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WILLIAM FLEMING - 1890 - Table of contents

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H- I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W  

Diccionario filosófico
Complete edition

Diccionario de Filosofía
Brief definition of the most important concepts of philosophy.


A Dictionary of English Philosophical Terms Francis Garden


Vocabulary of Philosophy, Psychological, Ethical, Metaphysical
William Fleming

Biografías y semblanzas Biographical references and lives of philosophers

Brief introduction to the thought of Ortega y Gasset

History of Philosophy Summaries

Historia de la Filosofía
Explanation of the thought of the great philosophers; summaries, exercises...

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Jaime Balmes

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Zeferino González

Vidas, opiniones y sentencias de los filósofos más ilustres
Complete digital edition of the work of Diogenes Laertius

Compendio de las vidas de los filósofos antiguos

A brief history of Greek Philosophy
B. C. Burt


A Short History of Philosophy





ABSOLUTE (absolutum, ab and solvo, to loose from).— (1) Adjective, applied to the essence of a thing, apart from its relations or varied representations; (2) to the perfect or completed form of existence; (3) substantive, "The Absolute,'' the Self-existent, Self-sufficient Being, independent in nature and in action—the Uncaused—the Cause of all existence besides.


"The term absolute is of twofold (if not threefold) antiquity, corresponding to the double (or treble) signification of the word in Latin. (1) Absolutum means what is freed or loosed; in which sense the absolute will be what is aloof from relation, comparison, limitation, dependence, &c, and is thus tantamount to τὸ ἀπόλυτον of the lower Greeks. In this meaning, the Absolute is not opposed to the Infinite.

(2) Absolutum means finished, perfected, completed; in which sense the Absolute will be what is out of relation, &c, as finished, perfect, complete, total, and thus corresponds to τὸὅλον and τὸτέλειον of Aristotle. In this acceptation (and it is that in which I exclusively use it) the Absolute is diametrically opposed to, is contradictory of, the Infinite" (Sir W. Hamilton, Discussions, p. 14, note).

"By the Absolute is meant that which exists in and by itself, having no necessary relation to any other being. By the Infinite is meant that which is free from all possible limitation; that than which a greater is inconceivable, and which consequently can receive no additional attribute or mode of existence, which it had not from all eternity'' (Mansel, Limits of Religious Thought, p. 45).

"The plain and etymological meaning of the term is freed or loosed, and hence it means freed from restriction or condition. In this sense it is evident that the Infinite must be absolute, for that which is not limited does not afford the possibility of restriction. This is the sense in which philosophers have uniformly used the word; and in this sense Sir W. Hamilton admits that 'the Absolute is not opposed to the Infinite'" (Calderwood, Philosophy of the Infinite, 3rd ed., p. 165).

These definitions were the basis for discussion of the question whether the Absolute can be known under the conditions of consciousness. Hamilton, arguing against Cousin, maintained the negative (Discussions, pp. 1-38). Mansel supported the position (Limits of Religious Thought; see also Mansel's Essays, p. 154, Philosophy of Kant, and German Philosophy). Calderwood argued the contrary on the basis of faith and cognition (Philosophy of the Infinite).

Hamilton's position was accepted as an illustration of the doctrine of relativity of knowledge (J. S. Mill's Examination of Hamilton's Philosophy, pp. 1-129; Herbert Spencer's First Principles, 3rd ed., pt. 1,—The Unknowable, pp. 1-126).

The position of Herbert Spencer is indicated in the opening part of the First Principles, with extended quotations from Mansel's Limits of Religious Thought. The following passages will indicate the general course of the arguments:—"We are not only obliged to suppose some cause, but also a first cause... We cannot think at all about the impressions which the external world produces on us, without thinking of them as caused; and we cannot carry out an inquiry concerning their causation without inevitably committing ourselves to the hypothesis of a First Cause.

 But now, if we go a step further, and ask what is the nature of this First Cause, we are driven by an inexorable logic to certain further conclusions...It is impossible to consider the First Cause as finite. And if it cannot be finite, it must be infinite. Another inference concerning the First Cause is equally unavoidable: It must be independent. If it be dependent, it cannot be the First Cause; for that must be the First Cause on which it depends...Thus the First Cause must be in every sense perfect, complete, total; including within itself all power, and transcending all law. Or, to use the established word, it must be absolute" (pp. 37, 38). Treating of conflicting religious systems, Herbert Spencer says:—«Not only is the omnipresence of something which passes comprehension that most abstract belief which is common to all religions, which becomes the more distinct in proportion as they develop, and which remains after their discordant elements have been mutually cancelled; but it is that belief which the most unsparing criticism of each leaves unquestionable, or rather makes ever clearer " (p. 45).

Philosophy is ultimately, by its very nature, a search for the Absolute—first for absolute truth, as distinct from mere appearance, and afterwards for The Absolute Being, as the source and explanation of all dependent existence, ens realissimum. Thus Plato ascends from the manifold to the one, finding in the idea the key to all varieties of manifestation in the world, and passes beyond ideas to that which is more than idea—The Good—the centre and source of existence, "far exceeding essence in dignity and power" (Republic, VI. 507-509). So it has been in modern philosophy, Spinoza maintaining that thought is true only as we think all things in God (Ethics, pt. II. prop. 32). Kant, while insisting that we cannot have logical demonstration of the Divine existence, granted that the reason seeks to transcend the sphere of the understanding, in order to reach the Absolute, and held that in the practical sphere, duty implies Deity (Critique of Pure Reason and of Practical); in succession to this come the speculations of Fichte and Schelling, concerning the Absolute, and still later, of Hegel, who, defining philosophy as the thinking view of things, makes it in substance a philosophy of The Absolute, maintaining that all existence is strictly a manifestation of the Absolute in the evolution of Being according to Dialectic. In Britain, philosophy, regarding absolute intelligence as the First Cause, source of all finite existence, turned speculation for a time on the possibility of a knowledge of the Absolute, while granting belief in the transcendent reality (Hamilton and Mansel), and more recently, the Sensational School, interpreting a theory of Evolution, has discoursed of the "Unknowable" treating it as "an ultimate religious truth of the highest possible certainty,... the deepest, widest, and most certain of all facts—that the power which the universe manifests to us is utterly inscrutable" (Spencer's First Principles, p. 46).— V. INFINITE, UNCONDITIONED, REAL.



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