Analysis of Consciousness

YouTube: CONSCIOUSNESS – Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

Welcome to Lecture 3 of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.  This lecture will be focused on the chapter on Consciousness (A.), and the different relationships that consciousness can have with the world.


As is typical with Hegelian philosophy the section is divided triadically.  There are three different ways in which Hegel will understand consciousnesses relationship to the world.  The first will be through a phenomenal investigation of sensation, followed by perception and finally, understanding.  These three different levels of consciousness, for Hegel, are developing in a type of order which has a logical developmental pattern and a universal developmental pattern that is spontaneous for our consciousness.  From this, the level beyond the understanding, is the level by which consciousness reaches self-consciousness.  When we reach self-consciousness we have a meta-level understanding, an understanding of understanding, which then allows us to move to a proper phenomenological view of consciousness, a consciousness that has come to a level of self-recognition.  When we have grasped these methodologies we are then capable of then utilizing the dialectical method as a tool to understand the motion of understanding in-itself.

relational levels

Here you see a representation of the different relational levels between the conscious subject and the world object.  Sensation is defined simply as our basic senses: sight, smell, sound, touch, taste.  And he defines these sensations as a qualitative richness and individual immediacy.  So you just have the phenomena of what we would expect an infant to have, your senses and the immediate present, and you’re just experiences these senses in their absolute certainty.

The next level is the level of perception where you gain a level of logical attention, where you start to take this multiplicity of sensations and distinguish individual qualities.  For example, just being in the sense of hearing music or tasting food, you would also be able through your perception to distinguish types of sounds, types of flavours of food.

Then on the third level you have the understanding with the additional of synthetic reason, which adds fixed levels or patterns of interaction.  Here consciousness is capable of generalizing perception to a level that is not just true for you, but for others as well.  This is the level of the universal understanding of the Notion.

Here to summarize each Hegel’s definitions of sense, perception and understanding.  First, sensation:

“90. [Sense] knowing which is at the start or is immediately our object cannot be anything else but immediate knowledge itself, a knowledge of the immediate or receptive; we must alter nothing in the object as it presents itself. In apprehending it, we must refrain from trying to comprehend it.”

You can see here that Hegel is trying to define sense certainty as the raw immediacy of experience, what you would experience as an infant.  If you shut down your perception and understanding you can go to an existence that is just sense certainty, it is just the raw low level reality that we have access to.  It just accepts what is given, present, there is no more logic or reason that is needed to confirm the truth of its object.

Next, perception:

“111. Perception […] takes what is present to it as a universal. Just as universality is its principle in general, the immediately self-differentiated moments within perception are universal: ‘I’ is a universal and the object is a universal […] it is logically necessitated.”

With perception you just have basically the formation of individuality where the individual, the action of the I, starts to differentiate the sense-certainty, starts to pick an object, and cut it off from the rest of the sense world, and identify properties with it, and in that experience of the perception (not yet on the level of the understanding), is universal in-itself (for the perception).

Moving to understanding:

“134. [In Understanding] unity of ‘being-for-self’ and ‘being-for-another’ is posited;[…] the absolute antithesis is posited as a self-identical essence.[…] To be for itself and to be in relation to an other constitutes the nature and essence of the content, whose truth consists in its being unconditionally universal[.]”

Understanding, for Hegel, is a higher level then both sense-certainty and perception, because not only do you have a unity of being for self and being of the object (which occurs in perception), but you have a unity for all others.  So it is very different to distinguish an object for your moment of perception, and then to go to the level of understanding where your distinguishing of the object is not only true for you, but true of others and in all space and time.  This is what Hegel means by the “truth” of the understanding being “unconditionally universal”.


Throughout this lecture I will represent the relation between consciousness and the object as a circular unity spinning into itself, to get a deeper understanding of itself.  Hegel’s always very clear that this unity between the subject and object are essentially what is being mediated in the entirety of the dialectical process.  Sensation for Hegel is this qualitative richness, individual immediacy that cannot be quantified, it is just qualitative experience.  There is really not time yet, but just the present, a simple present.  This simple present is not subject or object but one, a unity of subject and object, not yet even an emergence of a subject.  This is still true for cognitive science of infantile development, that there is not yet a self.  The point is that the essence of this experience is the unity of the whole:

“103. Sense-certainty thus comes to know by experience that its essence is neither in the object nor in the ‘I’, and that its immediacy is neither an immediacy of the one nor of the other; for in both, what I mean is rather something unessential, and the object and the ‘I’ which I mean do not have a continuing being, or are not. Thus we reach the stage where we have to posit the whole of sense-certainty itself as its essence, and no longer only one of its moments, as happened in the two cases where first the object confronting the ‘I’, and then the ‘I’, were supposed to be its reality. […] 104. This pure immediacy, therefore […] its truth preserves itself as a relation that remains self-identical, and which makes no distinction of what is essential and what is unessential, between the ‘I’ and the object, a relation therefore into which also no distinction whatever can penetrate.”

