All posts by Antonio Wolf

Philosophy enthusiast. I write a blog focusing on my current study of Hegelianism, and I also write general Leftist commentary. Working class autodidact. -No, it's not my real name.

A Critique of a Standard Misreading of Hegel

I was bored a few days ago and decided to put on a random Hegel lecture to listen to and waste away my time more than usual, but it happened that I found this lecture in many ways more amusing with how much is wrong coming from a professor whom, I had already assumed, must have studied Hegel with those people we call supposed experts. Unlike the hilariously bad “water + not-water = Water” from this gem(1:57:22-2:00:10) of a lecture that qualifies as not even wrong, this one is at least plausibly wrong for very understandable reasons… except for some parts which I’m puzzled as to their source. I don’t expect everyone who ever teaches a lecture on Hegel to be an expert and be up to date with Hegel scholarship and the ‘acceptable’ interpretations, but I do expect someone to at least teach me what the philosopher actually thinks rather than talk about and around what he or she thinks the philosopher thinks. Most of my problems with this lecture would frankly be solved if it was all qualified with ‘This is what I think Hegel means‘ rather than with ‘Hegel says/thinks…’

2:13—The knowledge (“fact”)/Being distinction set up by Kant. “It doesn’t make any sense if Being is real.” (according to “Hegel”)

I don’t get where this notion that Hegel is against Kant on the basis of the question of Being’s reality comes from considering Hegel tells us no such thing. The question is about the Absolute and the rational limits of our cognition and knowledge. Can we have ANY absolute knowledge whatsoever, or are we indeed stuck with opinions? This can be knowledge of Being itself or of beings of one kind or another. This has nothing to do with Being’s “reality.” One would be stupid to deny that there is whatever there is; Kant himself did not deny there is something, whatever it may be in-itself. The question is whether we can know the something without the doubts that maybe we’re muddling it up just with our mere determinate form imposing something upon it. Of course, being charitable here, Mr. Stroup likely means to convey the skeptical question of so-called external reality to the subject which was taken up by the likes of Fichte who denied the thing-in-itself in total—this, of course, cannot be understood as the denial of the reality of Being, but the denial of a reality of a certain kind of Being. The question is: can we know the absolute, whatever it may be, whether it is an epistemic framework or an ontological category, or are we stuck with mere opinions? Even Kant is ultimately under attack for being too satisfied to remain in opinion when he himself can explain neither the subject nor the categories of its objects. Schelling first offers the question of the unity of unity and difference, and though he is unable to answer it, this is the question of any conception of an absolute: how do we go from the complete in-itself (universal) to the obvious incompleteness of its manifestation (particular/individual)? How does that make sense? How can there be things that are connected yet are thought to be radically disconnected at the same time (neumena/phenomena, or the knower and the known)? That’s something Hegel quietly sets out to answer.

5:35—Reading from a textbook, he says “In part B of the Phenomenology, Hegel discusses a relationship that he calls Lordship and Bondage to illustrate how it is through conflict and struggle that the world evolves and moves forward by means of a synthesis of opposing forces. . . . What Hegel attempts to do here is something like a reconstruction of his own [mind] of events that have already been carried out over past philosophical history. The theme of Lordship and Bondage that he emphasizes appears to be his own subjective reconstruction of a process of thought beginning with Socrates and ending with Christian philosophy.”

The historical reading here is one of those common mistakes people obsess about when they learn that Hegel is very historically minded, thus there is a temptation to attempt to map the Phenomenology’s forms of consciousness onto historical eras or events despite there being very little purpose to apply it in such a way according to the work’s own epistemic and phenomenological aims—these are, after all, forms of consciousness, ways of thinking, and their resultant activities, not historical events. This is like the foolish attempt to read Sense Certainty as the caveman’s cognition, Perception as the Greek’s, and Understanding as the modern. In truth, this categorization makes little sense since all three are far more basic and universal to humans than people realize. Nobody can live with mere Sense Certainty, cavemen definitely needed to Perceive, and the Greeks, for all their errors, very much understood things. The Phenomenology of Spirit IS NOT The Philosophy of History, yet it is a common mistake to read it as if it were. The Phenomenology is, from Hegel’s own telling of it in the Introduction, about the journey of Spirit to discover what  scientific knowledge is. It’s not meant to explain to us the trajectory of our history except as a logical history of the progression of knowledge.

In this section, Mr. Stroup speaks of Self-consciousness in the mode of mere consciousness focused outwardly as the Greek form of consciousness, but this is a very broad paintbrush over Consciousness and why Hegel even gets to the master-slave position in the first placeReading the Phenomenology as if it were The Philosophy of History completely misses the point of what the Phenomenology itself is meant to show.

Here, there are quite the errors, mostly because what is claimed is simply not there and is being externally read into the argument. For one, Hegel doesn’t speak of the “revolt of the slave who then becomes the master of the master, and the master the slave of the former slave” or that this transitions to medieval Christianity from Greece/Rome because “Christianity is about the meek overcoming the strong.” His Nietzschean reading of this about force and weakness is just plain false in the text itself.  There is no passage about the weakness or meekness of a slave and its inversion into the dominant master form in this in the whole section. This section has nothing to do with the Nietzschean inversion of master and slave morality, and it is not Hegel’s point that “Christianity must be overcome” because of this.

What there is plenty of is about the slave’s fearful existence under the master and the ultimate master, death itself. There is also a lot on internal and structural contradiction: the slave is the master insofar as the master depends on them, and the master is the slave insofar as they need the slave. The slave is master of his desires, master of his craft, master of his knowledge of concepts—he is the master in content, but not master in form and vice versa. No one wins in this situation, for the next three forms of consciousness are all forms which slaves and masters alike may have. This relationship falls apart only to reappear right after as an internalized duality of a master aspect and slave aspect of all self-consciousnesses.

12:30—”Everything for Hegel is necessary.”

Everything logical is necessary for Hegel, not ‘everything empirical is necessary.’ There is a big difference between logical and empirical necessity—they don’t quite align. There is a real contingency in empirical Nature, and Hegel is not Spinoza and hasn’t much love for sufficient reason—Spirit can fail to achieve the logically necessary for a myriad of empirical contingent reasonse.g. we could indeed be stupid enough to nuke this world to oblivion. Mr. Stroup mentions the so-called necessity of Napoleon invading/conquering Germany and says that if Hegel can say that it was a historical necessity, then a Hegelian would say that Nazism was necessary because it happened. Stupidity and civilizational collapse sending us to the stone age can happen, but that’s not a logical necessity that will advance anything towards greater knowledge. If there were a metaphysical logical necessity for something like the Holocaust and WWII happening, we would not claim it had to happen just because it empirically happened, but have to prove some logical advance that comes with it, either as a negation or as a positive advancement towards some teleological end.

15:44—”Hegel is looking as history in terms of Being.”

