Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, we are ending with the beginning. In other words, we are ending with the Preface, which is of course the beginning of the book. I am ending with the Preface in part as a recommendation from the author of the Foreword I am reading, J.N. Findlay. This is recommended because the Preface itself was written after the Phenomenology of Spirit, after having completed the chapters. He is trying to explain himself. We get a totally different style in the Preface, in comparison to the main text.
Side-note: visit Philosophy Portal if you are interested in an upcoming course I am guiding on the Phenomenology of Spirit.
Hegel starts the Preface with a clear description of what he is fighting for in this book, why he wrote this book, where he is taking his philosophical stand. He is specifically fighting against the metaphysics of intuition, and feelings of oneness. He is interested in developing a philosophy capable of articulating the science of the notion and self-becoming.
A few notes on this, as it relates to the metaphysics of feelings and intuition of oneness, he is referring to the feeling of connectivity to the divine, oneness of God, self-identical with the Absolute. For this, Hegel thinks, is anti-thinking, and anti-philosophical. It rather shuts down thinking and self-becoming, and is the opposite of what Hegel comes to think of the real Absolute. The real Absolute is more in line with the science of the notion, of conceptualization. Whether or not science today is capable of thinking yet on the Hegelian level, the science of the notion and self-becoming, I will leave it to your self-judgement. But I will say that one who studies Hegel, one who comes to think on the level of the science of the notion and of self-becoming, is capable of including themselves, their own thinking and conceptualization, much better than most thinkers I’ve encountered today.
The principle that Hegel explores is the Absolute as substance, but also subject. The Absolute is not just a self-identical substance, the Absolute is not just an abyssal subject, but is a relation between substance and subject. From this Hegel includes the truth of the reflectivity in the self-relation, what Hegel calls negativity, namely, because including this dimension into the Absolute, means the Absolute is always negating itself, always positing itself and overcoming itself, and transcending itself. We will go a lot deeper in this Preface with the mechanism by which this occurs.
He then suggests that true philosophical cognition or Absolute cognition, is the temporal notion. Here Hegel is trying to think life and time. He says it is the notion that is immersed in the ‘sheer unrest of life’. This means conceptualization cannot remain static, cannot remain in a perfect form, self-similar with itself, but rather something that has to submit to something larger than itself, the sheer unrest of life, and find or win its truth in this sheer unrest of life. This is a very different way of thinking about identity, or thinking about truth of the concept. I think it is a very different way of thinking about the way one inhabits philosophy.
Again Hegel is trying to overcome traditional religious consciousness, or what I will label pre-Hegelian metaphysics, the one essential being, intuitive identification; with a higher-order consciousness, what I am calling Hegelian metaphysics, where there is a relationship between substance and subject, knowledge and being. He states from the opening that Phenomenology of Spirit as an object, what the work is aiming for, is aiming for a real cognition that can get involved with the thing to its limit and negation of identity. If you simply posit something as true, but do not get involved with what you are positing, and find out what its limit is, find out what its negativity is, you are not really engaged with the truth. You have a certain self-knowing but you don’t know what it is in-itself. To get to know what it is in-itself and its truth you have to get involved, again, with the sheer unrest of life, and explore what you are positing to its limit, and to its negativity, to its opposite of its identity. This will bring one to an actual knowing of truth in the notion, self-notion. Also, for Hegel, this is what scientific consciousness really is.
When we think about science, someone like a Charles Darwin comes to mind as a perfect example. He is someone who really explored his notion, someone who really pushed the limits and came to a negativity of his identity in really founding modern theory of biology and the life sciences. Darwin did that by countering, by going against the intuition, and the feeling of an edified truth, by going against the feeling and the truth of the religious scaffolding within which he lived.
However, what Hegel is trying to say here is that this same behaviour which Darwin is such a good example of, in relation to his quest in the life sciences, has to be applied to self-consciousness as such, the notion as such. Namely, we have to explore the limits of our own identities, and explore them to their absolute negativity.