So Hegel is saying that sense-certainty is before any distinction.  There is not yet any separation, there is just sensation without any distinction.  It is just a continuous qualitative unity of sight, smell, sound, hearing.  This is the starting point.  From this starting point we start to develop more complexity.

Sense 2
Sense 2

Furthermore on sensation.  We get into a second level of sensation.  What Hegel emphasizes here is the temporality of sensation.  In this qualitative richness, individual immediacy, there is just these plurality of “Nows”.  There are just these repeating “moments, moments, moments”.  Here on this basic level we can all relate to in our experience of time, this paradox that when you identify this present moment of sense, it has already past, it is already gone.  But then you come back around, and say “ok”, if everytime I say “Now” it is already gone, then that is the truth of it.  The truth of it is just a series of repetitive “Nows”.

This is the emergence of the very sort of basic, very elementary mechanics of the dialectics of the negation of the negation.  You have this Now, it is not, negation, and then you just come back to the present, it is only that.  Thus sensation is just this constant movement, plurality of moments.  This is where Hegel would introduce his principle of negativity, since there is no way to capture “it” as it were:

“107. In this pointing-out, then, we see merely a movement which takes the following course: (1) I point out the ‘Now’, and it is asserted to be the truth. I point it out, however, as something that has been, or as something that has been superseded; I set aside the first truth. (2) I now assert as the second truth that it has been, that it is superseded. (3) But what has been, is not; I set aside the second truth, its having been, its suspension, and thereby negate the negation of the ‘Now’, and thus return to the first assertion, that the ‘Now’ is. The ‘Now’, and pointing out the ‘Now’, are […] but a movement which contains various moments. […] 110. […] Experience teaches me what the truth of sense-certainty in fact is: I point it out as a ‘Here’, which is a Here of other Heres, or is in its own self a ‘simple togetherness of many Heres’; i.e. it is a universal. I take it up then as it is in truth, and instead of knowing something immediate I take the truth of it, or perceive it.”

This is just to repeat what I was trying to explain in the last point, where the Here and Now is not this fixed-static thing, it is nothing but this motion, this experience that is constantly changing.  That is all the Now is.

Sensation summary

To summarize sensation, it is again our basic sensations of the world (sight, smell, sound, touch, taste), and it is just this qualitative level of immediate experience.  That is its positive dimension.  But Hegel will emphasize dialectically is that the conscious subject has to go beyond this due to inherent negativity in this mode of operating with the world: the constant changing of the here and now.  You cannot pin down anything in sense certainty, it is just this primordial haze or fog of sense experience.

“91. Because of its concrete content, sense-certainty immediately appears as this richest kind of knowledge, indeed a knowledge of infinite wealth for which no bounds can be found, either when we reach out into space and time in which it is dispersed, or when we take a bit of this wealth, and by division enter into it. Moreover, sense-certainty appears to be the truest knowledge; for it has not a yet omitted anything from the object, but has the object before it in its perfect entirety. But, in the event, this very certainty proves itself to be the most abstract and poorest truth. All that it says about what it knows is just that it is; and its truth contains nothing but the sheer being of the thing.”

You can see here that Hegel starts off my praising sense-certainty before criticizing its inherent dialectical flaw.  His praise of seinse-ceratiny is that you just have this infinite sense which has no bounds or division or differentiation.  It is not subject or object but both at the same time and that the sense certainty just takes this to be the truest possible.  But what Hegel is saying is that the fundamental flaw in sense-certainty and why we have to go beyond it is that basically it is just too simple and we can never get any determinant or active truth as a part of the thing.  Sense-certainty is just a very low level of being and we rise above it.


