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Phenomenology of Spirit
Analysis of the Text by J. N. Findlay


I. Sense-Certainty

90. The knowledge from which our phenomenological investigation starts is absolutely immediate knowledge, which is also knowledge of what immediately is, of what just is there. What just is there must simply be taken in, registered, we must not try to grasp it notionally, nor add anything to what it lays before us.

91. This sort of knowledge appears to be inexhaustibly rich in content and also in extent. What it lays before us seems to be infinitely divisible and to stretch away infinitely in time and space. It also appears to be the truest knowledge we can possess, since it omits no detail of the object. But this kind of knowledge also shows itself up (to the phenomenological observer) as the poorest and most abstract possible: it merely acknowledges the being of the object. The consciousness which is aware of what to us merely is there, is likewise denuded of content: it does no thinking work it connects nothing with nothing, it simply registers. It is just I, this consciousness, confronting this immediate content.

92. When scrutinised. however, sense-consciousness reveals itself as less purely immediate than it at first seemed. It involves two typical factors, an indefinite registered content and an indefinite registering self, and these constitute a necessary form or structure. There is a registering self only because there is an immediate content to register, and there is a registered content only because there is a self to register it. We are dealing with a general pattern of experience, not merely with a singular fact of existence. (A tendency to self-correction is inherent in consciousness and this distinguishes its subjectivity from its objectivity.)

93. Not only does sense-certainty embody this subject-object pattern, it also involves a claim, something gesetzt, posited, that one factor is more true and essential than the other. The object comes before it as the True, the essential, that which is there whether there is knowledge or not. Knowledge, contrariwise, is given as secondary, unessential: it presupposes, depends on, is mediated by the object, which is truly immediate and does not presuppose or depend on it. (Realism is thus not an imposed theory but part and parcel of our most elementary experiences. We are dealing with something whose deeper nature will come out as we examine it, but is not exhaustively and finally given.)

94. Sense-certainty seems, however, to involve an inherent conflict. Its object as given in it does not match what that object is given out as being. This content is not introduced by a reflective observer, but is part and parcel of sense-certainty itself. (It is because sense-certainty feels itself not to be the rich thing it on the surface claims to be, that it tries to make out, to perceive, what it has before it.)

95. The immediate ‘This’ of sense-certainty involves the two connected forms of the ‘Now’ and the ‘Here’. If we try to pin the ‘Now’ down by giving it definite content, that content is quite inconstant. What now obtains is night, but (a little later) what now obtains is not night, but noon. (Since what is, always changes its appearance, we never get at it: it is the complete thing which underlies changing appearances.)

96. The now of sense-certainty reveals itself as inherently universal, i.e. it cannot be identified with any one definite state of things, though it can also indifferently be any one such state or another. (Universals obey a different logic from their instances. Not only the characters of what is are universals, but its general form is itself universal, i.e. the concrete reality behind changing appearances.)

97. In the use of demonstrative words there is a conflict between what we really say and what we mean to say (our Meinung, was wir meinen). We mean to express what is ultimately individual, but this is inexpressible: all we succeed in expressing is what is universal.

98. The demonstrative ‘Here’ behaves exactly like the demonstrative ‘Now’, and always changes its application. It is therefore a case of pure universality. We cannot pin down the individual position qua individual, only individuality in general.

99. The universality of pure being which has revealed itself as the essence of sense-certainty involves abstraction, but it is not, as it seemed to be, real abstraction from rich contents, but abstraction from the mere meaning or claim to have rich contents. (Individuality on Hegel’s view is a mere moment of living, concrete universality.

100. Since the object of sense-certainty is not the definite contentful thing it claimed to be, the phenomenological emphasis shifts to the Subject. My experience becomes the rich, colourful thing. What 1 mean is important because it stems from me [Meinen and mein]. (Like Descartes, Hegel shifts to the individual Subject as that of which we are certain.)

101. But in the flux of experience the me which experiences always has different successive contents to Its experience, and cannot therefore be identified with such contents. The me of the moment may mean to be definite in content, but it cannot express this definiteness. It is in a sense as much a plurality as a single me.

102. The me also stands essentially opposed to other mes and cannot say how this me differs from another. Each man is, as an experient, every man. (The individual as such cannot be understood or deduced.)

103. We now move to a position where not the mere object, nor the mere subject, is the rich, contentful thing, but the whole structured subject object situation.

104-7. The whole structured subject-object situation is as essentially fluctuating as the mere subject or object considered before. The wholly definite time-situation we try to pin down at once becomes a matter of the past: the only present that can survive is a universal present which remains what it is despite variation of content, and which has subordinate presents within it. From the many ‘News’ which arise and pass away we come to a ‘Now’ which always is, no matter how long a happening may be. This is of course a universal. (The substantial, the permanent is the Universal not the particular.)

