PhoS: Life, Desire, and Self-Consciousness

The end of Force and the Understanding yielded the concept of Infinity, the self-differentiated unconditioned universal (what is later to be termed in the system as the concrete Universal). Not only did the object of the Understanding have the form of Infinity, but the consciousness which faces this object finds itself caught in the structure of Infinity as well. The structure of Infinity is one in which differences are no differences, hence what is on one side is not different from what is on the other, as such consciousness faces itself in the object opposed to it, and in Infinity we find Infinity doubled against itself in opposition. Consciousness as a section was concerned with knowledge of an other that was not consciousness, but Self-Consciousness as a section is concerned with knowledge of itself.

This section on life is the most brutally dense in the text so far.

The Problem of Self-Consciousness

The beginning of Self-Certainty starts with what seems like a peculiar and radical shift from the type of knowledge which Consciousness dealt with. Self-consciousness splits into the moments of consciousness facing an external object—the object is life. We shall see here a phenomenological development of the categories of life, desire, and self-consciousness. The aim of the section is to show by logical development through the structure of Infinity that self-consciousness requires at minimal two consciousnesses

As the moment of absolute negative unity, self-consciousness as consciousness is desire, which seeks to nullify all distinctions against its absolute unity. The object of desire is life, which first appears externally against independent desire.

[Comment:] Why is the object of desire life? Because life is a necessary condition for self-consciousness that is embodied despite its former ignorance of such. There is also a developmental necessity for the concept of life, for no object like the inert objects of Consciousness can advance the knowing of self-consciousness. Life is brought in as the phenomenological factor which enables the further development of the knowledge of consciousness. Extending the “Why life?” issue, life must be developed to consciousness for what seems to me a metaphysical point swinging around a phenomenal point. It seems Hegel wants to take self-consciousness in a direction familiar and radically new. For one, consciousness will only attain self-consciousness in the recognition that there is another consciousness like itself which shall be an external object of itself. Second, it seems that Hegel wants to show us that the recognition of another consciousness is what takes us from an external relation of you and I, to an internal reflection of I am I. This is to say: So long as I face a world which I not only do not recognize as different from me, but also do not recognize in that world anything other than me that is like me,  I really do not know I am a specific self, that I am not the universal consciousness of the world as a whole, thus “I am I” is first an empty claim that is not making a difference amongst different selves.

In desire’s attempt to nullify life and assert itself as the negative unitary truth and essence of all things before it, it shall learn from experience that it is incapable of nullifying life without nullifying itself. On the other hand, life shall show in its development to be composed of a genus (universal) with differentia (individuals), repeating the structure of Infinity determinately in itself. In its own moment as genus—the universal negative unity—life and self-consciousness share the same structure. It is in this logical equivalence that self-consciousness as a living desire meets self-consciousness as another living desire—a predicament in which neither can nullify the other. Since the equivalence is total, living consciousness meets living consciousness.

The Meaning of Self-Certainty

The concept of Infinity attained at the end of Understanding has a peculiar kind of certainty, for it is not a certainty about something external to itself, but certainty of itself—it is a certainty that is the same as its truth.

Note: This character of self-certain truth should to be kept in mind, even if merely in the background for now. This characteristic is one which belongs to Absolute Knowing, however, self-certainty obviously shall somehow fail to attain to this character.

What does self-certainty look like? If the movement of knowledge is the Concept (the movement of moments in the cognition of the object), and the object is knowledge as unity at rest (in the case of self-consciousness this is the I, but it is also the negative unity of Infinity which is the restlessness at rest), then the object corresponds to the Concept, not only for us but also for the knowledge itself. This is otherwise said as the following: Knowledge and knowing are one and the same, or, knower and known are one and the same. The knowing and the object are the same structural relation like Infinity. I remind you that the forms of consciousness have shown themselves to be knowings, and as we found in the Understanding, these knowings only find themselves in their objects. In Infinity and self-consciousness self-certainty is found explicitly.

Put in the usual charm of Hegelese: If Concept is the in-itself of the object, and the object is as object what the in-itself is for-an-other, then the in-itself and being-for-other are the same. Why? For one, this is just what Infinity already hinted at in the impossibility of splitting its inner opposite moments, e.g. the one and the many were what they were only because of their relation and opposition to their other. Because the in-itself being dealt with in this section is consciousness, Hegel tells us that we shall see consciousness is necessarily in-itself what it is for an other by observing its development.

Note: Self-certainty in the speculative spirit of its meaning here is taken from Fichte’s “First Absolutely Unconditioned Principle” in the Science of Knowledge. It is a very dense but short 11 page essay which makes a more expanded argument of just why this equivalence of certainty and truth—existence in the Fichte’s argument—is the case specifically for the self. Hegel will show why this self-certainty fails for self-consciousness.

False Self-Consciousness

Hegel makes the case that self-consciousness is not yet self-conscious when it only takes its reflection to be only a mere appearance of itself. Why? Though at the end of Understanding we ended with the truth of the reflection of consciousness which faced an object no different in kind to itself, the phenomenal consciousness comprehends this truth differently than we and Hegel do. While consciousness became self-conscious when the object was logically revealed to be of its own kind, and it seemed it was forced to be self-conscious, phenomenally the first moment of encounter has no such actual result. In order for self-consciousness to be it must recognize that indeed it does face another consciousness, however our observed consciousness has recognized no such thing. In Infinity it does not see against it a genuine other like itself, but rather sees a false other and takes only the first moment of Infinity to be the truth: What is different is self-same; thus the moment of oneness prevails against differences. Since consciousness at this point only takes itself to only have access and certainty of its own being, it takes this to mean that everything only appears different from it, and thus everything is in truth only this single consciousness itself.

