YouTube: INTRODUCTION – Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

Welcome to the second lecture on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.  In this lecture we will be covering the Introduction of the work.  In the previous lecture I covered the Foreword which did not get into Hegel’s own writing, but with this work we will be diving into Hegel’s own writings.

The Introduction sets the scene for Hegel’s aim and presuppositions.  In order to understand this work we must understand the central aim and underlying presuppositions.  He starts with a challenge for those interested in the pursuit of objective knowledge and absolute truth.  He claims that if we really want to know what is objective knowledge and absolute truth we have to start with cognition.  We have to start with our own cognition and the nature of our own minds in order to understand the nature of the entities doing the positing, the nature of the entities who are desiring or attempting to understand the “Absolute” or “Objectivity”.

In that sense Hegel’s main engagement is with the scientific community that has formed under Newtonian mechanistic presuppositions and also Kantian philosophy and idealism.  Consequently his Introduction is aimed at both of these communities.  His main point in this Introduction is to make the quite strong claim that both objective knowledge and absolute truth are not external mind-independent realities.  He claims that both of these forms of knowing are things that come from consciousness, that consciousness is somehow entangled or part of the becoming of this reality.  Thus, if we are aiming to understand what is objective and absolute we cannot think of this reality as a pre-existing substance that we are either stumbling upon and discovering without altering it, or receiving as if we are a passive medium.  Here to quote:

“73. [T]he whole project of securing for consciousness through cognition what exists in itself is absurd, and that there is a boundary between cognition and the Absolute that separates them.  For, if cognition is the instrument of a thing certainly does not let it be what it is for itself, but rather sets out to reshape and alter it.  If, on the other hand, cognition is not an instrument of our activity but a more or less passive medium through which the light of truth reaches us, then again we do not receive the truth as it is in itself, but only as it exists through and in this medium.”

From this quote we can establish that Hegel is attempting to negate two presuppositions that he thinks of as structuring the scientific and religious mind.  The scientific mind operates on a presupposition that objective knowledge is “out there” and that our cognition is simply an instrument that is developing to reach this in-itself.  But he is saying that if this instrument of our cognition is searching for the Absolute or an in-itself, searching for something that exists independent of our activity is absurd since our activity would transform the in-itself.  Alternative, he is saying about the religious mind set that the in-itself is a type of reality that just hits our minds as a passive medium, thus reducing our historicity and engagement in reality to its own self-revelation.  Hegel thus sets up the Phenomenology clearly against these two views.

Scientific versus Philosophical Consciousness

Here you will see scientific and philosophical consciousness with a minimal difference separating the two.  What is being emphasized is the telos or end process between the two.  On the scientific side you see a relation between self-conscious logical understanding and external objective substance; and on the philosophical side you see the same relation but a bar separating self-conscious logical understanding from the external objective substance.  On the scientific side you can imagine communities of scientists and then you have the substance (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.) in relation to which they are attempting to derive an objective knowledge.  On the philosophical side you can imagine the same process but that we (our reason) is barred from the in-itself, or the noumena.  Thus on the philosophical side we presuppose that we are only playing an internal game with our own reason and that we can never reach the objective in-itself.  In this representation you can thus get a meta-view on the forms of consciousness that Hegel is attempting to simultaneously engage and overcome.

Here let us reflect on how Hegel would prefer we view science, not as a knowledge practice searching for pre-logical external objective substance, but rather as something that produces an in-itself that is for us, a part of our own becoming of knowledge:

“76. Science, just because it comes on the scene, is itself an appearance: in coming on the scene it is not yet Science in its developed and unfolded truth. […] Science must liberate itself from this semblance, and it can do so only by turning against it. […] For one thing, it would only be appealing against to what merely is; and for another, it would only be appealing to itself, and to itself in the mode in which it exists in the cognition that is without truth. In other words, it would be appealing to an inferior form of its being, to the way it appears, rather than to what it is in and for itself. [/] 77. [Science] can be regarded as the path of the natural consciousness which presses forward to true knowledge; or as the way of the Soul which journeys through the series of its own configurations as though they were the stations appointed for it by its own nature, so that it may purify itself for the life of the Spirit, and achieve finally, through a completed experience of itself, the awareness of what it really is in itself.”

The passage derived from 76. is basically saying that if we think of the emergence of science we cannot think about it as telling us about the objective in-itself of absolute spacetime (for example) but the in-itself of science as an appearance in history, and that the notion of science in-itself is an unfinished project or product.  Science in-itself is still evolving and when we think about that discovery of the in-itself, we have to think about the involvement of the scientific communities in that discovery.  He is making the important point that the inferior form of science is only caring about the being in-itself independent of the appearance of science, and then a higher notion of science would include these appearances.  Furthermore, he claims that if science does not do this then it will lack truth and become an insular community that ignores its own subjective constitution.  Thus it is just science talking to itself instead of the whole of humanity.