No, Mr. Stroup, he certainly is not, and I have no idea where you got that notion. Hegel is not Parmenideshe’s not worried about substance or Being. Hegel is looking at the history of knowledge approaching scientific knowledge from the standpoint of those structures of knowing as they are in their abstracted and purified form. These forms of knowing match historical epochs because they are indeed real forms of knowing we have employed and keep employing. 

16:00—Genocide as necessary

The example of Nazism and genocide to show a point of “We needed a little bit of genocide to learn it was wrong” is a bit silly. Hegel has no monopoly on the wisdom that in order to answer a problem one has to have a problem to begin with. Jay Bernstein comments on the outright stupidity of this point by precisely pointing to the Holocaust and the “path of despair of Spirit” in order to get a much more interesting and fitting interpretation concerning the idea of total irretrievable loss: historically bad shit happens on individual and collective levels from which we unfortunately learn nothing, and all we have is a set of horrendous memories to keep—sometimes events really advance nothing, and this too is a Hegelian point about empirical existence. Everything makes sense on some level, but Hegel is not stupid enough to claim that everything makes complete sense at any particular level. If anything, the very system he builds is one in which this is a precluded possibility: the only thing that will ever make complete sense is Absolute Spirit itself; everything else is in one way or another more or less irrational, arbitrary, and contingent.

16:45—”Don’t worry; it’s all good in the end.”

While Hegel is an optimist, there is plenty in his philosophy which speaks quite against this. Let’s not forget this is one of the philosophers of endless despair and all things falling apart the moment things seem to get good and safely sublate. Logically, sure, it’s all good in the end, but empirically there is no guarantee of this. Modernity is not considered by Hegel to be nearing the “end of history” for an arbitrary reason of being a status quo lover, it’s actually because he sees structures of absolute self-determination begin to appear and match somewhat what they logically should look like insofar as we have logically derived them. This is good… because self-determination is the only logically valid normative rule. Try to derive any prior historical formation as a completely immanent and positively derived logical development, and you’ll see what happens in the Phenomenology: things will fall apart.

17:05—Marx on the master/slave

All I have to say is that, since Mr. Stroup misread the Master/Slave to begin with, this further misreading of Marx does not sit well with me. “The master will resist the slave revolt to overcome and become masters themselves”—truly, if that was the insight of Marx to destroy Hegelianism, I would think both to be thinkers so poor as to be banal. Marx’s refutation of Hegel is far more sophisticated than this, and Hegel’s argument in the master-slave is not that eventually one day we realized we were all equals and recognized each other, and that that is why slavery ended. It’s implied that the slaves may rise up and become masters to the master, but this is logically not an advance, and here Mr. Stroup is right. If the slave revolts, the real advance would be the dissolution of slavery in general, for the slave has gained and internalized the universal structure of self-consciousness and conceptual thinking—the slave can conceive of the universal required to recognize others like oneself unlike the master who treats them only as objects and denies their subjectivity.

19:30—Mr. Stroup interprets the dialectic to be primarily about faith and reason while still ignoring the onto-epistemic conceptions being carried out in each shape of consciousness on the way, each itself—including faith—a form of reason itself.  Somehow, he ends this with the resulting concept of Nothing “after reason and faith and spirit vanish.” This is what he takes to be the explication of Hegel’s reasoning for why we arrive at the notion that Being and Nothing are one and the same. This could not be farther from Hegel’s result of Absolute Knowing in the Phenomenology—it’s not about Nothing, but about the knowing of knowing. Once again, this is reading into the work what isn’t there.

21:50—Once again, the mistake is made from the textbook reading of thinking the Phenomenology to be the Philosophy of History. This ignores that the Phenomenology is about a logical history of consciousness’ KNOWING coming to scientific absolute knowing, not about explaining human history in general. Once again, the Phenomenology is about explaining how and why we were able to get from the mere appearance of knowledge to true absolute knowledge and how we had to go through these various forms due to the logical way they develop and interrelate despite not appearing in the order of our empirical historical meandering.

23:00—The myth of progress.

No, Hegel is not the source of the myth of progress. This myth was around long before Hegel, and it’s silly to blame Hegel for the misuse of his ideas others made through their own misunderstandings—that’s like blaming Marx for the USSR. No, wage work is not slavery by any stretch of conception; we make distinctions for a reason—slaves, serfs, and proletarians are not the same thing and do not exist in the same relation of domination. No, the master-slave dynamic does not continue forever between us—it continues within us. One merely has to read the section right after concerning Stoicism, Skepticism, and the Unhappy Consciousness to know that the dynamic of knowledge regarding recognition turns inward to an inner split self that enables internalized self-consciousness.

30:00—History proving Hegel, or Hegel using history to back himself up

Hegel never tries to explain our empirical history as empirical. Once again, the difference between logical and empirical history must be made. The reason for Hegel’s logical ordering of history and its difference from empirical history is ignored here, and unfortunately, it’s a very common point of ignorance.

32:00—Hegel describing modernity as just another contradiction, ‘predicting the next movement’

…except he doesn’t, and we can see this in the Philosophy of History and the Philosophy of Right. There is something unique about modernity which isn’t like what prior forms of society in history are like, that is, modernity shows an immanently systematic and organic logical structure unlike slave societies, feudalism, and what have you. Its foundations are not arbitrary like the others, and it is why modern structures can be developed in a positive internal dialectic instead of an internally self-undermining negative dialectic. Modernity for Hegel is a time in which legitimate structures of freedom are beginning to appear. Hegel is not in the business of prediction and says so himself. He is convinced of and logically develops a priori that the structures of self-determination and reason are arising in his day, but they are incomplete, and Hegel admits to not knowing how the system of society is to come to completionhowever, he does screw the dialectics up with injecting contingent historical bias in quite a bit, so I have to give Mr. Stroup that one. Though Marx assumes the modern state and economy are just another negative dialectic like any other, Hegel thinks no such thing, but is well aware that there are problems he does not know how to solve. He certainly would not predict a master-slave class struggle to keep occurring if the structures of self-determination are actually upheld in a society that is freely free. Of course, someone like Marx and many after Hegel question whether this society can be freely free, but one must first ask what that state of affairs would logically look like to make some judgment about that which wouldn’t be mere opinion.

34:00—Description of the diremption and unification

It seems Mr. Stroup completely misses the point of the ‘synthesis/unification’ as itself the structure of an absolute form of a specific total movement. He is unaware of the concrete universalwhat Hegel in the Phenomenology terms Infinityas the genuine basic conceptual structure which explicates the possibility of a unity of unity and difference, a self-differentiated whole that dirempts and in its diremption is unified. With this being missed, of course the endless diremption seems to arbitrarily be said to stop in a final synthesis of Absolute Spirit. For Hegel, the diremption never endsit just finds self-grounding systematic closure in which the process is absolute unto itself and fully self-contained in its total resulting structure. The Absolute isn’t a state of thingsit is a structure and process of the coming to be of that structure: ‘The Idea is Life.’

