Hegel’s Silence on Extraterrestrial Intelligence
As early as in the last decades of the seventeenth century, Guthke, a historian of the idea of ETI tells us, the belief in the existence of rational beings beyond earth began to be accepted widely among intellectuals (see Guthke, pp. 180ff). Meanwhile, the Goethe-Zeit with its return from the vast regions of the universe to the richness of the inner self kept silent with respect to the possibility of other inhabited worlds. This goes for Hegel as well.
John Mc Taggart writes in ”The Nature of Existence”: ”Hegel is perhaps the strongest example of this unwillingness to accept the largeness of the universe. The suggestion that conscious beings might be found in other planets besides this seems to have aroused in him that special irritation which is caused by anything which is felt to be unpleasant, and which cannot be proved impossible.” (McTaggart, p. 478) Unfortunately, Mc Taggart does not explain to us why Hegel disapproved of the idea of ETI and in what context he does it. Nor does Guthke when he mentions Hegel as someone who, like Schelling, philosophized out of the pathos of man’s singularity (see Guthke, p. 368, note 159).
Even if it would be right to ascribe to the Goethe-Zeit a general silence on the topic of ETI, as Guthke does, this would not justify Hegel’s being tacit on this idea. There are two reasons for this. First, the idea of ETI had been discussed within philosophy long before Hegel and by philosophers some of whom Hegel admired, as for example Kepler. Second, Hegel’s philosophy claimed to encompass the whole of reality inasmuch as it represents important features in the ”Process of the world”.
Generally outlined, the process of the world for Hegel means the return of the Absolute Idea from otherness to itself via the different grades of nature, of the soul, of spirit, art, religion and philosophy in the history of man as a finite being. The task of the philosophy of nature be: ”A rational consideration of Nature must consider how Nature is in its own self this process of becoming Spirit, of sublating its otherness-and how the idea is present in each grade or level of Nature itself; estranged from the idea, Nature is only the corpse of the understanding. Nature is, however, only implicitly the Idea, and Schelling therefore called her a petrified intelligence, others even a frozen intelligence; but God does not remain petrified and dead; the very stones cry out and raise themselves to spirit” (E (Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences) # 247 Zusatz, pp. 14f).
While it is a common view that Hegel did not accept the idea of a biological evolution, it is less known that he offers a categorization of the transition from prebiotic chemistry to the living being. This categorization gives rise to the expectation that the becoming of spirit in nature, on the base of a transition from chemistry to biology did not only happen on one occasion in the realm of nature. Provided that ”Nature” includes more than the whole of our planet, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature prima facie does not exclude nature’s rise to spirit even on other planets
Now, we find Hegel saying: ”As a return into itself individuality is, indeed, Spirit; but, as otherness with exclusion of all others, it is finite or human spirit; for finite spirits other than human beings do not concern us here.” (E # 247 Zusatz, p. 14) Hegel briefly informs us that here he is not dealing with ETI. However, he does not tell the reader why this is so. Nor does he explain to us why he is not concerned with other finite spirits not only here, but neither in those passages of his Philosophy of Nature where it becomes more or less inevitable to take this topic into account.
This leads to a general consideration of Hegel’s system. Interpreters have always been aware that some facts in history, geography or nature are rather bothersome for the coherence of Hegel’s system. But even though he did not succeed in fully integrating those into his system, he at least mentions them to some extent. To give an example, Hegel ”forgot” Islam in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion lest the idea of a succesion of ever more adequate revelations of the Absolute in the finite (i.e. the intentional unity in the sequence of the religions) be not endangered. From here it becomes evident that Islam as an utmost influential religion that came to existence a long time after the rise of absolute religion (Christianity), had no place in Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion. Nevertheless, he mentions Islam in his Lectures on the Philosophy of History. This is not the case with the idea of ETI. It is so bothersome a concept that Hegel had to leave it aside. And we have to find out the reasons for Hegel’s unwillingness to take this topic into account.
One might be inclined to say that at the time of Hegel the natural sciences did not give as much evidence for the possibility of life on other planets as they give today. Though true in itself, this remark does not solve our problem. At the time of Hegel the possibility or conviction of life beyond earth had been thought of within three different metaphysical respectively scientific frames. First, in greek atomism; second, as an aspect of the Neoplatonic idea of a Great Chain of Being; third, as a consequence of the homogeneity of an extended cosmos and then open universe in the wake of the Copernican Revolution. Why is it that Lucretius, Plutarch, Cusa, Bruno, Kepler, Leibniz, or Kant dealt with this idea in an affirming manner (with Galilei, Mersenne or Descartes being anxious not to challenge orthodoxy by openly admitting their adherence to this idea) but not Hegel?