Then in regards to quote 77. Hegel is affirming what he think of science as a path of natural consciousness, a path of natural consciousness that is in-and-for itself.  Hegel would apply the mechanisms of science as doubt and self-questioning as the journey of self-consciousness to find the in-itself.  And that this process of spirit or soul is to be achieved in conscious awareness, that the in-itself has to be for-consciousness.

Higher Order Consciousness

You can see above different representations of the in-itself and the way in which Hegel affirms his view.  For scientific consciousness you have an in-itself which is disconnected from knowledge for us.  However you have the view that one day this would be reconciled, where knowledge for us would discover objective being in-itself.  This could be thought of in relation to the development of quantum physics and the quantum void, general relativity and the spacetime manifold or evolutionary theory and the fitness landscape, for example.  In contrast, for philosophical consciousness, you have the same basic presupposition but with the “addition” that we will never reach the “being in-itself”, that the noumena is forever off limits to natural consciousness.

Now with the Higher Order consciousness Hegel is attempting to articulate a higher order science where the knowledge for us and being in-itself are entangled and caught up in a historical process.  He would emphasize that the appearance of any scientific form of knowing is simultaneously an in-itself that is for consciousness:

“85. The object, it is true, seems only to be for consciousness in the way that consciousness knows it; it seems that consciousness cannot, as it were, get behind the object as it exists for consciousness so as to examine what the object is in itself, and hence, too, cannot test its own knowledge by that standard.  But the distinction between the in-itself and knowledge is already present in the very fact that consciousness knows an object at all.  Something is for it the in-itself; and knowledge, or the being of the object for consciousness, is, for it, another moment.  Upon this distinction, which is present as a fact, the examination rests.”

This is a pretty self-evident or self-explanatory quote but I will emphasize that what is trying to say here is that when we are thinking about objective knowledge or absolute truth, this is already present in knowledge for us.  Thus it does not exist before knowledge for, knowledge for us brings this in-itself into being.  This is not to say that there is no noumenal realm in a Kantian sense, but this is not Hegel’s object.  What Hegel is interested in is that consciousness is interested in finding a being in-itself.  There is a being in-itself for our knowledge communities.  Consequently, Hegel is basically saying here that if you are following my logic and you are willing to accept this presupposition, then you will be able to following the logic of the rest of the text.

Presuppositions of Hegelian Absolute

Here you can see a full overview of the main presuppositions of the Hegelian Absolute, or the Thing-in-itself.  What Hegel thinks that Being-in-itself is transformed by knowledge for us, that our cognition is tied up with the Thing.  If you remember back to the idea of cognition as an instrument, then you may entertain the idea that our cognition could be something that transforms the in-itself in the very investigation into the in-itself.

Moreover, if you think about the idea of the Absolute reality, as it appears in religious subjectivity which presupposes God, for example, then we have to think of it as a distinction being drawn by consciousness.  What Hegel would say is that God as an Absolute reality, or as an infinity, is something that becomes an object of cognition and does not come into existence before cognition posits it.  Cognition posits it or experiences it and it is from the motion of cognition in that reality comes into being-in-itself.

From this presupposition Hegel believes he is capable of engaging a phenomenology of spirt in history which invites us to think the coincidence between the absolute eternal truth and its historical appearance or temporality.  Thus we have simultaneously the appearance of absolute truth in a temporal historical process so we cannot just think one or the other.  We cannot think of absolute eternity independent of its historicity, and we cannot just think temporality independent of eternity, there is a coincidence of the opposites here.  This is fundamental to understanding the becoming of spirit and the science of spirit:

“78. [T]he supreme reality is what is in truth only the unrealized Notion. […] 84. Consciousness provides its own criterion from within itself, so that the investigation becomes a comparison of consciousness with itself; for the distinction made above falls within it.  In consciousness one thing exists for another, i.e. consciousness regularly contains the determinateness of the moment of knowledge; at the same time, this other is to consciousness not merely for it, but is also outside of this relationship, or exists in itself: the moment of truth.  Thus in what consciousness affirms from within itself as being-in-itself or the True we have the standard which consciousness itself sets up by which to measure what it knows.  If we designate knowledge as the Notion, but the essence or the True as what exists, or the object, then the examination consists in seeing whether the Notion corresponds to the object.”

There is a lot in this passage.  The first thing is that Hegel is saying that the supreme reality is the unrealized notion. He is saying that it is inherent incomplete and indeterminate.  Thus it is not that the absolute reality exists “out there” in an already completed and full form, he is saying that the only way in which we can make sense of history and our knowledge is to presume that our very involvement in it is part of its own becoming.

