“Absolute” Knowledge?

The term “absolute” in Hegelian absolute knowledge refers only to a certain finality and stability of its form, not to any claim of infallibility or omniscience on the side of content. Intended for earthly actualization and thus finite in that sense (as distinct from Hegel’s sense of “finite” as what is viewed in isolation), it also does not involve any infinite or immediate reflexivity. As a first approximation, it is simply the result of a thorough renunciation of implicit pretensions of Mastery — that is to say, it is a result of the abstraction or subtraction of something from ordinary knowledge, not of the acquisition of some kind of super powers.

At the risk of courting paradox, it might be said that “absolute” knowledge is absolute precisely because it recognizes itself as relative, and true freedom is freedom from false freedom.

This is related not only to an abstract recognition that finite concepts in general are provisional and that understandings in general are context-dependent. It is also requires concrete recognition that each finite concept we actually use is in principle provisional and subject to question, and that each understanding we actually rely on implicitly involves a dependence upon context, therefore also on an assessment of context that can be questioned.

Hegel offers two further developments of this. The first is associated with the perspective that “substance is also subject”. The second is a related one involving overcoming modern thought’s characteristic separation of subject and object. While the mention of either of these may initially raise further questions, they are not difficult to grasp once explained. (See also Rationality.)