Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Part 1

Preface: On Scientific Cognition (numbers are paragraphs)

Hegel begins with a few notes about the superfluity of a philosophical preface, how "contextualizing" one's argument only "drags in an extraneous concern" (2). Such prefaces set the work up to either be affirmed or rejected; Hegel, by contrast, wants to "comprehend the diversity of philosophical systems as the progressive unfolding of truth" (2).

His task in the Phenomenology is to "help bring philosophy closer to the form of Science, to the goal where it can lay aside the title 'love of knowing' and be actual knowing" (5). We need his Science of mediation to counteract the spiritual loss brought up by philosophies of immediacy, intuition and mysticism. We must "tear men away from their preoccupation with the sensuous, from their ordinary, private affairs, and direct their gaze to the star" (7).

This Science, "the crown of a world of Spirit" (12), is only in its beginnings. At present, it is pervaded by a rigid formalism where "in the Absolute everything is the same," the "Absolute as the night in which, as the saying goes, all cows are black" (16 - a stab at Schelling).

To get beyond Schelling's formal Absolute, "everything turns on grasping and expressing the True, not only as Substance [which Spinoza did], but equally as Subject" (17). "The Substance is, as Subject, pure, simple negativity" (18). In other words, Substance is a moment in the movement of Subject, and "the True is the whole" (20), or the incessant Substance/Subject movement. Some reject this view with horror, claiming that that which is mediated is false; but, Hegel claims, so long as we understand the work of Reason as mediating with "purposive activity" (22), it is not nightmarish at all. One must grasp the work of the negative from the point of view of system or Science (24); "the True is actual only as system" and it "is expressed in the representation of the Absolute as Spirit - the most sublime Notion and the one which belongs to the modern age and its religion" (25).

Spirit has to be worked for: "least of all will it be like the rapturous enthusiasm which, like a shot from a pistol, begins straight away with absolute knowledge" (27). This work is accomplished by the "tremendous power of the negative; it is the energy of thought, of the pure 'I'" (32). "Spirit is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and tarrying with it. This tarrying with the negative is the magical power that converts it into being" (32). In turn, in order for the negative, the I, to attain to Spirit, the I must give "up the fixity of its self-positing" (33) and see itself in an "organic whole" (34).

In 39-47, Hegel examines various conceptions of truth: "truth is not a minted coin that can be given and pocketed ready-made" (39). For dogmatism, the True "consists in a proposition which is a fixed result, or which is immediately known" (40). There are also historical truths and mathematical truths, neither of which is internal "to the thing" (43); "Philosophy, on the other hand, has to do, not with unessential determinations, but with a determination in so far as it is essential; its element and content is not the abstract or nonactual, but the actual, that which posits itself and it alive within itself - existence within its own Notion" (47). "The True is thus the Bacchanalian revel in which no member is not drunk; yet because each member collapses as soon as he drops out, the revel is just as much transparent and simple repose" (47). Hegel claims later, at the end of the preface, "we must hold to the conviction that it is the nature of truth to prevail when its time has come" (71).


Through what instrument are we to "get hold of the Absolute"? (73) The usual notion of an instrument carries the presupposition that "the Absolute is supposed merely to be brought nearer to us through this instrument, without anything in it being altered" (73). This obviously is no good for Hegel.

The road that he will take is a "pathway of doubt, or more precisely,...the way of despair" (78). "This path is the conscious insight into the untruth of phenomenal knowledge, for which the supreme reality is what is in truth only the unrealized Notion" (78). Along this path, consciousness is educated (impt. of "Bildungsroman") and progress is "unhalting" (80); consciousness, when on this path, is essentially "something that goes beyond itself" (80).

Hegel ends the Introduction with a brief explanation of the logic of in-and-for-itself: "being-in-itself," he tells us, "is called truth" (82). Yet this in-itself of the thing only exists for us, and we come to think, like Kant, that "consciousness cannot, as it were get behind the object as it exists for consciousness so as to examine what the object is in itself" (85). "So consciousness now has two objects: one is the first in-itself, the second is the being-for-consciousness of this in-itself" (86). The True here ends up being the relation between the two, "the being-for-consciousness of this in-itself" (86), or perhaps, the co-emergence of appearance and essence.

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