The distinction of “I am I” is the tautology of self-consciousness, of the difference that is no difference. The distinction itself does not exist for self-consciousness for there is only it, and it alone is truth, as such it is not yet really self-consciousness for in truth it does not face itself—it has not truly gone out of itself and returned out of otherness. It is only consciousness, and we must recall that consciousness is consciousness of external objects, hence consciousness is merely the consciousness of its awareness of external otherness, but not truly of itself. It has a double object: the external object of perception, and consciousness as the object’s essence. In the first moment the other exists as a distinguished being, and in a second moment it exists as the unity and non-distinction with the self. The first moment is consciousness, but this moment exists only in relation to the second moment, the unity of self-consciousness with itself, i.e. self-consciousness only is when it genuinely distinguishes itself from itself yet remains in unity in this existing distinction. The self must encounter a self which it first recognizes as not itself,  yet also as like itself, for only in the knowing of this otherness is it given the necessary mirror to turn onto itself and gain self-knowledge and awareness.

[Comment:] Hegel does not spell it out for us, but there is a straightforward answer to the question of why self-consciousness is not had by the ‘I am I’. Consciousness, let us not forget, as a general form of consciousness was a consciousness of external objects, i.e. an awareness or knowledge always directed outwards. If a consciousness is capable of self-consciousness, it is able to know/recognize an object which is a consciousness, but being that as a singular consciousness it is merely consciousness directed outwards, without another consciousness it has no impetus to turn that outward attention inwards toward itself. When consciousness which can be self-conscious encounters another consciousness it recognizes it as consciousness, i.e. its outward awareness is aware of a being which is also outwardly aware. Both consciousnesses are aware of the outward attention of the other, and immediately they recognize that they are the object of the other’s awareness—in being aware of the other’s awareness of them, they are aware of themselves. This is true self-consciousness.

Consciousness and Its Object

In the beginning of the transition we return to the opposition of consciousness to an object. From the perspective of consciousness the object is at first an object-for-consciousness with no true being or essence. Now, consciousness is that for which an other in-itself exists, but this other is not yet the other-for-itself. It is only for consciousness that the other exists in-itself and as a being-for-other. In facing the object, consciousness recognizes itself not as a genuine other of its own kind, but as merely its own unitary reflection in a false appearance, i.e. for it self-consciousness means its consciousness of merely itself, “I am I”, not of an other like itself.

For self-consciousness the sensible world is a durable existence of mere appearance. In the opposition between appearance and truth, however, only truth is the essence, and the truth is the unity of self-consciousness with itself. The unity must become essential to self-consciousness. As such a unity with itself, self-consciousness is also desire itself, i.e. desire is the moving drive towards unity which in Infinity is the driving back to unity from difference, the infinite negative unity.

As consciousness, self-consciousness has a doubled object: the sensible immediate object which is merely negative to it and has no true being; and second, itself as the true essence which is at the outset only in mere opposition to the sensible object. Self-consciousness shows itself in the movement in which this opposition is sublated, Infinity, and within which it comes to see for itself the selfsameness of itself with its object come to be, i.e. self-consciousness does not begin in full knowledge of its self-consciousness, but must become aware through experience.

==The Concept of Life==

Just as consciousness turns inward to itself to be self-consciousness, the object turns inward to itself—to our perspective as the phenomenological observer—and becomes life; Infinity’s poles themselves become infinite in themselves. This is due to the inherent inner reflective structure of Infinity into itself (a structure of necessary determinacy found in the sections on Determinate Being in the future Science of Logic). Because what is other is truly the same as consciousness, and because it exists just as independently, it carries all the modes of consciousness up to now in itself: Sense Certainty, Perception, and Understanding. The object of desire (consciousness) is living because it itself has the structure of Infinity, the unity of unity and difference, the structure of an organism, true universality. This is coming from Hegel’s romantic views and organicism, it is a phenomenological rearticulating shift of the concept.

The structure of Infinity is the self-repelling of the the selfsame, and this self-repelling creates the opposition within self-consciousness; the opposition between consciousness and life which is no true opposition. Consciousness is the infinite unity for which the infinite unity of distinctions exist, but life is the infinite unity itself which is not yet for-itself. Consciousness takes itself to be independent being, and life is also thus independent on its own side of Infinity. Self-consciousness is utterly for-itself and considers the object the mere negative moment of it, but it will learn from experience that this object is just as independent as it.

Development of the Moment of Inorganic Nature

[Comment:] The following paragraphs are a bit confusing, mainly because it is a determination of what life is through a developing of the necessary preconditions of life in nature, these conditions being the spatial and temporal substance from which life arises from. Hegel does not explicitly tell us this, but I must infer §169 concerns something not yet specifically living because of the developments of §171, where Hegel tells us of the consumption of the inorganic nature of the universal medium which sustains the independent shapes. If it were not the case that this first section concerns the universal substance of inorganic nature upon which life depends, then I could not make sense of the phenomenal injection of inorganic nature into the development of that section.

The essence of life is Infinity as the unconditioned universal which is sublation of all distinctions; it is at rest in absolute restlessness; at unity in absolute diremption. It is self-sufficient because it contains itself and its distinctions entirely. Life is characterized as the essence of Time, the non-selfsameness of the selfsame endlessly, to which the moment of selfsameness is the pure shape of Space. In the simple universal medium the distinctions within it exist as true distinctions, the universal medium existing as their mutual negation by sublating them in their truly existing distinction. The universal fluid medium is independent as the universal moment in selfsameness, however, its durable existence is  also the durable existence of its individual distinctions; it is their substance, in which they are distinct members/parts where each is existing-for-itself as this very substance.  Being no longer means “the abstraction of being”, and this abstraction is no longer the pure essence as the abstraction of universality. Being is now the simple fluid substance of organic life/Infinity which is distinct and moving in-itself. The members within the fluid medium, however, are distinct from each other only in the determinateness resulting from the moments of Infinity’s pure movement of self-diremption into independent moments, for it cannot remain the one without the many.