“3. When this activity [of aims and results] is taken more than the mere beginnings of cognition, when it is allowed to pass for actual cognition, then it should be reckoned as no more than a device for evading the real issue[.] For the real issue is not exhausted by stating it as an aim, but by carrying it out, nor is the result the actual whole, but rather the result together with the process through which it came about. […] The specific difference of a thing is rather its limit; it is where the thing stops, or it is what the thing is not. For [in] getting involved in the real issue, […] [one must tarry] with it, [lose oneself] in it, […] and [surrender] to it. [/] 5. To help bring philosophy closer to the form of Science, to the goal where it can lay aside the title ‘love of knowing’ and be actual knowing — that is what I have set myself to do. [/] 6. If […] the True exists only in what, or better as what, is sometimes called intuition, sometimes immediate knowledge of the Absolute, religion or being — […] then what is required in the exposition of philosophy is, […] the form of the Notion […][;] the Notion of the Absolute.”
He is starting this passage by articulating what I was trying to emphasize in the last section, about taking something to its limit, to discover its truth. Merely stating something as an aim, or as a positing, without carrying it through, without finding what its limit is, where the thing stops, by tarrying and losing oneself in it, then its not true knowledge. True knowledge requires that one lose oneself to it, surrenders to it. This should be applied to the level of the philosophical truth of self-consciousness. This is the exposition of philosophy, the form of the notion, the notion of the absolute.
Hegel states that philosophy must deal with the fact that modern spirit has lost its essential being, and is also conscious of this loss. What this means is that spirit, historical spirit, had an essential being, or thought it had an essential being. Not only has this being been lost, we can think about the traditional or ancient or hunter-gatherer way of life; not only has this essential being been lost, of a subject with its substance in the world, but now consciousness is aware that it has been lost. This is again an example of how Hegel mobilizes and uses the logic of the negation of the negation. Not only has essential being been lost (negation), but is aware of this loss (negation of negation). Philosophy must be able to think this, the lost subject, the reflexive awareness of the lost subject.
“7. If we apprehend a demand of this kind in its broader context, and view it as it appears at the stage which self-conscious Spirit has presently reached, it is clear that Spirit has now got beyond the substantial life it formerly led in the element of thought, that it is beyond the immediacy of faith, beyond the satisfaction and security of the certainty that consciousness then had, of its reconciliation with the essential being, and of that being’s universal presence both within and without. It has not only gone beyond all this into the other extreme of an insubstantial reflection of itself into itself, but beyond that too. Spirit has not only lost its essential life; it is also conscious of this loss, and of the finitude that is its own content. Turning away from the empty husks, and confessing that it lies in wickedness, it reviles itself for so doing, and now demands from philosophy, not so much knowledge of what it is, as the recovery through its agency of that lost sense of solid and substantial being.”
Hegel is talking about how we have lost a substantial life, we have lost certainty in reconciliation with the essential being. In some sense this is a mediation on the loss of a traditional religious belief. In many ways this can be thought of as similar to Nietzsche’s proclamation of the Death of God, there is a connection there. But he is also identifying that the subject, in losing this, recognizes its own, what he calls, wickedness, namely, that the subject is confronting/contending with what it is, and is not so much looking to philosophy to tell it what it is, but is looking for philosophy to recover the lost object, to re-unify it with something that has been lost.
Here this is where Hegel situates his project, which is not to recover the subject in the way the subject wants (i.e. unification with essential being), but to open the subject up to what is happening, and the reality of the modern spirit. He situates the modern spirit on the level of modern science, and puts the modern spirit on the level of modern science on the level of differentiation of notion. The subject is going to undergo massive differentiation, not only substance. I don’t think we have fully reconciled or understood what that means, but the differentiation of notion has continued from Hegel’s time to our time. The metaphysical mystery for Hegel is the idiosyncrasy of self, not the unity of identity with the Absolute, this idiosyncrasy of the self is the differentiation of the Absolute notion, of conceptual knowing over non-conceptual knowing. The dialectician has a responsibility to the individuals within the historical process. The dialectician has a responsibility to the spirit’s working their way through their self-notion, the stages described in the Phenomenology of Spirit.
He further explains that this birth of modern science, birth of the spirit of modern science, is the birth of a new era, is a qualitative transformation, is something radically different then anything that has come before. This modern spirit and world will dissolve all previous structures and lead us into something radically uncertain and unknown. In that unknown and uncertainty, we have to understand the idiosyncrasy and differentiation of the self.
