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On Hegel. Socrates is supposed to have said about the writings of Heraclitus:
“The part I do understand is excellent, and so too, I dare say, is the part I do not understand.”
I must admit, where Hegel is concerned, that what I do understand is incorrect, so I suppose… [1]

2In the literature we have on Bolzano, which is often of analytical inspiration, Hegel is generally assigned the role of foil, which he plays rather well, even in the writings of the best researchers. In her highly recommendable book on Bolzano, [2] for example, Sandra Lapointe claims that:


As far as dates go, and as far as his place within the reception of Kant’s first Critique is concerned, Bolzano would seem to belong to Hegel’s generation. But Bolzano refused to engage with Hegel’s philosophy—the same holds for other idealists who were his contemporaries. Bolzano did read and write caustic criticisms of idealism at large (he also attempted to create an anti-Hegelian journal), but what he wrote are less philosophical analyses than essays devoted to the disparagement of what he called «Schwärmerei» [enthusiasm]. [3]

4It is entirely accurate to say that Bolzano belonged to the generation of Hegel, and that he also engaged in a critique of the first critique, notably of Kant’s categories, though for quite different reasons than Hegel. Bolzano was critical of the entire Kantian philosophy. His post-Kantism is also different from other, even more idealistic positions. Nevertheless I intend here to qualify the claim that Bolzano refused to read Hegel, or was only ever engaged in polemics aimed at discrediting him—for example in the Three Essays on Hegel. Such an undertaking would have gone against what Paul Rusnock has aptly termed Bolzano’s “Catholicism”: his will and intellectual habit to seek the true and the universal, always and everywhere. This Catholicism is placed under the aegis of Vincent de Lerins, and defines true faith as that which has always and everywhere been believed by all, a universalism that finds itself under great duress when two authors as antithetical as Bolzano and Hegel are confronted, although this type of test is the best way to evaluate professions of faith. We shall see, to begin with, in what respects the received view in the Bolzano literature is justified, and to what extent Bolzano’s allergic reactions permit one to connect him to the most common anti-Hegelian intellectual positions of the analytical movement: the rejection of Hegelian language and its relationship to German, his conception of history and the history of philosophy; and the rejection of his organicism, but also, and even more strongly, of his entire philosophical project. It will allow us to understand how Jan Berg was able to make the assertion, in the introduction to the last volume of his edition of the Wissenschaftslehre:


Inasmuch as Bolzano gives Hegel a palpably urgent lesson in conceptual analysis, he reveals himself yet again, at the end of his monumental Wissenschaflehre (Theory of Science), as a worthy precursor of modern analytical philosophy. [4]

6I will not discuss the appropriateness of calling Bolzano a “precursor” here. Nor will I address the question of whether his desire to logically correct the dense undergrowth of Hegelian thought is sufficient to qualify Bolzano as either “analytical” or “modern,” still less whether all analytic literature boils down to a wholesale rejection, be it ironic or indignant, of Hegelianism and its derivatives. I will merely endeavor to show the basis of this judgment, before qualifying it by showing that there was indeed a good deal of careful reading and argumentation. There is always something paradoxical about attempts to define the relationship of a philosopher to his greatest adversary. I will seek here to show that there was indeed a development of a critique, as opposed to a mere static posture of rejection of the sort that would facilitate the composition of textbooks of the history of philosophy, neatly divided into crude categories. The intensity of the opposition cannot be denied, but we will attempt to understand the structural reasons for it, and the ways in which it both invites and hinders reading. I will begin by explaining the essence of the arguments developed in the polemical essays on Hegel, and by contextualizing an argument which, once dehistoricized, is quite often reduced either to an irrational passion or to an anti-Hegelianism with which one will either always agree or will always see as irrelevant, depending on the circumstances. I will then examine more systematically the philosophical positions that condition Bolzano’s reading.

I – The Polemic of the Three Essays

On the Publication of the Essays on Hegel

7The Three Essays on Hegel condition in large measure the received view of Bolzano’s critique of Hegel. According to their first editor, Franz Příhonský, they were written around 1835, while we have notes from Bolzano’s readings of Hegel that date from 1817 to 1827. [5] The essays were not published in the thirties due to the censorship of Bolzano by the regime, coupled with his refusal to have any more than his first two critical writings on Hegel published abroad. The dates given by Příhonský, and also used by Loužil, editor of the Three Essays in the complete works [BGA], should nevertheless be considered with caution, at least when trying to date the final version more precisely, for example, using this letter from Bolzano to Michael Fesl on January 7, 1839:


I am busy with the essay “Is All that Is Real Rational?” As soon as I have finished, I hope to start on the essay about Hegel’s views on history, which is why I need your Cieszkowski. When I have finished that one, which hopefully should not take too long, or when I give up on it, I’ll send the three journals back to you, and will submit the completed essays for your judgment. [6]

9The question of publication was far from being resolved, if we are to believe another letter, dated February 2, 1846:


I do have the essay on the Hegelian view of history, and I have found a clean copy in my own hand. I had someone read it to me, (Robert may well guess by whom), and I think it may be one of my best. It gives me the courage to follow your recent proposal, dear friend, to publish this work, along with a few other essays and reviews, assuming that we might hope to find a publisher. The essay that was just mentioned, on the concept of philosophy (which I should in any case complete soon and which might be best placed at the beginning of the book), and the essay on Hegel’s proverb of the hunter, according to which all that is real is rational (the same applies here), and then some other shorter essays that I could either find among my papers or dash off for the purpose […]. [7]

11These statements would not be absolutely inconsistent with the idea of a first draft dating from 1835, if one believes Příhonský, cited once again by Loužil, who argues that the corrections sprinkled throughout the manuscript were mainly stylistic, [8] the delay in submission being due only to Bolzano’s perfectionism. The order of publication ultimately adopted by Příhonský, which is also that of the BGA, is as follows: I. “On Hegel’s Famous Formula: All that is Real is Rational, and All that is Rational is Real”; II. “On the Concept of History in General and the History of Philosophy, Especially of Hegel and His Followers”; III. “On the Concept of Organism and Some Related Concepts.” The last essay is not mentioned by Příhonský in his preface, but a letter to Fesl suggests that it was intended to serve as the basis for a colloquium at the Royal Bohemian Society of Sciences of which no trace can be found. [9] In fact, the earliest mention of the project found during my research is in the letter of October 5, 1838 to Fesl, where only the first two essays are spoken of, the only ones which discuss Hegel explicitly:


Two themes came to my mind, the development of which I immediately embarked upon, although in both cases I never got beyond the planning stage. 1. Whether all that is real is rational, and all that is rational is real (as Hegel is known to have said in his philosophy of right). 2. The conception of history in Hegel, in particular his history of philosophy. I want these two essays to remain as short as possible, and try to compose them in such a way that they might be printed by any popular newspaper. [10]

13The last essay was a late addition, while the “popular essays” were intended to respond to a particular intellectual phenomenon of the time—Hegel’s Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts, edited by Eduard Gans, and published in 1833. [11] In the letter to Michael Fesl of January 7 1839 cited above, Bolzano says he has almost finished the essay “Is All that Is Real Rational?” and hopes to finish it as soon as possible, while stressing the necessity of not dispersing his efforts. Fesl’s attempts to have it published along with the essay “What is Philosophy?” in the Zeitschrift für Philosophie und spekulative Philosophie or Deutsche Vierteljahrschrift proving fruitless, it seems that Bolzano then proposed the publication of a stand-alone booklet devoted to “Schellingo-Hegelian” philosophy, [12] before the subject disappears from his correspondence until 1846. [13] The project was finally only realized three years after Bolzano’s death, and carries a general title, which alone should quash any temptation to see it as the final word of the author—“Three Philosophical Essays Accessible to the Non-philosopher.” [14] These essays were written with the aim of combatting an influence he considered particularly harmful, and which was dominant in the 1830s: in his edition of 1851, Příhonský tempered this judgment by noting that times had changed since the essays were written. [15]

14We can give credit to Příhonský for his good faith, and therefore for the veracity of the assertions he made on page IV of his preface, that a separate publication of the essays corresponded to Bolzano’s own intention, and that they might even have appeared much earlier. But we must also take seriously the claim made on the following page, that Bolzano also thoroughly revised the first two essays on Hegel, especially his treatise on the concept of history. Stating that Bolzano’s improvements were mainly stylistic in nature, Příhonský seems to regret this reworking (Umarbeitung), which yet again delayed the publication of Bolzano’s work. For us it should suffice to note that the essays were first drafted around 1835, with successive alterations as shown by the correspondence we have mentioned. Bolzano himself describes the versions anterior to his letter to Fesl dated October 5, 1838 as “beginnings,” and while the original manuscripts cannot be found, we will adhere to his point of view, especially insofar as it confirms the reading proposed in this paper, which sees the Three Essays as reactions to the Hegelian and post-Hegelian publications of the time.