This bring us to perception.  What perception adds to sense-certainty is logical attention.  Hegel makes this distinction between perceiver and perceived.  There is some motion between the subject and object which creates a difference, creates a differentiation.  This plurality of Nows gains a new character.  There are certain properties that can be identified.  I gave the example of the difference between experiencing music before you are capable of adding the logical attention to say it is “this” type of music or “this” type of artist.  Through the act of perceiving there is a perceived, a cut into the flow of sound.  You are distinguishing properties, what type of sound?  What type of frequency?

“111. With the emergence of the principle, the two moments which in their appearing merely occur, also come into being: one being the movement of pointing-out or the act of perceiving, the other being the same movement as a simple event or the object perceived. In essence the object is the same as the movement: the movement is the unfolding and differentiation of the two moments, and the object is the apprehended togetherness of the moments. […] Yet since [perceiving and perceived] are related to each other as opposites, only one can be the essential moment in the relation, and the distinction of essential and unessential moment must be shared between them. One of them, the object, defined as the simple [entity], is the essence regardless of whether it is perceived or not; but the act of perceiving, as a movement, is the unessential moment, the unstable factor which can as well be as not be.”

There is a crucial difference here between sense and perception, which is the emergence of perceiver and perceived.  The act of the perceiver and the emergence of a distinction with the perceived.  You also here see a crucial dialectical tool between the coincidence of the opposites, an asymmetrical coincidence of the opposites where one has privilege over the other.  In this stage the perceived as privilege over the perceiver.  When I am perceiving, I am seeing and touching “This” (book) and me and “This” (book) are “One”.  The motion of me as a perceiver, brings out this perceived as a distinct object, but the perceived has primacy because I as a perceiver do not change “This” object as a perceived.  This object is what it is in-itself.  I am merely creating a distinction between it and other things.

Perception 2

There is this crucial distinction between the asymmetrical unity, crucial for all Hegelian dialectics.  The unity is not a perfect symmetry, otherwise there would be no time.  In order to be time there has to be asymmetry internal to the two (subject-object).  So in the level of perception there is an asymmetry between the perceiving I and the perceived This (me and the book).  This “book” is a distinction that I am making, but it does not change the book in-itself.  I have the choice to choose a number of things, I could choose “gloves” instead of “books”, but it is my perception which takes this thing with many properties and make it a perceived thing.

This is where we get into deploying the concept of negation on the level of perception, where it is negating and preserving.  There is this negated One independent of me, but through my mechanisms of perception, I am creating a perceived through negation and preservation.  I am identifying these gloves/books without recognizing anything else, everything else is negated.

“112. [The perceived shows] itself to be the thing with many properties. The wealth of self-knowledge belongs to perception[;] for only perception contains negation, that is, difference or manifoldness, within its own essence. […] 114. [Perception and perceived] cannot be together in the simple unity of their medium, […] an indifferent unity, but a One as well, a unity which excludes an other. The One is the moment of negation; it is itself quite simply a relation of self to self and it excludes an other; and it is that by which ‘thinghood’ is determined as a Thing. Negation is inherent in a property as a determinateness which is immediately one with the immediacy of being, an immediacy which, through this unity with negation, is universality. As a One, however, the determinateness is set free from this unity with its opposite, and exists in and for itself.”

Hegel is basically saying that through this motion of perception what was previously just this indifferent unity of a One gains through this negation this otherness, and a Thing emerges (the gloves or the book).  In this process of perception, there is a Thing and the non-Thing, the book and the non-book, a perceived Thing and its opposite.

perception 3
Perception 3

We have the truth of perception in three distinctions (triadic structure).  You will have the indifferent passive universality (things out there), followed by me as a perceiver which distinguishes and excludes properties, and then the unified expansion into a host of differences.  In other words, I will start to perceive and distinguish many things.  These are all created out of the mechanics of the perceiver and the perceived, which takes this formally indifferent passive universality and expanding them into a host of differences.  This is the relation between the singular I and the host of things.  This didn’t exist at the level of sense certainty, but only comes into existence with the logic of perception.  I create a web of logical distinctions which are basically in themselves but being distinguished by me.

“115. In these moments […] the Thing as the truth of perception is completed […] It is (a) an indifferent, passive universality, the Also of the many properties[;] (b) negation equally simple; or the One, which excludes opposite properties; and (c) the many properties themselves, […] and therein expands into a host of differences; the point of singular individuality in the medium of subsistence radiation forth into plurality. In so far as these differences belong to the indifferent medium they are themselves universal, they are related only to themselves and do not affect one another. But in so far as they belong to the negative unity they are at the same time exclusive [of other properties]; but they necessarily have this relationship of opposition to the properties remote from their Also. […] 116. This, then, is how the Thing of perception is constituted; and consciousness […] has only to take it, to confine itself to a pure apprehension of it, and what is thus yielded is the True.”