“10. [Truth is] Notion and Necessity as products of that reflection which is at home only in the finite. […] The power of Spirit is only as great as its expression, its depth only as deep as it dares to spread out and lose itself in its exposition [i.e. the idiosyncrasy of the self]. [/] 11. Besides, it is not difficult to see that ours is a birth-time and a period of transition to a new era. Spirit has broken with the world it has hitherto inhabited and imagined, and is of a mind to submerge it in the past, and in the labour of its own transformation. Spirit is indeed never at rest but always engaged in moving forward. [From] the gradualness of merely quantitative growth — there is a qualitative leap — […] the Spirit in its formation matures slowly and quietly into its new shape, dissolving bit by bit the structure of its previous world, whose tottering state is only hinted at by isolated symptoms. The frivolity and boredom which unsettle the established order, the vague foreboding of something unknown, these are the heralds of approaching change.”
Hegel is emphasizing that the truth of your notion, and necessity, the idiosyncrasy of your notion, are products of reflection, which are at home only at home in the finite. You cannot escape to an eternal absolute for your identity and truth. The power of your spirit is the capacity to spread yourself out and go deeply as possible into this world we are in. And that we are in a new world, we are in a birthing time, we are still in a birthing time, perhaps even stranger and more bizarre than anything Hegel could have dreamed of. Nonetheless he is describing how the spirit of modern science is opening up this increasing uncertainty and unknownness. The structures that uphold the world of the old are tottering, they are not stable, they produce symptoms. Today we live in a world of mental symptoms. The truth of these structures is found in these symptoms. In other words, they are not deviations to be ignored or patched up, their is truth in these symptoms themselves, in boredom, frivolity, in behaviour that unsettles the established order. This is why Hegel is so important for our time, this is even more essential that we are reflecting what Hegel is saying here, not to identify with Hegel, but to think deeply our time.
Hegel says the new world is represented by science as the crown of spirit. He is here a spiritual scientist. He is not against science, but against a science that is not of spirit. He likens science to a developmental process, that it is an infant child, and could it become full grown. What stage of development is science as a notion. Still science is coming into its notion. We can ask what will we know about the full developmental historicity of science in 100 years or 200 years time? These are questions at the foundations of science.
Here we can again repeat the notion that truth is not only substance, but equally subject. This is a crucial and axiomatic notion in Hegel. What he is against is the identity of A=A, or the notion that “all is one”. Hegel is privileging contradiction over identity. He is saying there are no fixed identities, that what is fixed is contradiction, that the one is contradictory with itself.
And the truth of substance/subject, into the mechanism of it. It is a movement of self-positing and self-othering. The absolute is something that posits itself, and starts othering itself. This is again the negativity. You can see how this is a very different mechanism of ideology which will self-posit to remain self-similar. Hegel here will say that any self-positing to remain self-similar is a defence against truth, a defence against really getting involved with the life and with involved with the truth of life, and ultimately the truth of the self-notion.
“12. Science, the crown of a world of Spirit, is not complete in its beginnings. […] It is the whole which, having traversed its content in time and space, has returned into itself, and is the resultant simple Notion of the whole. But the actuality of this simple whole consists in those various shapes and forms which have become its moments, and which will now develop and take shape afresh, this time in their new element, in their newly acquired meaning. [/] 16. The formalism [of A=A where all is one], which recent philosophy denounces and despises, […] will not vanish from Science […] till the cognizing of absolute actuality has become entirely clear as to its own nature. [/] 17. In my view, […] everything turns on grasping and expressing the True, not only as Substance, but equally as Subject. [/] 18. Further, the living Substance is being which is in truth Subject, or, what is the same, is in truth actual only in so far as it is the movement of positing itself, or is the mediation of its self-othering with itself. […] Only this self-restoring sameness, or this reflection in otherness within itself — […] is the True.”
He starts talking about science as a developmental process, something that has come new into the world, but has yet to reveal the truth of itself in its notion, which I still think is true to this day, we are still in the development of science. We are still have a huge problem on a social level with the metaphysics of science. We have many scientific metaphysicians who are operating on the formalism of A=A, where “all is one”. Until we are aware of the nature of spirit, this tendency to A=A, or “all is one”, will remain. This privileging of identity over contradiction will remain. This inability to grasp the true as a relation between substance and subject will remain. And this fear, and positing of untruth as truth to avoid self-othering, will remain. What is essential is that identity and difference, is dialecticized. The movement where identity becomes different from itself, and then to a self-restoring sameness.