108. The wholly definite ‘Here’, the point, cannot be seized. Every real ‘Here’ breaks 1 up into ‘Heres’, or points to ‘Heres’ beyond itself. But in all these ‘Heres’ the universal ‘Here’ persists. (We cannot get parts, but strictly speaking only the whole of Reality, and the whole of Reality is a universal present in all its so-called parts.)

109. Sense-certainty never grasps definite particulars but always deludes itself into thinking that it does. In the Mysteries bread and wine are consumed to show the nullity of the solid things of sense, and hungry animals reveal the same mystical wisdom.

110. Language, being divine and rational, frustrates the attempt of sense-certainty to grasp surd particulars: it only expresses universals. The truth of sense-certainty is taking-for-true, i.e. perception. (The dialectic is much influenced by arguments in Plato’s Theaetetus, where the impossibility of reconciling knowledge with radical subject object flux is maintained, and the unchanging universal ideas are shown to be necessary. Wittgenstein would regard Hegel’s treatment as resting on a misunderstanding of demonstratives, which are unique linguistic instruments, and neither name nor describe.)

II. Perception

111. Immediate certainty’s true object is the universal, but it wants to deal with the immediate ‘This’. Perception acknowledges the universal, the general pattern, to be its object, but it does not yet see this to be the essential element in its object: it is we, the phenomenological observers, who see this to be the essential element and the necessary outcome of what has gone before. For perception itself, the essential element is again the object, as in the sense-certainty. The object is the essential, constant, independent element, while perception is given as unessential, variable, dependent. Perception does not see that subject and object are equally the unessential forms in which a universal pattern is cast.

112. The object can, however, only be a universal pattern in so far as it unites many distinct elements i.e. properties, in its pattern. The perceptual object is really given with the interior richness which the object of sense is only taken to have. (Universality is meaningless without specificity.)

113. The thing of perception is sense-given, but its sensuousness is universal, i.e. appears in the form of a property. Sense is aufgehoben (destroyed yet preserved) in the perceptual thing. But the universality of perception necessarily dirempts itself into a number of mutually exclusive properties which at the same time it brings together. Its structure involves an inherent conflict. From one point of view it is an absolute unity, that of a space-time region, which brings the properties indifferently together, so that where the one is the other is also, while from another point of view it breaks up into the many distinct properties, each of which can be considered in and for itself.

114. The more loose ‘Also’ of a medium points, however, to some more absolute kind of unity which excludes otherness rigidly from itself’. This absolute unity can be attributed to the several properties, or it can be attributed to the thing as such. We have the alternatives, it would seem, of having either a bundle of properties or a metaphysical peg to hang them on or both. (Very uncertain of interpretation.

115. The perceived Thing represents a difficult compromise of (a) a set of properties loosely together and supplementing each other in the Thing; (b) the Thing as the space time location or medium in which the properties are brought together. (c) the properties treated as pure universals having a status outside of the particular Thing.

116. The dialectic now takes a new turn. The perceptual object being this curious mixture of internal togetherness and apartness, the subject regards it as essentially constant and selfsame. All departures from sichselbstgleichheit are attributed to the subject, are its illusions, and are not to be found in the object.

117. Consciousness now becomes aware of the contradictions in the object which only we, the phenomenological observers, have seen in it. The object first presents itself as a pure unity, but the properties are all universal and could exist outside of it. The unity of the object is therefore my confusion or mistake, and the object is really only an association of universals. But in such a loose association the properties are not effectively brought together so as to exclude one another: the object is therefore again a pure unity, and the properties mere sides of’ it. But the properties are often mutually indifferent, so that the object’s unity again vanishes. The properties now become so wholly detached that they no longer contrast with anything, and no longer are properties. We are back at the blank being of sense-certainty.

118. Consciousness now repeats the whole circle somewhat differently. It becomes conscious of the essential untruth of all perception, and attributes this untruth to itself, being at the same time made aware of its power to correct perception and arrive at the naked reality behind perception, which corrected picture it again recognises as its own.

119. The doctrine of primary and secondary qualities is now developed. The object itself is conceived as profoundly simple, but it is perceived with a variety of properties because it affects various bodily organs, eve, car, etc. The conscious Ego now becomes the common medium in which all the Thing’s sense-aspects are brought together.