Moving on from that Hegel emphasizes that the determinateness of this knowledge comes into being by the work of a consciousness.  Thus the determinateness of the Absolute does not exist outside of this collapse.  It is kind of as if Hegel is trying to articulate the way in which the Absolute is like the collapse of the wave function in quantum physics.  The in-itself the Absolute is just this indeterminate, incomplete, fuzzy Thing, or chaos, and that through our work in history it gains an existence, it comes into being.  Thus there are some pretty obvious parallels between Hegel and the logic of quantum physics.

However, Hegel is not merely a superficial idealist or just merely thinking about the mind, but rather thinking about the way in which the mind is caught up with objectivity in-itself.  You can see this in the passage related to the “moment of truth”.  He states clearly that consciousness affirms this being in-itself and recognizes it as a moment of truth outside of itself but this moment of truth outside of-itself because of the work it is doing itself in history.

Thus he doesn’t negate this idea of a reflection correspondence principle of truth that is deployed in the Newtonian framework, but merely adds a crucial historical and processual addition to it.  The reflection correspondence principle states that our notion must correspond with the object in order to be true.  For example, if we propose a hypothesis or develop a theory of the solar system or subatomic particles or life, our knowledge has to correspond with the in-itself in order to be true.  Hegel, however, says that if we want to describe the becoming of spirit in history and the way in which we are involved in that process we have to understand this objectivity that is emergent from our own work process.

Absolute Knowing
Absolute Knowing

Here you can see a representation of how Hegel conceives the becoming of Absolute Knowing.  If you want to know more details about Absolute Knowing please read the first lecture, but to summarize quickly, Absolute Knowing is a type of “perspectival shift”, a change in perspective about thinking.  In the scientific or Kantian mode of consciousness the Absolute is not something that we have access to, it is something we may have access to in the future, but in terms of our knowledge, the concept and the object are incomplete and lacking.  Otherwise we would be one with the Absolute.  Our knowledge and being would be One.

What Hegel is trying to say about Absolute Knowing is that you can reach a perspectival level when you realize that the Absolute Being in-itself is a part of your own spiritual becoming, when your knowledge and motion is in a circular synergy with itself.  In short, you recognize that your work is essential for the movement of the Absolute and that the actualization of your Idea is the Absolute itself.  You are moving and flowing as this dimension of reality.  Here Hegel describes how the spirit comes to this self-knowledge:

“80. But the goal is as necessarily fixed for knowledge as the serial progression; it is the point where knowledge no longer needs to go beyond itself, where knowledge finds itself, where Notion corresponds to object and object to Notion.  Hence the progress towards this goal is also unhalting, and short of it no satisfaction is to be found at any of the stations on the way […] it is driven beyond [itself] by something else, and this uprooting entails its death.”

This is a very interesting quote.  What you see here is that Hegel is emphasizing that in the scientific and Kantian mode of consciousness we are in this serial progression where we are always at a distance from the in-itself.  We are constantly focused on the progress of our knowledge to reach the in-itself (or, alternatively, critiquing the contradictions of our knowledge since it can never reach the in-itself).  What Hegel is saying is that this is a form of consciousness that is a lower level form of consciousness.  You can see this in the motion of people interested in self-help.  They are constantly thinking that there highest state of consciousness is some time in the future, instead of realizing that this highest state of consciousness can be right now.  That is why he emphasizes that there is a point where knowledge does not need to go beyond itself.  At this state you may say that you are in a flow with the Absolute.

For Hegel this is a necessary point of development for consciousness because consciousness will not be satisfied with itself until it reaches this point.  Hegel talks about this in relation to this idea that we have a spatial intuition of our present moment existing right now but there is always this temporality which he puts on the level of the notion, of the supreme reality of the unrealized notion, which charges the present moment with something higher, where we want to go beyond our present self.  In that sense we will not be satisfied until we are “one” with this higher state.  When you are at a distance from the Absolute and you are not satisfied with the object or being-in-itself, you will have to go through spiritual deaths, and cut away parts of your self in order to develop the knowledge necessary to be with being in-itself.

Absolute Knowing (2)

You can see above a dynamical motion of the Absolute.  The first thing to emphasize is that Absolute Knowing does not mean an end, but the emergence of a new horizon of spiritual becoming.  It is about discovering that you are an active agent in the becoming of the Absolute.  In this motion you can start to discern a repetitive collapse of and into being-in-itself from the cycle or loop of the self becoming.  The self is this arrow or agent that is constantly taking the unrealized, the indeterminate of the present moment, and transforming it into being-in-itself.  The self is making being-in-itself objectively its own, and that is the work of spirit:

“89. In pressing forward to its true existence, consciousness will arrive at a point at which it gets rid of its semblance of being burdened with something alien, with what is only for it, and some sort of ‘other’, at a point where appearance becomes identical with essence, so that its exposition will coincide at just this point with the authentic Science of Spirit.  And finally, when consciousness itself grasps this in its own essence, it will signify the nature of absolute knowledge itself.”