The Absolute is a process of its own self-becoming, of its own work. The Absolute becomes what it is through its own self-positing and self-othering. The end of the process is contained in the beginning as a type of seed form. But it only becomes what it is through work. Just because the end is contained as a potential in the beginning, that doesn’t mean that end will be actual. The actuality depends on the work, in the process, in the development of the thing. The location of the form of cognition required to actualize that seed form, is what he calls divine consciousness or God. It is love with itself based on labour of the negative (self-positing, self-othering). The qualities of the experience, are seriousness, suffering and patience. When you are alone with the alone, labouring with your notion, the divine consciousness is seriousness, suffering and patience. To continue this labour of love with itself, this is not a New Age form of love, or bliss, “follow your bliss”, or “you are ok the way you are”, or some “positive affirmation”. This is a much different type of cognition and divinity. He claims it is a unity in otherness or alienation. For Hegel, alienation is a positive dimension, through negation of negation. There is unity in otherness (alienation) and then overcoming that alienation, but you never get rid of alienation as such, what happens is that you become at home in the alien (pure negativity, or otherness of identity).
“18. [The True] is the process of its own becoming, the circle that presupposes its end as its goal, having its end also as its beginning; and only by being worked out to its end, is it actual. [/] 19. Thus the life of God and divine cognition may well be spoken of as a disporting of Love with itself; but this idea sinks into mere edification, and even insipidity, if it lacks the seriousness, the suffering, the patience, and the labour of the negative. In-itself, that life is indeed one of untroubled equality and unity with itself, for which otherness and alienation, and the overcoming of alienation, are not serious matters. [/] 20. The True is the whole. But the whole is nothing other than the essence consummating itself through its development. Of the Absolute it must be said that it is essentially a result, that only in the end is it what it truly is; and that precisely in this consists its nature, viz. to be actual, subject, the spontaneous becoming of itself. […] Whatever is more than such a word [e.g. ‘the Divine’, ‘the Absolute’, ‘the Eternal’], contains a becoming-other that has to be taken back, or is a mediation.”
To reaffirm many things I have already said: we have here that the subject becomes what it really is by working itself out in a process where the end result was contained at the beginning, that the subject is capable of doing that with a type of self-love, or disporting of love with itself. The qualities of this love is in the suffering, seriousness, and patience of the self-notion. That this is the whole, but this whole is its development. This whole is not an ahistorical or self-identical Absolute. This whole is its development and only becomes what it is at the end. When you think about the historical process in this way, what seed form is contained in the beginning of the historical process itself? What is the historical process developing into? What is the logic of the idea of the human species, of human civilization? These are the types of questions worth reflecting on from a Hegelian perspective. Any reference to the divine, the eternal, must recognize that these things should be a mediation, that they should include subjective reflectivity, the becoming of the truth.
Hegel then discusses the nature of reason and purpose together. For Hegel these are together. The subject makes itself, the Absolute makes itself with a purposeful reason. Here the words in-itself to for-itself are essential. We usually think about the true nature of things in-themselves, but Hegel is dialecticizing the process. He gives the example of an embryo. An embryo is in-itself, I was an embryo at one point as a truth in-itself; but the adult becomes for-itself, I become as a truth for-myself. The in-itself becomes for-itself. This is essential for understanding Hegel’s Absolute as becoming for-itself.
Here Hegel thinks Aristotle’s externalized teleology has discredited purpose, but it has not discredited the notion of teleology becomes for-itself in a process. One of the crucial dimensions of reconciling Aristotle’s externalized teleology, that there is a self-paradox of rest/unrest in the nature of purpose. The nature of this self-paradox is essential. When the self has come to an awareness of itself on the level of the Absolute, there is a way in which the self can be pure rest, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t move, it is just a perspectival shift on unrest, perspectival shift on alienation, and overcoming alienation. Reaching this level is essential to continue on with the nature of purpose. Again the purpose is contained at the beginning as unmoved. It becomes what it is in its actuality, or unfolding, through the moving subject. What many subjects struggle with, I think, is that in their unfolding or moving, they lose touch with their unrest, with being unmoved. This is especially important for adults who are looking or searching for their core. It is in this self-paradox of moved and unmoved. There is a lot that can be done here, thinking about paradoxes of prime-mover, the unmoved mover. These are usually externalized into God, away from the self. But here Hegel is bringing Aristotle to the historicity of substance and subject.