What Hegel is saying is that on the level of perception, what is true, is just this manifold of differentiated things which gain an in-and-for themselves through the asymmetrical relation between the perceiver and the perceived.  And when it is an indifferent manifold of things they do not effect each other, but as soon as the emergence of the perceiver and perceived comes into motion, then any “Thing” as an “Also” (Otherness) and their properties are being distinguished in relation to each other.  Thus they only gain relations of opposition through the negative unity (negation, preservation).

perception 4
Perception summary

Here to summarize perception, you have this ability of a consciousness to distinguish qualities and properties.  So we can say a book has pages, is bound, I can open it; a glove has fingers, has a certain texture, and feel.  But, for Hegel, the problem with perception, it is again too simple because it cannot integrate all of these qualities and properties, into a unity which transcends the particularity of perception itself.  In order for that we have to go to yet a higher level:

“131. These empty abstractions [in perception] of a ‘singleness’ and a ‘universality’ opposed to it […] is always at its poorest where it fancies itself to be the richest. Bandied about by these vacuous ‘essences’, thrown into the arms first of one and then of the other, and striving by its sophistry to hold fast and affirm alternatively first one of the ‘essences’ and then the directly opposite one, it sets itself against the truth[.] […] This course [… is] the steady everyday life and activity of perceptual consciousness, a consciousness which fancies itself to be moving in the realm of truth. It advances uninterruptedly to the outcome in which all these […] determinations are equally set aside; but in each single moment it is conscious only of this one determinateness as the truth, and then in turn of the opposite one. […] What the nature of these untrue essences is really trying to get [perception] to do is to bring together [to thoughts of] that universality and singular being[.]”

Here Hegel is incredibly critical of perception and saying that self-consciousness that is on the level of perception is very certain of itself but is just sort of being thrown about by one thing to another, without being able to bring everything together into a coherent whole.  Perception cannot organize all of these differences which it has created into some higher order network which it can explain.  That is what he means when he says that all these “untrue essences” are trying to get perception to bring these things together into a “universality and singular being”.

Understanding 1

This brings us to the level of the understanding.  The level of the understanding has two crucial levels and it takes local perception (being for self) and tries to get an understanding of some universal principle which applies to all others (being for others), and then a universal understanding as such, which is being for the notion.  This is one of the most important distinctions in Hegel, being-for-others and being-for-notion.  Being for others is basically a universal understanding of the world, and being for notion is basically a universal understanding of notion in-itself.  Hopefully we can get some deeper understanding of it in this lecture.  In this moment I would give the example of being for others (object as universal) with the example of spacetime, and then give the example of being for notion (idea as universal) with the example of the notional mediation of spacetime within communities of psychosocial historical dynamics.  This takes it from an outside level to an inside level with the mediation of the notion as such.

“132. It is essential to distinguish the two [forms of understanding]: for consciousness [in the first form], the object has returned into itself from its relation to an other and has thus become Notion in principle; but consciousness is not yet for itself the Notion, and consequently does not recognize itself in that reflected object. […] In this movement [for the first form of understanding] consciousness has for its content merely the objective essence and not consciousness as such, [but] the result must have an objective significance for consciousness [which appears in the second form of understanding]; consciousness still shrinks away from what has emerged, and takes it as the essence in the objective sense [in the first form of understanding]. [/] 133. With [these forms], the Understanding has indeed superseded its own untruth and the untruth of the object [in sensation and perception]. What has emerged for it as a result is the Notion of the True[.]”

This is a crucial passage and it is important to understand what Hegel is saying as we move into a deeper understanding of the understanding.  I would first stress this internal differentiation between the first and second forms of understanding.  The understanding in its first form is the world of perceived objects and integrating them into a total understanding.  So again you might say the physics mind takes all the world of things and integrates them in terms of spacetime.  All the perceived things are a part of spacetime with a location and a velocity.

The second form of the understanding is the notion in-itself.  This is our internal self-consciousness and our ability to abstract a universal understanding.  This is the life of the universal notion for itself.  It is through these mechanisms of understanding (external, internal; from the outside to the inside), that Hegel believes that through these mechanisms of the understanding we can overcome the nature of sensation and perception.  Sensation is too fleeting (repetitive Nows), and perception is too local (not all the world of things).