120. By a new shift in the dialectic it is made plain that, in the Thing is conceived as absolutely One, it will be no longer possible to distinguish it from other things: all will be wholly blank unities and so indistinguishable. A Thing must be what it is only by having its own properties, those proper and peculiar to itself. Since each of these properties has its own separate being, the Thing again becomes a loose association of properties: it is A and also B and also C, etc.

121. Consciousness now, instead of attributing the plurality of the Thing’s properties to itself, and making the thing intrinsically One, makes the Thing intrinsically an assemblage of properties, of free ‘matters’ the physics of Hegel’s day spoke of electrical, calorific, chromatic matters while the object’s unity is d sort of fiction for which consciousness alone is responsible.

122. Consciousness now gets tired of attributing such diverse errors to itself, and simply recognises that the Thing itself (as reflected into itself) has this diversity of opposing aspects in it. It at one moment shows itself as a profound unity, at another moment as a loose assemblage of properties.

123. Consciousness no longer attributes the object’s oscillation between profound unity, and dirempted multiplicity to consciousness, but to the object. But a new device occurs to it. The object is put forth as profoundly One, while its diversity of aspects are due to its relations, not with consciousness, but with other objects, which as it were call forth different responses from it.

124. It seems absurd, however, that Things without intrinsic differences should be coaxed into showing difference by their mere relations with other Things without intrinsic difference. We are therefore forced to postulate an internal distinctiveness [Unterschied] which is essential to the object, and an external diversity [Verschiedenheit] from other objects, which is an unessential consequence of this. It is because Things are intrinsically distinctive that they are also extrinsically diverse.

125. We are, however, unable to distinguish this internal distinctiveness from the external diversity. The Thing’s absolute character seems the same as its relatedness to other Things and vice versa.

126. Same point restated. The Thing’s absolute self-relation, which negates all otherness, also shows itself up as being no more than thoroughgoing relation to others.

127. Same point. The extrinsic which is none the less quite necessary is really intrinsic.

128. We cannot draw subtle distinctions between ‘the object as it intrinsically is’ and ‘the object as it is in relation to other Things’. The former is the latter and the latter the former: we have a distinction without a difference (i.e. a merely meant, intended, verbal distinction).

129. The Thing is therefore essentially overcome as it was previously overcome on its sensuous side. The latter revealed itself as pure universality, but as a universality infected with several conflicts: that of the universal and the individual, that of the unity of the properties in the thing and their isolation as ‘free matters’, that of being intrinsically this or that and that of being something only in relation to other Things. The nature of the Thing is therefore simply the nature of the Understanding which constitutes it, and in which all these tensions are always present.

130. The sophistry of perception tries to save itself by a device of aspects and ‘in so fars’. It talks of the perceived object in so far as it is one object, in so far as it is many properties, in so far as it has self-existence, in so far as it is related to other things, etc. This sort of device must be abandoned. It is the pure universality of the Begriff, of the Notion, which emerges, which involves in inseparable union the universal, the specific and the singular, the separate and the interrelated.

131. Perceptual understanding is dominated by the empty abstractions of individuality and universality, of the essential and the unessential, etc. It despises philosophy for concerning itself with Gedankendinge, but in effect deals with nothing else itself, and merely oscillates from one crude abstract thought to another. If it could realise that it is dealing with thoughts, concepts, it would be their master, and shape them as it wills, but it imagines that it is dealing with real matters, substances, etc. In its vain wanderings the perceptual understanding fails to arrive at the truth of things though it plainly reveals its own untruth.

III. Force and the Understanding

132. The Thing of perception has passed away into a universal which is unconditioned since it includes what is specific and individual in itself, and is not merely an essence set over against the unessential. Consciousness has implicitly grasped the notional character of its object, but, not having itself become purely notional, fails to recognise itself in the object before it, which is still treated as an object, alien to itself.

133. The object of consciousness is consciousness’s own notional object, but the consciousness of this notional character, its Fürsichsein, is lacking. Hence it comes before consciousness as freely active in independence of consciousness; consciousness merely watches it in action. It is we, the phenomenological observers, who must transform the object for consciousness till consciousness can see and grasp itself in the object.

134. Consciousness has thoroughly identified its object’s being-for-self and its being-for-another. This is not merely the object’s form but its content as well: it is the sort of object that in being for itself is for another, and vice versa. And this unit, of the two aspects is all that the object has become.

135. None the less, since the aspects are identified, they are also distinguished, and consciousness therefore has before it the contrast of a number of loosely arrayed elements, on the one hand, and a profound unity on the other. But these aspects are no longer given as rival views which merely oust one another, but each is given as essentially and necessarily passing over into the other.