“21. Reason is […] misunderstood when reflection is excluded from the True, and is not grasped as a positive moment of the Absolute. It is reflection that makes the True a result[.] […] Though the embryo is indeed in itself a human being, it is not so for itself; that it only is as cultivated Reason, which has made itself into what it is in itself. And that is when it for the first time is actual. [/] 22. What has just been said can also be expressed by saying that Reason is purposive activity. The exaltation of a supposed Nature over a misconceived thinking, and especially the rejection of external teleology, has brought the form of purpose in general into discredit. Still, in the sense in which Aristotle, too, defines Nature as purposive activity, purpose is what is immediate and at rest, the unmoved which is also self-moving, and as such is Subject. […] The realized purpose, or the existent actuality, is movement and unfolded becoming; but it is just this unrest that is the self; and the self is like that immediacy and simplicity of the beginning because it is the result, that which has returned into itself, the latter being similarly just the self.”
Here what Hegel is saying is using the example of the embryo, of the Absolute as something that is in-itself and becomes for-itself. He is talking about the simultaneity of reason and purpose; how thinking these together has been discredited in the flip between Aristotle and Newtonian metaphysics. Hegel is trying to work through this difference between Aristotle and Newton dialectically, bringing these problems to the level of the subject, bringing it to the historicity and the science of the notion.
Hegel then talks about the ancients and moderns. This is connected to the relation between Aristotle and modern science. He recognizes that the ancient represents the Absolute as a substance, but the moderns cannot remain within this representation. For moderns, we also need to represent the Absolute as subject, including ourselves within it, becoming self-reflexive. This appears as a qualitative transition in the Absolute, for Hegel. You can learn a lot more about this if you study the chapter on Absolute Knowledge. In this chapter Hegel goes through the history of the Absolute becoming reflexive. He starts with Descartes, he works through Leibniz, he works through the Enlightenment thinkers, he works through Kant, Fichte, Schelling. He sees this as the process of the Absolute becoming reflexive, more aware of itself, more aware of the need to include subject within substance.
The problem is that the Absolute subjective standpoints, fixing substance, make the Absolute impossible as self-movement. When a subject identifies with substance as Absolute, they fix it, they are fixing something outside of themselves, which they need to include within themselves. This is so important. Hegel then says the paradox is resolved in the Absolute Spirit as alone the actuality which is in and for itself determining other being. The fixed points of substance outside of the subject needs to be made fluid, needs to be dissolved, because it makes self-movement impossible. This is again overcoming A=A, instituting a metaphysics of contradiction.
“23. The need to represent the Absolute as Subject has found expression in the propositions: God is the eternal, the moral world-order, love and so on. In such propositions […] what is posited is not a being [i.e. something that merely is][…] but rather something that is reflected into itself, a Subject. […] The Subject is assumed as a fixed point to which, as their support, the predicates are affixed by a movement belonging to the knower of this Subject[.] […] After this point has been presupposed, the nature of the movement cannot really be other than what it is[.] […] Hence, the mere anticipation that the Absolute is Subject is not only not the actuality of this Notion, but it even makes the actuality impossible[.] [/] 25. That the True is actual […] is expressed in the representation of the Absolute as Spirt — the most sublime Notion and the one which belongs to the modern age and its religion. The spiritual alone is the actual; […] it is that which relates itself to itself and is determinate, it is other-being and being-for-self, […] in other words, it is in and for itself. […] The Spirit that, so developed, knows itself as Spirit, is Science; Science is its actuality and the realm which it builds for itself in its own element.”
Hegel is saying that when the subject fixes a substance outside of itself, God the eternal, the Moral World Order and so forth, such propositions are not properly reflected back into themselves as subject. Basically the subject is fixing predicates outside of itself, using them as a support and crutch. But the Absolute as subject, the Absolute as subject connected to truth as its becoming, is the Absolute as truth of spirit for itself, and belongs to the modern age, and its religion. He does say that the modern world will have its religion. As we know religion is an important stage of the Absolute in the Phenomenology of Spirit. But ultimately spirit has to know itself as science and is science. This is a spirit science. This is a science that builds itself for-itself, it is a science for-itself, and builds itself in its own element. This has to do with the idiosyncrasy of the self-notion in becoming.