[Comment:] These equivalencies of life, Infinity, space, and time, appear as if for no reason other than to show how Hegel’s logic can structurally link such seemingly disconnected concepts. I think Hegel is actually being brutally dense in §169-171, providing absolutely minimal links between these determinations, only giving enough to hint at the fact that he has implicitly—and at one moment explicitly—provided for a distinction between a simple infinity of inorganic being within which life exists, and the infinity of life which exists as the distinction for itself within said inorganic being. The reason to mention space and time in relation to life as essences of life is not simply just because they are determinations which are themselves also infinite in relation to each other, but that life is an object that exists temporally and spatially. The reason for mentioning a simple universal medium in which the distinctions exist as distinctions to each other and to the simple universal is to implicitly set up the distinctions of the infinite organic substance as the distinctions within the universal material medium. The universal inorganic substance as a logical moment is an existing universal medium we can consider spatio-temporal substance and not an abstract concept. Just as life and consciousness are opposed in their infinite structure, life in itself is now in a new structure of infinite opposition against the simple universal substance, from which it has repelled itself as an other which is not truly other, for life itself is spatio-temporal substance.

Development of Life and Its Parts

The natural ground of life having been developed, we leave the universal fluid medium and turn our focus to the independent distinctions in their independence—it is these distinctions, which inhere in the universal  inorganic fluid medium, that are now the true shift towards the concept of life proper. The independent members exist for-themselves, but as we already know from Infinity this immediately brings them into unity just as much as the unity splits into the members again. The unity is absolutely negative unity, Infinite unity, which is durably existing, and thus the distinction of individual parts only is independent in this negative unity. The independence of the parts is determinate and for-another, and through this immanent relation to another the negative unity results. The sublation of the distinction as one and many is Infinity itself, which is the substance of the independent shapes. The substance is Infinite, as such in its durable existence it is the diremption into the distinction in itself from itself, the sublation of its being-for-itself and back again in the movement and structure of the universal and particular individuals, of the one to many.

Movements of Life

Life now being structured as a whole with parts, and Infinity having been recapped, Hegel takes us in the development of life as Infinity in a determinate phenomenal form.

1st Movement – Life as Process

In the first movement, the independent parts—”shapes” Hegel calls them—clearly have durable existence-for-themselves within the universal fluid medium. This moment suppresses the act of distinguishing in-itself, an act which is their being-for-another—this suppressed moment betrays their independence and denies their durable existence in-themselves. In a second movement, however, these independent shapes are subjugated (sublated) by the negative unity of their distinction. In the first moment these determinate independent shapes of the universal substance confront the universal substance as such, the previously developed fluid medium of spatio-temporal nature, as other to them and deny its fluidity and continuity with them; they assert themselves as not dissolved within it by virtue of their separation from this universal inorganic nature by consuming this inorganic nature—this is the fact of life’s basic form and minimal subsistence. Life as these independent shapes in the universal fluid medium was first in its motionless elaboration of itself, but we see now that the shapes cannot help but move in their consuming; thus life becomes the movement of these shapes—life becomes a process.

[Comment:] The process of consumption here is a very apt phenomenological shift that gives a specific determinate form of the way the logic of the one and many works. The individuals “consume” the universal in the process of how individuals sustain themselves against the universal in the process of thinking, they hold fast to their being in negating the universal moment of the one, and it is this process of negating that is what consumption is a concrete determinate form of.

2nd Movement – From Simple Living Things to Complex Life

The universal fluidity (the universal medium) appears first as the in-itself of life’s distinct shapes, and the distinction among shapes is the other. As we already know from what was learned from Infinity, the in-itself and being-for-other are two sides of the same coin. Because of the distinction within it, the fluidity is itself inverted into the other, since it now exists for the distinction which exists in-and-for-itself, i.e. the one/universal becomes other and subservient to its particulars. The distinction of the particular shapes of life exists in-and-for-itself and is the infinite movement that consumes the fluid medium—life is living things, for in the distinction of the shapes there is a plurality. This is by virtue of the structure of Infinity in which the in-itself/for-other are the self-repelling self-same, i.e. life opposes itself as another life.

The distinction, which is now a plurality of living things, subsist by consuming the passive medium. However, the inversion which has occurred with fluidity and the independent shapes of life is itself now inverted in-itself. In the shapes of individual life what is consumed is essence in order to maintain life’s individual unity with itself, i.e. life finds itself tied to the universal inorganic fluidity as an other which is not alien to it, thus the distinction with it is sublated—individual independent existence-for-itself is tied in a radical dependence on the universal. This very fluidity is what allows for the moment of independent existence of the individual shape in-itself, and thus the life comes into unity with itself in the consumption of its own essence, the other to it which is no other. This process of consumption, the unity of life with itself, manifests as the fluidity of the distinctions, i.e the distinction itself is no distinction just as we should expect of Infinite structures. The power of negation which is this fluidity of distinction is the universal dissolution of all distinctions and similarities alike. This dissolution is of the same manner as the in-itself vanishing into being-for-another, and the way the many vanish into one and vice versa.

This sublation of the individual durable existence with the essence is as much its dissolution as its generation through its fluidity. Since the essence of the individual shape is universal life, and this essence and what exists-for-itself are in-themselves the simple substance (i.e. universal life is the simple substance that exists-in-itself), the other of universal life—the independent shapes—are posited within it. In this way life sublates its simplicity, yet in this sublation it equally repels it and estranges it from itself in order to posit its individuality as the independent shapes. This point is seemingly primarily a logical point: about the universal that exists only in its differentiated individual shapes and not as abstract concept. We can, however, take this logical development to also take on a phenomenal form that is not explicitly said by Hegel. Here we have arrived at the more complex life within life in which a living whole is itself constituted by inner living beings existent-in-themselves yet in mutual dependence with the whole which is a living individual being itself.