The First Essay on Hegel’s Most Notorious Expression

15The first essay is presented as a term by term analysis of the Hegelian dictum on the rationality of reality and the reality of the rational—and in this manner reaches the conclusion with no great difficulty that it is has no meaning. Bolzano considers it necessary to remind his reader that one can only ask beings endowed with reason to be “in conformity with reason”. For him, asking a real being not endowed with reason to conform to reason is the same as asking an odd number (ungerade Zahl) to become an even number (gerade Zahl), or the irregular movement of a clock to become regular. [16] The only interpretation of Hegel’s statement which Bolzano is ready to accept may make sense is the post-Leibnizian notion that assumes a God acting in accordance with the principle of the best:


If we believe […] that […] everything that exists and everything that happens in the world only exists or happens by the will of God, then it is true that one can advance the assertion, concerning everything that is real (that is, for all finite reality) that it is rational, taken in a certain sense; just as one can accept the converse assertion, according to which everything that is rational eventually achieves a form of reality. [17]

17Bolzano nonetheless states immediately afterward that this interpretation is not likely to be seen as admissible by the Hegelians, insofar as it is evident that this is “something very old and well-known.” [18] He concludes with a critique, which has since become a classic of anti-Hegelianism, stating that the Hegelian formula is an abdication in the face of the existing order. It is true that Bolzano was able to base his criticism on the published works of the Hegelians even though, for understandable reasons, these are no longer read today, as for example the following words of Dr. Mager [19] from his Letter to a Lady on the Hegelian Philosophy: [20]


[Philosophy] has made peace with reality, it does not seek to create or change anything; it does not consider itself to be more intelligent than the World Spirit, in other words, more intelligent than human reason is now, at this time.

19It is clear from this quote that Bolzano had the tribulations that Hegelianism was suffering at the time in mind while formulating his critique.. This is not the place to discuss readings that might exonerate Hegel of this accusation, nor shall I accord this interpretation the status of just one among many that are possible. I will simply note that Bolzano’s anti-Hegelianism has some textual basis, albeit slim, and second-hand.

The Second Essay on Hegel’s Philosophy of History

20The same analysis can be applied to the second anti-Hegelian treatise, devoted to Hegel’s philosophy of history, including the history of philosophy, which extensively quotes Count August von Cieszkowski and his Prolegomena to Historiosophy. [21] Bolzano sums up Hegel’s philosophy of history thus:


In the rational and necessary progress of the World Spirit, each successive state of humanity is fundamentally nothing more than a progress issuing from all the previous states. The history of philosophy too, should be nothing but its own development. [22]

22To say that Hegel’s conception of the involvement of the World Spirit within world history did not gain the favor of the “Leibniz of Prague,” who was also a thinker of progress in human history in the Enlightenment sense, is an understatement. The unfurling of the thesis-antithesis-synthesis is accorded a total of three lines, something which is admittedly more an expression of Bolzano’s skepticism than any real argument; the very idea of a classification of philosophical systems following the Hegelian tripartition seems so ridiculous in itself that presenting it in ordinary terms suffices to reveal its flaws. Bolzano nonetheless recognizes “that there is something seductive in these assertions,” which comes from the certainty of having achieved the perfection of philosophy within the prevailing philosophical system, to which he responds with irony:


Because we Europeans are clearly the most cultivated men on this Earth, but that nobody in Europe genuinely philosophizes outside of Germany, and finally, in Germany, only Berlin (and perhaps Munich) can present without challenge the most famous philosophers, it is as clear as day (one must think) that only the Hegelian philosophy (or, at most, the Schellingo-Hegelian philosophy) can be called the philosophy of the present day, and all remaining systems must be regarded without exception as non-existent. [23]

24Beyond the irony, acidic to say the least, and which also reflects the concerns of an isolated philosopher, banned from publishing, and facing what he considered to be a wave of thought antithetical to his own work, what we have here is the testimony of a non-German contemporary of German culture, for which Hegel’s philosophy of history is nothing but a form of enthusiasm, characteristic of a nation viewed with growing, and not unjustified concern in the wider circles of the political and intellectual elites of the Austrian Empire. There are no charges of “totalitarianism” in these passages—as there were to be later from commentators with a less acute historical sense—rather only an expression of fear and grievance which, while absolutely failing to anticipate the magnitude of the catastrophes that were to come, were indictment enough of contemporary disasters.

25In his examination of the assumptions of this thought, Bolzano does not reject all possibility of progress or of a directed history; indeed he outlined such a concept himself. However, as noted above, it takes place in a Leibnizian framework where God acts in accordance with the principle of the best, and where each substance has a faculty of representation that can be perfected. Together, these make the progress of mankind possible, provided that the experiences of the past are used by its heirs to make themselves wiser and more prudent, and therefore, as is specified with unshakable faith in the Aufklärung, “better and happier.” Thus:


We hope that this merely possible progress, after many interruptions and temporary setbacks, shall never remain completely stopped, at least not across humanity taken as a whole, nor in each individual substance, once it has reached the point where it aspires seriously to the good, in part because increased knowledge comined with good will must lead to a gradual increase in every other perfection, partly because we believe that every good that is not impossible in and of itself shall one day become a reality, under the all-powerful guidance of God. [24]

27There may well be many things to talk about—and to criticize—in Bolzano’s progressivism, [25] but what is certain is that it excludes something which, according to Bolzano, rightly or wrongly, is inseparable from the Hegelian conception of history, namely the vision of continuous progress. One can of course raise the objection to this reading that Hegel’s vision of history is more tragic, but this would miss the substance of Bolzano’s argument, which is that a single World Spirit cannot be incarnated in a plurality of individuals, [26] because a fortiori a plurality of sensibilities cannot be part of a single global mind. Bolzano appears here to have completely overlooked the concept of objective spirit, according to which a specific part of human culture is led to embody the absolute spirit, ultimately in political institutions. But the notion is not so much overlooked, as it is rejected, as when Bolzano asks why the peoples of the Earth, and every people in its entirety, should realize the development of the spirit at its own stage. Bolzano asks if it would suffice for only one man among that people to reach the stage of development in question… or is it necessary for all peoples at a given time, or all men together, to reach the given stage of development? The purpose of these falsely naïve questions is to expose the arbitrary nature of Hegel’s scenario of the expression of spirit, which Bolzano describes as the “new arbitrariness,” [27] which is nothing more than the hasty classifications of the Hegelian philosophy of history, treated by Bolzano with the same casual attitude which he finds in the Hegelian account of historical reality. Bolzano considers the peoples who have and must have existed, among whom no individual has known that he or she was free (Orientals), followed by those such as the Greeks where only some (the Citizens) knew they were free, and arriving at the Christian peoples, where all know they are free. He adds to this the epigonal work of Cieszkowski in which the Chinese mind is the mechanism, Athens is dynamism, and Sparta is static electricity, and so forth. For Hegel, and for his disciples, this arbitrariness culminates in the theory that a people will only reach world history once, in accordance with the theory of the Great Man. Thus:


How can one claim there no arbitrariness in his assertion that each of the world’s peoples will only attain world historicity a single time? It is supposed to flow from the fact that a given people will only once be the carrier of the spiritual principle which forms the present phase in the forward march of the World Spirit! Such a limit, so clearly defined, between that which deserves to be called world history and that which does not, absolutely does not exist. [28]

29Even if we posit that history gives no examples of a people having had an influence on the whole of humanity across different times, separated by periods of insignificance, it does not permit the conclusion that this situation is a priori impossible. For Bolzano, the arbitrariness of Hegel culminates in the Great Man theory, against which he warns, at the outset, that one must be careful not to assign the quality of greatness to a man whose situation has allowed him to have significant influence, where others of greater virtue have failed because of circumstances. Against the concept of the Great Man as a representative of his time—for which his time has waited—Bolzano contests that the real great man is one who exceeds the demands of his own time, even if he is not free from the errors proper to it, [29] and whose greatness remains dependent, particularly in the intellectual sphere, upon more modest advances made by others. He gives the example of Newton, who was dependent on Picard’s discovery of the true radius of the Earth. [30] The distinction between what is essential, in an era or in a system of thought, which may be retained by the dialectical succession accomplished by a later period, and what is non-essential, is thus impossible. Before determining what is essential or non-essential in a system, everyone must be in agreement on the truths and non-truths it contains.

Bolzano and the Heirs of Hegel

30Beyond the Hegelian declarations placing the Germany of his time at the heart of world history and true philosophy, it seems clear for Bolzano that the role of Hegelianism is above all political, not primarily through single points of doctrine, but by the collective weight of theses which, under a canopy of rationality, arbitrarily magnify the figure of the Great Man and certain selected historical moments, something made all the easier by the confusion intrinsic to the Hegelian language. On this subject, Bolzano cites a former Hegelian-turned-critic, Heinrich Moritz Chalybäus, in an extract from the journal edited by Immanuel Hermann Fichte:


After he [Chalybäus], in agreement with many other supporters of Hegel, complained that the central and primary issue of all speculative philosophy, the principle of the identity of being and thought, was explained neither in Wissenschaft der Logik (where it would already be necessary in order to understand the very first sentence), nor in the Phänomenologie des Geistes (to which Hegel referred), nor elsewhere, he criticizes the untenable nature of Hegelian texts in the following terms “Such expressions must, in Hegel, be taken sometimes in one sense, sometimes in another; the truth is sometimes substantial indifference, sometimes existential concretion […] it would be entirely possible to write two columns containing a whole collection of expressions, one facing the other, in which each says the opposite of its neighbor, chosen by the Hegelian school according to its whims, depending on whether they should assert one thing and then another […] this author would joyfully return to the banner of Hegel, where one philosophizes at leisure, and where friendships and protection are quickly to be found, if he could only divest himself of these inconveniences […].” [31]

