Appearance & The Essence of Things

Phenomenology of Spirit: §143

This ‘being’ is therefore called appearance; for we call being that is directly and in its own self a non-being a surface show. But it is not merely a surface show ; it is appearance, a totality of show. (Miller trn.)

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For that reason, it is called appearance, for being that is immediately in itself a non-being is what is called seeming-to-be. However, it is not merely a seeming-to-be but rather an appearance, a whole of seeming-to-be’s. (Pinkard trn.)

 

From this quote, particularly from Miller’s translation, one can see a very interesting consequence from the concept of appearance, and that is that appearance as appearance in truth hides nothing underneath. In opposition to the Kantian problematic of our knowledge being limited to appearances and unable to access things-in-themselves, Hegel strongly and decisively argues the opposite: it is only because of appearances that we have access to things-in-themselves. The very fact and concept of an appearance is already the lifting of the veil, for in positing an appearance as that which is before us we necessarily posit that there is such a thing-in-itself hidden behind it as the reality which has shown itself to us as a moment of appearance. The essence of things which supposedly is veiled underneath momentary and ever vanishing appearance is in the end the enduring still image of this very vanishing as a whole, hence the totality of show. In this totality of show the essence of things fully shines through, every moment of appearance revealing one more moment of the intelligible rational principle which springs forth as this appearance.

Though there is indeed a veil, this veil is the very thing which reveals the unseen that underlies it. Appearance is not the dark veil of space hiding essence underneath, but is instead the illuminating light of stars which brings things-in-themselves into relation with us. In truth, appearance is not the total veil Kant thought, but rather the key to the total revelation of essence.

The Ideal in Absolute Idealism

_____Ideality_____

Something to keep in mind when dealing with Hegelian ideality is that thoughts are concepts, and concepts for Hegel are, as an analogy, ‘living’ and self-moving unifying processes. Activity and movement—process—is something inherent to Hegel’s conception of reality as a whole. Beings are active, Nature is active, thought is active, and Spirit is active. Hegel’s philosophy is no collection of definitions merely put together, but chained by a moving inner necessity. As an Idealist he is often attacked for his ‘abstraction’, meaning that he deals with and thinks that strange things like ideas are the ‘reality’ of the world and that ‘material’ is an illusion. On this particular attack Hegel is not guilty when this is meant in the typical Berkelyan sense of ideas, but in Hegel’s own technical meanings it is admittedly true that he held to such a claim.

Abstraction in the common understanding tends to mean two things: a vague concept or something that exists mentally. Hegel is not guilty on the first, and by common conception not guilty of the second insofar as Hegel’s “thoughts” are not simply mental representations. In method, Hegel is a complete opposite of vagueness; indeed, it’s the strongly interwoven concepts which cause much of the mental suffering to the new reader who mistakes him to be just another philosopher whose concepts can just be taken up as if his language has everyday meanings.

Finitude, Abstraction, Thought, and The Ideal

Ideality and abstraction are, as anything Hegelian, more than simple definitions or statements. While there is a connection between the common notion of ideality and Hegel’s, there is also a separation with his speculative meanings. The connection between them is this: in the common notion ideality has to do with abstraction, thought, and unification; this is also true for Hegel’s ideality. In the common notion the ideal unifies in thought by abstracting from concrete difference, hence its vagueness and lack of definite detail, and this is why it is called abstract universality. In Hegel’s philosophy, however, ideality is something quite more than in the common notion.

Ideality for Hegel is meant in multiple senses:

1—As that which is finite, that is, the finite as a literal abstraction that has no reality outside the Infinite/Absolute. By abstraction it is meant that a finite term is literally taken out of a concrete whole, it is abstracted from its relations and set apart from it.

2—As that which is thought itself as pure abstraction. This has to do with thought as concepts and not as mere representations.¹

3—As that which attains to its Concept, that is, an object that is true and what it should be in that it embodies its concept.

These aren’t actually fully separate senses, but it helps to consider each in context when Hegel speaks of the ideal. Hegel says:

1—“The proposition that the finite is ideal constitutes idealism. The idealism of philosophy consists in nothing else than in recognizing that the finite has no veritable being. Every philosophy is essentially an idealism, or at least has idealism for its principle…. Consequently, the opposition of idealism and realistic philosophy has no significance. This ideality of the finite is the most important proposition of philosophy, and for that reason every genuine philosophy is Idealism… Now above we have named the principle or the universal the *ideal* (and still more must the Notion, the Idea, spirit be so named); and then again we have described individual, sensuous things as *ideal* in principle, or in their Concept, still more in spirit, that is, as sublated; here we must note, in passing, this twofold aspect which showed itself in connection with the infinite, namely that on the one hand the ideal is concrete, veritable being, and on the other hand the moments of this concrete being are no less ideal—are sublated in it; but in fact what is, is only the one concrete whole from which the moments are inseparable.” (Science of Logic: §148-9)