On this level what we are dealing with is pure self-recognition with Absolute otherness, what Hegel calls Aether. This is the ground and soil of science or knowing in general. What the greatest scientists have, is a pure self-recognition in Absolute otherness. But science as an institution, as historical institution, is not built by subjects of this nature. Subjects of this nature are usually outside of these institutions. They are in otherness, like a Darwin. I always name subjects like Einstein, Marx, Nietzsche, they are really in their own Aether, or Absolute otherness. This is the ground or soil of science, brought to the level of subjectivity itself.
Spirit must raise itself to this level to live in and with science, an individual must achieve this standpoint. It is not enough to know the scientific method, it must be applied to spirit in such a way that it can raise itself to the level of pure self-recognition in absolute otherness. Then spirit can truly live in and with science, it can become a spirit science, a science of spirit. The individual is the Absolute form and is an immediate certainty. Science must unite itself with self-certainty to become itself. When Hegel talks about self-certainty, he is not talking about a self-certainty on the level of Descartes “I think, therefore I am”, it is more a self-certainty which is capable of engaging in this positing and self-othering, and is certain of itself in this context, is certain of itself in uncertainty.
“26. Pure self-recognition in absolute otherness, this Aether as such, is the ground and soil of Science or knowledge in general. […] This simple being in its existential form is the soil [of Science], it is thinking which has its being in Spirit alone. […] Science on its part requires that self-consciousness should have raised itself into this Aether in order to be able to live […] with Science and in Science. Conversely, the individual has the right to demand that Science should at least provide him with the ladder to this standpoint, should show him this standpoint in himself. […] Let Science be in its own self what it may, relatively to immediate self-consciousness it presents itself in an inverted posture; or, because this self-consciousness has the principle of its actual existence in the certainty of itself, Science appears to it not to be actual, since self-consciousness exists on its own account outside of Science. Science must therefore unite this element of self-certainty with itself[.]
To reiterate, spirit eventually recognizes itself in otherness as an Aether, and as a ground. He is articulating an existential form of science. He is articulating the way in which science cannot function de-coupled from spirit, the greatest scientists were the greatest spirit’s, which is not looking for recognition from an other, an other historical human being. Moreover, he is making a social claim, that society should be providing spirit, if society is a scientific society, society should be providing spirit the opportunity to reach this standpoint within himself or herself. If society doesn’t do this, the spirit will have an inverted posture, and will do damage to itself. It would be like giving a child a gun. It is giving a spirit that doesn’t know itself, a very powerful method, without an understanding of itself.
Hegel says this is the point of the Phenomenology of Spirit, the coming to be of Science, from sense-immediacy to Religion, the enormous labour of the negative. In Phenomenology of Spirit we go from Consciousness, Self-Consciousness, Reason, Spirit, Religion, Absolute Knowledge (the enormous labour of the negative and the Coming-to-be-of Science), and the problem is that science does not take into consideration this coming-to-be of the spirit of science itself. He says this coming-to-be, this phenomenology of spirit, is different from a foundation of science, but the individual’s formative stages of universal spirit, it is the way the individual comes to be the subject of absolute knowledge.
He says that, we do a lot of damage by not understanding the most familiar things, not understanding what is sense. On the level of consciousness, we have sense, perception. understanding. What is sense? What is perception? What is understanding? On the level of self-consciousness, what is recognition? What does recognition mean for me? How does recognition mediate me? How does recognition effect my life? What is nature? He is saying the very familiar must be understood cognitively. That often we forget the process of coming to be great spirit.
“27. It is this coming-to-be of Science as such or of knowledge that is described in this Phenomenology of Spirit. Knowledge in its first phase […] [is] sense-consciousness. […] To beget the element of Science which is the pure Notion of Science itself, it must travel a long way and work its passage. This process of coming-to-be […] will not be […] an initiation of the unscientific consciousness into Science; [nor] the ‘foundation’ of Science; least of all will it […] begin straight away with absolute knowledge[.] [/] 29. The goal is Spirit’s insight into what knowing is. Impatience demands the impossible [and] the attainment of the end without the means. […] Since the Substance of the individual […] has had the patience to […] take upon itself the enormous labour of world-history […] the individual certainly cannot by the nature of the case comprehend his own substance more easily. [/] 31. Quite generally, the familiar, just because it is familiar, is not cognitively understood […] [and the] commonest way in which we deceive ourselves or others about understanding[.]”