Understanding 2

On the first level you have the universal meaning of being-for-others (what is true for me is true for you).  This is the first level of the One as understanding.  This basic level of universality is part of the foundation of science.  If we really want to get at objective truth, it means we have an understanding of things that is true unconditionally for everyone.  It is true for me, true for you, and true for everyone else.  When we think of gravity or the principles of evolution we have a true universal understanding.

The second level of the understanding is basically being for notion which is basically the ability of the universal notion to reflect back into itself.  The movement of sublation is basically a One as a plurality.  One as a plurality is kind of flipping science upside down.  That is why Hegel is such a twist or inversion of the normal way we think.  With normal scientific thinking we are used to thinking on the first level of the understanding, but we are not used to thinking on this second level of the understanding.

When we think of the physics or biology community, we are thinking about a universal medium for others (presuppositions about spacetime, evolution); but we are not yet thinking about the universal understanding as reflected into itself, the way the subject comes to relate to its own universal understanding.  On this point we do have a way in which it is still true for me and true for you, but there is also a crucial difference.  There is a universal truth in my understanding and your understanding, but we have to inscribe into it a fundamental difference.  This is what is at stake with the second level of the understanding.

“135. Because this unconditioned universal is an object for consciousness, there emerges in it the distinction of form and content[…]: on one side, a universal medium of many subsistent ‘matters’, and on the other side, a One reflected into itself, in which their independence is extinguished. The former is the dissolution of the Thing’s independence, i.e. the passivity that is a being-for-another; the latter is being-for-self. […] 136. One moment, then, appears as the essence that has stepped to one side as a universal medium[.] But the independence of these ‘matters’ is nothing else than this medium; in other words, the [unconditioned] universal is simply and solely the plurality of the diverse universals of this kind. […] This also means that they are absolutely porous, are sublated. […] In other words, the ‘matters’ posited as independent directly pass over into their unity, and their unity directly unfolds its diversity, and this once again reduces itself to unity. [T]his movement is what is called Force.”

This is an incredibly difficult passage.  Hegel is really here flipping classical science on its head, because what he is doing is taking this universal medium (true for all others) and understand the way in which self-consciousness is historically enacting it.  What we all agree about the outside is being mediated by a universal notion which is still moving, and so there are all these differences which need to be taken into consideration (all the subjects of science mediating universality, the notion in-itself).  Thus it is historically engaged universality, phenomenologically engaged universality.

Understanding 3

Then we get to this suprasensible act of sublation.  When we make that distinction between being-for-others (outside) and understanding being-for-notion (inside), Hegel is saying that in history these notions of force would be correlated to substance and interiority (subjectivity).  Force as substance would be basically materialism.  Force as substance would be the force of materialism which grounds the modern world, the modern world is basically founded on presuppositions of an external substance.  But on the level of Force of interiority, which is basically we as subjects in history are effected and enacting consequences to the presuppositions of materialism.  Then you have to think about force as interiority, where science is going from understanding this external outside to transforming this external outside.  This is the Force of interiority.

The developed Force, which is the difference between thinking this abstract material outside, and transforming the world with this knowledge (the highest level of understanding).  Hegel is saying that this is the suprasensible level of things-in-themselves.  This is basically saying that the inside, the interiority of the force of our minds, and their interacting with the outside, is the things-in-themselves.  The things-in-themselves is that motion.  If you take the greatest scientists alive and understand the way they are mediating reality, this is the level of the things-in-themselves.

“142. The first universal would be Force driven back into itself, or Force as Substance; the second, however, is the inner being of things qua inner, which is the same as the Notion of Force qua Notion. [/] 143. This true essence of Things has now the character of not being immediately for consciousness; on the contrary, consciousness has a mediated relation to the inner being and, as the Understanding, looks through this mediating play of Forces into the true background of Things. […] 144. Within this inner truth, as the absolute universal which has been purged of the antithesis between the universal and the individual and has become the object of the Understanding, there now opens up above the sensuous world, which is the world of appearance, a supersensible world which henceforth is the true world, above the vanishing present world there opens up a permanent beyond[.]”

