Hegel and the Development of Doctrine

In the 1807 “Preface” to the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel writes, “The more conventional opinion…does not comprehend the diversity of philosophical systems as the progressive unfolding of truth, but rather sees in it simple disagreements. The bud disappears in the bursting-forth of the blossom, and one might say that the former is refuted by the latter…These forms are not just distinguished from one another, they also supplant one another as mutually incompatible. Yet at the same time their fluid nature makes them moments of an organic unity in which they not only do not conflict, but in which each is as necessary as the other” (§2).

There are striking anticipations here of Newman’s notion of the development of doctrine: “It is indeed sometimes said that the stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of a philosophy or belief, which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full. It necessarily rises out of an existing state of things, and for a time savours of the soil. Its vital element needs disengaging from what is foreign and temporary, and is employed in efforts after freedom which become wore vigorous and hopeful as its years increase…From time to time it makes essays which fail, and are in consequence abandoned. It seems in suspense which way to go; it wavers, and at length strikes out in one definite direction. In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter their bearing; parties rise and around it; dangers and hopes appear in new relations; and old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often” (Development 1.7).

I don’t have much to say yet about the possible lines of influence — Newman read no German, and consistently referenced Bishop Butler as his chief inspiration for the doctrine of development. But there’s no denying that his theory belongs to the same family as Hegel’s.

Very interesting.

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This entry was posted in Development of Doctrine, Hegel, John Henry Newman, Phenomenology of Spirit and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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