32We have, here, a case of a thinker making use of the internal debates of Hegelianism for his own ends, which attests at least to Bolzano’s knowledge of the debates agitating those “late idealists” who were his contemporaries. There is a practical reason for this, in that Bolzano largely learned about Hegelian philosophy through the writings of Chalybäus, [32] and he hoped for a time to be published in the journal of Fichte’s son, an extract from which we have just seen. In a letter to Příhonský of October 19, 1837, he congratulates himself on the reception of his work by “Professor Fichte,” and recommends that a copy of Wissenschaft der Logik be sent to him:


On the 4th, I received a highly satisfactory letter from Professor Fichte, wherein he speaks very favorably on the richness and rigor of this enterprise, and undertakes to recommend it both publicly and privately. [33]

34This hope was to be disappointed, as evidenced by the letter of September 11, 1840 to the same correspondent:


How difficult it is to get these gentlemen even to read the writings in their entirety, is proven by the following facts. Fichte, who glories in rushing to the fore to preserve the meaning of alternative points of view, explained in his letter to the editor (last year) that he has not yet found the opportunity to learn more about these concepts. [34]

36There follow recriminations against Friedrich Eduard Beneke and Reinhold Ernst, whose refutations prove, according Bolzano, that they have not even read his text. He concluded that the only hope left would be the publication of passages and “popular presentations” of his thought in the press, what we would today call popularization. [35] New hopes placed in a draft review bringing together Chalybäus, Heinrich Ritter (a pupil of Schleiermacher), and Friedrich Adolf Trendelenburg were also to be dashed very quickly. [36] The failure to be taken into account intellectually, a failure that was mainly political in nature (the censorship of the Empire having already taken from Bolzano all hope of becoming a serious opponent of idealism), might explain the disillusioned judgment in his letter to Michael Fesl of August 24, 1846:


I confess, for my part that I see the now quite obvious impotence of our philosophers, fallen from the heights of Olympus, and who, as you say in part yourself, were just a few years ago so exuberant with pride and positivity, as a very favorable development. But I do not flatter myself in any way that we can win these people over to our ideas. Instead, I am still of the opinion that I had in 1805 and have often expressed in different ways, that once stuck in this rambling way of thinking, one can never be completely healed of it. People like Fichte, Chalybäus, Weiße, Lindemann, Ahrens, and I would include the pupils of Herbart, are permanently incapable of understanding an orderly thought process, and even if they do understand it for a few moments, they cannot keep it in their minds for long, nor develop it further, as required. Without noticing, they fall back into their infantile image-based games, incomparably easier as they are, of course and, at least for them, more enjoyable. And because a large, a very large, part of our current generation is already more or less infected with this rambling thought, we shall never have an easy time of it, and can only expect to be well received among the young, the people who are still testa recens. [37]

38He clearly injects a dose of personal disappointment into this judgment, towards Fichte the Younger in particular, but also without doubt to Exner, the Herbartian philosopher with whom Bolzano maintained a correspondence, and who persistently did not understand him. We also see in the firmness of his formulation something of the need to calm the ardor of a “very dear” student whose multiple initiatives—making contact and propositions for writing various essays—were often re-framed by Bolzano, in a manner far more skeptical and cautious than his enthusiastic and perhaps over-dedicated disciple. But this bitterness also derives from a lucidity arising in the face of a very real balance of power, an over-optimistic lucidity insofar as his legacy was to be largely betrayed by the “still young” philosophers around him.

39Beyond the question of personal and political relations with the heirs of Schelling and Hegel, it is clear that it was Bolzano’s reading of the debates between these thinkers that determined the judgment he was to bring to bear upon Hegelianism in the Three Essays. Bolzano was aware of the criticisms formulated within late idealism, particularly the conflict between the “young” and the “old” Hegelians. The author of the Life of Jesus (1835), David Friedrich Strauß, who launched this polemical battle, was known to Bolzano, who at first refused to read him. In a response to Fesl on December 4, 1840, he says he only knows of Strauß’s Doctrine of Faith through what he has learned from his correspondent. He already replies on January 7 that he does not need his copy of the Life of Jesus, although he was supposed to write to Strauß, having decided not to bother, wishing to save his time and strength for the “most necessary work.” [38] While the rejection of Strauß is unequivocal, Bolzano was nonetheless aware of the strategic importance of a reply, as evidenced by this letter to Fesl of August 27, 1841.


For the work that Příhonský wants to undertake on Strauß (at the time!), I proposed the title “Dr. D.F. Strauß and Bolzano. A refutation of the former’s Christian Doctrine of faith using concepts that were formulated before he was born.” This proposal pleased Schneider, while Příhonský thought it excessive […] Moreover, it is literally true, as Strauß was born in 1808, and it was in the years 1805 to 1807 that I conceived and explained my views on revelation (concept, possibility, characteristics thereof, the figurative character of its teachings) which refute him; in 1808–1811, I reworked them for myself and have only spoken of them in private and in short critical appendices; then presented in public every year until my dismissal, they have also been available in print since 1834, i.e., for seven years. [39]

41Strauß is even more intolerable for Bolzano since he considers that he has already answered him. In the letter of January 20, 1842, he repeats that Strauß would have written something else entirely if he had read his Lehrbuch der Religionswissenschaft. [40] The “Hegelianism of the left,” which makes Jesus the representative of all mankind, and applies the concept of myth to biblical texts, had little chance of appealing to a philosopher who, while distinguishing philosophy from theology, and trying to reconcile religion with Aufklarung, does not consider Christianity to be a relic of the past, as Strauß was eventually to believe. After some delays, [41] Příhonský took charge of writing the anti-Strauß publication, [42] a work approved of by Bolzano, and written under his direct influence. [43] The manuscript of it can now be found in the Domstift St. Petri library in Bautzen. [44]

42But it was with respect to Feuerbach that Bolzano made clear what was at stake.. He began by treating him little better than Strauß: in his letter to Příhonský of February 25, 1839, he advises him against “reading the book by Feuerbach” and states that the idea for the project of refuting this book comes not from him but from Michael Fesl, [45] once again in the role of Bolzano’s gadfly (Bolzano nicknamed him the Planmacher, “maker of plans”). His intellectual journal of the years 1827–1844 nonetheless contains a long note taken from the work of Feuerbach on Pierre Bayle, a quote he crowns with the title “Sincere confessions of the new philosophy.”


In his Pierre Bayle (Ansbach, 1838), Feuerbach writes, p. 241, “Kant, Fichte and Hegel were on the right path, but Schelling’s absolutism, especially his later writing, despite some insights into nature, amounted to a secession [46] of his idea from philosophy. Hegelian philosophy is the restitutio in integrum[47] of philosophy outside of his secession, during the period of his secession. That which was great, that which was truly philosophical in Hegel’s Logik is exactly what brought him most of his opponents: delivered from the foundations of a subject, in particular an absolute subject (God), he studied the forms of metaphysics and logic in and for themselves. However, he was still marked by the spirit that brought us the secession of philosophy and, with it, the return [48] of all the old superstition, whether in theoretical or practical terms, in short, all the barbarism of this world! What is today called speculative philosophy is largely the least clear and least critical of thing in the world.” [49]

44Here, the basis of the opposition to the “Young Hegelians” is clearly articulated around the issue of the religious reference. While the use of religion for the purpose of the conservation of the social order of his time was rejected by Bolzano, he rejected the atheism of the young Hegelians just as much, which was becoming ever more clearly expressed — an atheism which, as evidenced by Feuerbach’s use of theological concepts, was an inverse Christianity. As a logician, Bolzano probably cared little for the type of genealogy Feuerbach sketches in the rest of the citation noted in his journal:


Motto. “Nothing is more negligent than to consider criticisms, without subjecting that from which they come from to a rigorosum examination, asking it: Who art thou? Do you let yourself be seen in the light? Do you have even the requisite individuality, or the strength to project yourself beyond your limits through thought, into another who is for you, for subjective reasons that are foreign to him, a repugnant being?”
(L. Feuerbach, Peter Bayle, Ansbach, 1838, 183) [50]

46Bolzano must have experienced this tactical and intellectual lesson with a certain amount of irony, he who had been subjected to humiliating examinations and trials before being expelled from the university for reasons that were hardly based on logic or philology. Yet Feuerbach’s motto is read here as a confession. Beyond philosophy, the true objectives of the Hegelian “left” are political, and their radicalism seduced him no more than did the Prussian State. He also maintained a strict distinction between the fields which permit the autonomy of philosophy and theology, but also of politics, while giving a decisive status to religion (defined very broadly as all opinions and rules that have an influence on the virtue and happiness of mankind). [51]

47This double rejection, particularly noticeable at the end of the first essay, where Bolzano argues that the fact that some have gone too far in their “thirst for improvement” (Verbesserungssucht) does not justify “making our peace with everything that exists,” [52] also explains Bolzano’s reference to Hegel’s epigone, von Cieszkowski, in the second essay on history. This figure, virtually unknown to the general (and even the philosophical) public, is nonetheless an important link in young Hegelian radicalism: the “philosopher of action,” who saw in history an organic whole of which the future is also a part, saw in praxis a synthesis of thought and being, which, through Moses Hess, was to influence the young Marx. [53] Praxis was destined to resolve the duality of consciousness and action, but already in von Cieszkowski, philosophy was supposed to serve praxis. This was a vision utterly antithetical to that of Bolzano, who took pains to maintain the autonomy of the intellectual sphere, and thus of conscience. Above all, he was not at all inclined to embrace the magical-ritual belief that theoretical or real contradictions resolve themselves through violent political action, a belief whose consequences would become all too apparent later on. Here, too, Bolzano seems to have sensed what would follow, even if he could not begin to imagine the magnitude of the catastrophe that the partisans of the «philosophy of action», placing philosophy at the service of politics, would inflict on the masses in the following century in the course of «liberating» them.

