NEO-HEGELIANISM. For a decade or a decade and a half after 186o the history of British and American philosophy is the story of a growing revolt against the empirical method of John Stuart Mill and his school. The movement might have died had it not found something positive to feed upon. But it hap pened that a wide field of historical thought, largely unexplored by English thinkers, was there for it to turn to, namely, the Ger man philosophy of the opening of the century, both the "criticism" of Kant and the idealistic continuation of Kantianism by Fichte, Schelling and Hegel; and "Neo-Hegelian" is the epithet attached, largely against their will, to the English group who gave the lead in this direction.
Of course no one can be prevented from using the word in other senses. Good precedent can be quoted for applying it in differently to any revived interest in idealistic ways of thinking occurring in any country since the time of Hegel. The strongest instance in favour of an extension of meaning is the Croce Gentile school, the most noteworthy product of contemporary thought in Italy. But on the one hand the Italian declarations of independence whenever Neo-Hegelianism is imputed to them have been so emphatic that it is hard for the historian to persist in calling them by the name ; and on the other hand custom certainly sanctions the position adopted here, that Neo-Hegelianism used as a quasi-technical term is normally applied to a movement in the recent history of Anglo-Saxon thought. Perhaps the readiest conspectus of the movement will be had by treating it under two heads : its historical background and its essential teaching.
Its Historical Background.—It is important to distinguish the historical setting of the Neo-Hegelian thinkers, which is British, from the story of German thought which bulks most largely in their own account of their historical setting. The latter is a chapter in what they saw, the former yields the reason for their seeing it.
As is well known the scepticism of David Hume provoked a native Scottish reply as well as a German one. This, descending through Reid and Hamilton to Calderwood, Ferrier, Fraser and others in the 19th century set up an independent movement to wards idealism which by 186o had become pronounced especially in Scottish philosophy.
But important as it is for the historian to recognize how the Neo-Hegelian thinkers were thus provided with a reception in advance, it is even more important to consider the historical place in which they saw themselves to be standing, namely, the Kantian succession. When Kant came on the philosophical stage he found
philosophy at an impasse. It was precisely the impasse to which they believed the doctrines of the empiricists Mill, Bain, Lewes, Spencer and others had brought it back. The work of Kant had been to examine the assumptions which led philosophy thither, and they held that further progress was impossible until the prin ciple of the Kantian criticism was understood.
When Kant called attention to knowledge his interest was centred upon that which knowledge discloses, the "Nature" with which man is conversant in science and in everyday experience. There were two obvious features of it. First, its constituents were not things as they are in themselves but things as they appear to the human senses. Secondly,—and this was his problem—these appearances were not disconnected sensations. They had a certain order. They displayed themselves before us as objective. Kant asked how such objectivity was possible ; and his answer consisted in saying that there was a logic of the process. The original use of the understanding whereby it arranged those appearances as an orderly world proceeded according to a logic which Kant dis tinguished as synthetic from the traditional formal or analytic logic, and which he called transcendental.
The idealistic successors of Kant—Fichte, Schelling and Hegel —saw in the critical philosophy a principle of reconciliation. The gulf fixed for common sense between mind and the world could be bridged. Kant had bridged it only imperfectly, leaving as he did things-in-themselves quite as much cut off from mind as the objects of common sense seemed to common sense to be. The post-Kantians sought, each in his own way, to bring the wheel full circle. Their instrument, with whatever differences, was still Kant's instrument, logic, the new "transcendental" logic, the logic of synthesis whereby the world is put together, as distinct from the formal analytic logic of the Aristotelian tradition. As Hegel takes it over this logic has suffered two changes. It has ceased to be a mere theory of thought and become a theory of being; and it has learnt to move by dialectical procession. So reconstituted, logic emerges as an abstract version of the literal process by which the absolute spirit reveals itself as the universe, by dint of breaking forth into all the forms which the universe wears to human consciousness, nature, history, society, art, re ligion.