34:20—Mr. Stroup mentions: Being, Nothing, Existence as the realm of Becoming; life in the realm of Becoming; Being “wants to experience itself,” Being posits itself as Nothing, God posits something outside itself that isn’t him. How do you get movement in Being/Absolute Spirit? The Absolute posits necessity outside of itself, and that necessity must get back to the Absolute….

First off, no, Being does not posit Nothing and Becoming is not the return of Nothing back into Being. Where the hell did this come from? Being can’t posit anything because positing is a structure of Essence, the major logical form after the Doctrine of Being. See the Doctrine of Being. This is just textually outright wrong.

Second, everything is Becoming; Life is so far beyond simple Becoming it’s mind boggling—Life is in the “realm” of the Concept. Thinking there is anything that isn’t Becoming is to show you misunderstand what Becoming is as the very moment of all transitioning vanishing—the very differentiated unity of black text on white background is itself a Becoming. Third, Existence is NOT the “realm” of experience. What that ontological order is called is Nature. Mr. Stroup is not to blame here, I think, so much as the poor teaching his Hegel instructors gave. This mix-matching of categories is typical of people who are chronic superficial readers of Hegel who constantly read into his work rather than read out of it.

Being isn’t God and it doesn’t want anything in Hegel’s account… This is close to Schelling’s conception, except Schelling’s God does not posit something outside, and this seems far closer to Fichte, yet I do wonder if it’s right. Where, then, does this come from? Here, I think, one can find things hinting at this in the Philosophy of History. This reading, however, would miss Hegel’s points on teleology in the Science of Logic concerning immanent telos which is just…the principle of development of things. God no more wants to come into existence than an an electron wants to float around a positive atomic nucleus or matter wants to come together with other matter in gravitational attraction.

The Absolute does not posit anything outside itself to get motion going. This, again, misunderstands what the Absolute is. Hegel has no issues with change, it’s the very beginning of the system as Becoming in the Logic. Read the 1st chapter of the Doctrine of Being.

Finally, to respond to a comment reply of his to a comment I made: Hegel is not a “monist.” He’s not Spinoza, he’s not Parmenides, and he’s not Fichte. He’s not a metaphysical/ontological monist for there is more than one kind of thing around. If there is one thing one could say about his “monism” it would be epistemic monism: everything is understood relative to one normative standard, the Absolute (cf. James Kreines’ work on the issue of thinking Hegel is a metaphysical/ontological monist).

Negative and Positive Dialectics

People seem to have a confusion going on about dialectics, either in that they are not aware of what Hegel’s dialectics are about in general or because they’re confused as to which kind of Hegel’s dialectics are going on. On the first issue I’ve already written a blog post about, and if general online searches and discussions show anything, it’s that someone has to bring to awareness  the differences concerning the second.

Hegel can be said to use dialectics in two modes: negative and positive. Negative dialectics are mainly to be found mentioned outside the system which Hegel builds in the Logic and beyond—in the Phenomenology of Spirit—while positive dialectics are to be found in the system itself.

Negative Dialectics

As the name implies, negative dialectics negate their terms rather than sublate them. It must be stated: negative dialectics are not unique to Hegel—other philosophers, such as Plato and the Pyrrhonian skeptics use a similar method of drawing out inner contradictions. These types of dialectics are self-destructing—one could say they are ‘explosive’—and lead nowhere but to a skeptical state in knowledge, nullification of something, and if one wanted to talk of life they lead to death. The Phenomenology of Spirit is full of such dialectics; they are the bricks that form the highway of despair which Spirit traverses in its search for knowledge.

Negative dialectics are, for the most part, related concepts with content claims which are betrayed by their form and vice versa. To take the usual famous example: in the master-slave dialectic, the immanent content driving the relation, the desire and need for mutual recognition for self-consciousness, is in complete contradiction to the relational form of a master and slave. In such a relation, full recognition is impossible due to the inequalities of power as well as the self-undermining of the very possibility of recognition for each in their respective standpoint in the relation. What does this result in? It results in the dissolution of the master-slave social form as an answer to the problem it begins with in the struggle for recognition. The content and form are not in harmony and one must be cancelled eventually.

Another example: Force and its Expression are first posited by the Understanding as the answer to the problem arising from Perception: how can an object be understood to be one and many at the same time? Or: how is it intelligibly possible to conceive a unity of unity and difference? The answer to this problem is posed in the form of Force as an absolute universal principle underlying its differentiated Expression. Force is posited as an absolute content and Expression as a mere relative form of this content. Under speculative analysis, however, Force and Expression find themselves to be empty of intelligibility as different concepts for they each are defined merely as a moment of movement towards the other—the one is many is one is many… If we attempt to articulate the terms as rigid differences with Force and Expression as a dualism of substances, however, there is then an unintelligible connection between Force and Expression: Why does Force manifest as its Expression? How can Force be the essence of Expression, the only truth, yet have Expression be definitely not Force itself but rather something separate that merely seems to be? Force itself is unable to provide an answer; thus, its structure of concepts are discarded, but from its process there is a positive concept gleamed from its total activity. From the failures of Force, we find a movement of cognition which reveals a structure of the kind which is sought as an answer. Infinity appears as a concept which achieves the unity of unity and difference, and which explains how unitary oneness manifests as plural appearances. But this concept is only a new beginning, its structure goes beyond it and brings consciousness into the relation of infinity to infinity.

Were Hegel a mere skeptic, we would expect that the negative dialectic would simply end with dissolution. However, there is a positive moment to Hegel’s method in the Phenomenology of Spirit, the determinate negation left over from the cancellation of the terms of a form of consciousness. From Sense-Certainty the determinate negation is the sensuously mediated universal which was implicit to its activity. From Perception the determinate negation is the differentiated universal, and from Understanding what remains is Infinity—also implicit in the activities of these forms of consciousness.

The problem originally posed persists: What is the absolute and how can I know it with certainty? This question manifests with the absolute as the object of every form of consciousness, and its ways of knowing that presupposed object. Every form of consciousness in the book is posed to answer this question in the various general forms humanity has tried to answer it. Insofar as a form of consciousness advances this question, it comes into the inquiry and adds something, and insofar as it is revealed that it is vacuous and its form traps and conceals the positive content in it, it is dissolved and its structures/concepts are discarded and replaced with new forms of consciousness which provide concepts that are adequate to the concept structures left over from a dissolution.

The final negative result of the Phenomenology is: None of the forms of consciousness analyzed in the book offer a working structure that shows itself to be absolute and not self-destructing. They are all found to be insubstantial upon inquiry. 

The positive result is: Since all of these forms of consciousness exhaust the possibilities of knowledge in the form of something opposed as external to consciousness and unlike consciousness, the only remaining option is to discard the presupposition of the opposition of consciousness. The determinate negation of the opposition of consciousness as a whole is the remaining answer. We can begin without assuming any predetermined structure of knowing and its object as one assuming that the knower, knowing, and known are separate. This is what leads to the Science of Logic.