48Before concluding this consideration of the arguments of the second anti-Hegelian treatise, I must insist that while the issues of Bolzano’s criticism are partly theological and religious, they cannot be limited to this dimension, as Bolzano himself emphasizes. After showing that a God unfolding from himself in the universe and achieving consciousness of himself in humanity would not meet external opposition that could disrupt the regularity of his development (because of his omnipotence), he recalls that the author of this way of philosophizing, namely Schelling, had, along with a number of Hegel’s followers (I.H. Fichte, Weiße and others), long since abandoned this form of pantheism. Recognizing the existence of a being with both totality and absoluteness also implies self-awareness, and the authorship of everything:


It is not necessary, however, to address your pantheism to prove to you the more or less arbitrary contradictions of your doctrine of the development of the World Spirit in all of humanity. Is the human species then the only one in the universe to be rational so that you can perpetually declare that the World Spirit could only and uniquely come to self-awareness there? If we are surrounded by countless other beings, more or less rational than us (which nobody can deny); and if (as it is well established) these other beings also have an influence on the formation of our fates, [54] by what right do you presuppose that the history of humanity should take such a regular course? [55]

50In reply to the Hegelian-inspired theology and philosophy (while also denying that they have any capability of understanding the future, or indeed the past) Bolzano calls upon a Leibnizian God and universe. His response has a coherence of its own, which led him to the concerns of the later critics of Hegel, although his thought is never limited to this, as both his approach and his situation demonstrate.

The Third Essay and the Question of Organicity

51The third essay on Hegel also admits its dependence on contemporary events, starting by expressing Bolzano’s exasperation with the ubiquity of the words “organic” and “organism” in contemporary philosophy. He seems to find it impossible to read a single book where these two words are not printed at least once per page. [56] I will focus here on his criticism in §25 [57] of the notion of organism coming from Kant, insofar as this criticism is also anti-Hegelian, albeit indirectly: in this essay, which is classified among the “anti-Hegeliana” the name of Hegel does not even appear. Bolzano prefers to focus his critique on the one he considers to be the true source of the philosophy he opposes: the idealists are merely tumbling down a slope whose name is Kantianism. In doing so, he attacks not so much Kant himself as a reformulation of the definition found in §66 of The Critique of Judgment[58] that intends to summarize Kant while removing the notion of purpose:


§25. Another popular definition of our time is that first conceived by Kant, but which a German philosopher has but only recently formulated using the following words, after becoming a strong enemy of the presupposition of purpose in research on nature: “There is an organism in a whole when each part only exists through the other, and all only exist through the single force that permeates the whole.” This definition, as it is, contains a literal contradiction. No object A can exist through another object B while the latter exists through the former. If B is the cause of A, then A cannot in return be the cause of B. [59]

53Not content with accusing this definition of being self-contradictory, Bolzano adds that it provides no real criterion: this force that permeates the whole can in fact be nothing other than the final cause of the whole. Yet there is such a cause for all wholes and the parts thereof, which means that the definition does not allow any distinction between a simple whole and an organism. In Bolzano’s ontology, this would mean that every “real” substance, (with the exception of the unconditioned real being), would be the foundation of all the others..

54Bolzano admits that “in the meantime” he came to understand how a definition that misses its goal by so much came to be so widespread. He sees it as further evidence of the disregard in which rigorous thinking was held, but also the need to justify the obvious, namely that the organs of animals and plants do not come into the world for themselves, but assemble themselves (zusammenfügen) or are assembled. Bolzano, however, considers the definition of the organism through the mutual foundation of the parts to be a very vague description of this reciprocal relationship (gegenseitiger Beziehung) or this exchange from one to the other (Füreinanderschicken) which allows one part to contribute to the growth of the other and then to be served by it. [60] To use a vocabulary that is not Bolzano’s, reaction cannot be identical to action or, in Bolzano’s own words:


[…] It’s always something different that exercises an action as a cause on the other and that which through the exercise of a retroactive action of the latter on the former is produced in the former. From this point of view absolutely nothing is happening in the parts of an organism that is different from that which is found in any of a thousand other things that are nothing less than organisms; for example, in the interaction of two boys, one on the other, where one brings many things to the other, and receives other things in return […]. [61]

56Bolzano gives many other examples, as if this pedagogical form were the only way left for him to make this point understood that he saw as essential: the idea of teacher and student, the first learning from the second after having taught him, or the collection he forms with the sheet of paper on which he writes, and which offers in return the opportunity to recall his thoughts. From the moment when organicity is defined as reciprocal action, there is no collection in the universe that cannot be defined as an organism. Bolzano concludes that this concept is not adequate to a project of research into nature which intends to distinguish the organic from the inorganic. It should be noted here that while he criticizes the Kantian formulations, he is not hostile to either the idea of self-organization or the notion of totality; he simply denies that Kant and his followers provide a sufficient criterion for the definition of life.

II – Language, Germanness, and Pantheism

57While rereading Bolzano’s thought in the light of his historical context and its stakes proves it to be more than just a forbear of analytic philosophy, it is also clear that when analytic philosophers call Bolzano the “great ancestor,” it is not because of a mistaken reading. They share the same aversions, in particular, and as we have already mentioned, concerning the use of language. The last paragraph of Bolzano’s Wissenschaflehre is composed primarily of long, commented citations from Hegel, who is accused of willful confusion if not outright “drivel” (faseln). In this same paragraph 718, on the “dialectical method,” Bolzano cites the best evidence of the Hegelian confusion to be the inability of his followers to agree on the question of whether Hegel admits the immortality of the soul or not. [62] He blames the Hegelian rejection of common or strict meanings, [63] his language games, [64] and his art of taking concepts in too broad a sense, or with alternative meanings always left undefined. He gives as an example the use of the term “contradiction” in the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, where it is said that life has needs, and is in this sense a contradiction. Bolzano asks by what right we can take the term contradiction in such a broad sense that every need is a contradiction, [65] before specifying the logical meaning of contradiction. Hegel’s arbitrariness, his use of language as a “nebulous formation” [66] is shown at best in his use of mathematical concepts. Again, however, Bolzano chooses to attack through one of Hegel’s followers, albeit one who was himself critical of Hegel, Christian Weiße:


We can also deduce in what broad and vague sense Mr. W. takes the thesis, the antithesis, and synthesis, and how very much it becomes easy for him, using these magic words, to construct and prove everything that pleases him, such as the way he constructs his three concepts of number, space, and time, and the three dimensions of time. Space is supposed to arise from number by antithesis, and time must arise from them both, by synthesis; then again he proves the tri-dimensionality of space by assuming, with no evidence, that there are three directions perpendicular to each other, and it follows from the pure concept of the number 3 as an original principle, abstracted from any specifications, that there can be nothing other than three. Could we not just as easily prove that time is also three-dimensional, or rather, is it not clear that such demonstrations are nothing more than artificial word games? [67]

59This appalled description could just as easily have come from an analytical philosopher, and there are several examples, including his rejection of Hegel’s use of metaphor. [68] The terminological inflation and the taste for obscurity that characterized German literary production was, for Bolzano, a national trait, and one can see the distance between Germanic groups (“German” and “Austrian” if so inclined) widening when he calls upon the Germans at the end of §697 of the Wissenschaftlehre:


Germans! When will you return from a delusion that only makes you ridiculous and intolerable to your neighbors? [69]

61It should at this point be kept in mind that the cleavages that divided the philosophy between the “Continental” and the “Anglo-Saxon” spaces made no sense to Bolzano, who could hardly have been be more “continental” from the point of view of the history and geography of Europe; nor more anti-idealist, in the German idealist sense. His critique of Kant, his rejection of Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, as well as his distrust of contemporary political developments, absolutely do not imply any outright rejection of Germany or Germanness. In his philosophical journal of 1811–1817, we find a set of notes from his reading of a book by Carl Friedrich Bachmann, On the Philosophy of My Time, [70] in which memories are evoked of “Wolf” who performed a great service by writing in German, of Winkelmann, who awakened the taste for beauty, Herder who was “rich in ideas,” or Goethe, who turned everything he received and perceived into a work of art: all “deserve grateful mention.” [71] Germany finally saw itself described as “the birthplace of thinkers.” [72] While the indirect influence of Bolzano undoubtedly helped to widen the distance between the philosophies of “German” inspiration and those of “Austrian” inspiration, it adds to our understanding of his work to take into consideration the fact that such distinctions did not have such an obvious meaning for him, even though he did not originate any of the political and cultural conflicts between Austria and Germany, and when these already played a role prior to his philosophy.