2—“The durable existence, that is, the substance of an existence, is its selfsameness, for its non-selfsameness would be its dissolution. However, selfsameness is pure abstraction, but this pure abstraction is thought.” (Phenomenology of Spirit: §54)

3—The Idea is truth in itself and for itself—the absolute unity of the concept and objectivity. Its ‘ideal’ content is nothing but the concept in its detailed terms: its ‘real’ content is only the exhibition which the concept gives itself in the form of external existence, while yet, by enclosing this shape in its ideality, it keeps it in its power, and so keeps itself in it.” (Encyclopedia Logic: §213)

The ideal is finite insofar as it is a true abstraction which can sustain itself as an existent differentiated from, yet within and part of, the Absolute; it is a thought insofar as it is a unifying abstraction as Concept—an abstracting self-relating² unity. Returning to the finite, it may be seen as ideal in the common sense in that it seems that it is a vanishing figment or appearance of imagination/thought, for all that is finite has substance and essence that neither empirically nor conceptually has absolute grounding substantiality upon close inspection, but points beyond itself. However, this similarity is a mere surface resemblance, for this ideality is no mere vanishing figment for Hegel. This pointing beyond itself of finitude is itself a pointing towards an ideality of finite things themselves in another sense: it points towards their essence and truth which is an intelligible immaterial universal principle. Whether one calls the truth of things matter, spirit, energy, forces, laws of nature, et cetera, these truths are concepts unlike the immediate sensuous appearance of things.

This ideality, however, is not a mere dead abstract vague representation defined and done away with as in the common notion of ideality, but is a unifying structure called a concept. As concept it is a self-differentiated unity developed through other concepts internally related to each other in systematic fashion—it is concrete. Such concept is a unity of unity and difference, or a unity of identity and difference which links what is with what it is not. As concept which has a concrete universal structure, the ideal is the principle of development and existence of finite things, yet these finite things are themselves part of the ideal concrete structure into which they seem to vanish. As parts they are moments of it which themselves are as necessary and enduring as the totality which they comprise. With this in mind, the finite itself also is as ideal as the very beyond it points to, and the empirical sensuous existence of things is no less ideal, for though it is the external existence of the ideal, this external existence is itself immanently linked to and part of the concept it embodies.

For the third meaning, the Idea is the realization of what should be insofar as an object is the realization of its own freely self-determined concept—one may relate this to the common notion of the ideal of things, what they would be as ‘perfect’—and in so doing such an object is true in accordance to its concept. This ideal, however, is not simply a completed ‘perfection’, but also a developmental perfection insofar as concept and externally existent objectivity coincide.

As is often the case with Hegel, a term may be meant in all of its meanings even when one particular aspect is being emphasized, so it’s a good exercise to see what Hegel is pointing out on the surface while also being aware there are the other meanings right underneath.

Concreteness

Concreteness3 is often used to refer to the experienced empirical world which exists as it does in its fullness. For Hegel, concreteness is more akin to an accumulated ‘thickness’ of connections inhering in a concept; such thickness provides the solid contextual ground for concepts in the structure of systematic unity. Even so-called abstract concepts in the end show themselves to be concrete not simply because they have a place in a systematic whole, but because they form the ground as well as are results of such systematic whole. The empirical is concrete in that it is a totality that is already unified and thick with real connections. Thus, for external existents of nature, there seems to be no problem of abstraction like there seems to be for thought. Nonetheless, one may speak of spheres of nature as abstract in some senses. Concreteness, to butcher it a bit, is expressed in contextual thinking which considers the connections of things either logically as necessary or empirically as the temporospatial relation of things.

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  1. With concepts there is a necessary connection to yet another aspect of ideality as intelligibility, but I shall deal with that in another post.
  2. Self-relation almost always requires two concepts/determinations in order to make self-relation intelligible by providing the necessary basis for determining self-relation as opposed to other-relation. As such, self-relating often implies relation to at least one other. Self-relation as self-abstraction is the beginning of particularity and eventual individuality. That said, immediate self-relation is possible and itself intelligible such as in The One of Being-for-itself which is a totality that sublates all otherness within itself.
  3. A fun and short piece on this by Hegel is Who Thinks Abstractly? 

Why and How I Came to Study Philosophy

I don’t consider myself a philosopher in any proper sense. I am neither the modern academic scholar, nor the ancient sage of wisdom, but I do find myself engaged in that realm of questioning thought which raises itself up to the philosophical. Why? As an activity, it does not provide me with any monetary or material gain, nor does it provide me with social gains in popularity—except in strange places like the Internet, I suppose. It could be argued that I do use the thinking skills I have developed through my studies in my everyday life, and while it is true that I think with a lot more consideration for my personal decisions on information, I can’t say I find myself being much more effective in my everyday life since most of it has to do with physical and memory skills.