136. The process of Force is precisely the process in which dispersed, independent elements come out from a unity in which they were lost, and again lose themselves in this unity. The dispersed elements are the expression or manifestation of Force, while Force proper, or Force unexpressed, is the unity out of which these manifestations issue. For thought the distinctions may have no substance, but the thought has to be carried out in the stuff of perception, and for perception Force unmanifest is obviously different from Force manifest. The two forms of Force are always vanishing into each other, for Force exists in so far as they keep up this mutual vanishing.

137. Though it is Force itself which by its nature passes from its unexpressed to its expressed form, these forms appear to be mutually external. Not only is this so, but the passage from one to the other necessarily appears as an external incitation or solicitation. Something external to the unmanifest Force provokes it to manifest itself, and something external to the manifest Force provokes it to retreat into unmanifest latency. This external solicitation is only in appearance external, and is really an inseparable aspect of the Force itself.

138. A Force is thus seen as essentially breaking up, dirempting itself into two Forces, one that is solicited to express itself (or withdraw itself from expression) and the other which solicits it to do just this. On examination, however, the soliciting Force is itself solicited into soliciting by the Force it solicits, and hence both Forces solicit and are solicited by one another.

139. These two Forces solicit and are solicited by one another, each appearing in relation to the other as medium in which properties are distinguished, and as a merely latent power. Each may be said to work upon the other, or to be worked on by it, because that other is not really distinct from its own self.

140. The difference of the two Forces or aspects of Force is both a difference in content (medium of properties and latent power) and form (,soliciting and solicited). The distinction of form is given as intrinsic, while that of content exists merely for the observer. But in the actual process of Force both these differences are eliminated. The active solicitor turns into the passive object of solicitation and vice versa. For the phenomenological observer, too, the notional unity of the two extremes is evident: the solicitor is also the solicited, and the realised content is also the latent form and vice versa.

141. Each aspect of Force is a reality on its own, but its being consists essentially in a movement towards, a vanishing into the other aspect. Its being consists in a Gesetztsen, a positedness or being posited by the other aspect. There is nothing fixed and substantial in either aspect by itself: the Notion of both is found in their essential unity. The true being of Force is not the reality it seems to gain or lose by being expressed or unexpressed, but the universal, the thought, which is present in both these states.

142. Force therefore appears in two guises, as a substantial entity active in the world of phenomena, and as a pure Notion behind or beneath phenomena. The latter is the truer view.

143. Consciousness now sees itself as penetrating beneath the surface show [Schez'n] of things, with its perpetual vanishing of factors and forces, to a true background of’ which the surface show is the appearance [Erscheinung]. In the surface play of Forces everything negates and cancels everything, but the tribe background is wholly positive. This whole background consists essentially of pure Notion’s which are part of the Subject’s innermost self-consciousness. The Subject does not, however, as yet realise their subjective, notional character, and sees them as an inner essential depth in the objects themselves.

144. The Understanding therefore at this stage conceives of a true, supersensible, permanent world, a Jenseits which lies essentially beyond the Diesseits of this vanishing world of appearances. This world is a world of notional contents inadequately conceived as alien to the mind.

145. The conscious sphere of appearances is the middle term through which the Understanding penetrates inferentially to the inner, essential nature of things.

146. The inner, essential nature of things is readily conceived as a mere void, a region in which nothing positive can be known. (Kant’s thing-in-itself.) Even subjective fancies are better than notions so wholly void of content.

147. But the inner, essential is essentially the truth of appearance, the truth in which immediate sense-certainty and perception are overcome, notionally transformed. It stands in a negative, but not merely negative, relation to the world of appearance.

148. Since Force and its expression are through and through dialectical, the soliciting being also the solicited, and the medium of properties also the latent force, the Understanding is driven beyond the play of Forces to the principle present in them all. This is no other than the law which governs all the manifestations of one Force.

149. A law is an abiding image of restless appearances, a principle which, in governing change and revealed in change, is itself unchanging. The supersensible world is a tranquil kingdom of laws.

150. The kingdom of laws has an ever varying actual existence in the world under ever varying circumstances. It tends to be thought of in an ever more abstract way and so becomes refined into the mere empty form of’ law as such. Hegel thinks that the law of universal gravitation has this empty character: it merely says that everything has a law-determined relation to everything else. This is important only as setting bounds to chance and sensuous independence.

151. Hegel thinks that beyond specific laws is the bare conception of law, which transcends specific laws and even law as such. It reduces all distinctions of content and form which occur in laws into an absolute unity, a pure necessity.