62The fundamental philosophical refusal and essential line of fracture between Bolzano and Hegel is to be found on the question of pantheism. Linguistic criticism must also be associated here because Bolzano associates Hegel’s refusal to define the terms he employs analytically with what he calls Hegel’s pantheism. A contemporary philosopher of Wittgensteinian inspiration might formulate it differently, but would share a similar distrust of intellectual constructs claiming any kind of absolute meaning. [73] Hegel’s pathos for totality thus explains his refusal to provide definitions, since these are precisely the decomposition of concepts. In Bolzano’s essay On the Concept of Beauty, after quoting several pages of Hegel’s aesthetic essays, he points to the fact that:


Readers cannot find the definition of beauty in these passages; nor in those I have not mentioned; and how can one hope to find a real definition, or the components of this concept, or any other for that matter, in a philosopher who has made it clear that the point of view according to which a concept is composed of parts is a barbarism? [74]

64This absence explains the strategy of Bolzano’s anti-Hegelian responses, which often appear to cling a little too closely to expressions that are not intended to be taken literally. In the absence of definitions, only discussions of Hegel’s various individual statements on any given concept, in this case of beauty. [75] Hegel’s judgment that beauty is the idea as ideal is, for Bolzano, another example of a concept being confused with its object, while his whole philosophy asserts the difference between the ideal and the real, which was also to lead him to criticize the particular conception of truth as equivalency: all that is, and all that is not, correspond to certain concepts, and those concepts that do not correspond to a particular object are not false, they are simply not the concepts of this object, but of another. [76] It is at this point that Bolzano paradoxically finds himself in the company of a thinker he would certainly not have placed above Hegel: Schelling. He refers to Schelling when addressing what Hegel described as the unfolding of the concept in its exteriority, or in the tangible. He quotes Schelling’s preface to Victor Cousin’s work devoted to German and French philosophies, [77] where Cousin says that this externalizing can only be spoken. [78] This reference to an unpopular author is further proof of Bolzano’s ability to use the internal debates of idealism in order to formulate his own critique, which might more readily be called a form of irony, as in the conclusion of §54 on the essay On the Concept of Beauty devoted to Hegel:


It is perhaps not without interest to compare with the way Hegel speaks of beauty in another passage. In the Philosophy of Religion (Werke Band 11, 288), we find, “Beauty is essentially the spiritual, which is externalized in the tangible, but in such a way that the tangible existence does not refer to itself, but immediately represents something other than itself.” According to this, Mephistopheles himself would be beautiful, being unquestionably something spiritual that is externalized in the tangible, in such a way that the tangible immediately represents something other than what he is himself. [79]

66This irony is a reaction to what Bolzano perceives as nonsense, but it should be noted that it is based on a certain textual precision that Bolzano insists upon, above all in comparison with other virulent anti-Hegelians. It is therefore wrong to say that Bolzano refused to take an interest in the philosophy of Hegel. It would be more accurate to say that he was forced to do so. In a letter to Fesl from 1834, while still in the trial-and-error phase of the formulation of his criticism, we read:


For some time, I have been reading much of the writing of Hegel and other contemporary philosophers, but I must confess with sorrow that I don’t understand much of it. In particular, I read the pages of Hegel without being able to guess, at all, what he means with all this, what he intends to praise or blame, and how any of it has to do with the title. From time to time, I understand parts or even all of what he says, but it doesn’t seem at all right, for example his judgment on the phenomenology of spirit, on physiognomy and phrenology, revelation and Christianity, the Trinity, the Incarnation, etc. [80]

68Bolzano attempted, by means of secondary literature, to alleviate his incomprehension—and his “allergy”—and by the time he died, his library contained a large number of books on the subject. [81] His correspondence with students is interspersed with requests for books on Hegel, even if we must note that even authors praised for their clarity, such as Rosenkranz, were sent back without remorse. [82] His ravenous appetite for an author who ostensibly disgusted him demonstrates an effort to identify the universal, including its most radical opposite, which I would call dialectic if it were any author other than Bolzano. Few Hegelians or anti-Hegelians could boast the same appetite. Thus, in the Wissenschaflehre we find passages where he readily highlights occasions where his views seem closer to those of Hegel, in the preface for example, where we find that like Hegel, he believes that the concept of science and the scientific method are the front line of logic, [83] or where, like Hegel, he prefers the term “absence of contradiction” to the term “formal truth.” [84] These are attempts to find common ground between the most opposite of thinking, but they reveal Bolzano’s approach, just as much as his irony or his tirades against the Hegelian use of language, for which he expressed his regret in a note meant for the corrections to the Wissenschaflehre, saying without malice about one of his developments on Hegel’s obscurantism that he was “only preaching.” [85]

69For Bolzano it was not only important to curb the advance of a philosophy he judged to have had a deplorable influence. [86] It was also about enabling the dissemination of clearer concepts, for example his concept of the real infinite, against Hegel’s recognition of God alone as infinite, and Hegel’s concept of mathematical infinity or “false infinity” as a simple lack of limits:


[…] we call God infinite because we recognize unto Him strengths of many kinds, each of which has an infinite magnitude. […] What other concept of true infinite would we wish to impose in place of this? We are told that infinity is a whole (All) comprising any thing, the whole being absolute, and without which there is nothing. From this, it would be an infinite comprised of an infinity of things, according to our definition. It would be the collection, not only of all real things, but also all those which have no reality, proposals and truths in themselves. And thus, even apart from all other errors from which this doctrine of the whole has been woven, there would be absolutely no reason to abandon our concept of infinity in favor of it. [87]

71In hoping not only to reject most of Hegelian philosophy as nonsense, but also to include some elements of it, however widely dispersed, or at least to recognize some points of agreement, Bolzano completes the intellectual approach that constitutes his own style, and which joins “catholic” universalism with irony, because if sense is to be found wherever there is humanity, so too is nonsense.

72This rather modest attempt to identify the main reasons for Bolzano’s anti-Hegelianism and to sketch out its major traits does not purport to be exhaustive, but intends to identify ways in which Bolzano can be read, or perhaps should not be read. Beyond the political question of the role of Germany and the philosophical use of the German language, and the question of the role of definitions in philosophy, his thoughts on infinity, the whole-part relationship, and his critique of truth-equivalency are also involved. Most importantly, it is impossible for Bolzano to think, like Hegel, of relationships between the idea and the real as a question of incarnation, which explains that for him the Hegelian distinction between being (Sein) and presence (Dasein) in the opening of Wissenschaft der Logik (§39-41) is arbitrary. [88] The representations themselves exist, while the real is characterized by causal action, wirken, and is therefore a Wirklichkeit, but the relationship between representations in themselves and reality is, for Bolzano, conceived of as objectuality (the existence of the object of the concept).

73We have had to leave a deeper analysis of the theological questions aside. Bolzano distinguishes these from philosophical questions as we saw in his declaration that there is no need to attack Hegelian pantheism to show the arbitrariness of its concept of the development of the World Spirit. Because this question calls for a reconstruction that can only be briefly outlined within the framework of this article, it will be dealt with elsewhere. Finally, it remains important to note that however strident Bolzano’s criticism of Hegel might be, it is not a decree of permanent and definitive sterility; Bolzano’s “catholicism” precludes such an end. As is often the case, this last point offers the best guide to reading Bolzano’s own reading of Hegel, and the use he makes of the Hegelian texts.

74In his Lehrbuch der Religionswissenschaft, §63, paragraph 4, he argues:


I do not deny that a number of valuable thoughts appear in the writings of contemporary philosophers [against whom I have made the above list of reproaches]. We nevertheless owe it to ourselves, it seems to me, at least to warn young people against such books, if only for the simple reason that they have tendency to adopt this easy way of philosophizing, far easier than rigorous thinking, and can thus become such a habit that they are lost to any kind of orderly thought for the rest of their lives. [89]

76It therefore takes a mature reader, armed with a strong sense of logic, to strike out into the dense Hegelian forest, and to come back with a meager, but real harvest. While Bolzano’s reading of Hegel is prohibited, he does not prohibit the reading of Hegel. Rather his reading is an ethic of the confrontation which, again, places him as much among the “continental,” as the “Anglo-Saxon” philosophers. It even occurs to him, in his Additions and Improvements to Wissenschaft der Logik (originally intended to appear in the corrections of the Wissenschaflehre) to emphasize what appears to be a truth offered by Hegel, albeit in his criticism of Kant:


The untenable nature of the Kantian method of deduction of obligations from his supreme moral law is clearly shown by Hegel, with the example on the obligation to help the poor (if that duty was followed universally, it would become obsolete, because there would be no more poor). The same for the example introduced by Kant himself concerning our duties when faced with a sum of money and certain moral situations (the depositum example) in which we are asked what the effect would be if there were no money.
[in Uiber die wissenschaftlichen Behandlungsarten of Naturrechts, Sämtliche Werke B.1 S. 356, 352.] [90]

78The same applies to the Hegelian critique of Kant’s second antinomy concerning the existence or nonexistence of simple parts, [91] and even calls his critique of the Kantian critique of proofs of the existence of God “largely understandable and relevant.” [92] Whatever the status we are to give to these notes (and the understanding they demonstrate of Kantian philosophy, which is certainly debatable), they show that Bolzano’s reading of Hegel has an inspirational value for him, at least in terms of learning, and in the formulation of his own position in opposition. However, as the references given here were ultimately intended to correct the Wissenschaftslehre, we can assume that their development and implementation may have nuanced even further the reading we have proposed concerning the Bolzano-Hegel relationship. All this is said without a misplaced ecumenism, as other notes point to a deepening and hardening of certain criticisms, particularly concerning the political sphere. [93] Our understanding of Bolzano’s relationship to Hegel must therefore be further refined, but at least there is no risk of losing their oppositions in some dark night in which all Bolzano-Hegelian cats become gray! [94]


