Perception is the second of the forms of consciousness, and follows from the results of Sense Certainty. In Perception the mediation of thought and language have been acknowledged by the knower, but the experiential object of knowledge is still considered the essential substance of knowledge and the conceptual knowing as the inessential in the relation. All seeming contradictions or errors that Perception finds in its conceptions of the object of knowledge are considered by it solely its own error and are not ascribed as a reality of the object itself. Since mediation is allowed by Perception, this mediation shall prove itself problematic for it will stand between consciousness and its object. Hegel terms this particular form of consciousness the form of general common sense; it is not reducible to being any particular philosophy or philosopher’s epistemic framework despite having aspects that can be pinpointed to some philosophers. Just like Sense Certainty, Perception will be plagued by problems of inversion, but of a different kind.
In the first § of the chapter Hegel says something quite Hegelian concerning the I and the object perceived. The I and its object are both universals, and
“One of them [the I] is the very moment of “pointing out,” and the other is the same movement but as the “simple.” The former is the act of perceiving, the latter is the object. In terms of its essence, the object is the same as the movement; the movement is the unfolding and distinction of the moments, and the object is those moments as jointly grasped together.” (§111, Pinkard trns.)
Perception, then, shall show itself to be a single movement in which the perception of the object shall constitute the knowledge of the object itself; the sensuous object shall be shown to not be the essence of knowledge itself.
The general problems of Perception
The first general problem of Perception is the problem of the relation of the universal to individual in the form of the thing and its properties. The thing, the experiential singled this, is the universal for it is the unity of the different properties which inhere in the thing. Perception tries to first think the object by capturing its sensuous plural existence through an abstracted unity of thought. Because there is a clear difference in the thing between its unity (universality) and individuality (properties), and further between individuals themselves, Perception tries to articulate this difference through a third mediating term to do the work of negation (the One). Its failure shall be shown to be its inability to capture the complete unity and determinateness of the object. The object as a whole is fragmented in the categories of Perception as the medium (universal), the One (negation), and property (individual); all are perceptual perspectives of the unified object which alone cannot provide the conceptual coherency of the object, yet Perception can only conceive of the object from one of these categories and its primacy in relation to the others. As it cognizes the object from these categories they shall dissolve into each other.
The second problem is that of essential vs unessential. For Perception there is an ambivalence of just what its actual object of perception essentially is: Is the object truly the universal unity and the plurality of individual properties unessential, or is the object in truth the inverse, i.e. is it that the plurality of individuals is essential and singular unity unessential?
First, however, the transition from Sense Certainty and Perception must be fully articulated, and none should be amazed that this is no easy task.
Mediation and Determinateness
Perception begins with a reflection of the implied truth of Sense Certainty’s phenomenological experience of the many nows, heres, and thises. This result is that the object of knowledge must itself be a mediated universal: a this of many thises, a now of many nows, a here of many heres. This mediated universal, however, is not recognized as mediated by other universals, but as mediated by individual particular sensuous experiences. This mediated universal in general is a thing with many properties. This acknowledgement by Perception gives it a place as the first form of consciousness with determinate knowledge for it accepts mediation into its conceptual schema of the object and no longer rests happy with merely pointing to the object of experience.
Determinateness enters the this that resulted from SC by acknowledging its mediation through other thises. It is a this that is not this, i.e. a this that is not another this, a determinate this. What this is, however, is not yet itself determined, it is a conceptual nothing, and remains an abstract universal. The pure this is determined merely as the abstracted unity of the object before Perception.
The determination of the This into the Thing with many Properties
Recalling Sense Certainty, the sensuousness of the object it faced is retained, but now as the universal itself, i.e. sensuousness is the property of the this. The this retains the immediacy of Sense Certainty’s sensuousness as property—this is a sublation, for it explicitly unites the concretely sensuous and individual with the abstract universal. Because the this with property has immediacy it implies a multiplicity of properties, for as we saw at the end of Sense Certainty, immediacy is itself the mediation of one thing through another. Each property is like the this which merely is not another this, as such they are a simple abstract universal as such.
As universal the properties self-relate and exist independently and indifferent to all other properties. It must be noted that at this point there is here no talk about universals, only of the universal character of the this and properties. Property is itself universal as sensuousness as such, but Perception has not recognized this as a separate universality from the this. How can Perception not recognize that property itself is another universal against the the general unity of the this? Because it relies on the experiential sensuousness of the object for the determination of the individual properties which inhere in the this. The properties are determined through their sensuous existence, e.g. the whiteness, cubical shape, and taste of salt are recognized only as these individual experiential determinations whose mediation is the unity of the thing.
Because only the this has been properly recognized as universal, as the unity (as medium) of these properties, but property as such has not been recognized as another universal unity itself, Perception conceives of the thing and its properties as a brute unity of universal and individual with no recognition that properties can relate to each other and be determined as much by their relation to each other as by their relation to the unity of the thing. Therefore, the this appears as the medium in which properties inhere and interpenetrate without affecting or relating to each other, e.g. in salt the color, shape, and taste seem to be utterly independent of each other in mere sense-experience; they merely relate to the this in which they are unified in one place. As the medium which unifies the many properties, the this functions as the ‘also‘ through which properties relate in their utter independence, e.g. in salt (thing) there is whiteness also with cubicalness also with hardness, etc. As is clear, Perception conceives of properties first as pure individualities with no independent universal character themselves, the universal character being the this’s and not their own. This is why it is said that the self-related universality of properties is not their own, but is separate from them as the pure self-relating-itself-to-itself, i.e. the this is the universal (as unity of the object) as such which alone relates itself to itself, the properties relate to and through this as their own universality, but do not relate to each other. The this as universal is the unity and medium of the properties by being the one here and now where properties are assembled together, e.g. whiteness also with squareness are united here. The this is thus the pure thinghood and the first conception of the essence of the object of Perception.
One more specification of the object remains to be made by Perception: it must further specify how properties may be determinate without having universality or negation themselves. Properties cannot be indifferent to each other lest they lose their determinate character, they must relate as properties to each other as different, excluding, or negating, in order to be multiple properties, e.g. color that is not taste etc. However, Perception cannot acknowledge this determinate character—the having of positive being that negates others—of properties as inherent to properties themselves, for this would grant essentiality to what is not essential of the object. The first solution Perception attempts is to further specify the excluding character necessary for the determinateness of properties not in them as such, but in the thinghood, the universality, which is further determined to take on the role of exclusion (negation) as a moment of itself, this negating moment is the One which mediates the difference of individual properties and does the work of excluding for them; the One is negation as such. It becomes pure negation which separates the properties yet is itself separate from them and is self-related unitary essence; it is conceived as the thing alone without its unnecessary properties.
To finish this part off, here is Hegel’s articulation of the final assembly of the determinations of the general object of Perception:
“In these moments taken all together, the thing, as the truth of perception, reaches its culmination or at least insofar as it is necessary to develop such a culmination here. It is α) the indifferent passive universality, the “also” of the many properties, or, rather, matters; ß) likewise the negation as simple, that is, the one, the excluding of contrasted properties; and γ) the many properties themselves, the relation of the two first moments, namely, it is the negation as it relates itself to the indifferent element and extends itself within it as a range of distinctions; it is the point of individuality in the medium of durable existence radiating out into multiplicity.” (§115)