This is again a complex but really interesting notion.  Hegel is emphasizing the interiority of our knowledge practices, the interiority of a well developed understanding.  The interiority of a well developed understanding is suprasensible (not sensation, not perception).  This is a suprasensible understanding of spacetime, of evolution, or any abstractions you like (in art, music, philosophy, religion, politics, community life).  The level is this well developed understanding that exerts a force as a background of things.  That is the background of things.  The horizon of the suprasensible world.

understanding 4
Understanding 4

The suprasensible is appearance qua appearance.  Here we are getting super deep into the understanding and again you see the triadic structure of appearance qua appearance.  The triadic structure of appearance qua appearance in terms of understanding means that with the well developed understanding there is an emptiness, and then the self-consciousness will fill it up in mediation of the appearances, and direct your consciousness towards this to bring something new into being.  This mediation between the three stages is the suprasensible inner world.  The suprasensible inner world deploys itself as a Law.  The constant changing appearances are always being mediated by this suprasensible understanding which has a law in itself and for itself.  To give the example of physics there are the appearances outside moving around but we approach that world with our fixed understanding of the a stable law, the laws of physics.  Hegel’s understanding this as the stable image, the image that doesn’t change.  In the physics community you have a stable image and that is how physicists do their work.

“147. The inner world, or supersensible beyond, has, however, come into being: it comes from the world of appearance which has mediated it[.] The supersensible is therefore appearance qua appearance. […] 148. The Understanding, which is our object, finds itself in just this position, that the inner world has come into being for it, to begin with, only as the universal still unfilled, in-itself. The play of Force has merely this negative significance of being in itself nothing, and its only positive significance that of being the mediating agency, but outside of the Understanding. The connection of the Understanding with the inner world will fill itself out for the Understanding. What is immediate for the Understanding is the play of Forces; but what is the True for it, is the simple inner world. […] 149. [This inner] supersensible world is an inert realm of laws which, though beyond the perceived world — for this exhibits law only through incessant change — is equally present in it and is its direct tranquil image.”

Hegel is talking about a suprasensible world coming into being which does not precede our development.  Our development brings the suprasensible into being.  Hegel then emphasizes that this suprasensible in-itself has this quality of being a fixed level of patterns that presuppose an eternal constant and this is what Hegel is calling the tranquil image.  You can see that the suprasensible understanding is trying to get a hold on a truth or reality that doesn’t change, which is eternal.  This is the dialectical nature of the understanding as such.  When we move from sensation, to perception to understanding, the understanding spontaneously wants this fixed image, this tranquil image that will explain all the phenomena.

Undestanding summary

Here Hegel, although he praises the understanding as the most powerful force, recognizes a dialectical flaw in the understanding which opens a new phenomenological horizon.  The positive dimension of the understanding is that it is capable of creating fixed patterns of integrated interaction and creating an understanding that is true for everyone.  However, before the level of true self-consciousness, the understanding cannot understand the field of becoming understanding.  We can say that we do not realize that the understanding cannot explain the movement of historical understanding as such.  This would require phenomenology.

“150. This realm of laws is indeed the truth for the Understanding, and that truth has its content in the law. At the same time, however, this realm is only the initial truth for the Understanding and does not fill out the world of appearance. In this the law is present, but is not the entire presence of appearance; with every change of circumstance the law has a different actuality. […] This defect in the law must equally be made manifest in the law itself. What seems to be defective in it is that while it does contain difference, the difference is universal, indeterminate. […] But this plurality is itself rather a defect; for it contradicts the principle of the Understanding for which, as consciousness of the simple inner world, the True is the implicitly universal unity. It must therefore let the many laws collapse into one law[.] The unification of all laws in universal attraction expresses no other content than just the mere Notion of law itself[.]”

This understanding of a universal law for your self eventually has to undergo transformation because there are always differences being discovered which will retroactively change what we think of as the law for all others.  So when Hegel says that every change of circumstance the law has a different actuality, he is saying that when historical circumstances change, there will still be a universal law, but that it will itself have transformed.  A good example of this may be Newtonian versus Relativistic science, or classical and quantum mechanics.  In these transformations what is being for others, changes.  That is what he means by saying that the “defect in the law must equally be made manifest in the law itself”.  The fact that our universal laws are not perfect, this difference, has to be included into the law itself.  Again, this is historical and phenomenological. On the first level of the understanding you might have a law that contains all the differences, but on the second law you have to include this indeterminate difference which is universal as well, this possibility of otherness, this possibility of total difference.  Thus when we are thinking the movement of the notion we have to think this flipping upside down of the universal inscribing difference into its core.