Beyond these results, however, are also the interesting results of the nature of phenomenal consciousness—its possible structures of self-understanding and its relation to others and to the world. In this manner, the entirety of the Phenomenology also reveals the fundamental possible structures which humans will develop in order to come to such understandings. In this none of the forms of consciousness are ever discarded. In self-consciousness, we apply sense-certainty, perception, and understanding. These are preserved as momentary structures of knowing which are limited to accessing an object only in some manner, and are recognized as not absolute. Not only are these forms of knowing not absolute, they are ultimately limited to the form of the knowing which assumes the opposition of consciousness and are themselves thus bracketed as mere moments leading to eventual conclusion of an inquiry that produces true scientific knowledge. All are possible forms of human consciousness, and all but one can function without prior forms available to them, hence the negation of the opposition of consciousness can only occur after such forms of consciousness are gone through in their complexity and show themselves to be inadequate as a whole.

Positive Dialectics

Opposed to the negative method, positive dialectics do not negate and dissolve the terms related. This type of dialectic is what is unique to Hegel in his particular way. It isn’t that no one else before had thought of concepts that unite seemingly contradictory ones, but rather that no one before Hegel had shown how these synthetic concepts managed to differentiate yet unify what seems contradictory. Everyone knew before Hegel that Becoming was an intermediary concept uniting Being and Nothing, yet apparently no one had quite known what to make of how this concept made sense in relation to Being and Nothing.

In the dialectics of the Science of Logic, Philosophy of Nature, and Philosophy of Spirit, every single moment is true and is maintained in every subsequent concept. The only general negation that goes on is the negation of the claim these concepts have to being absolute truths that explain everything. Negation as such, cancellation, happens in the very dialectics themselves where terms contradict each other while undermining themselves, but this contradiction does not dissolve these terms like the Phenomenology’s forms of consciousness seem to generally dissolve themselves as inadequate forms. Being is limited to what it applies to; Essence is limited to what it applies to; Concept is limited to what it applies to; Nature is limited to what it applies to.

In the dialectic of Becoming to Determinate Being, it is not the case that Becoming is ever discarded. In the dialectic of Something to Infinity, it is not the case that Something is ever discarded. In the Dialectic of Nature to Spirit, it is not the case that anything in Nature is ever discarded. Positive dialectics build upon concepts, showing limitations of concepts as their incompleteness and to the extent that they are incomplete they are untrue, but they are maintained through all subsequent developments.

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Perhaps it goes without saying, but it should be slightly clear that nothing in Hegel is quite one sided. Notice that in his negative dialectics he does not merely destroy the opposed incompatible terms, he has a positive moment in every dialectic of the Phenomenology just as much as he has the positive moment in the following system. Hegel himself tells us that the dialectical moment is itself the moment of negation and contradiction, but in a scientific inquiry such results themselves leave something positive. In truth, Hegel’s mature philosophy in the Phenomenology and onward always has his peculiar negatively positive dialectic in play.

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, a principle only accessible to beings with the capacity to reason.

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 which brings things-in-themselves into relation with us. In truth, appearance is not the total veil of a finite limited mind that keeps us apart from things-in-themselves as Kant thought, but rather the key to the total revelation of things-in-themselves or 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 that we should be open-minded, understanding of others, critical of claims, 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, and 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 as my more scientific classmates thought. 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. To know what is, I thought, would naturally reveal what should be, yet it would leave it up to me to actualize it.

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.

PhoS: The Master and Slave [Prt. 2]

Encounter and Struggle:
Consciousness’ Experience of
Recognition

Self-consciousness first exists as consciousness which excludes all before it as other to itself. For itself, it is the Ithe abstract selfwhich is an immediate unity of itself with itself. Thus, it is purely individual in that it does not have a universal mediated character.—[Refer to the section on consciousness in Life.]

Each self-consciousness sees the other as a mere object like any other, however each is a self-consciousness that opposes the other. They first encounter each other in the way they encounter all other ordinary objects for recognition is not yet occurring. They are independent living beings that do not depend on each other for their own existence as living entities. Both are beings submerged in the being of life, i.e. as consciousness they have not abstracted themselves from the immediacy of their living activity; consciousness does not yet stand detached above its own life and does not yet reflect on it. Such consciousnesses have not taken themselves to be self-consciousness as such, the pure negativity which negates all immediacy of being. They have not yet absolutely abstracted themselves, i.e. these consciousnesses have not yet recognized themselves as a free standing entity. Self-consciousness is such in that it is being-for-itself apart from the immediate submersion in its living activity. It is a mediated consciousness and as such is mediated being; it is pure being-for-itself.

[Comment:] The point about self-consciousness’ absolute abstraction, I think, ties to thought, which Hegel in the preface connects to abstraction itself. In self-consciousness, then, we also find a necessary condition for thought which can contemplate thought itselfpure conceptsor what technically we may call the categories of cognition itself.

Each encounters the other certain of itself, but unsure about the other. They are sure of themselves as the ‘I am I’, but not sure of the absolute exclusion/negation of otherness. They could only be certain of their being-for-self if in their eyes this were exhibited as an independent object, or, that the object turned out to be this pure certainty of itself. The certainty of these consciousnesses is self-consciousness, for only in such a structured relation does consciousness become an object of cognition for itself. In recognition, the other must be for the first what the first is for the other, each in itself achieves this pure abstraction of being-for-itself, that is, both achieve their being-for-self in their mutual recognition, in their own activity and the activity of the other, closing the circle of recognition between themselves and only themselves.

[Comment:] Remember that self-consciousness as consciousness in the prior section on Life was desire, and finds its certainty only in the act of negation of the other; however, this very negation is the annulment of consciousness’ own being as mere desire for an object. No object —> no desire —> no consciousness. Consciousness’ certainty relies on something external to it, and for the certainty to hold the external object must itself hold against the power of consciousness to negate.

Along with this—something brought to my attention by a gracious comment by someone elsewhere—one must note the suspicion with which recognition begins and remains with. If consciousness, and thus self-consciousness, is impenetrable as such without its will’s allowance, the only way to ‘read’ the other as consciousness is to recognize from it tell-tale signs which imply its being there. This is seen in its capacity to mirror the ways we react, not in a mechanical sense, but in a logical and active sense. Machines do not present such logical mirroring, for they do not have genuine thinking and genuine consciousness; thus, we do not recognize them as conscious. This fundamental and irremovable suspicion born from the opaqueness of (self-)consciousness as an object of knowledge is quite curious and has strong ramifications.