  • [1]
    Bolzano, Bernard. Vermischte philosophische und physikalische Schriften 1832–1848, volume II, Berg, Jan (ed.) in Bernard Bolzano, Gesamtausgabe, Winter, Eduard, Jan Berg, Friedrich Kambartel, Jaromír Loužil, and Bob van Rootselaar (eds.). (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog Verlag) [Hereafter abbreviated to BGA. When the pagination of the first edition is given in the margin, I will show it first, followed by the pagination of the BGA], for this reference BGA 2 A, 12/2, 128. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jean Seidengart, Venanzio Raspa, Stefano Besoli and Lorenzo Fossati, as well as Marie-Élizabeth Ducreux and Paul Rusnock for their comments on earlier versions of this text. An earlier version of this article appeared in Italian, translated by Venanzio Raspa “Bolzano e Hegel” Discipline Filosofiche (2011), 2, “Bernard Bolzano e la tradizione filosofica,” 153–178.
  • [2]
    Lapointe, Sandra. Bolzano’s Theorerical Philosophy. An Introduction (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
  • [3]
    Ibid.., 12.
  • [4]
    BGA 1, 14/3, 18.
  • [5]
    See BGA 2B, 17. These are notes on the Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse (1817) and the Wissenschaft der Logik (1812–13 and 1816) in which several themes and disagreements are already outlined (see especially the critique of Hegel’s conception of becoming, 88–89). Hegel’s name appears first in notes from 1803–1810 in a paragraph devoted to popular education through preaching, but the passage is illegible. (See BGA 2B, 15, 161).
  • [6]
    Winter, Eduard. and Wilhelm Zeil. (eds.) Wissenschaft und Religion im Vormärz. (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1965), 243, 236.
  • [7]
    Ibid., 367.
  • [8]
    For his presentation of the essays, see the introduction by Jaromír Loužil in BGA 2 A, 12/ 3, 37–41 (page 37 for the reference to Příhonský); and Příhonský, Franz. “Vorrede des Herausgebers” [Editor’s Foreword] in Drei philosophische Abhandlungen, Leipzig: Reclam sen., 1851, IV–V.
  • [9]
    Letter from Bolzano to Fesl, May 22, 1847 in Winter, Eduard and Wilhelm Zeil. Wissenschaft und Religion im Vormärz. (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1965), 394, and Loužil, Jaromír, BGA 2 A, 12/ 3, 38.
  • [10]
    Loužil, Jaromír. BGA 2 A, 12/ 3, 228.
  • [11]
    Gans, Eduard (ed.). G.W.F. Hegel’s Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts oder Naturrecht und Staatswissenschaft im Grundrisse, Berlin: Duncker und Humblot, 1833.
  • [12]
    Loužil, Jaromír. BGA 2 A, 12/ 3, 39.
  • [13]
    See the letter to Fesl dated February 2, cited above, and the letter to Příhonský of March 21, 1846, in BGA 3, 3/3, 602.
  • [14]
    More precisely “Drei philosophische Abhandlungen, welche auch von Nichtphilosophen sehr wohl verstanden werden können, und vier akademische Reden von allgemein menschlichem Interesse. Aus Dr. Bernard Bolzano’s schriftlichem Nachlasse” Příhonský, Franz (éd.). Leipzig: Carl Heinrich Reclam sen., 1851.
  • [15]
    Příhonský, Franz. Drei philosophische Abhandlungen…, Footnote “*” on page 26. See also BGA 2 A, 12/ 3, 63.
  • [16]
    BGA 2 A, 12/3, 4 and 47.
  • [17]
    BGA 2 A, 12/3, 6 and 49.
  • [18]
    BGA 2 A, 12/3, 49.
  • [19]
    Mager, Dr. Karl (or Carl) Wilhelm Eduard. Brief an eine Dame über die Hegelsche Philosophie. Berlin: Morin, 1837. This book is indicated in the catalog of Bolzano’s library. See Berg, Jan and Edgar Morscher (eds.). Bernard Bolzanos Bibliothek, volume 1, Beiträge zur Bolzano-Forschung Band 14, Sankt Augustin: Academia Verlag, 2002, 74.
  • [20]
    Mager, Karl. Brief an eine Dame…, 20 and 59. It is indeed “Mager”, and not “Mayer”, as indicated in the BGA, which reprises the edition of 1851, which itself refers to “Schreiben an eine Dame über Philosophie, by a certain Dr. Mayer.” Contrary to note 9 of BGA 2 A, 12/3, 59, the book has been found, and is described in Berg, Jan and Edgar Morscher. (eds.) Bernard Bolzanos Bibliothek, volume II, Beiträge zur Bolzano-Forschung Band 15, Sankt Augustin: Academia Verlag, 2002, 255, which corrects Loužil’s edition. According to the bibliographical references given in Volume II of Bernard Bolzanos Bibliothek, 255, the work was probably read in full by Bolzano—it is therefore quite possible that he used the pedagogical work of Dr.. Mager as his introduction to the work of Hegel.
  • [21]
    August von Cieszkowski. Prolegomena zur historiosophie, (Berlin: Veit und bei Comp., 1838).
  • [22]
    BGA 2 A, 12/3, 23 and 61.
  • [23]
    BGA 2 A, 12/3, 25–26 / 63. Příhonský adds a note here explaining “Since the author wrote this, many things have changed on this point.” BGA 2 A, 12/3, 26 / 63 in particular. Bolzano also notes in the same essay that, after having been being pushed into the background by Schelling and Hegel, Kant was making a comeback. BGA 2 A, 12/3 44 / 76–77.
  • [24]
    BGA 2 A, 12/3, 27 / 64.
  • [25]
    That humanity progresses implies that human institutions which once contributed greatly to that progress have since become obstacles. Bolzano cites the “decisive and remarkable” example of the “Mosaic religion” BGA 2 A, 12/3, 15 / 55. As a good Catholic, Bolzano emphasizes the continuity of the Old and New Testaments, and defends the Jews against their persecutors, always hoping for their conversion. He underlines the contributions of the Jewish religion while remaining ignorant of the cultural activity of the Jewish ghetto near which he lived. For a description of his political commitment against Jewish persecution, read, Künne, Wolfgang “Fürsprecher der Juden böhmischen. Der Philosoph Bernard Bolzano, Prag und der ‚christliche‘ Judenhass” in Tribüne. Zeitschrift zum Verständnis des Judentums Jahrgang 1993, 127, 107–117. For a critical and nuanced analysis of his relation to Judaism, read, Demetz, Peter. “Bolzano über Christen und Juden” in Strasser, Kurt (ed.). Bernard Bolzanos bessere Welt. Akten der Internationalen Tagung Salzburg, 27 und 28 May 2010. Brno: L. Marek, 2011 (= Deus et gentes. Husitská teologická fakulta Univerzity Karlovy v Praze): 39–49.
  • [26]
    BGA 2 A, 12/3, 29–30 / 66.
  • [27]
    “neue Willkürlichkeiten,” BGA 2 A, 12/3, 35–36 / 70 for the whole passage.
  • [28]
    BGA 2 A, 12/3, 36 / 70–71.
  • [29]
    BGA 2 A, 12/3, 37–38 / 71–72, he argues that, in the intellectual sphere, the Great Man often develops his original ideas before encountering the theories of his predecessors, making it difficult to improve upon the past. This was the case for Bolzano himself, who already at age sixteen questioned the foundations of mathematics and was highly irritated by what he considered to be a lack of foundational work in the literature accessible to him. There is nothing, however, to make us believe he was thinking of his own example.
  • [30]
    BGA 2 A, 12/3, 39 / 72–73.
  • [31]
    BGA 2 A, 12/3, 48–49 / 79–80. Reference is made to the work of Heinrich Moritz Chalybäus, “Natur und Geistesphilosophie…” in Fichte, Immanuel Hermann. (ed.) Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie spekulative. Dritter Band (Bonn: bei Eduard Weber, 1839), 192–193.
  • [32]
    In a letter dated October 20, 1837 to Příhonský, he recommends reading Historische Entwicklung der speculativen Philosophie von Kant bis Hegel (Dresden, 1837), as “very serious and understandable” and which “should be of great service” at least from what he read of it. “Of greater importance still, from a certain point of view” was the work of Joseph Willm, Essai sur la philosophie de Hegel (first part and, introduction, Extrait de la revue germanique, année 1835 (Strasbourg/Paris, 1835)) See BGA 3, 3/2, 394, and BGA 3, 3/3, 789 for specific references from Willm.
  • [33]
    BGA 3, 3/2, 391.
  • [34]
  • [35]
    Ibid., 475.
  • [36]
    Ibid., 510 and 520, letters from January 2/7, and April 13, 1842.
  • [37]
    Letter to Michael Fesl, August 24, 1846 in Winter, Eduard and Wilhelm Zeil. (eds.) Wissenschaft und Religion im Vormärz (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1965, 379. The author of this article (GP) wishes to clarify that he worked on Hegel before encountering Bolzano. In his letter of March 8, 1839, the latter nevertheless believed that “Fichte himself, Weiße, and especially Chalybäus, have more or less completely already denied Hegel,” and he said that it sometimes seemed to him that it would suffice to place some excerpts from the Wissenschaftslehre under their noses. (Ibid.,248).
  • [38]
    Ibid., 236.
  • [39]
    Ibid., 308.
  • [40]
    Ibid., 314.
  • [41]
    In his letter to Příhonský from 2/7 January 1842, Bolzano replies that the first volume of Christliche Glaubenslehre by Strauß is to be found in a corner at Robert Zimmermann’s home. On April 1, 1842 he admits that he has not yet started the second volume. BGA 3, 3/2, 509 and 517.
  • [42]
    Bolzano praises the project in his letter of February 23, 1844 to its potential author (BGA 3, 3/2, 555). He began reading the manuscript of his pupil on June 27, 1844, but complained of not being able to advance fast enough (BGA 3, 3/2, 560). It was not until 1847 that Bolzano was to give his imprimatur to Příhonský, his Anti-Kant and Straußiana being “good enough” to be published. BGA 3, 3/3, 667.
  • [43]
    In a letter dated June 27, 1844, Bolzano regrets that the notes he has written on the works of Strauß have increased the workload of his pupil. BGA 3, 3/2, 561.
  • [44]
    D.D.F. Strauß in seiner christlichen Glaubenlehre widerlegt, ehe er geboren ward durch die Ansichten des D. Bernard Bolzano. Signature “M.I.291” Pages 2–65 (of 386) have numerous annotations by Bolzano according to BGA 3, 3/3, 782. For practical, notably editorial, reasons, a systematic reconstruction of the debate will have to wait for further research using these manuscripts.
  • [45]
    BGA 3, 3/2, 434. This is probably historical-critical work on Leibniz, or more likely on Pierre Bayle, and not Feuerbach’s Das Wesen des Christentums, published in 1841. In his letter of September 1, 1843 to Fesl, Bolzano writes that Robert Zimmermann has been reading this work “in my home,” alongside his study of physics. Winter, Eduard and Wilhelm Zeil. (eds.) Wissenschaft und Religion im Vormärz. 332.
  • [46]
    Vom Glauben abfallen: apostasy. Abfall also refers more generally to waste, or trash.
  • [47]
    “Rehabilitation” or “full restitution” after cancellation of a contract. This term originally referred to the rehabilitation of a Roman citizen who had lost his status.
  • [48]
    The term Wiederkunft is most often used to describe Christ’s return.
  • [49]
    BGA 2, 18/2, 60–61.
  • [50]
    Ibid., 61.
  • [51]
    I permit myself to recommend an introductory study I have written concerning these questions: “Bolzano: la liberté de penser entre État et religion” Sens public, September 29, 2010. (consulted February 15, 2012).
  • [52]
    BGA 2 A, 12/3, 60.
  • [53]
    Such was the vision of Guy Debord, who had von Cieszkowski’s Prolegomena zur historiosophie translated from the German by Michel Jacob and published as Prolégomènes à l’historiosophie, Paris: Champ Libre, 1973. In a letter to Gianfranco Sanguinetti, dated August 26, 1973, Debord writes: “I am sending you an extraordinary book, which I believe I have saved from the most complete oblivion (even in Germany), and had it published by Champ Libre. This is one of the most important books of the nineteenth century; a crucial hub between Hegel and the young Marx (published one year before the writings of Feuerbach, and far more important than Feuerbach), which foreshadows several facets of the foundational theses of the I.S.” in Correspondence, V, Paris: Arthème Fayard, 2005, 78. See, however, page 80 (letter to Jaap Klosterman, August 27, 1973) on the “forgotten wonder” detected “in a vague footnote of a Rubel or a Cornu.” In a letter to Thomas Levin of April 24, 1989, Debord reiterates that von Cieszkowski is “the missing link in the chain that connects Hegelian-Marxist thinking to the young I.S. Unfortunately, I was only able detect the existence of this ‘black hole’ in the history of thought, and have it translated by Champ Libre after 1972!” Correspondence, VII (Paris: Arthème Fayard, 2008), 84.
  • [54]
    Bolzano notes in the margin that a minuscule change in the mix of the elements can entirely overwhelm a small people (consider epidemics, for example).
  • [55]
    BGA 2 A, 12/3, 28–29 / 65.
  • [56]
    Ibid., 83.
