Absolute (Lat. absolutus, absolved, freed from all extrinsic conditions, complete in itself, and dependent on no other cause), a term much used in modern philosophy, especially by Schelling, Hegel, Cousin, and their followers. As used by them it stands opposed to the relative, for independent, unconditioned, self-existent being, or being in itself, which they contend is the primitive in all thought, and the ultimate in all science, and the object of immediate intuition. In their language the absolute means, or is intended to mean, the Infinite, God himself, regarded simply as pure being, Das reine Seyn. Sir "William Hamilton denies that absolute and infinite are identical, and that in the sense of the infinite - the unconditioned - the absolute is an object of intuition. He confines all philosophy, therefore, to the finite, the relative, the conditioned. To think, he says, is to condition, and there is no intuition without thought. The absolute and relative can be thought only as correlatives, each connoting the other, and, therefore, only as conditioned.
He is answered by those who profess the philosophy of the absolute, that, although the term may be used to express an idea different from that of the unconditioned, or the infinite, and although to think is, in a cer- , tain sense, to condition, yet the condition is, in the thought itself, always apprehended as the condition of the subject, never as the condition of the object. Certainly the finite can apprehend the infinite only in a finite mode or manner, but to apprehend it even in a finite mode or manner is still to apprehend the infinite. It is not necessary to the reality of human knowledge that it should be adequate to the object, for if it were there could be no human knowledge at all. They reply further, that the relative is inconceivable without the absolute. What is not, is not intelligible; and since the relative is not and cannot be without the absolute, the conditioned without the unconditioned, there can be no intuition of the former without a simultaneous intuition of the latter, nor are they intuitively apprehended precisely as correlatives, each as conditioned by the other; for in the intuition itself the absolute is apprehended as the cause or creator of the relative, the unconditioned as conditioning the conditioned.
There is another controversy even among those who are termed ontologists, and who profess to find in the intuition of unconditioned being the principle of philosophy - whether the pure being, the absolute, the unconditioned being, asserted by Cousin and the German school, and which they identify, or attempt to identify, with God, is real living being, real living God, or after all only a logical abstraction. A class of modern philosophers, among whom may be mentioned Vincenzo Gioberti as the most distinguished, maintain that, as the terms the absolute, the infinite, the unconditioned are evidently abstract terms, the idea they express is and can be only a logical abstraction, formed by the mind operating upon its own conception, and eliminating from them all conception of space, time, bounds, conditions, or relativity. In this case, they say, it is no real being, but a simple generalization of psychological phenomena, and as far removed from the ens necessarium et reale, the real and necessary being of the schoolmen, the real living God, in whom the human race believe, as zero is from being something.
Hence, though for another reason, they refuse to concede with Sir William Hamilton that we have intuition of the absolute, the infinite, or the unconditioned, but assert, in opposition to him, that we have immediate intuition of that which in reality is absolute, infinite, and unconditioned. To suppose that we have intuition of being, or God as the absolute, would be to suppose that we know the abstract before the concrete, the possible before the real, and therefore that reflection or reasoning precedes instead of following intuition. They dissent, therefore, from Schelling, Hegel, and Cousin, • and deny that we have immediate intuition of the absolute, that is of God, real and necessary being, as the absolute; and maintain that while we have immediate intuition of that which is absolute, infinite, unconditioned, we conceive the intuitive object as such only by a process of reflective reason - the process by which the human mind demonstrates that the object of its intuition is God.