The other displays incredulity and curiosity, apprehension and precaution, it answers to my call, it claims and demands to my claim and demand. There is part of me, my consciousness, which I know the other has no access to, my process of cognition and private thoughts, yet if the other too is conscious they too have such privacy from me. Consciousness has become my object, yet despite being like me in kind, I am faced with a fundamental opaqueness which limits my penetrating gaze into the other. I can only read so much into them insofar as they think as I do, have such a character as I have encountered and learned to navigate, have motives of which I can be aware, yet beyond this the other is forever a fundamental mystery towards which I must give something newly social: trust.

Due to consciousness’ absolute negativity and impenetrability by an external other without its will’s allowance, there is beyond the uncertainty of an individual’s being-for-self also an uncertainty about what is within the impenetrable consciousness of the other. We are apprehensive both because of our doubts about ourselves in relation to the other, but also in doubt of the other in relation to ourselves, especially when we recognize them as one like ourselves. Because they are like us and we know our own impenetrability, we recognize theirs and are ultimately left to wonder what truly lies behind the appearances we have access to regarding the intention and cognition of others.

Now… what happens when two such entities encounter each other for the first time? How does this appear to them?

ABSTRACTION  FROM  LIFE: Struggle to the death.

The way self-consciousness exhibits itself as the pure abstraction of being-for-itself is by negating its connection to life. It denies that it is shackled to life itself, its own objective mode of being. Life as such is nothing to self-consciousness, let alone the other’s life. It proves life is nothing to it, and affirms its own certainty as being-for-itself, by staking its own life in struggle against the other. It proves its worth to itself, and the other proves its worth to it through this show of the insignificance of life. The struggle happens of necessity. Each must prove the truth of their worth to themselves and each otherto prove their self-certainty.

This truth of existing-for-self must be proven in the other and in one’s selfe.g. I prove my being-for-self to myself by staking my life and destroying or overcoming the other. Self-consciousness is pure being-for-self, not immediate being as living being; it is pure negativity which holds on to nothing but itself. Both risk their lives for the sake of proving their self-certainty and being-for-self to themselves and to the other. They act towards each other in a doubled reflection of action and recognize the other as other against themselves. In the struggle, having wagered life, both aim at the death of the other as the certainty that shall prove the supremacy of being-for-self that they take themselves to be. This otherness is the essence of each; thus, they each have their being outside themselves and must sublate it. The other, if it is to be genuine essence, must be intuited as pure being-for-itself, as absolute negation, i.e. as self-consciousness.

[Comment:] Hegel comments that those who do not stake their life may be recognized as a person, but do not achieved the truth for themselves. This is to say, others may recognize you as any ‘x’, but if you have not truly struggled in the realization of being that ‘x’, you are not that ‘x’ in your own right. You may be recognized as an independent person, but insofar as you do not struggle to assert that truth you have not shown this certainty for yourself. Truth is found in the act of realization; I show my independence by acting in capacity of such independence and making the certainty true in the moment of actuality.

The trial by death, however, “sublates the truth which was supposed to emerge from it and, by doing so, completely sublates the certainty of itself.” That is to say, the wager of life, while first seeming to preserve self-certainty for consciousness, only cancels the intended result, recognition.

“Just as life is the natural location of consciousness, that is, self-sufficiency without absolute negativity, death is the natural negation of this same consciousness, negation without self-sufficiency, which thus persists without the significance of the recognition which was demanded.” (§188)

If both are unrelenting in their unwillingness to recognize while demanding recognition, they will struggle until one is dead. For the one that dies and fails in the struggle, through death the certainty is established that they risked their life, acted on the claim that they were consciousness as pure being-for-self, and refused to recognize the other as one like itself. Self-consciousness fully wagers everything in the attempt to make true the claim that it alone is truth and essence. Life and death are nothing to it for itself nor in the other, but in its refusal to recognize the other it loses itself in giving up its life.

For the one who ‘passes’ the test, i.e. the survivor, they indeed appear to achieve the sublation of their consciousness, but it ends in a double movement of nullification. They achieve the sublation of the alien essence which was posited outside themselves as natural existence (self-sufficient life), i.e. they nullify the other in the relation. “They elevate themselves and, as extreme terms wanting to exist for themselves, are themselves sublated.” That is, in the first moment of sublation they preserve their consciousness in the negation of the other as the moment of certainty which makes true and their claim to self-certainty and being-for-self. However, as has already been made clear in prior posts, such a victory is self-defeating in its actuality and is undone in a second moment. In destroying the other self-consciousness, self-consciousness destroys its own essence and its own self-certainty—it loses itself as an object of cognition. The movement of recognition is terminated; the essential moment of the the unity existing in extremes of opposed determinate beings ceases (the genus is destroyed in the destruction of its differentia, or, the universal is cancelled in the cancelling of its determinate independent existing shapes in relation); the middle term through which self-consciousness exists (the other self-consciousness through which it turns inward to itself) collapses into a dead unity (the empty ‘I am I’) which turns into dead extreme terms (no movement of recognition is happening between or within them) that merely exist without being immanently opposed (they relate externally as indifferent objects, not as self-consciousness which is differentiated in itself as two existent shapes).

“They only indifferently leave each other free-standing, like things. Their deed is abstract negation, not the negation of consciousness, which sublates in such a way that it preserves and maintains what has been sublated and which thereby survives its having become sublated.”(§188)

[Note:] Abstract negation, as opposed to determinate or concrete negation, does not preserve the object of negation, but simply annihilates it. It abstracts, disconnects or rips away from, the term which annihilates the other from the relation to the other.

Why Self-Consciousness Needs Two

Why Are Two Consciousnesses Necessary For Self-Consciousness?

Hegel’s claim that self-consciousness requires two (self-)consciousnesses is something I don’t think anyone should find convincing at the face of it, for I myself do not find it convincing without elaboration. Part of the issue that I think highly confuses the understanding of the section is that Hegel brings up the “I am I” of the not-yet-self-conscious consciousness. Bringing this in ends up being confusing, for in the common understanding the “I am I” is considered a basic form of self-consciousness. But what does the ‘I am I’ say that makes us think this?

In §176 Hegel gives the following recap of self-consciousness:

A— The pure I without distinctions is its first immediate object.

B— This immediacy, however, is absolutely mediated, for it exist only in the act of sublating the independent object (life) before it, thus the I exists only as desire. The satisfaction of desire is the very reflection of self-consciousness into itself, that is, it is the certainty which has become the truth.”

C— The truth of the certainty gained in the sublation of the other (life), is only a reinforcement of the truth that consciousness is a doubled reflection as 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.”

x

Am I not self-conscious when I reflect on myself and claim “I am I”? It seems utterly ludicrous to say one is not self-conscious in such a situation, so what gives? Well, what does ‘I am I’ say in its mere claim? This claim by consciousness is merely the law of tautological self-identity which merely separates the I from all else as other to it—it is not yet a self-reflecting claim or awareness. The ‘I’ here is also not yet a universal kind differentiated between one particular instance and another, it is a pure immediate contentless individuality. This is to say, this claim is purely one without difference in that ‘I am I’ does not imply ‘I am not you’ or someone else.