Hegel is saying that the point of the Phenomenology of Spirit is this coming to be of science, and we forget this dimension of the spirit. It is very true of our culture, and it is very important that our culture re-instantiate a coming-to-be, to understand the familiar, to understand how we come to be the greatest possible spirit’s we can be. Unless we know what knowing is, there is often too much certain knowing, without knowing what knowing is. This is what Phenomenology of Spirit helps to address. And also to re-familiarize ourselves with the familiar. To take a long time to dwell in the most familiar things. Sense, perception, understanding. Often times we overlook these things, we might be interested in some complex object or process disconnected from ourself, without really understanding what is sense, perception, understanding, and we deceive ourselves in this way.
On the level of active universality, he talks about the faculty of the understanding as the absolute power. It was the absolute power in the activity of dissolution, not in reification or holding together. It is the most astonishing and mightiest of powers. He says that an accident detached from self-enclosed circling, gaining a separate freedom, is the power of the negative or the pure I. You can think about this self-enclosed circle with no room for difference, otherness, reifying itself, not destroying itself from within. The power of the negative is the power to break apart, a circle with a gap in it. The pure I is there. The location of death is there, as the ultimate non-actuality, and the key to actual spirit power. The truth is found in utter dismemberment, he is saying it is magic. We are here going to be confronting the most important passages of the Preface, getting at the very core of the thing, getting at the core of absolute knowledge.
“32. The activity of dissolution is the power and work of the Understanding, the most astonishing and mightiest of powers, or rather the absolute power. The circle that remains self-enclosed and, like substance, holds its moments together, […] has nothing astonishing about it. But that an accident as such, detached from what circumscribes it, […] should attain […] freedom — this is the tremendous power of the negative; it is the energy of thought, of the pure ‘I’. Death, […] this non-actuality, is of all things the most dreadful, and to hold fast what is dead requires the greatest strength. […] The life of Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death, […] untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself. […] Spirit is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and tarrying with it. This tarrying with the negative is the magical power that converts it into being. This power is identical with […] the Subject […] giving determinateness an existence in its own element [and thus] supersedes abstract immediacy[.]”
Some of the lines here are the most powerful in the Preface. Hegel talks about how this self-enclosed circle is nothing astonishing. This self-enclosed circle is frightened of death. This self-enclosed circle is not finding its truth precisely because it is protecting itself from the truth. It should attain its freedom requires going into the tremendous power of the negative, the tremendous power of thought and the pure I. He locates this also with death as a non-actuality. We have to think no-actuality within actuality. He says the life of spirit is not shrinking from death, but going into death, and finding itself in this destruction.
I think there is a lot to be found in these passages, and in the secret to Hegel’s thinking in these passages. Because what he is describing, the basic circle closed in on itself, and the gap in the circle where you find the truth and fall apart, and rebuild your circle. This is the motor by which the Phenomenology of Spirit is written.
He says the active universal puts itself to the test at every point of its existence, philosophizing about everything it came across. The very process of coming to be, through sense, through self-consciousness, through reason, spirit, religion, it is the individual that has tested itself at every point, has become truth through that process, has become the pure I through this process. He says it becomes purged of both sensuous immediacy of its origin, and the fixed abstract thoughts of formative education. It has become through its contingent origin, but purged itself of this contingency of its origin, and also purged itself of all the fixed abstract thoughts of formative education. Both were necessary, but both were purged in the end, at the stage of absolute knowledge. What is found is a truthful self-motion as pure circles. Pure circles are not self-enclosed circles but circles that include otherness. He says this is scientific method of immediate existence. This is science of consciousness. Totally always in touch with the self.