This article pursues this question as follows: We will first take into consideration to what extent the idea of other finite beings was common among philosophers from Cusa to Kant. The philosophical weight of these thinkers serves as a foil which makes it all the more astonishing that just Hegel, whose aim it was to sublate all of previous essential philosophy, could pretend not to have to take this idea into account. The supposition that Hegel might just not have heard about the idea of life on other planets proves rather unconvincing (I.) Then we will reconstruct how Hegel himself provides an elaborated base for the understanding of the transition from inanimate matter to life. By an analogous conclusion, and provided a homogeneous cosmos, this suggests that, what had happened on earth might also have happened elsewhere (II.) We then have to ask why Hegel refuted the idea of intelligent life on other planets (III.) A first response to this question would be that Hegel still dwelt in a premodern cosmos, that he did not fully endorse its modern homogeneity as provided by the Copernican Revolution. (III.I) But, as we will see, this alone will not do to explain Hegel’s ignorance of ETI. Since Hegel was at least so modern as to abolish the premodern difference between a supra- and superluneatic world, there was no compelling ontological reason that could have prevented him from speculations concerning ETI. Hegel did not fully endorse the modern homogeneity of the cosmos. His position remains somewhat ambivalent. It will be shown that Hegel, by his semi-modern cosmology, and by his own presuppositions at least on one occasion should have been led to the conclusion that life might exist on other planets. Instead of accepting this outcome of his reflections we find Hegel ignoring this conclusion. Hegel’s reluctance to endorse the modern concept of a homogeneous open cosmos does not satisfactorily explain his refutation of the concept of ETI.
If we do not want to adhere to the simple explanation that Hegel philosophized from the standpoint of an unrational pathos of man’s singularity, we have to look out for more systematic reasons. Substantial reasons to refute the idea of ETI might be inferred from Hegel’s concept of religion (III.II) and of history (III.III) in the light of his overall view of the process of the world.
I. The Historical Dimension
The renaissance idea of the existence of rational beings beyond earth had two origins. It can be traced back into antiquity where it appears in Lucretius’ (96-55) atomism and in Plutarch (46-119) to whom Bruno and Kepler refer respectively. According to Lucretius nothing in the world is single and ”you must confess in the same way that sky and earth and sun, moon, sea and all else that exists, are not unique, but rather of number numberless.” (Lucretius, II 1084-1086) ”... it must needs that you confess that there are other worlds in other regions, and diverse races of men and tribes of wild beasts.” (Lucretius, II 1075-1076)
Another source is the the Great chain of being, the Neoplatonic principle of plenitude as investigated by Lovejoy in his The Great Chain of Being. The principle of plenitude implies a vertical hierarchy of beings. There are many intelligences supposed to exist, each of which ranks higher than the previous one and lower than the next one. Every species of beings only corresponds to a step in a hierarchical ladder which leads to Deity. The structure of the world is hierarchical. In this hierarchy man ranks higher than animals, plants and matter; but there are still beings between man and God which rank higher than man. These beings fill the gap between man and God. During the renaissance cosmological revolution the ancient traditions of atomism and the principle of plenitude were either still alive or being revived and becoming integrated into the concept of a homogeneous and enlarged universe.
Even if it was not before the seventeenth century that the problem of life beyond earth was discussed more broadly, the first thinker to whom we ought to pay attention belongs to the fifteenth century: Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464). Not mentioned in Hegel’s History of Philosophy, in our context he is important for three reasons. First, as is widely known, Cusa conceives of a boundless universe. According to its infinity it has no absolute center. Second, in the view of Cusa all celestial bodies are composed of the same elements. By this assertion Cusa homogenized the earth and the celestial bodies. While this assertion was made by the bishop who stood astride medieval times and renaissance, Hegel, in the eighteenth century, still refrained from fully accepting this change in the world picture. Third, Cusa claimed that there are countless inhabited worlds in other regions of the sky and ”that none of the other regions of the stars are empty of inhabitants...” (Cusa, p. 120) Of course, when Cusa made his assertions, neither had the Copernican revolution taken place nor had the telescope been invented at that time. The metaphysical framework of his concept of ETI was the principle of plenitude.
To a certain extent Cusa’s De Docta Ignorantia is an early precursor of Hegel’s Encyclopedia. As Franz Brentano pointed out, in both drafts God and nature are treated in the two first books; Cusa as well as Hegel in a third book aimed at reconciling God and the natural creation via Christ respectively the finite spirit. Notwithstanding this formal similarity, Hegel is silent on other finite spirits in the cosmos.
As for Cusa, his stance could be due to his not being aware of certain inner-systematic and theological difficulties inherent in the acceptance of finite spirits beyond earth. Hegel, we will try to show, rather than shrinking back from difficulties with orthodox theology, tried to avert a threat for his system when he hushed up the possibility of other inhabited worlds.
Metaphysically anticipated by Cusa, Copernicus (although still adhering to the idea of the fixed stars as the ultimate frontier of a finite universe) furthered the scientific homogeneization of the universe when he abolished the dichotomy between heaven and earth. The Copernican revolution did not only substitute man’s view on a geocentric cosmos, it also led to the breakthrough of a new concept of inhabited worlds. The qualitative homogeneity of the planets, as stressed in the doctrine of Copernicus, suggests that, what happened on earth, might also have happened on other planets; always provided that these are of the same origin as the earth and be made of the same stuff. In a word, the Copernican Revolution made it possible and, at the same time, necessary, to talk, if at all, about extraterrestrial beings not so much in terms of a vertical hierarchy (as peculiar to the principle of penitude) but rather as inhabitants of other celestial bodies and planets which move in a homogeneous cosmos. Planets on which life was to be found were considered as to be distinct from us only in terms of space, not by rank.