First and foremost, I engage in philosophical inquiry because I want to know the Truth. I don’t care for opinions, and I don’t care for temporary it-seems-like-truth-but-perhaps-it’s-not kind of truth; no, I want to know THE Truth. Whatever it may be, however painfully disappointing it may be, there is a satisfaction I find in the attaining of truth that draws me like a bee to a flower.

In my past, the truth went from “Because it is” when I was a child to “Because of science, duh!” when I was a teen to “I’m beginning to wonder if it’s just necessary castles in the sky” in my early twenties to “Well, it seems we can’t know it intellectually at least” to “Wow. How about that conceptual necessity?” I’m no stranger to changing views, but despite all the changes, it feels like fundamentally it’s stayed the same and every change was just one further iteration of just what it is that I hold truth to be: certainty. As a child, certainty was feeling; as a, teen certainty was the practical reality of the “scientific method;” in my early twenties, certainty became the certainty of inescapable dogmatism; a couple years later, it became the certainty of skepticism of intellectual knowledge; and now, certainty is the certainty of immanent thought. In that respect, it seems to never change, but as an inspired Hegelian, I can’t accept that there has been no difference, for form and content aren’t separate.

Now why did I want to know the truth in my early days? Well, like it did to Socrates, it just seemed obvious to me that truth was obviously good! Good for what? I don’t know, but if lying was bad on all accounts, then telling truth was good as far as basic thinking went. Over time, the reason changed, and past my 21st year, around the time I read Marx, my whole view on the good of truth, and truth itself, changed to a very pragmatic view for a while. I no longer cared about detached truth in itself—I could not believe in it any longer given my increasing skepticism and belief in scientific functionalism. I cared about truth that had direct tangible results; it was practical efficacy which was the proof of certainty. It was only in these tangible results and productive activities that were truth, and any theoretical considerations in between were merely pragmatically necessary empirical unknowns filling the gap.

Truth of other things aside, however, my directly personal dimension comes into my love of philosophy as well. I grew up going to and taking part in my mother’s Protestant church, and while I never was a strong believer, I internalized a strong sense of basic Christian morality, particularly not lying—when it matters—and accepting that you are responsible for your fate after death. With that, I became very, very, preoccupied with the questions of what the righteous or good life is, what I should do, and what kind of person I should be. While external considerations and scientific understanding dominated my striving and outlook most of the time, the questions of my inner world were always present despite my lack of definite understanding of what might answer them.

Not only did a strong Christian value of truth and responsibility shape me, but so did the liberal notions of that we should be open-minded, understanding of others, critical, and to be comfortable with being our selves insofar as what we are is not actively detrimental to others. I took seriously the idea that I should be me, that I should not want to be anyone else, that despite my personal problems at the very least I could live as a truth to myself. The full weight of these notions, however, did not bear on me heavily until my later teen years.

Once in college, I ended up taking a critical thinking class—it was basic classical logic—out of need to fill in a requirement my second year. While I did not take the class very seriously at first—it seemed too easy—there came a point near the end of the class where one of the assigned essay topics was the question of what rights we had. Somehow it had never occurred to me that this concept of rights was something I did not really understand, and yet in contemplating the topic it fully struck me that this was the case. I was bothered by this and excited all at once. Here was a moment of real insight I had never experienced before, for the first time in what seemed my entire life I was learning something fundamentally new. I researched and learned about positive and negative rights, I learned about natural and constructivist theories of right, et cetera. I ended up skipping class for two weeks and turning the essay in late because I was so wrapped up in the issue. Never had I felt such a worry about a thought. I engaged in a frantic search for an answer to what once seemed like such a simple question. If something so ordinary as ‘rights,’ which we speak of so easily in our everyday lives, was truly unknown to me, what else was I not aware of not truly knowing? The question began a process within me that, so it happens, coincided with a shift in thinking I was already beginning to make in the realm of questions concerning science.

The next semester, I decided to take the plunge into my first philosophy course—an intro to metaphysics and epistemology. While I found myself interested and thinking once more, I usually came to fuzzy conclusions with which I was utterly unsatisfied. In my essays, I made clear my inner turmoil in seeing the rationality and partial truth to both sides, feeling a conviction that some third answer must exist which unified them. Not until the end of the semester, on the question of free will and determinism, did the flash of inspiration and insight of genuine speculative thinking hit me in full again. In that question, I felt that I grasped the question and issue itself for myself for the first time, not merely as a question presented through the essays I read. I felt a supreme confidence that, unlike my classmates, I grasped at the true root of the question—one which was not about determinism or indeterminism, and having nothing to do with quantum mechanics. In both libertarianism and determinism, there was an inherent incompatibilism by conception, both spoke of something in principle inconceivable in any coherent manner. I saw that the question of free will was one of self-determination (my own term, none to do with Hegel at the time since I had not even heard of him). Some form of compatibilism had to be the case in order for the question to even be intelligible (not a word I even knew back them). No compatibalist account I read, however, developed an answer that satisfied. From the question of free will, there cascaded a whole slew of changes to the categories which structured my comprehension.

