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


IV. The Truth of Self-Certainty

166. So far certainty has always been outward-turned. It has affirmed the truth of something other than itself. But this reference to sheer otherness has shown itself up as empty and untrue, and a certainty has arisen which measures up to its truth: certainty is certain of certainty, and consciousness has its own truth in consciousness. A residual distinction remains, but it is also a distinction overruled: a distinction between a concept as an act or cognitive motion, and the tranquil content which is itself, or between the concept as the mere self-being of the object and the object as there-for-another. The conscious Ego is both the related subject-object terms and the relation between them: it has an Other which it overreaches and sees as itself.

167. In the new state of self-consciousness the features of the previous other-consciousness are summed up and preserved, but only as insubstantial, vanishing phases. There must be a trace in it of the Immediate separate being of the sense-given world, which is, however, given as a mere appearance, and devoid of genuine substance. Self-consciousness feels the unity of this seeming other world with itself in the form of a desire to abolish this seeming otherness and to discover, itself in this alien content. (The nature of Desire: to abolish the otherness of the Other.)

168. To desire in the subject, there corresponds in the object life, which, like desire, seeks to achieve infinity and to be itself (without knowing itself in its other. The living object has implicitly the same self -transcendent completeness which is explicitly realised in self-consciousness.

169. The essence of life is infinity as the supersession of all distinctions, tranquilly seated at the centre of axial rotation, the moving essence of time congealed into spatial solidity. All distinctions in the living organism pass away in flux, but must have a momentary solidity and separateness in order to pass away in this manner. Fluidity, pure movement, is the essence of the living.

170. The independent members of the living organism have their limited self-existence which, however, is nothing but their relation to the total flux of living, and which itself in its truth is nothing beyond a constant diremption into independent shapes. The unity of life is constantly dirempted, because only as dirempted can it continue to be a unity. Shapes pass away and are superseded by other shapes, because their real Substance is the flux which is constantly being dirempted in them.

171. As fluidity, life always involves a gamut of independent forms, each asserting itself against the others, and against the whole flux itself. Either can be regarded as the Ansich, the inner self of life, while the other is merely the other side of this. Life constantly consumes and dissolves its solid structures, and therefore has general dissolution as its constant essence, but again it regenerates such structures out of such consumption and dissolution, and therefore has articulate diremption as its constant essence. This turning and twisting is the essence of life: life indeed is absolute turning and twisting. It is an ever developing, ever dissolving whole which, in development and dissolution, simply maintains its being.

172. Life proceeds from immediate unity through articulation and process back to a like unity, which, however, being repeated, is a generic unity. The constant simple genus which is maintained in life points to consciousness, for which alone such a genus exists qua genus.

173. Self-consciousness which contemplates genera, and which is itself purely generic, is at first aware of itself as a pure Ego, an extreme abstraction which will however, enrich and differentiate itself.

174. The pure Ego is the simple universal which seeks (at this stage, to assert itself by abolishing the articulate forms which stand or seem to stand opposed to it. It is essentially desire, need.

175. The object which the pure Ego of self-consciousness seeks essentially to abolish is, however, essential to its being as an abolishing activity, and is therefore always regenerated as much as abolished. Self-consciousness can therefore only achieve satisfaction in so far as the object abolishes itself, shows itself to self-consciousness as really being self-consciousness. Self-consciousness can only achieve satisfaction in another self-consciousness.

176. The manner in which the living organism abolishes articulate otherness and in which ordinary desire does so, are merely undeveloped versions of the abolition of otherness which occurs in the mutual recognition of two self-conscious persons.

177. Only in a self-consciousness for a self-consciousness do we have a true, accomplished case of self-consciousness, where the object of consciousness is also its subject. Animal desire is only universal substance pursuing universal substance: here subject pursues and also finds subject. We have now risen to the level of Spirit, the which is a We, and the We which is an I. We have moved from the coloured show of this-world sense, and the empty notional night of Understanding, into the spiritual daylight of what is completely present. (Hegel holds that the understanding of other minds, far from being more obscure than the understanding of things, is the model and paradigm in terms of which intercourse with things can assume a limited clarity. In all intercourse with things we are striving towards the complete penetration and lucidity of social intercourse.)

Lordship and Bondage

178. Self-consciousness exists in and for itself inasmuch, and only inasmuch, as it exists in and for itself for another, i.e. inasmuch as it is acknowledged. It is therefore essentially one only in duplication, and reveals itself in a number of traits which have to be kept firmly apart, and yet reveal themselves as always melting into one another, and dissolving this apartness.

179. Self-consciousness lives outside of itself in another self-consciousness, in which it at once loses and also finds itself.

180. Self-consciousness is intrinsically set to eliminate this alien serfhood, but, in being so set, it is both set to eliminate the other in order to achieve its own self-certainty, and also to eliminate itself in the process, since it is itself that other.

181. This dual elimination involves, however, a return to self since what is eliminated is its own other-being, while it at the same time permits the other to be other, since it removes its own being from the other.

182. The process just outlined in 178-81 is not, however, carried out solely by one consciousness on the other, but by both consciousnesses on each other. It can only be successfully carried out by either consciousness because it sees the other doing to it just what it does to the other: each in fact demands that the other should treat it just as it treats the other.

183. Each consciousness then acts on itself as much as it acts on the other, and what it does is as much done by the other to it, as by it to the other consciousness.