A main point in the charge against Bruno (1544-1600), Guthke assumes, was his belief in a plurality of inhabited worlds (see Guthke, p. 67). Bruno was the first one to explicitly introduce a new definition of the plurality of worlds by reviewing antique atomism and the plenitude principle in the light of Copernicanism.
In Bruno’s dialogue On the Infinite Universe and Worlds, Burchia, one of the interlocutors, asks: ”Then the other worlds are inhabited like our own?” Fracastoro answers: ”If not exactly as our own, and if not more nobly, at least no less inhabited and no less nobly. For it is impossible that a rational being fairly vigilant, can imagine that these innumerable worlds, manifest as like to our own or yet more magnificent, should be destitute of similar and even superior inhabitants.” (Bruno, p. 323)
For Kepler (1571-1630) not only the moon but also the planets were inhabited celestial bodies. It was in Kepler where the antique view of life on the moon, previously held by Plutarch (whose little book on The Face in the Moon was translated by Kepler), met with the Copernican Revolution. He is quite a convincing counterexample to Lovejoy’s thesis that in renaissance the plurality of the worlds had not been developed out of the framework of Copernicanism.
Already Leibniz (1646-1716) judges the opinion only our planet be inhabited as antiquated: "It seemed to the ancients that there was only one earth ["notre terre" in French, my comment, KA] inhabited... Today, whatever bounds are given to the universe, it must be acknowledged that there is an infinite number of globes, as great as and greater than ours, which have as much right as it to hold rational inhabitants, though it follows not at all that they are human." (Leibniz, p. 134f)
Also for Kant (1724-1804), as well as Leibniz, still not wholly detached from the metaphysical framework of the principle of plenitude, are ”die meisten unter den Planeten gewiß bewohnt, und die es nicht sind, werden es dereinst werden.” (173) Albeit he is one of the founders of a scientific cosmology, the Great Chain of Being still serves as a metaphysical framework for Kant’s concept of life beyond earth. For example he mentions ”die menschliche Natur, welche in der Leiter der Wesen gleichsam die mittelste Sprosse inne hat...” (179)
Why is it, now, that Hegel, unlike Kant and many other thinkers since Bruno and Kepler, among them Fontenelle, did not take up the fascinating or even frightening idea that there might be intelligent life somewhere out in space on other planets? Hegel’s silence is all the more astonishing inasmuch as he, in his Philosophy of Nature, offers two modes of the becoming of living things. As for the first mode, Hegel in # 341 not only accepts the generatio aequivoca, but also gives some details: For him, the sea ”is always on the point of breaking forth into life... The general mode of vivification displayed by land and sea is generatio aequivoca...” (E # 341 Zusatz) As for the second mode, Hegel provides a description which makes the transition from mere chemical processes to life astonishingly intelligible.
II. Hegel on the Transition from Inorganic to Organic Nature
What is of interest here, is how Hegel empirically conceived the ”transition from inorganic to organic Nature” (E # 336 Zusatz). Which categories does Hegel elaborate to come to grips with the ”Production of the living thing” (E # 339 Zusatz)? As is generally known, for Hegel ”spirit is no less before than after Nature, it is not merely the metaphysical Idea of it” (E # 376 Zusatz). When Hegel describes Spirit as the goal of Nature it is at the same time, in accordance to the general frame of his system of objective idealism, prior to Nature inasmuch as Nature has proceeded from Spirit. But this does not mean that Nature empirically proceeded from spirit. Only in a non-empirical manner is it that spirit is prior to Nature, or, as Hegel says, ”spirit is already from the very first implicitly present in Nature...” (l.c.). At the same time, and to understand this is the empirical question, Nature is spirit’s own presupposition.
Hegel’s description of the empirical transition to organic nature strikes us as being prematurely modern. The observation has been made by Hösle that Hegel’s description anticipates M. Eigen’s hypercycle (see Hösle, p. 378). Hegel says: ”If the products of the chemical process spontaneously renewed their activity, they would be life. To this extent then, Life is a chemical process made perpetual” (E # 335 Zusatz).
Hegel is well aware of that ”Nature is to be regarded as a system of stages, one arising necessarily from the other...” But for him this does not mean evolution, because an organic stage ”is not generated naturally out of the other but only in the inner Idea which constitutes the ground of Nature” (E # 249). It seems as if there were evolution. Meanwhile, neither the origin of life nor the origin of new species, for Hegel, could be based on empirical Nature alone. This is because ”Nature exhibits no freedom in its existence, but only necessity and contingency” (E # 248).