  • [57]
    Ibid., 69–71 and 95–96.
  • [58]
    This reformulation is nevertheless not so far removed from the Kantian model. Indeed, consulting §66 of The Critique of Judgment, entitled “Of the principle of judging of internal purposiveness in organised beings,” we find the teleological definition in question: “This principle, which is at the same time a definition, is as follows: An organised product of nature is one in which every part is reciprocally purpose, [end] and means.” But this teleology is built on a reciprocity of cause and effect. §65 aims to determine the existence of causal relationships involving dependence in both the ascending and descending directions, and it is required of a thing, to be a natural end, “For a thing to be a natural purpose in the first place it is requisite that its parts (as regards their being and their form) are only possible through their reference to the whole. […] secondly that its parts should so combine in the unity of a whole that they are reciprocally cause and effect of each-other’s form.” [English translations of §65 and §65 excerpts by J.H Bernard (1860–1927), Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgment, Online Library of Liberty,
  • [59]
    BGA 2 A, 69 / 95.
  • [60]
    Ibid., 70 / 95.
  • [61]
    Ibid., 70 / 96.
  • [62]
    BGA 1, 14/3, 652–653 / 258.
  • [63]
    For example, Ibid., 648 / 255 “in the thinking of these philosophers, we have no right to take the expressions in a strict sense.”
  • [64]
    See note to §40 of the Wissenschaftslehre on the disappearance of doubt, BGA 1, 11/1, 171 / 194.
  • [65]
    BGA 1, 14/3, 651 / 257. See also the Wissenschaftslehre §45, paragraph 8, BGA 1, 11/1, 211–212 / 229–230: Hegel invents contradictions where there are none.
  • [66]
    Ibid., (Nebelgebilde), 651 / 257. In this same page, Bolzano asks how a method can be declared identical to its object.
  • [67]
    Ibid., 656 / 261-262.
  • [68]
    See §285 of the Wissenschaftslehre, where it is noted that with the exception of Hegel, no logician has ever thought to explain the logical sense of schliessen (to infer, to conclude, but also to close) by using it as a locksmith might. BGA 1, 13/1, 75 / 91–92.
  • [69]
    Ibid., 590 / 201.
  • [70]
    Ibid., 79–85 / 186–198. The notes are from the reading of Carl Friedrich Bachmann, Uiber die Philosophie meiner Zeit. Eine Vermittlung. (Jena: im Verlage der Gröterschen Buchhandlung, 1816).
  • [71]
    Ibid., 79–80 / 186.
  • [72]
    Ibid., 80 / 186. Kant is one of these great minds. These notes must be interpreted with a great deal of prudence, in so far as they are almost entirely a pure and simple copy of Bachmann’s book. However, from page 80 / 187 onwards, Bolzano occasionally mentions that he is quoting, and explicitly takes his distance on several occasions, even if towards the end he takes account of the passages on Reason inspired by Hegel with which he cannot agree, without ever making his disagreement clear (see Ibid., 84–85 / 197–198). However the propositions of Bachmann Wolff, Lessing, and Goethe annotated insofar as they are in agreement, and given what we know of Bolzano’s relationship with these authors, allows us to guess that the faithful copy shows at least a partial harmony between Bolzano and Bachmann on this particular point.
  • [73]
    Bolzano probably owes his reading of Spinoza as pantheism to his reading of Herder. The dialogue on the philosophy of Spinoza is indeed in his library, in the 1800 edition. See Berg, Jan and Edgar Morscher (eds.) Bernard Bolzanos Bibliothek, Part I, 85. Spinoza and the German Idealists are indeed associated in a critique of “omnis determinatio est negatio” in §89 of the Wissenschaftslehre. BGA 1, 11/2, 424 / 226. See also §483 of the Wissenschaftslehre (“Principles”). BGA 1, 14 /2, 28 ff.
  • [74]
    BGA 1, 18, 81 / 200.
  • [75]
  • [76]
    A concept Bolzano takes a little further against the definition of the idea as “truth,” which cannot be attributed to something existing, since it is a predicate of propositions. BGA 1, 18, 83 / 203.
  • [77]
    Preface to: Victor Cousin über französische und deutsche Philosophie. Aus dem Französischen von Dr. Hubert Beckers. Nebst einer beurtheilenden Vorrede des Herrn Geheimenraths von Schelling (Stuttgart / Tübingen: in der J.G. Cotta’schen Buchhandlung, 1834). Bolzano refers to page XIII, where the text given could not be found, although the citation, in its approximate version, is true to Schelling’s criticism that the logical—in the absence of intervention by philosophizing subjectivity—has no property by which it can transform itself in nature, in order to return to its own form.
  • [78]
    BGA 1, 18, 83 / 202–203. The quote is certainly inaccurate, but in agreement with the passage on page XV, where Schelling waxes ironic about the “presupposition of this philosophy supposedly without presuppositions” according to which a purely logical concept has the ability to change itself into its opposite. Footnote, 178 / 203.
  • [79]
    Ibid., 207.
  • [80]
    Winter, Eduard and Wilhelm Zeil. (eds.) Wissenschaft und Religion im Vormärz. 72.
  • [81]
    See Bernard Bolzanos Bibliothek, I and II. There are dozens of volumes in which Hegelian philosophy is discussed.
  • [82]
    Consider Bolzano’s pun: “So no one wants to keep the Rosenkranz? [rosary in German] Now we see what rotten Catholics you are!” Winter, Eduard and Wilhelm Zeil (eds.) Wissenschaft und Religion im Vormärz, 490. Yet Rosenkranz was read with interest and led Bolzano to revise his judgment on Hegel the man, who became both more nuanced and steelier to him: “The biography of Hegel by Rosenkranz also pleased me very much, and I learned to respect and love, as a man, the philosopher whom, as such, I could never have any kindness, and I wish to make honorable amends for the injustice that I have visited upon him sometimes when I have represented him as a man imbued with himself or even as a cheat who deceives with his incomprehensible philosophemes. He seems to me now rather as some pathetic copyist, always holding the latest opinion as the truest and has duped no-one, but has himself been duped.” Winter, Eduard and Wilhelm Zeil (eds.). Wissenschaft und Religion im Vormärz, letter of August 1, 1844, 341–342.
  • [83]
    BGA 1, 11/1, 16 / 45.
  • [84]
    Ibid., 142 / 166.
  • [85]
    “We are only preaching! There is no consequence to it.” Ibid., 62.
  • [86]
    In a letter to Příhonský, Bolzano writes about the reprint of Hegel’s Wissenschaft der Logik as a sign of the times, and its influence on Catholic theology as a “retrograde motion.” (BGA 3/3, 177).
  • [87]
    Les Paradoxes de l’infini, translated into French by Hourya Sinaceur (amended) (Paris: Seuil, 1993), 66–67. German edition: Dr Bolzanos Paradoxien des Unendlichen (Leipzig: bei Reclam sen., 1851), 8–9.In a letter to Romang of May 1, 1847, Bolzano writes of replacing the “self-contradictory” Hegelian concept of the absolute, with his own concept of infinity (BGA 3, 4, 158), and refers his correspondent to §87 of the Wissenschaftslehre, where Hegel is not cited, but where many erroneous views on the subject are alluded to. BGA 1, 11, 410 / 213. For a general and accurate overview of the Bolzanian reflections on infinity, see Sebestik, Jan. Logique et mathématique chez Bernard Bolzano (Paris: Vrin, 1992), 435–474. Bolzano also accuses Hegel of a misuse of the infinite as an aesthetic, in that he calls any form of limitlessness an infinite. BGA 1, 18, 205.
  • [88]
    See Improvements and Additions to Hegel’s Logik from the writings of 1832–1848 in BGA 2 A, 12/2, 103. See also page 136 on Hegelian developments on the subject of “nothingness” described as confusion between the object and its concept, as well as page 46 on the impossibility of defining anything through relationships alone, where he is faced with the difficulty of defining the status of misshapen children following the Hegelian approach: the issue is dealt with in §559 of the Wissenschaftslehre, BGA 1, 14/2 347– 349 / 185–187.
  • [89]
    BGA 1, 6/1, 168 / 197.
  • [90]
    BGA 2 A, 12/2, 57. The passage from Kant to which he alludes is in the Critique of Practical Reason §4, Theorem III, note. The edition of Hegel cited is Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s Werke. Vollständige Ausgabe durch einen Verein von Freunden of Verewigten, Band 1 (Berlin, 1832), 321–423.
  • [91]
    Ibid., 105.
  • [92]
    Ibid., 158 and 174: “Ontological proof of God’s existence. Hegel has fully explained it once in a satisfactorily manner in terms of content, even though it was not in terms of form.”
  • [93]
    Ibid.,, 84 on the question of the monarchy, “the most perfect regime” according to Hegel.
  • [94]
    The theme of this article has already been discussed in several publications, among them Zelený, Jindřich “Hegel und Bolzano als Logiker” Veröffentlicht vom Institut für Philosophie und Soziologie der Akademie der Wissenschaften Tschechoslowakischen (Praha, 1981): 23 pages. There is also a Czech version, if I am to believe the supplement to Bolzano’s bibliography, but it has not been consulted. See also Berg, Jan and Edgar Morscher (eds.). Ergänzungen und Korrekturen zur Bolzano-Bibliographie, Stand: Ende 1981 (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog Verlag, 1982), 58. But it is especially Helmut Metzler in particular who has published the most oft-consulted works. These are: 1 “Bemerkungen über das Verhältnis B.P. J. Bolzanos zu F.W.J. Schelling” in Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Friedrich-Schiller Universität Jena, Gesellschafts- und Sprachwissenschaftliche Reihe 25 (Jena, 1976), 151–156 (which also discusses Hegel); 2. “Bolzanos Lehre vom Gegensatz in ihrem produktiven Kritikverhältnis zur Hegelschen Widerspruchsdialektik,” in Bernard Bolzano 1781-1848. Studien und Quellen (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1981), 56–80; 3. “Bolzano und die klassische deutsche Philosophie” in Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie, 29, 7 (Berlin, 1981): 820–831. The supplement to the Bolzano bibliography also indicates another article that could not be consulted “Bernard Bolzanos Beitrag zum Gestaltwandel der Logik” in Impact (1). See Ergänzungen und Korrekturen…, 43. Metzler’s philological effort in the last article published in Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie is most worthy of attention (see pages 824 and 826 et seq.). These works certainly contain vague, ambiguous, and abstract language with which they attempt a reconciliation of Bolzano and Hegelianism or of materialist dialectics, or regret that it is not possible. In “Bolzano und die klassische deutsche Philosophie,” Metzler writes “His narrowly rationalist view of the Enlightenment, nonetheless prevented Bolzano from denying Hegel dialectically, as he returns to Marx and Engels” (sic, Ergänzungen und Korrekturen, 823) I think I’ve shown here why trying to associate Bolzano with the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands of the now defunct GDR was and remains a philological nonsense, whether this attempt is part of a genuine ideological loyalty or a concession to censorship, as interpretative charity demands we believe. Although his politics may well be qualified as socialist or communist in some sense, his philosophy can certainly not be designated as “materialistic” or “Marxist,” either before or after its time. Conversely the attempt to show that Bolzano’s concept of contradiction was formed in an early debate with Hegel, and therefore “depends” in some sense upon this confrontation is honestly defended by Metzler, certainly relying heavily on Bolzano’s early journals. That Bolzano developed his thinking in this debate is not in contradiction with my thesis as stated here. H. Metzler, however, sometimes goes too far in his desire for rapprochement with the idealists. Thus when citing notes of 1817–1827, he forgets to quote the first part of the remark preceding Bolzano’s semicolon in the following: “The merits Schelling in the formation of the philosophy of nature should not remain unchallenged after further examination; nevertheless, the role as a powerful stimulant is also a merit.” (BGA 2 B, 17). One of the forms taken by the anti-Hegelian polemic of Bolzano lies in a reminder of Hegel’s intellectual debt to Schelling; he also readily admits a certain talent in both. His entire position lies in the “nevertheless.”

