Absolute (philosophy)

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In philosophy, the Absolute is the term used for the ultimate or most supreme being, usually conceived as either encompassing "the sum of all being, actual and potential",[1] or otherwise transcending the concept of "being" altogether. While the general concept of a supreme being has been present since ancient times, the exact term "Absolute" was first introduced by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and features prominently in the work of many of his followers. In Absolute idealism and British idealism, it serves as a concept for the "unconditioned reality which is either the spiritual ground of all being or the whole of things considered as a spiritual unity".[2]


The concept of "the absolute" was introduced in modern philosophy by Hegel, defined as "the sum of all being, actual and potential".[3][1] For Hegel, as understood by Martin Heidegger, the Absolute is "the spirit, that which is present to itself in the certainty of unconditional self-knowing".[4] As Hegel is understood by Frederick Copleston, "Logic studies the Absolute 'in itself'; the philosophy of Nature studies the Absolute 'for itself'; and the philosophy of Spirit studies the Absolute 'in and for itself'."[5] The concept is also found in the works of F. W. J. Schelling, and was anticipated by Johann Gottlieb Fichte.[2] In English philosophy, F. H. Bradley has distinguished the concept of Absolute from God, while Josiah Royce, founder of the American idealism school of philosophy, has equated them.[2]

Indian religions[edit]

The concept of the Absolute has been used to interpret the early texts of the Indian religions such as those attributed to Yajnavalkya, Nagarjuna and Adi Shankara.[6]

In Jainism, Absolute Knowledge or Kewalya Gnan, is said to be attained by the Arihantas and Tirthankaras, who reflects in their knowing the 360 degrees of the truth and events of past, present and future. All 24 Tirthankaras and many others are Kewalya Gnani or Carriers of Absolute Knowledge.

According to Takeshi Umehara, some ancient texts of Buddhism state that the "truly Absolute and the truly Free must be nothingness",[7] the "void".[8] Yet, the early Buddhist scholar Nagarjuna, states Paul Williams, does not present "emptiness" as some kind of Absolute, rather it is "the very absence (a pure non-existence) of inherent existence" in Mādhyamaka school of the Buddhist philosophy.[9]

According to Glyn Richards, the early texts of Hinduism state that the Brahman or the nondual Brahman–Atman is the Absolute.[10][11][12]

The term has also been adopted by Aldous Huxley in his perennial philosophy to interpret various religious traditions, including Indian religions,[13] and influenced other strands of nondualistic and New Age thought.

See also[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "The Absolute" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. See for the development of Hegel's idea of "the absolute." Charles Edward Andrew Lincoln IV, Hegelian Dialectical Analysis of U.S. Voting Laws, 42 U. Dayton L. Rev. 87 (2017). See Lincoln, Charles The Dialectical Path of Law, 2021 Rowman & Littlefield.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Sprigge, T. L. S. (1998). Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Taylor and Francis. doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N001-1.
  3. Frederick Charles Copleston (1963). History of Philosophy: Fichte to Nietzsche. Paulist Press. pp. 166–180. ISBN 978-0-8091-0071-2.
  4. Martin Heidegger (2002). Heidegger: Off the Beaten Track. Cambridge University Press. pp. 97–98. ISBN 978-0-521-80507-0.
  5. Frederick Charles Copleston (2003). 18th and 19th Century German Philosophy. A&C Black. pp. 173–174. ISBN 978-0-8264-6901-4.
  6. Hajime Nakamura (1964). The Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples: India-China-Tibet-Japan. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 53–57. ISBN 978-0-8248-0078-9., Quote: "Thus the ultimate Absolute presumed by the Indians is not a personal god but an impersonal and metaphysical Principle. Here we can see the impersonal character of the Absolute in Indian thought. The inclination of grasping Absolute negatively necessarily leads (as Hegel would say) to the negation of the negative expression itself."
  7. Umehara, Takeshi (1970). "Heidegger and Buddhism". Philosophy East and West. 20 (3): 271–281. doi:10.2307/1398308. JSTOR 1398308.
  8. Orru, Marco; Wang, Amy (1992). "Durkheim, Religion, and Buddhism". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 31 (1): 47–61. doi:10.2307/1386831. JSTOR 1386831.
  9. Williams, Paul (2002). Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition. pp. 146–148.
  10. Richards, Glyn (1995). "Modern Hinduism". Studies in Religion. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 117–127. doi:10.1007/978-1-349-24147-7_9. ISBN 978-1-349-24149-1.
  11. Chaudhuri, Haridas (1954). "The Concept of Brahman in Hindu Philosophy". Philosophy East and West. 4 (1): 47–66. doi:10.2307/1396951. JSTOR 1396951., Quote: "The Self or Atman is the Absolute viewed from the subjective standpoint (arkara), or a real mode of existence of the Absolute."
  12. Simoni-Wastila, Henry (2002). "Māyā and radical particularity: Can particular persons be one with Brahman?". International Journal of Hindu Studies. Springer. 6 (1): 1–18. doi:10.1007/s11407-002-0009-5. S2CID 144665828.
  13. Huxley, Aldous (January 1, 2009). The Perennial Philosophy. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics. ISBN 9780061724947.
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