Understanding to Self-Consciousness

This brings us to a level where you move from understanding to self-consciousness, or what Hegel calls consciousness of consciousness.  On this level we are studying the motion of self-consciousnesses.  Thus wee are no longer thinking about some scientific understanding of the outside, we are thinking about this inside, where each well-developed suprasensible understanding has a unity, but what is between them are all these differences.  There will always be different paradigms representing unity which a subject will embody.  In the postmodern universe you will even have subjects embodying difference as such.

“151. The Notion of law is turned against law itself. That is to say, in the law the difference itself is grasped immediately and taken up into the universal, […] giving the moments whose relation is expressed by the law a subsistence[.] But these parts of the difference present in the law are at the same time themselves determinate sides; the pure Notion of law as universal attraction must, to get its true meaning, be grasped […] as what is absolutely simple or unitary, the differences present in law as such themselves return again into the inner world as a simple unity. This is the inner necessity of the law. […] 154. This necessity, which is merely verbal, is thus a recital of the moments constituting the cycle of the necessity. The moments are indeed distinguished but, at the same time, their difference is expressly said to be not a difference of the thing itself, and consequently is itself immediately cancelled again. This process is called ‘explanation’.”

Hegel is trying to describe this inversion.  What Notion takes as the law outside of itself has to be turned against itself.  We will never have a universal understanding of the outside that does not go through a mediation on the inside.  The universal in itself is all of these differences combined.  The logical necessity is including this difference which is often repressed or said not to be there.  When we give a universal explanation we always pretend this difference is not there.

Consciousness of Consciousness

This has to do with a fundamental inversion of the thing-in-itself.  You have to take the understanding of the notion for itself (e.g. any schema of the outside which claims to be universal).  Any schema of the outside which claims to be universal is the Notion externalized.  But when you invert it and turn it inside.  The Notion for itself is transformed into the Notion in itself.  The Notion in itself still wants unity but this unity is all the differences.  It is flipping the coincidence of the opposites of difference and unity.  The unity outside wants to do is explain all the differences, and what the unity inside has to do is include all the differences.

“157. The first suprasensible world, the tranquil kingdom of laws, the immediate copy of the perceived world, is charged into its opposite. […] This second suprasensible world is in this way the inverted world[.] With this, the inner world is completed as appearance. For the first suprasensible world was only the immediate raising of the perceived world into the universal element; it had its necessary counterpart in this perceived world which still retained for itself the principle of change and alteration. The first kingdom of laws lacked that principle, but obtains it as an inverted world. [/] 159. [T]his inverted world is the opposite of the first in the sense that it has the latter outside of it and repels that world from itself as an inverted actual world: that the one is appearance, whereas the other the in-itself; whereas the other is the world as it is for itself.”

The first suprasensible world is the first level of the understanding: the tranquil kingdom of laws.  This law explains all the change in our universal understanding, an immediate copy of perception.  The first level of the understanding reconciles the dialectical flaw of perception.  But the problem with the first level of the understanding is that it does not explain the notion in and for itself, which requires the second level of the understanding, which is this inverted world, the notion for itself.  The Notion for itself repels the outside world.  If the universal world of laws excludes my difference internal to my consciousness then it must be repelled as a necessity.  It is just Notion out there for itself, and not Notion in here for itself.


Thus we have a perspectival shift which is in relation between difference and unity.  On the first level of the understanding you have a totalization of the outside “things interact in manner X”.  But then on the second level of the understanding you have a second order understanding “we understand things interacting in manner X”.  In this move you include the difference in the unity.  This is a historical notional mediation of the outside.  How we understand things interacting in manner X is always subject to change and does not help us understand the notion in and for itself.

“160. From the idea […] of inversion, which constitutes the essential nature of one aspect of the suprasensible world, we must eliminate the sensuous idea of fixing the differences in a different sustaining element; and this absolute Notion of the difference must be represented and understood purely as inner difference, a repulsion of the selfsame, as selfsame, from itself, and likeness of the unlike as unlike. We have to think pure change, or think antithesis within the antithesis itself, as contradiction. For in the difference which is an inner difference, the opposite is not merely one of two — if it were, it would simply be, without an opposite — but it is the opposite of an opposite, or the other is itself immediately present in it. […] Thus the suprasensible world, which is the inverted world, has at the same time overarched the other world and has it within it; it is for itself the inverted world, i.e. the inversion of itself; it is itself and its opposite in one unity. Only thus is it difference as inner difference, or difference in its own self, or difference as an infinity.”