While Hegel does not deny that life had an empirical origin and that there had been some species prior to others, he claims: ”It is a completely empty thought to represent species as developing successively, one after another, in time” (E # 249 Zusatz). From Hegel’s point of view this notion is to be called an ”empty thought” because what is essential for what happens in nature is its constituting non-natural idea.
Although Hegel is not so much interested in the empirical origins of life, but more in the living being as ”the supreme mode of the Notion’s existence in Nature” (E # 376 Zusatz), his conceptualization of the transition from chemistry to life is remarkable even in the following citation: ”The chemical process is thus an analogue of Life; the inner restlessness of Life, there before our eyes, may astonish us. If the chemical process could carry itself on spontaneously, it would be Life; this explains our tendency to see Life in terms of chemistry” (E # 326 Zusatz). This empirical explanation inevitably provokes the question whether the transitional process was restricted to the earth. From an unbiased point of view it would be natural to assume that if there are other planets whose physical qualities do not totally differ from earth’s, then there will be chemical processes going on. And if so, why shouldn’t these eventually lead to the production of life. What Hegel says about the production of the living thing suggests that there could be life and even intelligent life on other planets as well.
With regard to the history of philosophy from Cusa over Kepler to Kant, Hegel’s obliviousness towards the idea of extraterrestrial life appears as a rupture in the history of ideas. Hegel’s not taking note of this idea is all the more delicate, as it was him who - unwittingly - contributed to the idea of other inhabited worlds by not only taking into account generatio aequivoca, but also making life intelligible as a perpetuated chemical process.
III.I Hegel’s Semi-Modern Cosmology
We now have to look for an explanation as to why Hegel hushed up the idea of life on other planets. A first attempt to answer this question would be that Hegel still dwelt in a somehow premodern cosmos by not fully endorsing the modern homogeneity of the universe that has been established in the wake of the Copernican Revolution after having been anticipated by Cusa. Was it that Hegel wittingly disregarded the new world picture, which had provided ample evidence of the homogeneity of the universe, in order to avoid disagreeable consequences for his philosophical system? Let us first get an overview about some of his unreasonable and delayed ideas on the structure of the cosmos.
To start with, Hegel joins Kepler in the conviction that our solar system represents something unique and outstanding in the cosmos. Both are resutely opposed to the Brunian infinitization of the universe. However, with regard to ETI Kepler is already more modern than Hegel. Hegel’s premodern cosmology is epitomized in how he conceives of the heavens as being different from earth. ”Thrust, pressure, resistance, friction, pulling and the like, apply to an existence of matter other than celestial corporeality” (E # 269 Zusatz). Obviously, Hegel tries to exempt celestial bodies from the otherwise overall laws of nature. ”The notion of the celestial bodies is not any such pulling this way and that but is free motion; they can go on their way, as the ancients said, like blessed gods” (E # 269 Zusatz). Hegel explicitly distinguishes celestial from earthly corporeality when he says: ”Celestial corporeality is not a corporeality which could have the principle of rest or motion outside it” (E # 269 Zusatz).
Other stars, which might be the centers of other solar systems, as even Kepler pondered, if refused (see Rossi, pp. 138f), are for Hegel nothing more than a ”host of stars”, and, as it were, bare of reason: ”The host of stars is a formal world because in it the one-sided determination of repulsion holds sway alone. We must certainly not set this system on the same level as the solar system, in which we first discern the system of Reason as a reality in the heavens” (E # 268 Zusatz).
While Kepler only rejected the assimilation of the sun to the fixed stars and thus did not accept the idea of a plurality of solar systems, he had no problems with talking about the inhabitants of the planets of our solar system. Here, Hegel remains silent. We have already seen Kepler being convinced that our moon is inhabited. Further reflexions deal with Jupiter and its moons: ”It is clear that these four planets [i.e. moons, KA] have not been prepared principally for us who live on the earth, but for the Jupiterian creatures who live all around the globe of Jupiter” (cit. Rossi, p. 142). Kepler is well aware of the threat to anthropocentrism which follows the idea of rational beings beyond earth, but he does not hush up their possible existence. On the one hand he wants to maintain the biblical tradition according to which all was made for man, with man as the pivot of creation and redemption. Now, the concession of other inhabited planets gives rise to a grave inquiry. In Keplers words: ”If in fact the globes of these planets are more noble, then we are not the most noble of all rational creatures. How then can everything be for man? And how can we be the masters of God’s works?” (cit. Rossi, p. 142) How does Kepler get rid of this threat to anthropocentrism? According to him, even if man is not the only rational creature in the cosmos, he still remains the dominant creature; this be due to the earth being located in the middle of Mars, Jupiter, Saturn on the one hand, and Venus, Mercury and the Sun on the other (see Rossi, p. 143).
