I heap up monstrous numbers, pile millions upon millions, I put æon upon æon and world upon world, and when from that awful height reeling, I seek Thee, all the might of number increased a thousandfold is still not a fragment of Thee. I remove them and Thou liest wholly before me. (Albrecht von Haller)
Now, little ship, look out! Beside you is the ocean: to be sure, it does not always roar, and at times it lies spread out like silk and gold and reveries of graciousness. But hours will come when you realize that it is infinite and that there is nothing more awesome than infinity. (Friedrich Nietzsche)
Kant’s influence on subsequent philosophy was immense. Metaphysical thought about the infinite in the next two centuries was to be considerably shaped by his vision of man as a radically finite creature cast into an infinite world and yet exalted by the infinitude of his own freedom. The influence is especially clear when we turn to one of the greatest of his successors, the German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel (1770-1831).
In certain respects Hegel played Aristotle to Kant’s Plato. He was deeply influenced by Kant’s philosophical system, but there was much that he sought to repudiate. In particular he wanted to challenge Kant’s distinction between appearance and reality. The idea of ‘things in themselves’ beyond our epistemic grasp was an anathema to Hegel. Reality, for Hegel, was not something underlying appearance, but something essentially manifest in appearance—in the world of space and time. (Here, as elsewhere, his thinking was very reminiscent of Spinoza’s. ) Kant had been right to see reality as a self-contained and absolute whole. He had also been right to see rationality and freedom in these terms. But he had been wrong to try to set this apart from what we can encounter and come to know about in experience. It was in this light that Hegel attempted to reach a new and deeper understanding of the infinite.