As I continued to think over the next couple years over issues that came up in other philosophy courses I found myself considering the questions in new ways beyond what any assigned texts or lectures implied. I became interested in Marx, in process philosophies, in Wittgenstein, in Kant’s noumenal/phenomenal divide, in philosophy of science, and in the increasing unintelligibility of physical theories and their assumptions. I turned away from interest in ethics and became convinced of the primacy of the metaphysical as a necessary ground that required working out before the questions of ethics could be answered. I became more and more interested and convinced in the necessity of a coherent and systematic framework despite my increasing doubts in the possibility of non-dogmatic philosophy. Eventually I became obsessed with the notion that logic, metaphysics, and ethics had an intimate connection which collapsed them into one, and as such I was also drawn towards Spinoza and Aristotle where I found such a relation between what is and what should be.

Under the influence of Marx and Wittgenstein’s therapeutic philosophy, I shifted my conceptions of science towards pragmatic instrumentalism and became suspicious of empirical evidence for claims of the metaphysical due to my reading of Kuhn and Collingwood. The realization that science had metaphysical presuppositions of its own made me skeptical of the direction of knowledge. From then on, I was skeptical of epistemology as a foundational project. Kant, whom I had disdained in ethics, became a seasonal love I encountered on the outskirts of my academic article readings, and through the influence of modern considerations of the science of the brain, I made a link to the categories of the mind and their construction of the world. His transcendental idealism melded even better with my mystical speculations the further I engaged with Buddhist and Advaita Vedanta thought. Though there was an increasingly rational structuring to my worldview and growing system, there nonetheless remained my awareness that I was just as trapped building castles in the sky as others. At the time, however, rather than give into skeptical defeatism, I was more than happy to engage speculation for my own satisfaction in seeing how far I could expand my rationalist system.

With all these new notions, an acute sense of urgency came to my search for truth. No longer was I just interested in truth just for its own sake, or for the sake of instrumental usage, but for my sake. As my knowledge increased, and I reflected on myself as a person, the issues of my self came into clearer focus. I wanted to be true to myself and to be an individual that was who they are of their own choosing, I was determined to be free insofar as I could self-determine, but I could not be such if I did not grasp Truth and choose it for myself. I could no longer simply take it from someone else, for it would be allowing others to determine who I was. Reason and knowledge became for me a way to achieve freedom inasmuch as freedom is possible, but this freedom was for no purpose but to grasp Truth and embody it as an act of my own choosing.

Through life circumstances and their effect on my reflective moods, I began to reconceptualize my purely rational schemes with an injection of life experience and inspired mystical speculations. I put my systematic desire to work, bringing together in my mental scheme everything and anything which could be subsumed into the general metaphysical categories which informed my worldview. Science, religion, the humanities, social concerns, existential experience, and monistic mysticism melded together in what seemed like a seamless web. And then…I finally discovered Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Hegel was, and still is, a colossus who casts a shadow over everything. In Hegel, I found the greatest challenge and also my greatest personal ‘spiritual’ achievements. Necessity transformed once more—a necessity which could guarantee itself in its content beyond analytic form. While my first encounters were baffling and I was incapable of grasping beyond superficial depths, I felt Hegel promised something that, though I was unable to yet see, was beyond what anyone else promised. Silly as it may seem, I accepted the challenge and since then have dared to do all I can to see the course through and attain Hegel’s promised Absolute Knowing. I have not forgotten all of those thinkers I have gone through. Indeed, through Hegel, I have come to have an even greater appreciation for the heights of their thoughts and how amazing they were, not just in their own times but also in their essence.

Philosophy is now so intertwined with who I am that I cannot imagine being what I should be without it. I continue to engage philosophy not for purely practical instrumental reasons, neither for argument nor for job purposes, but for the satisfaction of knowing. Perhaps its a residual of the indoctrination and belief in the inherent righteousness of truth, or perhaps it’s because Hegel is right about the satisfaction of knowing being the mind’s certainty found and confirmed in its object (he has a way of making wonderful things seem unexciting and technical).

Whatever the reason, Truth is what I want from philosophy, and Truth is in some way what I have found every step of the way despite so far moving on from all positions I’ve held. Luckily for me, Truth happens to include everything I had prior wanted at every point: Truth is freedom; it is knowledge and the power it enables to transform; it is the good which is good in itself. Science’s aims of knowing what is and ethics’ aim to know what should be are, for now, happily united.