When we make this claim it is very different to the claim of Hegel’s self-consciousness on its own. In our claim we implicitly carry universal notions of self and other. As language bearers and  developed cultural beings we have language, culture, and a divided consciousness. We carry an internal other within us from which we reflect: our conscience and our internalized imagination of how others view us. A consciousness with no such power of language, conceptual thought, cultural history, nor social existence has no concept of self for all it has is its own experienced pure empty individuality. ‘I am I’ as opposed to… what? You? There is no ‘you’ at such a point, for such a consciousness has no recognition of anything that is like itself. There is no community of ‘I’s, only the existence of I alone. All that I means and is at such a point is the power of negation of all before it. The I is nothing but pure desire, the consciousness which is at home with itself as desiring life and its endless task to negate all by consumption and nullification.

This I acts towards a world that faces it as other, but in the consumption of desire it attempts to prove to itself that nothing is truly other, that it is truth and essence alone, for there is nothing that withstands its negation. To it otherness is but an appearance whose truth is the I. The issue with “I am I” is not just its poverty as a claim, for it is a meaningless tautology, but also an ontological one. The ontology of self-consciousness is not simply a tautological declaration of self-relation, nor is the experience of self-consciousness simply such a declaration. To be capable of self-consciousness is not the capacity to simply recognize myself as an individuality, but to recognize consciousness in general, that is, to recognize other consciousnesses and their likeness and difference to mine. What does ‘I am I’ mean when I have no concept of other ‘I’s against which I differentiate? Nothing.

The problem with mistaking the claim of ‘I am I’ as a proof of self-consciousness lies in that for us it carries too many assumptions from our already deeply socially embedded self-awareness and the resulting internally self-reflective consciousness. To be genuinely self-conscious is to see my consciousness from the point of another consciousness while in the standpoint of my own consciousness. When we say we are very self-conscious about ourselves in any manner, Hegel means something deeply similar by his concept of self-consciousness. We mean by this that we are aware of how others are aware of us, and that we are aware of their actual or possible capacity  of being aware of our being aware of them.

Recall that consciousness is a cognition directed towards an outer other as object. Its awareness is always pointed outward and never is reflected back inwards. A self-consciousness can exist as a mere consciousness insofar as it does not have another self-consciousness to cause the cognitive awareness to reflect back inwards. Alone, two self-consciousnesses are mere consciousness, but when they encounter each other they have the capacity to recognize each other as self-consciousnesses. Like a light beam projected outwards from an infinitely deep and dark abyssal mirror, consciousness’s awareness reaches outward and grasps the other in its gaze. When two encounter, however, each is primed to detect and recognize the gaze, the emitted light beam, of the other impinging on it. Immediately consciousness recognizes consciousness at one and the same moment as 1) consciousness as its object of awareness 2) itself as the object of the other’s awareness 3) as being recognized as consciousness by the other.

The formula of self-consciousness is thus this: I am aware of you being aware of me being aware of you. Through you, I have been forced into becoming aware of myself as consciousness which is the object of consciousness, i.e. self-awareness has been achieved for both through a mediation of each other. In other words, self-consciousness is a reflective cognition between two genuine others in which the other is recognized as other yet as of the same kind. Self-consciousness is this closed circuit of recognition between two.

PhoS: The Master and Slave [Prt. 1]

Following from the development of life and self-consciousness, we now are at Hegel’s most well known and famous philosophical passage, the Master/Slave dialectic of self-consciousness. Like prior sections, this is going to be a long one. There is much here that deals with some very dense phenomeno-logical developments.

One thing to comment here is that there is a vast misinterpretation of this section by most readers. Many take the account given in this section to be Hegel’s positive account of how we become self-conscious, however, this is not the case. The logic of self-consciousness,  found in the Philosophy of Spirit, is something different than the account of the master/slave. This is by and large an account of how the coming to be of recognition and self-consciousness appears to a self-consciousnesses.

The Conclusion of Life and
The Appearance of Spirit

At the end of the prior section Hegel tells us that the concept of Spirit in its most basic form is properly at hand in the concept of self-consciousness as the divided existence of mind in unitary form. Self-consciousness is an “I that is a we, and a we that is an I”. Not only that, but we have also stumbled on the first formulation of the substance as subject: The object of self-consciousness is another subject to whom itself it is an object. 

From here on the forms of consciousness are all expositions and unfoldings of Spirit’s inner development of its self-knowledge as knowledge of self-consciousnesses in relation to themselves and the world. These shall all be subject forms that are embedded in inter-subjective relations and norms. They are all cultural, social, and historical insofar as they build upon a legacy of thought and activity carried and transmitted by communities of individuals. Insofar as this holds, even the ‘objective’ knowledge claims of so-called reason in the objective mode of world observation—such as in empirical science—shall be shown to be grounded in Spirit’s conception of itself.

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The Logic of Recognition

Self-consciousness only exists in being recognized. It exists in and for itself only for an other. As a realization of the concept of Infinity, i.e. as an empirically determinate form of it, self-consciousness must be taken in its opposed meanings of a self-differentiated unity in which the differences are real and independent, yet dependent and the same. By this it is meant that if self-consciousness is posited as the united universal, it must be thought as the divided plurality of self-consciousnesses, and if posited as plurality of self-consciousnesses, it must be thought as the immanently necessary universal unity of this plurality.

Recognition is a movement, that is, it is an activity and not simply a state of mere being—it is a process. Empirically, consciousness does not simply just recognize another consciousness, there is a process to the coming about of this recognition. Consciousness must be forced to recognize the other as one like itself and become self-conscious, and only a self-consciousness like itself may inflict upon it the experience of an independent other which denies the negation imposed by another.

As the concept of it shows, the essence or source of self-consciousness is outside it in another self-consciousness. This, however, is at first not seen as another, but as itself. As self-consciousness faces another self-consciousness as its essence, it must sublate the otherness to be certain it is the essence, but in doing so it thus only sublates itself, for the other was its essence.

The sublation is double-edged in multiple senses.

1) Self-consciousness is outside itself; the other is itself

2) The sublation of another is only a sublation of itself

3) The sublation of its other gets the essence of self-consciousness back into itself, yet this return is a letting go, for it requires that the other indeed be recognized as the essence of self-consciousness, a free self-consciousness itself. This is to say, since the other is the essence in which self-consciousness exists for itself, self-consciousness thus sublates itself into the other, and thus the other is free as well. One cannot be self-conscious without recognizing the other as a self-consciousness and giving it its due as well.

The prior exposition is from one standpoint of one self-consciousness, but the other is self-consciousness as well, thus it also carries on this activity of recognition. Thus, the activity of one is the activity of the other for they are both independent self-sufficient beings that carry out the same activity in relating to the other for themselves. The other is also itself in-itself, thus it does not exist merely as an object that is initially and foremost for the desire of the first. The first self-consciousness cannot penetrate into the other self-consciousness and make it do anything unless the other does in-itself what another does to it.