For Kepler plants and animals on earth were generated by a faculty which inheres matter and which he calls ”vitalem Globi Telluris facultatem” (Kepler 1938, p. 267f). Since, Kepler concludes, other celestial bodies are not made of fundamentally different matter as the earth, they only differ by composition, it is reasonable to assume that also the other planets are supplied with this faculty. ”Qualem igitur facultatem possidet tellus ista, globorum unus, talibus consentaneum est et caeteros globos esse praeditos” (Kepler 1938, p. 268). Furthermore, Kepler informs us that neither Tycho Brahe’s nor the old philosophers opinion is absurd when they claim that other planets have their inhabitants who are other creatures than man; ”nec absurda Tychoni Braheo visa est illa veterum quorundam Philosophorum opinio, statuendium caeteris quoque globis, qui vastissimi sunt, suos esse incolas, non equidem homines, at creaturos alios” (Kepler 1938, p. 339).
Above we already demonstrated Hegel’s view concerning the transition from chemistry to the living being. Provided the homogeneity of at least the earth and other planets, Hegel’s conception of this transition suggests that similar transitions might have occured beyond earth. Unlike Kepler, Hegel avoids such analogical conclusions. And there is still another occasion where Hegel guides his reader, as it were, to a conclusion by analogy without drawing it himself.
The planets are for Hegel the third element within a quadruplicity of celestial bodies. This quadruplicity forms ”the complete system of rational corporeality. This belongs to a solar system and is the developed disjunction of the Notion” (E # 270, emphasis mine, KA). But, we must ask, does not Hegel contradict himself here? He uses the indefinite article ”a” although his general view of the cosmos actually obliges him to speak of ”the” solar system as the only one. In the first section of his Philosophy of Nature Hegel teaches, after all, that there is only one solar system. There is no reason in the behavior of the stars: ”The host of stars is a formal world because in it the one-sided determination of repulsion holds sway alone. We must certainly not set this system on the same level as the solar system, in which we first discern the system of Reason as a reality in the heavens. (...) Matter in filling space, erupts into an infinite plurality of masses... This eruption of light is as little worthy of wonderment as an eruption on the skin or a swarm of flies” (E # 268). In formulations like this one Hegel’s semi-modern cosmology is fully expressed. Interestingly it is also in this context that Hegel touches the cosmology of Kant who took a plurality of inhabited worlds for granted. But Hegel rejects Kant’s (and the astronomer F. W. Herschel’s) interest in the nature of other worlds: ”It is an idle curiosity which would seek to satisfy itself about this” (E # 268).
If it is astonishing that Hegel allows a plurality of solar systems (when he says, the complete system of rational corporeality belongs to a solar system), then it is even more amazing when we find him now considering life as an aspect of the planetary nature in general (i.e. not only as an aspect of the earth’s nature). Once again, this ascription implies a plurality of inhabited worlds.
Let us see why, according to Hegel, life is an aspect of the planetary nature. He says: ”Because the planetary nature is the totality, the unity of the oppositions, whereas the other bodies, as its non-organic nature, only exhibit these moments in their separation, therefore the planetary nature is the most perfect, even in regard to motion, and it is this alone which is under consideration here. Consequently, it is only the planet that life can appear” (E # 270 Zusatz, emphasis mine). It becomes blatantly obvious that Hegel is anxious to avoid the idea of ETI. But, the manner in which he tries to do so is not very smooth.
Hegel remarks on the Keplerian laws that they are ”among the most beautiful to be found in the natural sciences, and they are the purest and the least entangled with heterogeneous elements” (E # 270). From this viewpoint it is only consequent when he designates the planetary nature as the most perfect with respect to its movement. Now, this kind of perfect movement, which for Hegel hangs together with the appearance of life, is performed by all the planets. The conclusion that, on these presuppositions, life is to appear on at least several planets, becomes inevitable. Why does Hegel move so unpredictably from planetary plural to earthly singular when he says ”it is only on the planet that life can appear”?
While Kepler had no insurmountable problems by assimilating the idea of other inhabited planets with man’s superiority, Hegel deliberately left it out. This is all the more remarkable insofar as Kepler gives an advice of how to accept this idea without diminishing man’s nobility. For Kepler, man ”is in a position to reconstruct rationally that perfect architecture in which the grandeur of God is expressed; he is even in a position to reconstruct those ‘archetypical laws’ which, through God, presided over the creation of the world” (Rossi, p. 144). Could this way of maintaining man’s outstanding position while conceding the existence of rational beings on other planets also have been an option for Hegel? Without a doubt, it could. Man realizes and regains the divine rationality in the whole of reality. In philosophy he eventually gains insight into God’s thoughts before creation; and he identifies this divine rationality in reality, in nature, in art, religion and philosophy. Why, then, did not Hegel grasp this Keplerian option of integrating other rational beings into his philosophical system? Obviously, and this is already a part of the answer, Hegel’s system is too detailed in its description of the process of mind’s return to itself. Given other rational beings, it would have proved difficult to integrate these into such a detailed conceptualization of reality as Hegel’s system. As it were, Hegel’s philosophy simply does not have any free play for rational beings beyond earth. As soon as their existence is conceded, questions rise concerning the progress they had made towards the self-realization of spirit in them, i.e. their forms of art, religion, and philosophy.