The Completed Concept of Life

The simple substance of life has shown itself to be the estrangement of itself into distinct shapes and their dissolution back into one. The dissolution of the distinction is itself an estrangement, however, and returns back to the division into distinct shapes. Both aspects of the entire movement collapse into one another, repeating Infinity’s determinate structure—this time in triadic, not in dialectical, form. Life is both shapes motionlessly in the universal self-sufficient medium and the process of life which collapses into one another (dissolution and generation of fluidity). The process of life is as much a taking shape as it is the sublating of shape (being-in-itself and for-another), and the taking shape is as much a sublating into one as it is a division into shapes. The fluid element, the universal life, is merely the abstraction of essence, i.e. it is only actual as a shape. The whole cycle of estrangement from abstract universal whole to determinate individual shapes—their motionless enduring and their dissolution in developmental process—is what life is. Life is the whole developing itself, dissolving its development, and in this total movement being the simple whole sustaining itself through this restless development.

==Living (Self-)Consciousness==

The Other for consciousness was at first merely an immediate unity of being, but now both moments have fully been developed as independent and returned to unity once more; it is a reflected unity that is different in kind to the first immediate unity. The first unity was expressed as merely a being, but this second unity is the universal which contains its independent moments sublated in itself. The universal is the simple genus which is not yet present in the movement of life for it does not exist for itself as this “simple”, it lacks the determination of the genus which will give it true independence from its other—at this point life is merely the living shapes which are only for consciousness. As life does not yet exist for-itself as the “simple” pure negative unity, it points towards something other than itself in order to achieve developmental completion—it points towards consciousness, which has taken itself to be absolute and for-itself up to now, the infinite negative unity from which the independent shapes arise, and to it we now turn in order to finish the development.

Since what faces consciousness is an other which is not an other, and as such consciousness is just as much like this other, consciousness is life as well. In developing its object consciousness developed itself, but it is not yet cognizant of this for it holds itself in its own eyes to merely be the simple essence of the pure I. Consciousness will now learn from experience what has been developed logically about the abstract object, life.

The genus is the simple universal, and the I is this genus for which the distinctions before it are no distinctions at all. The genus is the negative essence of the independent shapes of life. Self-consciousness is therefore only certain of itself in the act of sublating this other, which is independent life. Self-consciousness is desire which nullifies its object; it is certain of the nullity of this other, and posits for itself this nullity as its truth (i.e. self-consciousness is this negation of the other), and thus it destroys the independent object and gives itself the certainty of itself as true certainty which in its eyes has come to be in an objective manner by this actual nullification of the other. In the satisfaction of nullifying its other, however, self-consciousness learns about the independence of the object, for it learns it cannot eliminate it without eliminating itself as desire and its certainty in negation. Because self-consciousness is the genus itself, it generates its object anew in order to reassert itself as desire and its certainty. This experience shows self-consciousness that the object of desire is truly something other than itself; self-consciousness has learned it is not alone and not the singular absolute essence of its world. Its desire is not solipsistically for itself, but for an independent other which is the essence of desire.

The other thus has asserted its being just as independent and durably existing as self-consciousness; it resists self-consciousness’s complete negation of it. However, self-consciousness is desire (the absolute negative unity); it exists absolutely for itself only by sublating (negating and preserving) the other before it, and this sublation is its truth. Negation must be the case for self-consciousness to be; it is desire, and it must be satisfied. If self-consciousness’s desire needs the negation of the object , yet negation of the object cannot be effected by self-consciousness’s absolute negation since such destroys it, then the negation must be effected by the other in itself in order that self-consciousness may find satisfaction in the negation of the object while at the same time preserving it. Only the Genus of life, the infinite negative unity, can effect such an absolute negation that also preserves the object. Negation in the other already was developed such that its negation was found in an other (in desire), or as its determinateness of independent shapes, or in the universal inorganic nature; these, however, are not the negations which can satisfy the conditions of the life’s independent self-negation. Life is thus in itself the negative, it must effect in itself the negativity of desire. Now it is seen that it effects negation in itself independent from self-consciousness—it does so for-itself. It now shows itself to also contain its genus. As the genus it is the infinite negative unity, and as such it is consciousness as well. It is for-itself what it is for its other—it is consciousness for itself and for the other; it and the other are now truly self-consciousness“Self-consciousness attains its satisfaction only in another self-consciousness.”

[Comment:] What does it mean for self-consciousness to find satisfaction only in another of its kind? Why in the world does desire only find satisfaction in an object that negates itself? This is my interpretation: This whole last section about desire and its satisfaction in negation of the other is a purely abstract development of something we all are familiar with: The search for a source of satisfaction that can keep us desiring while at the same time providing satisfaction without being exhausted.

Insofar as we keep chasing objects of desire which in satisfaction are destroyed, we are left empty and forced to keep seeking anew as the genus recreates desire as yet another object—existing physically or as an ideal. The only desire that can endure in satisfaction is one that can negate without destroying the object of desire, and the only way to achieve such negation is by allowing the object to negate itself. This is to say, we only find maximum and enduring satisfaction in the recognition of another self-consciousness which willingly negates itself for us, which of its own free activity generates and gives us what we want without our having to force ourselves on it as we do with dead objects. Because the other is a desiring living consciousness as well, they too desire, and they willingly negate themselves to satisfy us for no other reason than to satisfy our desire, finding satisfaction in satisfying our desire—they desire our desire, and we desire theirs.

Recap on Self-Consciousness

Self-consciousness and life find their completion in a final differentiated unity of both. The movement in general went as follows:

1) The I without distinctions was the first immediate object.