“33. Putting itself to the test at every point of its existence, and philosophizing about everything it came across, it made itself into a universality that was active through and through. […] The task [used to consist mostly] in purging the individual of an immediate, sensuous mode of apprehension, and making him into a substance that is an object of thought and that thinks, [but now] the opposite, in freeing determinate thoughts from their fixity so as to give actuality to the universal, and impart to it spiritual life. […] By giving up not only the fixity of the pure concrete, which the ‘I’ itself is, in contrast with its differentiated content, but also the fixity of the differentiated moments which, posited in the element of pure thinking, share the unconditioned nature of the ‘I’. Through this movement the pure thoughts become Notions, and are only now what they are in truth, self-movements, circles, spiritual essences, which is what their substance is. [/] 34. This movement of pure essences constitutes the nature of scientific method in general.”
Hegel is here really pushing towards what is a science of consciousness, a science of existence, a science connected to spirit. It is really about overcoming fixed categories and being in constant relation to the existence of your immediate being. Becoming pure thinking. Self-movements, circles, spiritual essences. It is spirit in-itself.
He claims a science of experience is a substance movement as object of consciousness becoming other to self and superseding otherness. This is the mechanism we have gone over. You take yourself as an object, you posit yourself, you become other to yourself, you supersede this otherness. This never goes away. The Absolute Knowledge is basically becoming aware of this gap between the I and substance. The gap itself. You can become in some sense, to become the gap itself, or the disparity itself. When you become the disparity itself, between the I and substance, this is when their is a perspectival shift on alienation. That is when you become at home in alienation. And that is when you become the void, and the soul of the self itself. And he says this is the conclusion of Phenomenology of Spirit. Where substance shows itself as subject, and spirit wins itself. These distinctions are crucial. You win yourself in the loss of substance, you win yourself in the falling apart of substance. That is the conclusion. You become the cut between substance and subject.
36. The immediate existence of Spirit, consciousness, contains the two moments of knowing and the objectivity negative to knowing. […] The Science of this pathway is the Science of the experience which consciousness goes through; the substance and its movement are viewed as the object of consciousness. […] But Spirit becomes object because it is just this movement of becoming an other to itself, i.e. becoming an object to itself, and of suspending this otherness. [/] 37. The disparity which exists in consciousness between the ‘I’ and the substance which is its object is the distinction between them, the negative in general. This can be regarded as the defect of both, though it is their soul, or that which moves them. That is why some of the ancients conceived the void as the principle of motion, for they rightly saw the moving principle as the negative, though they did not yet grasp that the negative is the self. […] When it has shown this completely, Spirit has made its existence identical with its essence. […] With this, the Phenomenology of Spirit is concluded.
Here, although the Preface is not concluded, this is where I am going to end Part 1 of my overage of the Preface. This is an essential moment to reflect on, one of the most important statements to reflection in all of philosophy. Hegel is saying the Absolute was conceived by ancients, in a way that included movement and a relation to the void, however, although this principle of movement was identified, the ancients did not realize that this was a key to the self. Again, if the ancients had a reified view of the Absolute as substance, a self-identical view of the Absolute as substance, what they did not grasp was the principle of the subject. That is what is becoming clearer as time goes on. The location of the subject in the Absolute. The relation of the subject to the void. The key to understanding movement itself, why am I moving? I think ultimately with absolute knowledge, the subject becomes this void itself, becomes this disparity, becomes this cut, becomes this hole, between I and substance. In there you have the key to the whole mechanism of positing and becoming other.
This is also the point in the Preface where Hegel concludes the point of the Phenomenology of Spirit. With this we have the level at which the subject must be brought in order to properly work with science, in order to be a properly scientific subject. With that we have the right to analyze our current world, and analyze our current relationship to science, and analyze our current relationship to society, as something that needs to be rethought much deeper along the lines of what Hegel is describing in the Phenomenology of Spirit. If we have a scientific society, if we are living, dwelling, in a scientific age, the individual has the right to be brought to be brought to the standpoint of absolute knowledge, to be able to work with what it is. Only then we will be able to approach real problems of sexuality, economics, politics. You can see why post-Hegelian philosophy started to wrestle with Marxism, why post-Hegelian philosophy wrestled with phenomenology, existentialism, psychoanalysis with various disciplines within continental philosophy, and why the Phenomenology of Spirit is such an important text to this day, not properly embedded, or thought. I leave you there and will pick up the second part to the Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit next.
To find out more about the upcoming course in Hegel’s Phenomenology, see Philosophy Portal.