[Comment:] This is to say this much: In my consciousness nothing can enter that I do not allow to be there for myself. No amount of physical coercion nor enticement can make any consciousness recognize anything or anyone within itself. You may make me say things and do things out of forced capitulation in the face of negative consequences, but never can you make me believe, respect, or recognize anything I refuse to. In my consciousness I have a being which seems immune to the penetration of any kind of other by any means external to my will, thus I have the power to deny all power over me—even my life itself.

In seeing the other do as one does, and recognizing the other to be as one is, one does what one demands of the other, i.e. by demanding recognition one has already recognized the other as the kind like one’s self. We only recognize insofar as we are recognized. I demand you to submit to me, and you do the same. I wager my life as proof of my absolute independence, and you do the same. I struggle, and you do likewise. Recognition as a movement is only possible with two self-consciousnesses, it would be pointless, useless, and meaningless for one consciousness to do such alone. To demand an entity incapable of recognition to recognize us is an empty act. The activity of recognition is double-edged in the sense that it is as much directed towards the other as it is to oneself. To demand recognition from you presupposes recognizing you.

—The analogy to the play of forces—

Hegel comments that this recalls the disintegration of Genuine Force into Force and Expression as the play of forces; each was nothing but the transition into its opposite and the endless circular movement shifting to the other. Expression was the becoming of Force, and Force the becoming of Expression. Self-consciousness finds its essence only in another consciousness, in its circular movement in the activity of recognition which shifts from self to other and back to self.

Self-consciousness as consciousness is outside itself for it faces another consciousness as its object. As self-consciousness however, its being is this very external relation which allows for self-reflection, hence the externality is internal to it, in it, and for it—as such it is outside of itself in-and-for-itself. The other immediately is and is not another consciousness, for it exists only in the relation of two self-consciousnesses. Each side of the difference requires the other to exist-for-itself as an independent entity which nonetheless is only being-for-itself insofar as the other is in relation to it. Self-consciousness thus finds itself self-mediated in its two existent extremes.

Each is the middle term to the other, through which each mediates itself with itself and integrates itself with itself. Each is, in its own eyes and in that of the other, an essence immediately existing for itself which at the same time exists for itself in that way only by way of this mediation. They recognize themselves as mutually recognizing each other.” (§184)

Comment: The Unity of Self, Concept, and the World

Bernstein, in the first lecture part on the “Introduction” chapter in the Phenomenology, has this very interesting bit about this quote from Hegel near the end:

The Concept, when it has developed into a concrete existence that is itself free, is nothing other than the I, or pure self-consciousness, but the I is first this pure self-related unity.”

Hegel, Science of Logic

[Bernstein:] “This sentence basically means the following: What he is claiming here is that the driving idea is that nothing can be of significance in my mind unless I can put it into functional conversation with everything else in my mind (call that the Holism requirement), hence the fundamental structures and principles of mind that Kant calls Categories and Hegel calls the Concept are functions of unity. So the unity of the Self and the unity of the Concept are the same, but since the work of unifying is the condition for anything being recognizable by the Human mind at all, then the unity of the subject is responsible for the unity of the world, or rather the world comes to appear as a world at all only if it can appear as in accord with the functions providing for the unity and freedom of subjectivity.

This is the principle of idealism (the unity of self = unity of concept = unity of the world). The principle of idealism simply states that we can have a world at all, and to represent the world to ourselves, only through conceptual unification where establishing such conceptual unification simultaneously yields the unity of the Self with itself. The world necessarily appears as my world. In generating the unity of itself with itself the Self is determining itself, it is acting in a free way, not following from without.

For Plato there is a unity to the world, but it is not the unity in my mind. First it’s the unity of the Ideas that maybe I can internalize to order my mind to get in accordance with, but for Hegel it’s the freedom of self-determining subjectivity itself that generates categorial unity and in so doing it is unifying itself with the world. Making the world determinate presupposes the self-determining act of Reason (that’s the principle of Idealism restated and the entire structure of the Logic).  This is all about ‘The space of Reason is the space of freedom”, and therefore just seems to be an objective Idealist claim. This is all about the mind securing itself, and in securing itself it secures the world, and that turns out to be not reductive or idealist.”

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The Unity of The Self and World

I would like to make a derivative comment on this by using the conceptual keys given to us by Hegel in the Phenomenology’s “Preface” itself on the very closely linked relation of Substance as Subject. From what I know so far, I think Bernstein here jumps the gun far too quickly to anthropomorphize the “self” being referred to in the quote. He assumes that one is well acquainted with Hegel’s meanings, otherwise what he says here can be very misinterpretative of Hegel. That is not to say, however, that I think anything he stated here is wrong, I find these thoughts very interesting examples of how Hegel’s conceptual structures scale through ontological levels.

The I is, yes, the human subject’s I, but Hegel also makes it clear that in a much broader sense the I is, as he states, “first this pure self-related unity.” Regarding concrete existence, in the Logic Hegel has a semi-famous (to Hegelians) line, “The Idea is, first of all, life.” That is to say, the objective form, the independent existence of the Concept as such—the concrete Universal—is life, and in the Philosophy of Nature‘s end, with the arising of life, consciousness arises simultaneously. Life is always already conscious life. This is to say, as a unified self-differentiated whole with parts, a living being has a unified locus of being, a self-identity in its determined organization as an extended body; it is a self in this manner. It is conscious in its living activity, it metabolizes its environment because it is driven by desire manifest in the unignorable impetus of feeling which dominates its existence.

Concept and self are functions of unity. Bernstein’s point that nothing can be of significance to us which cannot enter into the web of other things in our minds is a significant one. Things which have no universal character, which are pure individualities, enter into no relations to anything other than themselves—they have no internal reason to be connected at all. A self is already a unity—a universal—in which individuals are connected within the subject even if they themselves refuse this connection in themselves. The self not only unites seemingly external individuals, but also unites itself with itself. In the mind, when we lack concepts with which to subsume individualities, they are but flickers of experience which are meaningless series in consciousness. The self in such a scenario experiences its world as an unending flux of myriad expressions—to this self nothing in the world appears to it as enduring or essential except itself as the enduring locus of united experience.

A global flash of light in the middle of the night in a dark forest is conceptually meaningless and forgotten insofar as we find no relation in it to anything else, not even to our self. However, the moment a concept arises to grasp and hold fast to the individual, things become meaningful and enduring beyond the abstract self. In the concept of my “self” I already grasp at certain individual instances and unite them in my self to form a core concept, even if arbitrary, that nonetheless becomes meaningful to me and endures in me. In it I unite the experience of something I call my body, my memory, my feelings, and my dreams. In the experience of the random flash I may grasp it in no concept; thus it comes and disappears as yet another moment of flux. However, were I to grasp the individual experience in a concept, say an omen, then the flash gains significance and enters into my self, partaking in my cultural worldview.