2) This immediacy showed itself to be absolute mediation. This is so because the I exist only as desire that is mediated by the “independent” objects it is impelled to sublate to attain its own certainty of being-for-self. The satisfaction of desire is the “very reflection of self-consciousness into itself, that is, it is the certainty which has become truth.” That is, self-consciousness takes itself to be the essence and truth, yet must prove this in destroying the object of desire in satisfaction an only in this does it attain to the truth of its certainty.

3) The truth of that certainty is to a greater degree the doubled reflection of living self-consciousness, i.e. there is another self-consciousness. “There is an object for consciousness which in itself posits its otherness, that is, which posits the distinction as a nullity and is therein a self-sufficient object.” Desire cannot endure

The living shape that does not contain its own genus also sublates its independence in the process of life, but it ceases to be in its very distinctions, which dissolve in this process. The object of self-consciousness is not a mere living shape, but another independent genus, a living self-consciousness.

Fichte’s Science of Knowledge: On The Self’s Necessary Necessity For Itself

Our task is to discover the primordial, absolutely unconditioned first principle of all human knowledge. This can be neither proved nor defined, if it is to be an absolutely primary principle.

—Fichte,  Fundamental Principles Of The Entire Science Of Knowledge

Outside of German Idealism enthusiasts, mainly scholars, there isn’t that much about ol’ Fichte out there online nor in books. While I’m not deeply interested in Fichte’s own system, I am curious about his philosophy and took the opportunity to read a small snippet because I just happened to read somewhere that said snippet was pertinent to understanding the section on Self-Certainty in the Phenomenology. Pertinent it was, for this small section sets some background on what Self-Certainty as such is, and elucidates a bit on some claims Hegel just asserts.

It is very interesting that Fichte puts great emphasis on activity, telling us that the first principle of philosophy expresses an act which “does not and cannot appear among the empirical states of our consciousness, but rather lies at the basis of all consciousness and alone makes it possible.” What we seek is a proposition which will express this act, and if said proposition must be granted to us, then the act is necessarily also granted along with it. This proposition must be one of the greatest possible reflective abstraction, the most general one in order to be the basis of all following propositions in the system.

He tells us something else of great interest, to put it in my own paraphrasing: philosophy must lift itself up by its own bootstraps. It must at first assume certain things, such as the laws of logic—which he assures us he will prove later upon the principle that assumes them, making a logical circle. Circles aren’t anything new—not particularly scary—for those who are familiar with Hegel. One can only hope it is a nice virtuous circle, and not a vicious one.

Without further ado, this is my summary of Fichte’s argument for the absolute necessity of the self for itself.

The meaning of A=A, or A is A

The process of abstraction aside, Fichte gets right to business and asserts that the highest point of abstraction is the proposition of identity, A is A, or more commonly known in the form of A=A. No one can deny this principle is “perfectly certain and established.” If anyone asks for proof of this, Fichte tells us, we should not embark on such an attempt since it is a proposition of absolute certainty grounded by nothing else. In asserting this absolute certainty as characteristic of the proposition we ascribe “to ourselves the power of asserting something absolutely.”

Now, in insisting that the proposition is absolutely certain we do not assert that A is the case. A=A is not equivalent to A exists. Even if A is defined as something specific, though A is A remains true, it still does not entail that A exists. What A=A means is only the possibility of A being A if it exists, i.e. that if A exists, then A exists. The existence of A is irrelevant to the necessity, the connecting is/= in the proposition. In the proposition the form is all that is relevant, not the content, for A is an indeterminate universal abstraction. It is “not of that about which you know something, but of what you know about anything at all.” Now, if A itself is not absolutely certain and necessarily self grounded…what is it in the proposition that is absolutely certain without external ground? Fichte makes an interesting observation that borders on the cusp of the most obvious obviousness that may seem laughable at first: What is absolutely certain is the connection between the if and then of the A—it is a necessary connection.  This necessary connection is symbolized by X. A necessarily is A.

This being the case—that A=A on its own tells us nothing of much interest—how does Fichte move along? By making a transcendental turn.

Under What Condition Does A Exist?

A problem is posed: Under what condition is A necessarily, i.e. exists? Under condition that it is posited by the self in the self.

How do we get there? Recall that in asserting that A=A is an absolute certainty with no external ground we ascribed ourselves the power to assert something absolutely. A is only a possibility, it can only assert its own necessity if it is posited, but clearly we have no grounds to consider that A has any power of self-positing. Luckily for us, we already granted ourselves the power to posit something. The necessary connection of A to itself, X, is the absolutely certain piece of the proposition. As it is our self that judges the proposition A=A according to the law of X, X must be a law which the self gives to itself whether A is or is not posited.

“Whether, and how, A is actually posited we do not know,” but since X is a connection between a possibly posited A absolutely asserted as A, and since X is posited in the self, A is necessarily posited in the self as well—so far so good. In the proposition A=A, the first A occupies the logical position of subject, the second A the predicate position; X connects and unites subject and predicate. If X is posited, then the first A is posited, and necessarily and absolutely the second as well, i.e. if A as subject, then A is predicate of A. More formally: If X, then A=A; or, if A is posited in the self, then A is A; or more simply, A is (exists).

So far we know: The self asserts through X that A exists absolutely for the judging self which posits A, i.e. X, therefore A, therefore ‘A=A’. Fichte says this can also be said as: “It is asserted that within the self… there is something that is permanently uniform, forever one and the same.” From here Fichte makes what seems as his first leap of logic, from the assertion of permanently uniform something in the self to, “hence the X that is absolutely posited can also be expressed as I=I; I am I.” This problem of a leap aside, Fichte continues. The proposition ‘I am I’ is equivalent to ‘I am‘; this expresses not an act, but a fact—we do not want to mistake this as the first principle Fichte is after.