Hegel is saying that before reaching Absolute Knowledge, consciousness is burdened by an alien otherness.  This could be scientific objectivity or the Kantian noumenal realm.  Consciousness is burdened or constantly worried about this otherness that it cannot know or at least not know in its lifetime.  But Hegel is saying that this is that the consciousness is not at the level of the Absolute Knowing, and that appearance can reach a point where appearance and essence coincide as one.  This is what for Hegel would be developing a science of spirit, of getting consciousness to this level.


Above you will see represented a non-linear higher order Absolute.  Again, for the scientific and philosophical consciousness are as arrows in relation to an objective substance that will be known in the future or which will never be known but exists independently of us.  In the Hegelian consciousness we see that the fuzzy circles are the sensuous immediacy, the stars represent the collapsed being-in-itself (which has importantly been changed from external substance to extimate substance; which is not a word that Hegel uses but is a word that is important from the psychoanalytic tradition which I think applies to higher order consciousness and to Hegel’s system, representing an objective intimacy, an exteriority that depends on us).  Now in this representation we are always already with this objectively intimate being-in-itself, circling with it in the present moment.  This is to be distinguished from a teleological pattern of a future which never arises.  This is a future present which always knows itself and always does not know itself.  A feature of the Absolute Knowledge is that it is unknowable.  It is a known unknowability in-itself and in the moment.  That is why there is an endless progress:

“85. [I]n the alteration of knowledge, the object itself alters for it too, to rate knowledge that was present was essentially a knowledge of the object: as the knowledge changes, so too does the object, for it essentially belonged to this knowledge.  Hence it comes to pass for consciousness that what it previously took to be the in-itself is not an in-itself, or that it was only an in-itself for consciousness.”

This is an important passage and a complicated one because Hegel is trying to articulate this dialectical motion, the way in which we are entangled with the object.  In the state of Absolute Knowing, as your knowledge developed, the object changes.  Thus what you thought was the object is no longer the object.  It is a feature of the Absolute itself.  It is an unknown knowability.  For example, before the emergence of our understanding of absolute spacetime or evolutionary history, being in-itself for us was different.  It is not saying that being-in-itself independent of us came into existence from our knowledge, but there is a being-in-itself for us and that changed, and that will continue to change.  For example, in the future there could be some knowledge process that is on the same level of a Copernican revolution or Darwinian evolution which we don’t know about, but that will change being-in-itself for us, and could change being-in-itself for us in dramatic ways.  This is what the higher order consciousness strives to understand and strives to know.

The In-Itself

Here you can see what Hegel is trying to identify as how consciousness in-itself experiences this strange relationship between knowledge for us and being in-itself; and on the other side, how a phenomenological analysts should conceive of this process.  The first order consciousness in-itself experiences the Absolute as a discontinuity.  You might say there is a radical break or rupture where knowledge changes and being changes, where what was thought to be being-in-itself is no longer being-in-itself.  This may be experienced as a very harsh rupture.  This can happen in love, politics, families, and in many other dimensions of our life, where your knowledge and being in-itself changes for you.  What Hegel is saying is that if you’re a phenomenological analyst this is a more continuous process, where the self is a loop going through cycles and it is all part of one process.  What is seen as a big rupture for a first order consciousness is really just small moments connected to a self-cycle loop, of its cycles between determinacy and indeterminacy:

“87. From the present viewpoint […] the new object shows itself to have come about through a reversal of consciousness itself.  This way of looking at the matter is something contributed by us, by means of which the succession of experiences through which consciousness passes is raised into a scientific progression — but it is not known to the consciousness that we are observing. […] It shows up here like this: since what first appeared as the object sinks for consciousness to the level of its way of knowledge it, and since the in-itself becomes a being-for-consciousness of the in-itself, the latter is now the new object.  Herewith a new pattern of consciousness comes to the scene as well, for which the essence is something different from what it was at the preceding stage.  It is this fact that guides the entire series of the patterns of consciousness in their necessary sequence.”

To emphasize, Hegel is saying that how first order consciousness experiences this process between knowledge for us and being in-itself, is that the previous object, the past object, what it thought was the being-in-itself no longer is the being-in-itself, and the self-consciousness experiences this as a rupture in its being.  The crucial thing to think about is that first order consciousness experiences this in an illogical way, but a phenomenologist should be able to elucidate the logic of the process, the becoming of Absolute Knowledge.

That is, basically, the Introduction, to the Phenomenology of Spirit.  Thank you so much for following along to this point.

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