythologies found that those ideas in consequence had to be understood as determined by the story in which they had been cast: so when different thinkers' stories differed they could no longer point in the same way toward the traditional truths as nevertheless common grounds. The success any thinker had in bringing ideas together in his story was at the expense of common meanings even with corresponding ideas in other thinkers' stories. The problem of unifying an understanding of reality had been, in effect, shifted from individual ponderings to public conflicts between the 'philosophic mythologies' which came to be called ideologies. The different historical necessities claimed by each competing ideology had as much to do with drama as with logic, and each through its followers tried to prove true its narrative dynamic by becoming a force in the world.

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Karl Marx
In brief, the attempt to unify ideas by 'borrowing time' and making them parts of a story resulted in ideas which moved in the world like never before. Even the positivists, who decried the mythic aspect of Romantic thought as an atavism, were themselves possessed of ideological passions seemingly more appropriate to long-past religious wars. And Hegel himself might have taken some small comfort - along with some great discomfort - had he witnessed the recapitulatory movement of dialectical 'Spirit' from his own Transcendental Mythology to Marx's Religious Materialism.
before after
table of contents commented bibliography and index say what? noframes


Histories of Nineteenth century thought:      Evocative accounts of this period may be found in Josiah Royce's, The Spirit of Modern Philosophy; Karl Lowith's, From Hegel to Nietzsche : The Revolution in Nineteenth Century Thought, Richard Kroner's outstanding Speculation and Revelation in Modern Philosophy; and Michael Ermarth's Dilthey book.

...lineup and alibi

One but painted thus would be interpreted
A thing perplexed beyond self-explication.

- Cymbeline, III, iv, 6
Truths would be tales,
Where now half-tales be truths

- Antony and Cleopatra, II, ii, 140

The Copyright holder grants permission for free personal use, and noncommercial on-line use, of this text.

send email to author