In a long winded way what Hegel is saying is that we have to include the inner difference which characterizes the universal Notion as such into our understanding of universality.  Only when we are capable of conceiving this inner difference can we understand the infinity which appears in history.  Of course we still have not been able to do this, we haven’t been able to grasp this pure difference as universality.  We haven’t been able to grasp this pure difference because we are not at the end of history yet, this pure difference that is the infinite Notion that appears to every self-consciousness within it.  Notion in itself is the only Force that transforms history as the concrete universality.  This brings us to the Absolute, and the first level of the understanding as perfection, and the second level of the understanding as contradiction.  We are not in a world that is perfectly symmetrical, self-same, self-similar; we are in a world that is contradictory, becoming and evolving.  The Absolute is this contradiction in its becoming.

Infinite Thing

Thus on the highest level of the Absolute you have this internal contradiction between the outer world of appearances and the divided self-consciousness of the inner world.  The divided self-consciousness of the inner wants identical eternity, and the outside world is this constant change, and the Absolute Notion is both of them at the same time, realizing that each self-consciousness will develop its own understanding as infinite pure difference.  Hegel uses words at this part of the chapter like “essence of life, “soul of the world” and “universal blood”.  What Hegel is saying is that infinite pure difference of the Notion in itself is the essence of life, soul of the world, universal blood.  It is the highest, it is the Absolute.

“161. We see that through infinity, law completes itself into an immanent necessity, and all the moments of [the world of] appearance are taken up into the inner world. That the simple character of law is infinity means […] that it is self-identical, but is also in itself different; or it is the selfsame which repels itself from itself or sunders itself into two. […] 162. This […] absolute Notion […] whose omnipresence is neither disturbed nor interrupted by any difference, but is itself every difference, as also their supersession; it pulsates within itself but does not move, inwardly vibrates, yet is at rest. […] Accordingly, we do not need to ask the question […] ‘How, from this pure essence, does this difference or otherness issue forth from it?’ For the division into two moments has already taken place[.] What was supposed to be the self-identical is thus already one of these two moments instead of being the absolute essence. That the self-identical divides itself into two means, therefore, just as well that it supersedes itself as already divided, supersedes itself as otherness.”

What this means is that we cannot understand the Absolute as this perfect immutable unity.  This perfect immutable unity is already the divided subject and its infinity.  The subject needs to own this infinity and enact this infinity because the One is already divided within itself.  We wouldn’t be here if the One wasn’t divided in itself.  If the One were One, if the One were whole we just wouldn’t be appearing to our self (appearance qua appearance).  We come to this level of reflection in the Absolute Notion of the universal understanding.

Infinity 2

For Hegel this is an eternal truth.  From going from sensation of the qualitative experience of individual immediacy, to perception distinguishing perceived objects, to integrating all of these objects into an understanding which is true for all others, to going to understanding the universal notion in our own minds, we reach the Absolute as pure difference, as a One that must be divided in itself in order for us to appear.  That is the infinite Thing.

“165. We see that in the inner world of appearance, the Understanding in truth comes to know nothing else but appearance [as] that play of Forces in its absolutely universal moments and in their movement; in fact, the Understanding experiences only itself. Raised above perception, consciousness exhibits itself closed in a unity with the supersensible world through the mediating term of appearance, through which it gazes into this background [lying behind appearance]. […] This curtain [of appearance] hanging before the inner world is therefore drawn away, and we have the inner being [the ‘I’] gazing into the inner world […]— self-consciousness. It is manifest that behind the so-called curtain which is supposed to conceal the inner world, there is nothing to be seen unless we go behind it ourselves[.] The cognition of what consciousness knows in knowing itself, requires a still more complex movement[.] ”

What Hegel is saying is that what we take to the the thing-in-themselves behind the appearances (e.g. Absolute Spacetime, Kantian Noumena), is nothing but our own suprasensible understanding in-itself.  Whenever we think there is something behind appearances this is always already our own understanding.  This is basically a coincidence between the Absolute void and the Absolute fullness.  That is for Hegel consciousness in-itself.

That brings us to the end of A. Consciousness in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.  Thank you for following along with me up to this point.

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