When Bernstein says that the world cannot appear as a world without allowing for freedom and subjectivity this is not a statement about the world depending on our self unity, but rather on the very structure of self-related unity as such. This unity is not just the unity of the conscious living self, but also the unity of all things that exist; be they atoms, rocks, or stars. The universe is only possible because self-unity as such is possible. Concepts are also unities like self-relation, often thought of as purely mentally subjective, however, since Concepts have the structure of self-related unity, they allow for the intelligibility of real existing external self-related unities.

The Unity of Self and World

Bernstein’s formulation of the “principle of idealism” is interesting. The unity of self and unity of concept are visible in what Hegel says, but concerning the perception of a world there is a lot more to say in order to make explicit the connection which makes his claim convincing. When Bernstein says that we can only have a world at all when we can establish conceptual unification that simultaneously establishes the self, this is a claim that seems to boldly claim what now is called correlationism by some philosophers, i.e. that the world as it is cannot be what it is beyond what it is for us.

This claim, I think, makes more sense if we take it from the perspective of implicit meaning, and furthermore, by clarifying the subject as not necessarily being a conscious one.—”The world necessarily appears as my world.”—That is to say, the very appearing of a world already implies a self to which such world appears. Insofar as a world appears, it appears to someone, and as a consciousness contemplating this the world thus necessarily appears to me. However, is Bernstein making a more general point here about the concept of a world itself? Does the concept of world make sense when one considers a world without subjects to who it is represented? Of course it does, but I don’t think Bernstein is making a point about the world as such being dependent on our self.

To imply that a world is not a world without subjects to appear to is not something easily accepted. I cannot defend Bernstein’s phrasing, for I think it much too strongly implies something that seems wrong considering experience and concept, but I don’t think Bernstein is being a subjective idealist here—it’s also not implied by what Hegel says. I would like to offer a rephrasing to what I think makes it into a far more acceptable claim.

Recalling the earlier point about the self as a self-related unity, the self to which a world appears is not a consciousness which deals with representations, but rather, a self with connection to other things—as such, the concept of appearance is not proper here. Instead of representation as a relation, relation itself is what has to be considered. To have a world is to have an absolute totality as differentiated unity. The world does not arise without things related in a web of relations, but to what and how are these relations relating? To a “self”, the world self, a unified self-differentiated unity that holds fast to itself in self-relatedness. The world does not merely depend on an abstract unity of itself with itself, but on the unity of that which constitutes it as a myriad of selves that in their self-relating relate to others in myriad ways.

The issue of self and world seems, however, a mostly superficial point to what Hegel seems to be aiming at. While it is a relatable point of entry to the issue—it’s a catchy claim that hooks you—it does more to confuse. Bernstein’s talk of representation, self, and world tinges his account in this excerpted part of his lecture with subjective idealist flavor, betraying Hegel’s own dense intentions. As Bernstein closes the thought, comparing Plato’s ideas and their unity in relation to our own self-unity, the tinge of subjectivism is strong. To reiterate, the unity of self/subject Hegel is concerned with is something far more basic and universal than our human subjectivity. The world is not unified because my mind is unified; it is unified because it has a self-unity itself—it has subjectivity, i.e. active self-related unity.

What is Bernstein getting at in all of this? If it is obvious that the world is unified and existing for itself without our mind’s unification, what is at stake in what he is saying? The issue, I think, is intelligibility. His closing statement that the securing of the unity of the mind shall be the securing of the unity of the world is indeed in line with Hegel’s project: to decisively grasp the system of the mind as conceptual thought—to show that reason can ground itself and attain absolute knowledge of itself. If thought can grasp its own unity as intelligible to itself, it guarantees itself as the absolute against which all else is relative. As self-grounding, reason does not show itself to be determined by anything other than itself, thus it is free in that it is self-determined.

Hegel’s Form of Science

Following from my first post about dialectics as immanent critique, the most bare form of Hegel’s method, the second of my posts on this shall now concern one aspect of the general method. “But wait, A.W., didn’t you say that there isn’t a formulaic method to follow?” Why, yes I did, and that remains true. However,  you should not be surprised that something interesting comes up when looking back in retrospect: that though there was no method you could have assumed in the workings of the likes of the Science of Logic, there is indeed a general developmental form which appears retroactively. This form does not supplant the actual work of science, but serves as a formal pointer to certain characteristics which any science must have. What is it?

The Structure of Science

You may have come upon the formula of {Abstract->Negative->Concrete} as the supposed formula Hegel gives for his method in the Encyclopædia Logic. As I mentioned in my prior post on the introduction to dialectics, this formula is not really a formula for the immanently critical method itself; however, this formulation does actually tell us something important. It tells us of the structure of science (as Hegel conceives it). If we wish to generate any science at all, including one of an empirical phenomenon, what we first are to do is to take account of all of our concepts which have any necessary role to play in our science, within which we must find the simple abstract immediate concept which has for its content the generative contradiction which entails all the other concepts as its developments. After the beginning is discovered we can begin the immanent method of dialectical movement, bringing in the other concepts into consideration as they begin to fit moments of development. Science develops itself from the abstract to the concrete, fashioning itself as the organic and self-developing Universal.

History, Experience, And The
A Posteriori A Priori

This brings to mind something else of interest, that is, that sciences do not get generated a priori until we have already a posteriori generated or discovered the concepts which come together to form a science. This is an interesting link which is made by Hegel between two forms of knowledge sometimes considered incompatible; one of pure reason, the other of experience. Hegel here gives not just room, but a place of  powerful importance to empirical science in the process of Spirit’s knowledge generation. The mode of thinking of Understanding employed by the empirical scientist is uniquely fit for the work of discovery of necessary pieces of science despite the lack of the explicit knowledge of what a true science is or how it is to be developed. Once the general concepts of the system of a science are at hand after the empirical arising of their structures and discovery thereof—haphazard as such discoveries may be—we are capable of using the method of science to consider the concepts or categories in their pure logical (rational) form as they immanently relate to each other regardless of how they empirically appear.

All of Hegel’s sciences show themselves to be a posteriori a priori. The Phenomenology recounts forms of consciousness Spirit has already carried out, and a priori develops the forms of consciousness after the fact that Spirit has already undergone them all in its history, Absolute Knowing being a final recollection which looks upon the process and sees what has gone on. All forms of consciousness were first discovered in experience. The Science of Logic a priori develops the pure categories of thought after the fact that Spirit had already had the experience of a history of metaphysical speculation where each category had been at some point discovered, used, and exhausted in some way. Another interesting case of such science is Marx’s theory of Capital—only in the aftermath of classical political economy did the categories of economics as such finally come to be at hand for Marx the (Hegelian) scientist to study, arrange, and develop into a science.