Hegel’s Correspondence Theory of Truth

  • H. S. Harris
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 149)


“The world,” said Wittgenstein, “is the totality of facts, not of things.” According to the “correspondence theory,” therefore, “the truth” will be the totality of assertions that state “the facts.” In Hegel’s mature theory of “truth,” this is not “philosophical truth” at all, but the ideal limit of “correct statement.”


Correspondence Theory Ethical Substance Rational Freedom Speculative Philosopher Philosophical Truth 
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  1. 1.
    The Company of Words,(Evanston: Northwestern, 1993), chapter 2.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See the “Aphorisms from the Wastebook,” Werke, T.W-A II, 540; Independent Journal of Philosophy, III,1979, 1.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    K.R. Westphal, Hegel’s Epistemological Realism,(Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1989), chapter 7.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    When it does happen, for it need not, since every Gestalt of truth can find the energy to defend its own circular fortress of assumptions as resolutely as G.E. Moore and the peasant-wife.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    I use “faith” as a general category that comprehends both the Unhappy Consciousness and Faith proper; and for this reason I always use capital letters for the two phases that Hegel himself distinguishes.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Compare Miller § 558, though no one is there named.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    The comprehension of our world is a historical spiral so that Hegel’s argument moves over the same ground several times; and the concept of the order of Nature as a living “Infinite” is a moment of present experience, so that the evolution of “Consciousness” (in the first three chapters) does not need to be interpreted historically at all. For these reasons, the complex relation of the concept of experience to the history of our social consciousness has confused everybody (in some measure), ever since Haym claimed (falsely) in 1857 that Hegel was himself confused about it.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    This is not quite correct because the crusading barons belong, willy-nilly, to the world of Bildung. The Unhappy Consciousness dictates the form of all their public statements. Whatever their private ambitions may be, they must acknowledge that the “last judgement” of what they achieve lies not with themselves, but with “the Unchangeable.” The simple judgement of unequal recognition regarding human destiny belongs to the world of Pericles (before the death of Socrates and the advent of Stoicism).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Faust Fragment,lines 1879–88 (or Faust: Part I,lines 3577–86).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    See the Encyclopaedia Logic, § 190 Addition.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Hegel’s belief that Antigone’s sophism about a unique obligation to her brother formed part of Greek family ethics is an empirical error on his part; but his argument does not need it — as I have shown by simply leaving it out. In any case, it has nothing to do with modern ethics, or with any supposed peculiar bond between Hegel and his sister. His sister Christiane may perhaps have been peculiarly attached to him. But if this was so, that was just an aspect of her personal psychological disorder — and that is how Hegel himself saw it.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Decline and Fall,Chapter 3 (Everyman ed. I, 78; for the “long period of two hundred and twenty years” see p. 72).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    The dialectical motion of Bildung is too complex to go into here. But there are two errors to be avoided, an old one that infects our translations (and most commentaries); and a new one invented by Westphal. First, the sides of the “estranged Spirit” are not “noble and base consciousness” (or patricians and plebs, so to speak). They are properly the “noblemindedness” (of public service) and the “contemptuousness” (of Enlightened Insight). Secondly, there is no hopeful “republicanism” here (as Westphal supposes, 1989, p. 281, n. 201). Only the Ancien Régime is discussed; and then the “Republic” of Robespierre. Hegel’s own “hopes” cannot come into the “science of experience,” because that can only recollect the history of Spirit; and all the evidence shows that Hegel was so far committed to “epistemological realism” that his hopes were pinned to the Napoleonic order, not to any Republic. There is a certain kinship of Hegel’s book with the Eroica symphony. But he began it after 1804; and no comment upon the book’s implicit “dedication” was needed until he began thinking of a second edition in 1831.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Terry Pinkard (Hegel’s Dialectic,p. 91) remarks that “Hegel’s concept of true teleology is empirically vacuous.” This is perhaps the most radical (intelligent) mistake ever made in Hegel interpretation. But (as usual with radical mistakes that are not simply stupid) it is valuable. For (like Yorick’s skull for the phrenologist) it directs us clearly to look for a new path of interpretation altogether.Google Scholar
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    p. 276, n. 113. (It must be acknowledged that Hegel’s concern about the rebirth of “formalism” in the philosophy of Nature caused his discussion to overflow beyond all reasonable proportions. But Westphal’s reaction is too brutally simplistic.)Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1997

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