Hegel’s view of the cosmos is Keplerian in so far as it denies the rationality and thus the existence of other solar systems. At the same time, by leaving aside the possibility of inhabited worlds, Hegel’s view is more conservative than Keplers, in whose hands the Copernican theory was extended to a universe with several inhabited worlds.
In the following we shall assume that Hegel first and foremost remained silent on intelligent life beyond earth not in order to avoid problems with orthodoxy, but to avoid serious problems for his own heterodox concept of Christian religion. Let us ask first, (a) why the idea of a plurality of inhabited worlds constitutes a problem to the christian faith. Let us ask, then, (b) whether Hegel’s philosophical explanation of Christianity as absolute Religion necessarily leads to a rejecting stance towards the idea.
(a) Obviously, the idea of a plurality of inhabited worlds harbors a challenge to some doctrines of the Church. Above all this idea has implications for the doctrines of Incarnation and Redemption. If there were rational beings on other planets, would they be in need of redemption? Or, would they be in need of redemption only provided that they were ”men”? However, would these rational beings be tainted by Adam’s sin? If Yes, are they still in need of redemption, or have they already been redeemed by Jesus Christ? But now, since Jesus Christ died for man on earth, would he still be able to appear as the Savior of other worlds? And if not Him: Who else? (See Dick p. 88; Guthke pp. 43, 52, 71) Philip Melanchthon may stand here as a representative for the Protestant position in the mid-sixteenth century. According to him, defying the possibility of other inhabited worlds, ”the Son of God is One; our master Jesus Christ was born, died, and resurrected in this world. Nor does He manifest Himself elsewhere, nor elsewhere has He died or resurrected” (cit. Dick, p. 89).
(b) The citation above explains why even in later centuries a true christian might shrink back from the idea of ETI. In contrast to Melanchthon, however, Hegel takes the doctrines of Christianity less literally. If we take this into account we might assume that the idea of ETI would not contradict Hegel’s view of Christianity. He says: ”The relation between Father and Son is expressed in terms of organic life, and is used in the popular or figurative sense. This natural relation is merely pictorial, and, accordingly, never entirely corresponds to the truth that is sought to be expressed” (LPR (Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion) Vol. III, p. 12).
Though he does not take the doctrines of Christianity literally, even for Hegel there can only be one Jesus Christ in one world. He wishes to cut off the possibility of a plurality of incarnations (see also O’Regan, p. 203): ”This individual, accordingly, who presents for others the manifestation of the Idea, is a particular Only One, not some ones, for the Divine in some would become an abstraction. The idea of some is a miserable superfluity of reflection, a superfluity because opposed to the conception or notion of individual subjectivity. In the eternal Idea there is only one Son, and thus there is only One in whom the absolute Idea appears, and this one excludes the others. It is this perfect development of reality thus embodied in immediate individuality of separateness which is the finest feature of the Christian religion...” (LPR, Vol. III, p. 75) Hegel, here, alludes to the correspondance between the ideal and the real. Since there is only one Son in the idea, there is only one incarnation of Him in the dialectical process of the self-appropriation of the divine. Evidently, as described above, the supposition of other inhabited worlds would call into question the singularity of the incarnation.
If Hegel could succesfully argue that, from the point of view of the eternal idea, God, out of necessity, had to be incarnated as Christ, and that this could happen only once, he would at the same time have delivered a speculative argument against the possibility of a plurality of inhabited worlds. The argument would be of the following kind: God is one. If He is incarnated, He, as such, can be only one. Consequently, the Sonship of God, ”World” and ”Christ”, can be only one. From here we can ask: how should one Christ be experienced in other worlds?
The point at issue is, however, whether Hegel successfully established a strict correspondence between ”One Son in the eternal idea” on the one hand and ”One instantiation of this eternal idea” as ”Christ” on the other hand. In Hegel’s system ”Son” refers ambiguously to the created world and the Incarnate One. But in Hegel’s objective idealism ”Son”, as an explication of the eternal idea, does not so much stand for ”Christ” but, in the first place, for ”World”. Hegel’s stipulation that there is only one Son in the eternal idea has at its real counterpart much more that there is only one world than one Christ. It is within the immanent Trinity that one Son is to be conceived. Because the latter corresponds most importantly to the one real world, Hegel, for the present, has not deduced a necessary singleness of the historical Christ.
Hegel aimed at parallelizing the dialectics of logical categories and religious development; but he did not deduce Christianity and its doctrines out of logical categories. He gave a speculative interpretation of what he found in the reality of history. For Hegel, the Incarnation belongs to the nature of the absolute idea. In his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion Hegel wanted to demonstrate the logical-metaphysical relations out of which the doctrines of Christology are to be explained. According to Hegel there is a conceptual necessity (begriffliche Notwendigkeit) at the bottom of Christology. But, in reality Hegel does not offer a speculative proof for the necessity of God’s becoming man; instead, he resorts to the empirical belief (see also Schmidt, p. 233; Weischedel, pp. 310-312).