Bolzano’s antipathy to Hegel’s writings is emphasized in almost every discussion of his philosophy. Yet even though he rejected the Hegelian way of thinking more than any other, he sought, in line with the strictures of his intellectual ethics, to familiarize himself with it. The purpose of this article is to refine our understanding of Bolzano’s relation to Hegel. To begin with, I shall reconstruct the polemic of his Three Essays, and show that although it intersects with forms of anti-Hegelianism that have since become canonical (for example, in his criticisms of Hegel’s philosophy of history), it does so in a special context which makes the latter more precise. I shall then analyze the philosophical differences that guide Bolzano’s reading of Hegel, differences which impelled him to criticize a philosopher and a school which he thought embodied a social and intellectual decline. The main points of difference underlying the polemic of the Three Essays concern the roles of language and philosophy, the relation between representations and reality, and the definition of the infinite. A full appreciation of Bolzano’s position, however, can only come from consulting his other works.


L’allergie de Bolzano à l’œuvre de Hegel est un fait souligné dans presque toutes les présentations de sa pensée. Pourtant, conformément à son éthique intellectuelle, il a tenté de se familiariser avec cette philosophie qu’il rejetait plus que toute autre. Il a même, tardivement, reconnu qu’il pouvait s’y trouver des propositions justes. Afin d’affiner la compréhension de la relation de Bolzano à Hegel, on se propose ici de reconstruire la polémique des Trois essais sur Hegel en montrant qu’elle recoupe bien des formes d’anti-hégélianisme devenues canoniques (la critique de la philosophie de l’histoire notamment), mais dans un contexte qui lui est propre et la spécifie. Dans un second temps, on reviendra sur les divergences philosophiques à l’origine de la nécessité pour Bolzano de critiquer un auteur et ses disciples, dans lesquels il voit une forme de régression intellectuelle et sociale, divergences qui imposent et orientent une lecture. Ces divergences sur la compréhension du rôle du langage et de la philosophie, du rapport des représentations au réel, ou sur la définition de l’infini, sont sous-jacentes à la polémique des Trois essais, mais on doit en chercher la formulation dans le reste du corpus bolzanien.

Gaëtan Pégny
Centre Marc Bloch / Paris Ouest Nanterre
Uploaded on on 03/03/2014
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