[Note:] Now, Fichte is right, can be expressed as I=I, but this is something entirely different and not necessarily derived from the argument which has developed from A=A. The new proposition, I=I, though it does not contradict the first, does not necessarily follow from the first as a determinate form of A=A. This I=I seems to be a bold and bald assertion coming from nowhere as far as the argument goes, but there may yet be a way to save this from being a groundless leap. ‘A=A’ as posited is an assertion that there is something within the self that is permanently uniform. Fichte may here be appealing to an empirically given minimal determinate content of A which can be identified as this something—this something is the self; the I.

X has already been shown to be posited absolutely by the self, but now X is equivalent to the proposition ‘I am I,’ which is therefore also asserted absolutely. Here Fichte explains that he’s no fool equivocating ‘A is A’ with ‘I am I,’ they are different in important ways. ‘A is A’ is only a possibility, a contentless form which only exists under a certain condition if it is posited as a content, but the proposition does not tell us whether it is posited as subject nor whether it has any particular predicate necessarily attached, i.e. whether A is posited at all as A, or A as B/C/D/etc. 

‘I am I’ is different from ‘A is A’ in that it is “unconditionally and absolutely valid, since it is equivalent to the proposition X (X therefore A); it is valid not merely in form but also in content.” That is to say, Fichte tells us in a footnote, that “I, who posit A in the predicate position, necessarily know, because the same was posited in the subject position, about my positing of the subject, and hence know myself, again contemplate myself, am the same with myself.” That is, in the proposition of ‘I am I’ within the self the I is posited absolutely with the predicate of equivalence to itself by the self. That isI posit ‘I am I’ and in my positing’s necessary connection I likewise find a necessary connection to myself as its positing subject just as one would find in the predicate A the necessary connection to the subject Atherefore the I “really is posited, and the proposition can also be expressed as I am.

[Note:] In ‘I am I’ the I is posited as subject and predicate of itself by the self, and can be expressed in the simpler form of ‘I am’ because,  to put another way with consideration to the equivalence to X: ‘I am I’ is necessarily necessary because there is necessity in the connection of the subject and predicate which the I posits.

‘I am,’ as a determinate form of ‘A is A’ is merely a fact and only has factual validity, however should the proposition A=A—more precisely X—be certain, then ‘I am’ is also certain, i.e. if necessity is certain then the propositions are certain. Fichte here claims that it is a fact of empirical consciousness that we are compelled to regard X as absolutely certain, i.e. that necessary connection connects things necessarily is certain, therefore ‘I am’ is also certain. “Hence it is a ground of explanation of all the facts of empirical consciousness, that prior to all postulation in the self, the self itself is posited.” That is, if necessary connection is certain, then I am certain I exist by virtue of my necessary connection to my positing of A, for in positing A I necessarily pre-posit myself as its positor.—[Fichte tells us that this all hinges on X indeed is the highest fact of empirical consciousness which underlies and contains all others, a fact which might be conceded to him without proof yet which his system will nonetheless attempt to prove.]

The Primordial Act: The Self’s Positing Of Itself

After such an arduous journey of the mind, we have finally arrived at the doorstep of the principle being sought after, the primordial act upon which all things rest, and this act shall be nothing less than the act of the I positing itself and therefor guaranteeing its own existence.—[This reminds me of the old ontological proof, and I would not be surprised at all if Fichte did have this in mind, for this is seeking after the proposition/concept which in itself provides for its own necessary existence.]

X being given, A being given through X, and now the I being given through X and A together…

Once more Fichte pushes us forward. A=A, we are reminded, is a judgment, and judgments are an activity of the human mind which presupposes all the conditions of activity which are known and established for purposes of reflection, e.g. logic. This activity rests on the ultimate ground of X=I am, therefore we at least know judgment as one particular activity which is grounded by X (but it is all activity, Fichte tells us, that is grounded in X). In knowing this activity of judgment we thus know of the pure character of X’s activity as such in abstraction from empirical conditions. What is this activity?

“The self’s own positing is thus its own pure activity. The self posits itself, and by virtue of this mere self-assertion it existsand conversely, the self exists and posits its own existence by virtue of merely existing. It is at once the agent and the product of action; the active, and what the activity brings about; action and deed are one and the same, and hence the ‘I am’ expresses an Act, and the only one possible, as will inevitably appear from the Science of Knowledge as a whole.”

[Note:] This is where Hegel draws the structure of his notion of self-certainty from, the proper concept in which content and form, certainty and truth, etc. are one and the same.

After this bold declaration from the prior results, Fichte asks us to consider the proposition ‘I am I’ once more, this time considering what is absolutely posited as the first I in the position of formal subject, while the second I is in the position of predicate representing that which exists. If this is the case, then we can absolutely assert the valid judgment: The self exists because it has posited itself.—[This seems like a bit of what Wittgenstein would call language gone on holiday. Just because we can say this does not mean it has any actual meaning. Fichte here is drawing upon notions of an essence in potential being to essence in actual being.]

In a footnote he adds that the general form of all propositions plays out this fundamental movement of positing when we reflect on the activity which occurs in A=A, i.e. that the first A is posited in the self—which is absolute subject—as a posited subject, and the second A designates what the self finds present in itself after having posited it. None of this movement is really pertinent of A, but is really the self’s for the self posits something of itself, a predicate to it, within itself, this predicate being A, i.e. the self posits A, and in reflecting upon the presence of the posited A becomes aware of A as its own predicate;  the “is expresses the passage of the self from positing to reflection on what has been posited.”

Fichte concludes thus:

The self in the first sense, and that in the second, are supposed to be absolutely equivalent. Hence one can also reverse the above proposition and say: the self posits itself simply because it exists. It posits itself by merely existing and exists by merely being posited.”—[A claim that is not convincing in the slightest in the form he presents it here, however, once more, there is a way to redeem the claim in a more reasonable form, and Fichte shall quickly supply it.]