Hegel has indeed shown that the history of Christ is open towards an interpretation from the viewpoint of the eternal idea. He did not demonstrate that it necessarily had to come to the Incarnation of a single God-Man (Gottmensch). If this is right, then there is no speculative-logical necessity for the singleness of the incarnation. Does this mean that Hegel did not exhaust the possibilities of his system in order not to disturb the christian Weltanschauung?
Regardless of Hegel’s not being able to establish a strict correspondence between the idea and the earthly God-Son, there is more to be said about Hegel’s notion of the appearance of Christ. For Hegel, the nature of the divine idea, its self-alienation and its return to itself, has become visible in the history of Christ (see Schmidt, p. 239). Even if philosophy is above this visible reality, it is still true that the Absolute is present in the christian faith as a reality. Here, from a historical point of view it is true for Hegel that the highest level of self-knowledge of God within finite spirit had been reached once. Hegel says: ”Religion is therefore a relation of the spirit to absolute Spirit: thus only is Spirit as that which knows, also that which is known. This is not merely an attitude of the spirit towards abolute Spirit, but absolute Spirit itself is that which is the self-relating element, which brings itself into relation with that which we posited on the other side as the element of difference” (LPR, Vol. I, p. 205). ”Thus religion is the Divine Spirit’s knowledge of itself through the mediation of finite spirit” (LPR, Vol. I, p. 206).
The dialectical process of self-appropriation and self-mediation of the Absolute needs time and so has history as its presupposition. The whole process of the world serves the self-mediation of the Absolute. It is the main purpose of Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion to argue in favour of the above mentioned presence of God in man. Absolute spirit is alive and effective (lebt und wirkt) in man. The task of the Philosophy of Religion is further to transfer the insight of the immanence of God from mythological Vorstellung into the philosophical form of the notion. After this conceptual transfer Jesus becomes understandable as a symbol for the essential (wesenhafte) presence of the Divine in human spirit. Again, if Christ only symbolizes the unity of God and man, why then should Hegel insist on His uniqueness? The answer is that Incarnation stands for a certain - at the time of Christ - unsurpassed level of self-redemption of the Absolute as realized in the finite. Here, Christ does not only symbolize the unity between the finite and the infinite.
For Hegel, the history of Christ does not only represent an exchangeable symbol for a logical idea. Hegel did not aim at a complete detaching of the content of Jesus’ appearance from his historical presence. Instead, Hegel conceives of him as being ”uniquely disclosive of the ‘eternal history of God’...” (O’Regan, p. 205) With Jesus, at that time, the insight into the immanence of the Divine in man reached its summit.
Because for Hegel the absolute idea enpompasses the finite world, he has to take history seriously, as history is a part of the latter. Hegel was not, as Ernst Bloch stresses, ”der aufgeklärten Meinung, daß ein begriffener Gott, gleich den Gespenstern, gänzlich verschwinde. Er gab ihm sein Asyl in der Subjektivität, worin der Weltgeist zu sich kommt, wie der Mensch in ihr zum Fürsichsein des Weltgeistes kommt” (Bloch, pp. 318f). What, now, is the defining feature of the unique individuality of Christ, according to Hegel? It is Christ’s teaching which has this planet as its horizon (see O’Regan, p. 204). It is clear that, from this point of view, other worlds would have aroused a host of inconvenient questions.
Now, it does not seem implausible, and we want to offer this as a thesis, that, generally speaking, the idea of a plurality of worlds gets more easily integrated into Christianity than into Hegel’s reasonable explanation (vernünftige Darstellung) of the same. This is explained not at least by the fact that Hegel arrived at a heterodox interpretation of the idea of creation. According to Hegel, ”in the idea of the creation, God remains on the one side apart, and the world on the other, but the connection of the two sides is not posited under the form of necessity” (LPR, Vol. I, p. 148). As opposed to Hegel, for orthodox Christianity God is on one side, creation on the other. A plurality of inhabited worlds in need of redemption would not necessarily constitute a problem for this view of God in which He is not thought of as the innerworldly process. Here, the transcendent God could be thought of as sending a Saviour to each of these worlds, possibly at different times. Mersenne, for example, in contrast to Melanchthon, ”believed that Scripture gave no clear answer on this issue; its silence was not sufficient. Instead he was intent on dealing with the opinion of the Church. He noted that the issue had not been defined by any ecumenical council, nor was there an apostolic tradition” (Dick, p. 94). For Hegel, on the other hand, everything is defined. Unlike Scripture in the interpretation of Mersenne, Hegel’s system does not leave any space for speculations about other worlds. Hegel conceives of the world (and not only of the earth) as the process of the return of God from otherness and alienation. As the world was in God before creation, so, after creation, God is in the world. Hegel identifies the levels of the process of reconciliation between the world and God in his philosophy of absolute spirit. For him all these levels are known, bygone, and, as it were, occupied. Because of this, there is no philosophical place to conceive of finite spirits other than human: ”Spirit is accordingly the living Process by which the implicit unity of the divine and human natures becomes actual and comes to have a definite existence” (LPR, Vol. II, p. 349). Again, there is no free play for other finite spirits than humans.
