The Phenomenology of Spirit: C. Individuality, Reason as lawgiver and Reason as testing laws

In finishing the long chapter on Reason, we should expect to find a transition that shows the reason for the next section on Spirit. Indeed, we find exactly that, just as we found similar transitions between sections at the end of “Consciousness” and “Self-Consciousness.” However, unlike the shift from, for example, Self-consciousness to Reason, the movement from Reason to Spirit has been anticipated for a long while. If we put aside the Preface (which was written last), then before the section on Reason, there was only one mention of Reason [Vernuft] as a moment of consciousness. On the other hand, before the chapter entitled “Spirit,” the word Geist has appeared about a hundred times. As the title The Phenomenology of Spirit suggests, there is something about Spirit that warrants special attention.

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The Phenomenology of Spirit: B. Reason, C. Individuality – a. The Spiritual Animal Kingdom and Deceit

This will be the reading for Saturday, May 17’s meeting.

Since self-consciousness learned that the way of the world, in which everyone seeks their own interest, is not as bad as it thought, it now knows it is the interfusion of universal human capabilities and individuality.  That is, individuals use those universal capabilities to assert their individuality among others; in acting, they become real boys for the first time.

This chapter is about the ins and outs of being an individual for the sake of being an individual.  Actions make one an individual, and acting has three moments: the circumstances of the action, the means, and the End.  From our observer’s perspective, each of the three presupposes the other, but the individual lets them fall apart, and so one of them can stand in for the other two.  Any one of the three can be the matter-in-hand, or the point; so for example, if one fails to achieve their End, they can still feel themselves to be individualized by their mere intention or initial circumstances.  This is a consciousness that merely wants to signal its individuality to others by paying attention to whatever issue is at hand, but when others discover that it is a mere signalling, they feel deceived – and of course they are aggrieved by this deception because they, too, only wanted to signal their individuality.  Basically, this is individuality as all bark and no bite.

Self-consciousness only moves out of this quagmire when the unity of the three moments is reasserted.  When the three moments are unified, one must actually work to carry out their Ends, and so individuality becomes actually universal, instead of only abstractly.

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The Phenomenology of Spirit: B. Reason, The Actualization of Self-Consciousness Through its Own Activity

This will be the reading for Saturday, April 26.  As usual, directions are here.

Let’s begin with an attempt to contextualize this chapter.  The Phenomenology began with discussions of the consciousness of sense-certainty and perception, which were attempts at direct, ahistorical knowledge of the world.  This gave way to the self-consciousness which realized itself to be for an other, and through its religious tutelage, discovered the possibility of being governed by reason.  Thus arose reason, which began with a repetition-with-a-twist of direct knowledge, scientific observation.  Like the consciousness of sense-certainty before it, reason in the form of scientific observation now recognizes that it has its truth in the other, i.e. it is mediated and historical (Hegel explicitly says that the active actualization of self-consciousness is to observing reason as self-consciousness was to consciousness, but I’d like to live this point aside for now).

Self-consciousness seeks to actualize its own ends, to make them universal.  This chapter is about three different versions of those ends, with three different attending relations to the universal.  First, the undisciplined consciousness of pleasure which uses others for its own ends, and ends up with a completely empty universal.  Second, the undisciplined law of the heart, which finds an oppressive universal.  Finally, self-consciousness passes into a more disciplined form of virtue, which, in its conflict with the seemingly cynical way of the world, discovers that spending all one’s time on a moral high horse is not all it’s cracked up to be.

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The Phenomenology of Spirit: B. Reason, Observing Reason (To §255)

In the Introduction, Hegel stated that The Phenomenology of Spirit is a theory of knowledge.  After passing through the traditionally epistemological topics of sense-certainty, perception, and understanding, we were treated to an account of the historical genesis of the thinking individual.  Now we have returned to an explicitly epistemological topic, that of Reason.

A brief account of why the detour was necessary can serve as an introduction to Hegel’s concerns here.  A direct empirical connection to the world has served as the guiding principle of many philosophies, from Locke to Anglo sense-data theorists.  More over, it is the most obvious defense against being devoured by the Scylla of idealism or the Charybdis of skepticism.  Hegel undercut sense-certainty by pointing out its dissolution into useless generalities.  If we can not simply being thinking, an account of its origin in practical and therefore historical life was necessary.

Rather than grounding the empirical observation of science in direct sense contact, Hegel grounds it in the shaky results (conceptual rather than empirical) of a historical process.  In this early stage of Reason, which is now recognizable as what we mean by the English word science, consciousness is still suffering from a sense-certainty hangover.  Certainly, science is unconcerned with basic, every day observations – “my coffee is brown” is not a scientific observation, per se – yet the necessity of conceptual thought as opposed to pure empirical observation remains opaque to scientific consciousness.  In short, this is the concern of a. Observation of Nature; to show how the scientific observation of the world, apparently a rigidly empirical distinguishing of entity from entity,  remains reliant upon historically-developed concepts.

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The Phenomenology of Spirit: B. Reason, The Certainty and Truth of Reason

C. (AA.) Reason

V. The Certainty and Truth of Reason

The title of this section indicates both that we will be dealing with two opposed ideas as well as their combined unity. “Certainty” was among the earliest terms in The Phenomenology, and it indicated an experience of (seemingly) immediate knowledge. In sense-certainty, I am sure of what is here and now without explanation. On the other hand, truth is always the unfolded inner contradiction of what consciousness experiences as any given stage. That is, at any given stage, what consciousness experiences is not the truth of that experience. It is only when consciousness passes to the next stage that it can look back on the previous one and realize that what had seemed to be the case was not, in fact, true. In other words, certainty is opposed to truth just as present is opposed to non-present (past and future).

On the other hand, these two opposites are united in Reason. In fact, with this one term “reason” Hegel sometimes means a kind of naive reason, or reason as it is experienced; at other times “reason” indicates the truth of reason, or reason as it is understood by the philosopher. Sometimes it is difficult to know when he switches from one to the other.

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