Once more he continues:

And this now makes it perfectly clear in what sense we are using the word ‘I’ in this context, and leads us to an exact account of the self as absolute subject. That whose being or essence consists simply in the fact that it posits itself as existing, is the self as absolute subject. As it posits itself, so it is; and as it is, so it posits itself; and hence the self is absolute and necessary for the self. What does not exist for itself is not a self.”

[Note:] Here we see where Hegel’s theory of the self draws heavily on Fichte’s internal reflection in the self. Hegel not only takes up but also adds to that last statement the inverted equivalent beyond consciousness’s form: What is not a self does not exist for itself, i.e. what is not a subject cannot be an independent substance.

Continuing:

If the self exists only insofar as it posits itself, then it exists only for that which posits, and posits only for that which exists. The self exists for the self—but if it posits itself absolutely, as it is, the it posits itself as necessary, and is necessary for the self. I exist only for myself; but for myself I am necessary… To posit oneself and to be are, as applied to the self, perfectly identical…’I am absolutely, because I am’… Furthermore, the self-positing self and the existing self are perfectly identical… The self is that which it posits itself to be; and it posits itself as that which it is. Hence I am absolutely what I am.

To finally conclude: “I am absolutely, i.e. I am absolutely BECAUSE I am; and am absolutely WHAT I am; both FOR THE SELF.” That is, “The self begins by an absolute positing of its own existence.”

Fichte has just attempted to derive something the vast majority except the most die hard and stubborn skeptics have thought necessary: an argumentative proof of Descartes’ famous “I think, therefore I am.” To put it in normal terms:

The self exists in a moment which is unique in the realm of existence and logic alike—it exists because it posits itself, i.e. it reflects itself within itself and recognizes itself in this reflection, the self exists because it is self-conscious; however, it only posits itself because it already first exists as self-consciousness, then posits itself and becomes aware of its self-consciousness. Its positing and existence occur in one and the same moment.

To summarize: I am certain that I am because I am aware that I am when I posit that I am, and because that awareness is necessarily my awareness, for I posit what I am aware of, I am absolutely certain that I necessarily am absolutely… if necessity is indeed absolutely certain.

Comments on the PhoS: Consciousness

Up to now I’ve been writing expositions of the chapters, but here I’ll add my thoughts on the Phenomenology up to the end of the first section, “Consciousness”.

What Is Logical About the Phenomenology of Spirit?

First off, I’d like to make a comment on the logical—meaning Hegelian logic—structure of the Phenomenology so far. Hegel claims that the development of the investigation in the Phenomenology is strictly logical, but this is a truth that I think is interestingly qualified in the work so far. The structures internal to the forms of consciousness do not arise from a strict logical development of categories following from prior forms of consciousness, e.g. from the results of Sense Certainty, the categories posited by Perception do not follow. In Sense Certainty, Perception, and Understanding, the structure of the object and consciousness’s knowing are historical forms of consciousness which Hegel takes up and abstracts from their empirical forms into pure forms. These forms are arranged in an order in which they are brought into consideration as forms that posit an answer to the problems resulting from prior forms of consciousness, and as the Introduction tells us, the problem before us is the problem of knowledge and knowing. Why begin with Sense Certainty? Is it because it is the simplest claim to knowledge possible, and here Hegel is a good believer in the principle of simplicity against unnecessary complexity? If we shall entertain claims of knowledge, the simplest one that can do the trick should be our first target of observation, right? This would be only reason I could think of IF the systematic character of the future system did not already loom in the Phenomenology. Hegel already has the Logic‘s path in mind, and thus the form of the beginning is really for a logical reason. The way that science begins is always with the greatest level of abstraction possible, with the bare immediate being of things.

Since the forms of consciousness are not what follow any immanent logical chain, what does? Well, what does follow so far is the specification of the general concept of the object. With Sense Certainty we began with pure abstraction facing determinate sense experience, and therefore a lack of any determinate knowledge. In the experience of Sense Certainty, through its very experience of its act of knowing, immediate knowledge turns out to necessarily be mediated by the temporality, spatiality, and conceptual cognition of consciousness. From this result, restated into the proper category of determinacy, Perception attempts to give a determinate conceptual account of an object that is mediated in itself as a sensuous unity with individual differences and mediated through a universal concept. The failure of Perception is the inability to capture the experienced unity of unity and difference that is the object with a universal determined by sensuousness. Its categories fail, and what is learned from its experience is that the logical structure of the object has a unity that falls into difference and vice versa regardless of what perspective it takes of it.

Understanding then appears on the scene and offers new categories that take up this result and further develop it. In Understanding the categories of Force and Law take on the role of an unconditioned universality within which the dependence of unity and difference are taken as a single movement of a unity which contains both—a unity of unity and difference. Understanding is able to see that its answer requires a single concept that can generate this movement in itself, but in attempting to find a third concept to ground the movement it fails to attain anything but the concept of an object that is merely the movement of unity and difference. This movement has no third in its relation to act as grounding substance or essence, and any attempt to formulate a third ends in collapse back into the movement. From this experience of the Understanding we are left with the structure of opposed inversion in the movement of unity and difference in its pure form of pure opposition, i.e. self-opposition, or what appears in the future Logic as Something and Other, which immediately contain their opposite as their familiar inner essence and remain in difference and unity at the same moment. Through the incessant logical movement of inverted oppositions Hegel shifts to the category of infinity, and in an aside through infinity—via the slingshot of the Hegelian Universal—he brings forth life.