If Hegel speaks of ”world”, he refers not only to earth; his cosmos encompasses more than this. But if now the ”process of the world” ”implies a passing from the state of revolt and separation to that of reconciliation” (LPR, Vol. III, p. 37), he has it taking place on our planet alone. Hegel pretends not only to know in detail how the process of redemption took place, but also that it is achieved. Because of this he had to refrain from the idea of other inhabited worlds. They would have entered into competetion with Hegel’s ”process of the world” and put its completion at stake.
When Hegel explains religion as self-knowledge of God within finite spirit, logically, this history of self-knowledge within finity can only be one. Either it has reached this level or that level. From Hegel’s point of view it would not make sense if in one world different levels were achieved, when, at the same time, the one world is the expression of nothing less than the respective level of self-knowledge. For this reason it would be less difficult to combine ETI with Christianity in general than with Hegel’s philosophical explanation of it. This, in turn, should lead us to reject the notion that it was through sheer anthropocentrism that Hegel does not reflect upon intelligent life beyond earth. With the concession of the possibility of other finite spirits on other planets the question would arise, of how we should know whether they were redeemed or not. How could we prove or even dare to speculate that redemption took place once and for all if ”the process of the world” includes many planets about which we have no knowledge? To avoid such speculations Hegel had to aim at more or less identifying ”world” with ”earth” when he speaks about ”Prozeß der Welt”; while, of course, he does not identify our world with the cosmos.
An inner-systemic possibility to conceptualize life beyond earth would have been to resort to a kind of parallelism, a cryptic interconnection between the ”Process of the world”, which, for Hegel, essentially takes place on earth, and the history of finite spirits on other planets. What happens on earth in the dialectical process of selfmediation, then, would simultaneously be experienced on other planets - a sort of occasionalism. But the metaphysics of this construction is odd. Notwithstanding its being stretched out over space and time on earth, its way from east to west in history, the finite spirit is essentially one for Hegel. To admit other inhabited worlds would imply splitting up finite spirit, and would have led, from Hegel’s standpoint, as it were, to divine schizophrenia.
The uniformity of the process of the world as self-reconciliation which contradicts any cosmic fragmentation of finite spirit, becomes especially clear in Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of History.
III.III Philosophy of History
The history of finite spirit, as located on earth, for Hegel is the only history that can reasonably be spoken of. Hegel says ”of Universal History, that it is the exhibition of Spirit in the process of working out the knowledge of that which it is potentially. And as the germ bears in itself the whole nature of the tree and the taste and form of its fruits, so do the first traces of Spirit virtually contain the whole of that History. The Orientals have not attained the knowledge that Spirit - Man as such - is free” (PH (The Philosophy of History ) p. 17f).
In order to be able to give an all-encompassing representation of the sequential grades of self-release of spirit, Hegel has to take for granted that the sequence of grades has been finished here on earth. Hegel says, ”the final cause of the World at large, we allege to be the consciousness of its own freedom on the part of Spirit, and ipso facto, the reality of that freedom” (PH, p. 19). And this final cause allegedly has been realized: ”The German Spirit is the Spirit of the new World. Its aim is the realization of absolute Truth as the unlimited self-determination of Freedom - that Freedom which has its own absolute form itself as its purport” (PH, p. 341). For Hegel it is valid to assert that ”the Christian world is the world of completion; the grand principle of being is realized, consequently the end of days is fully come. The Idea can discover in Christianity no point in the aspirations of Spirit that is not satisfied” (PH, p. 342). Hegel regards the world as being accomplished and known in all its essential processes of mediation. Again, the acceptance of the possibility of ETI would have brought this assumption into question.
Above we mentioned the abstract possibility of a cryptic occasionalism as a means to combine Hegel’s system with the possibility of ETI. Hegel’s Philosophy of History vaguely indicates another conceptual device. He could have treated other inhabited worlds in the same way as he treats if not the whole of the African continent, so at least black Africa. By doing so he would not have been obliged to hush up the possibility of other inhabited worlds. Instead he could have tried to eliminate the threat which these constitute to his system by letting them persevere on the first grade of ”immersion of Spirit in Nature” (PH, p. 56). Similarly he conceived of Black Africa. As is widely known, Hegel was of the opinion that no substantial progress towards freedom was made on the African continent. He treats black Africa as a quantité négligeable. After only a few remarks Hegel says: ”At this point we leave Africa, not to mention it again. For it is no historical part of the World; it has no movement or development to exhibit” (PH, p. 99). In order to get rid of the problematic implications of ETI Hegel could have treated the inhabitants of other planets likewise. Moreover, in unison with his conviction, ”the special principle which every world-historical people embodies, has this principle at the same time as a natural characteristic”, (PH, p. 79) Hegel could have claimed, resembling Kepler’s view and being in accordance with his semi-modern cosmology, that the earth is the noblest place in the cosmos, and that only its peoples on the ground of a right distance to the sun etc. can be attributed a world history.
However, Hegel prefered to remain silent on the possibility. Certainly this decision, although arbitrary to the utmost, has been beneficial to the coherence of his system.
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