152. The duplicity of Force and expression reappears in the case of laws. Laws have both an explicit specification in which all the differences to which they apply have a distinct expression: they also occur as pure universalities in which all such specification is somehow absorbed and nullified. Simple electricity, e.g., is the absolute unity behind positive and negative electricity and the laws connecting them, simple gravity is the absolute unity behind the factors of mass, distance, velocity, etc., and the laws connecting them. Wherever there are laws there is a deep underlying unity expressed in them, and every deep unity expresses itself in characteristic laws.

153. In the common representation of the deep nature behind laws, a law is readily thought of as a mere by-product of the relation of the factors present in the law, e.g. motion is an accidental relation between the independent variables of distance and time, etc. This is a deeply wrong way of conceiving the matter. Motion is in reality the whole which distance and time alike presuppose, and in which alone they make sense, and so on in other similar cases, e.g. gravitation. There can be no laws except where there is a common deeper nature behind the laws.

154. The Understanding is now tempted to regard the deeper unity behind the law as something that we postulate and which is not properly to be attributed to the thing. The nature behind the law is merely the law otherwise expressed. The process of tautologisation, of reducing the same to the same, is what we call ‘explanation’. Various electrical phenomena arise in a law-governed manner because Electricity is their common ground.

155. We are, however, brought to realise that the distinction between the law and the unitary nature behind the law cannot be regarded as merely a distinction that we draw. The thing itself involves the distinction which has therefore a position in the supersensible background of things.

156. The very nature of the intelligible world is thus to draw distinctions which turn out to be no distinctions. It is the selfsame which repels itself from itself, and this element repelled is in consequence attracted to what has repelled it, for it is the same ‘at bottom’. (Passage illustrates the essential peculiarities of Hegelian logic.)

157. Hegel now passes to the difficult conception that, in addition to the first intelligible world which is a tranquil kingdom of laws, there must also be a second intelligible world which embodies all the distinctions and exclusions which we find in the phenomenal world. There must not only, to use Platonic language, be single Ideas of essences multiply instantiated, there must also be Ideas of Instances qua Instances, and of Instantiation as such. This second intelligible world will be the inverse of the first one.

158. The inversion is now rather fancifully worked out by Hegel in the statement that what is sweet in the first intelligible. world is sour in the second, what is a north pole in the first is a south pole in the second, what is revenge here is punishment there, what is honoured here is dishonoured there, what is a disgrace here is a saving grace there, and so on. The inversions of the Sermon on the Mount are used to illuminate the inversions of physical explanation.

159. On examination, however, the inverted world shows itself to be indistinguishable from the sense-world of which it purports (at a second remove) to be the essence. Everything in the sense-world is there only with a nuance of difference that really amounts to nothing. It is quite as one-sided in its way as the sense-world and the first intelligible world are one-sided. All it embodies is in fact present in the tensions and oppositions of the actual sense-world, where there is a real north pole lying side by side with the real south pole, and so on.

160. We progress to a true view of the relation of essential nature to outward manifestation if we see both the profound opposition of the two, which must not be ignored, and the fact that each factor is the opposite of its opposite, and so includes the whole opposition and its opposite in itself. The supersensible world, in particular, in being the inverse of the sensible world, includes the sensible world in itself. (Cf. Plotinus: Everything that is yonder is also here.) Such a distinction within a profound identity is called by Hegel ‘Infinity’, since the thing is not bounded by an opposite alien and external to itself.

161. ‘Infinity’ means that we have (a) a unitary nature, e.g. motion, electricity, which dirempts itself into (b) a number of distinct, interconnected factors, space, time, positive electricity, negative electricity etc. which none the less (c) show themselves as overcome, cancelled in their common unity. They are inseparable aspects of the common unity in question.

162. There is no problem in the self-diremption of an absolute unity. It can only be an absolute unity if it also dirempts itself and is itself in such diremption. If it merely stood opposed to diremption, it would not be the absolute unity, but be itself dirempted from something else.

163. The truth of all these convolutions lies in the self-conscious Understanding which is In all this merely discovering itself and its varied aspects and internal tensions. (This need not be interpreted in a purely subjective manner. The Understanding has not manufactured the natural world. But both are sides of the Absolute Idea whose function it is to realise itself in self-conscious Spirit.)

164. The Understanding does not, however, realise that all these dissolving distinctions are merely the internal manoeuvres of its own self-consciousness; only we, the phenomenological observers, realize this.

165. The two extremes of the Understanding gazing into the inner world of essence, and this inner realm itself’, are now merged together. The curtain of appearance is drawn aside, and the Ego, qua expression of the Absolute Idea, will come to see only itself beyond. But for it to realise that it is seeing itself, it must itself go behind the curtain, and to do this requires several prior steps and stages.

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