Here the forms of consciousness which correspond to traditional epistemology concerning an external world come to their end. Hegel sees no use in any further forms of consciousness of this kind for they have developed themselves to the point where the object of understanding shares the very structure of the consciousness which apprehends it, consciousness faces only itself in its object. Through the self-opposition of this pure concept of infinity he calls forth self-consciousness in this moment of consciousness facing its object. Consciousness, in opposing itself to an external object, posits itself as for-itself against it, and through the cognition of the other as an other to itself it becomes aware of itself as non-distinct from it for it has learned that this process of distinction in infinity is itself a non-distinction. In this awareness that what it faces is not distinct from it, consciousness is self-consciousness. We find here that the very cognition of external objects can only be for a self-consciousness, as such self-consciousness is a necessary condition for consciousness as we have observed it. What and how this self-consciousness is is what remains to be seen in the following developments.

*********

One can also see something else that’s interesting: that the structure of the object of a form of consciousness is only as complex as the form of consciousness itself, or put in another way, the object faced is structured in the way it is known, and a form of consciousness is a knowing. The object of the forms of consciousness correspond to the shape of consciousness itself, which—jumping ahead a bit into Self-Certainty—is why self-consciousness curiously begins the development of its object with the categories of lifedesire, and self-consciousness itself, for only an object which has these structures properly corresponds to the knowing of self-consciousness, that is, the knowing of itself.

Transcendental Deductions

I had heard/read about this before, but I can see now reading the Phenomenology that there is reason to think it might be one giant transcendental deduction of the conditions of possibility for knowing. Through each of the first three forms of consciousness we find something immanent to their experience which requires a further expansion in the concept of the object. In Sense Certainty we find that its immediacy requires mediation. In Perception we find that its cognition of the sensuous requires the use of pure universal structures, and at the end of Understanding we find that the very cognition of any object other to us—sensible or thought—requires a self-consciousness to make a distinction between itself and an other. Each consequent form of consciousness functions as the presupposed condition of possibility for the prior. Whether this holds after the first section, I don’t know.

Connections to the Science of Logic

Through these first three chapters—if one has read the first two chapters of the Science of Logic—interesting conceptual structures show up in an unfinished and disconnected form prior to the writing of the Science of Logic where they would properly be explicitly developed in their pure conceptuality. Particularly pertinent are pure Being, Determinateness, Becoming and Ceasing/Coming to be, and Something and Other.

Pure, or abstract, Being appears structurally in Sense Certainty (SC) in its concept of the object. SC  merely took its object as Being and refused to determine it conceptually, and this is all that Being is in the Logic, indeterminate meaning. Determinateness comes up at the end of SC and plays a major role in Perception, and it first appears interestingly as the mere fact of mediation. In Perception it is indirectly defined as a “this which is not this,” a very close definition to the development in the Logic where it is ‘Being with non-Being taken up into itself’. Becoming comes into prominence in the Understanding’s concept of Force, in which the moments of Becoming are structurally present in the Force and Expression which are nothing but the yet-to-be of the other. Becoming’s moments are Coming to Be and Ceasing to Be, which are just this same self-vanishing transition. Something and Other, by contrast to these other concepts, is very prominent through Perception and Understanding. The issue of substantive or essential being in these chapters is an unmistakable presence of this structure, for each posited moment either as the universal medium or the one, or as Force and Expression, repeats the movement of Something and Other in their positing of themselves as different when in fact their substantive essence is their Other. While structures from the logic of Essence in the Logic appear in this same movement, Essential and non-Essential, and Ground and Grounded, I haven’t read these portions and thus do not know to what extent they are of importance here. What I do know, however, is that the end of Understanding is basically the pure concept of Something and Other as the first true concept in the spirit of the Logic, as such Hegel calls the development of this concept as belonging to the realm of science, i.e. his later system.

The Connection of Forms of Consciousness

As the chapters go on, there is something noticeable, and that is that prior forms of consciousness return. Sense Certainty is taken up in Perception, and both are taken up into Understanding. This is not something hard to see, for Hegel constantly is reminding us of the sensuous and the perceived through Perception and Understanding. Since self-consciousness has been shown to be a precondition and logically prior to the consciousness of external objects which are other to consciousness, it should be interesting to see how these forms of consciousness will return in later chapters once self-consciousness develops up to consciousness proper again.

Whose Consciousness?

The layers of the Phenomenology run deep, and one can interpret the forms of consciousness in a few ways. One is that the forms of consciousness are akin to our own individual development of consciousness. As an infant we begin with Sense Certainty, as children we Perceive, as teens we Understand, and as adults we become explicitly self-conscious and aware of our role in the world. It seems like plausible reading for this first section.

Another one is, of course, that these are  actual historical forms of consciousness, but in these three chapters this actually does not make much sense to me. Sense Certainty, as a historical form of knowing, would have to correspond to a far gone pre-human stage of mere symbolic reference, a stage of “thinking” which is hardly any thinking at all, and that is pure signaling without memory. The first three forms of consciousness seem almost inseparable in actual life beyond this logical division into determinate moments once we move into Perception in which Sense Certainty dominates over the Understanding, yet the Understanding is implicitly present in its function already, and indeed finds its way out given the conditions for its free speculation. That said, Perception seems to be the pre-Socratic Greek’s naturalist world views, such as the universalization of a determinate element into the essence of all things.

Another view is that this is the very process of cognition of the general human being. First we encounter the sensuous object and have no determinate knowledge of it, but in perceiving we begin to determine the object through sensuous and conceptual categorization, after which we begin to engage in the pure understanding of the object. Were the inquiry to be one inquiring after absolute knowledge, we would then have to conceive of ourselves as knowers and our relation to the known explicitly, hence self-consciousness would come into the picture.

Ontology and Epistemology: The Structure of Objects and Knowing

Part of what smacks you, or at least should smack you in the face, when reading the introduction and this first major section is that ontology and epistemology come hand in hand and never are apart from one another. An ontology always has an epistemology to justify its knowing, and an epistemology always already presupposes the ontology of the knower, its knowing, and the objects it knows. The only ones that probably escape this criticism are the pragmatists because, well, they don’t care about Truth.