184. Separate consciousnesses re-enact at a higher level the action of mutually soliciting forces which, in soliciting each other, in effect only put themselves forth. Each uses the other as the means by which it achieves self-consciousness. To mutual solicitation mutual recognition here corresponds, as well as the recognition of mutual recognition.

185. The recognition of self in its other at first presents itself in a one-sided form ‘it which only the one side does the recognising, and the other side is merely recognised’.

186. Self-consciousness is at first simple being-for-self which is attached to an immediate individuality which excludes all others from itself. Self at first confronts self, not as an infinite negation of the negation making all its own, but as a simple case of natural being facing another such case, both deeply absorbed in the business of living. Each is conscious only of its own being, and so has no true certainty of itself, since the being of the self is essentially a socially acknowledged being.

187. Self-consciousness must, however, express itself as the negation of all mere objectivity and particularity. This initially takes the form of desiring the death of the other at the risk of its own life. Self-consciousness must be willing to sacrifice everything concrete for its own infinite self-respect and the similar respect of all others. A life-and-death struggle therefore ensues between the two rival self-consciousnesses.

188. For both members to die in the life-and-death struggle would not, however, resolve the tension between them. (Nor would the death of one of them do it.) Death certainly eliminates all opposition, but only for others, or in a ‘dead’ manner. Death does not preserve the struggle that it eliminates in and for the parties in question. For preservation, it is essential that the parties in question should live.

189. The demotion of another self-consciousness so that it does not really compete with my self-consciousness, now takes the new form of making it thing-like and dependent, the self-consciousness of a bondsman as opposed to that of a lord. That the two self-consciousnesses are at bottom the same becomes deeply veiled.

190. The self-consciousness of the lord is essentially related to the being of the mere things he uses and uses up, and these he enjoys through the bondsman’s self-consciousness. The bondsman prepares and arranges things for the enjoyment of the lord. The self-consciousness of the lord is likewise essentially related to the self-consciousness of the bondsman through the various punitive, constraining, and rewarding instruments which keep the bondsman in thrall. The bondsman working on things does not completely overcome their thingness, since they lo not become what he wishes them to be, or not for himself. It is the lord who reaps the enjoyment from the bondsman’s labours.

191. We thus achieve an essentially unbalanced relationship in which the bondsman altogether gives up his being-for-self in favour of the lord. The lord uses him as an instrument to master the thing for his own (the lord’s) purposes, and not for the bondsman’s, and the bondsman acquiesces in the situation, and becomes in fact part and parcel of the total objective situation. This means, however, that the lord cannot get the reciprocal recognition that his self-consciousness demands from a consciousness so degraded and distorted. What the lord sees in the bondsman, or what the bondsman sees in the lord, is not what either sees in himself.

192. The lord therefore paradoxically depends for his lordship on the bondsman’s self-consciousness, and entirely falls of the fully realised independence of status which his self-consciousness demands.

193. The truth of independent self-consciousness is therefore to be found rather in the bondsman’s self-consciousness than in the lord’s. Each is therefore the inverse of what it immediately and superficially is given as being.

194. The bondsman in his boundless quaking respect for the lord becomes shaken out of his narrow self-identifications and self-interest and rises to the absolute negativity, the disinterested all-embracingness of true self-consciousness. He becomes the ideal which he contemplates in his lord.

195. The bondsman has the further advantage that in working on the object he as it were preserves his labour, makes the outward thing his own and puts himself into it, whereas the lord’s dealings with the object end in vanishing enjoyments. The bondsman overcomes the otherness and mere existence of material thinghood more thoroughly than the lord, and so achieves a more genuine self-consciousness.

196. The bondsman in overcoming the mere existence of material thinghood also rises above the quaking fear which was his first reaction to absolute otherness as embodied in the lord. Then he achieved selfconsciousness in opposition to such otherness, now he achieves a selfconsciousness not opposed to otherness, but which discovers itself in otherness. In shaping the thing creatively, he becomes aware of his own boundless originality. Hegel thinks that the discipline of service and obedience is essential to self-consciousness: mere mastery of things alone would not Yield it. Only the discipline of service enables the conscious being to master himself, i.e. his finite, contingent, natural self. Without this discipline Normative ability would degenerate into a narrow cleverness placed at the service of personal self-will. (Hegel suggests that a period of subjection to others is essential to the highest magisterial rationality. Not to have undergone such discipline results in a trivialisation of self-consciousness which never rises above petty finite interests. It would seem that the permissive bringing-up of children is implicitly condemned, and that ‘imperialism’ and ‘colonialism’ at certain stages of development are given a justification.)

Freedom of Self-Consciousness

197. In the servile self-consciousness we have the moments of pure, universal being-for-self projected on to the lord, and its own implicit self-existence projected on to the particular contentual things it elaborates. These moments are not united in the servile consciousness, but for us, the observers, the, are identical, and we are therefore brought to think of an essentially infinite, free, thinking self-consciousness which preserves its self-sameness in the various purely conceptual contents that it envisages. At first, however, its content is not unfolded nor set in motion, and it appears as merely the unfettered universality of thought.

198. The form of self-consciousness now before us can be identified with that historical Stoicism which makes of consciousness a purely thinking essence to which nothing can be of moment except to the extent that it puts its own thinking being into it.

199. In this form of self-consciousness all detailed content of consciousness, natural existences, feelings, desires, aims (whether our own or other people’s) becomes unessential; only the pure conscious thought that we put into them counts. The Stoic self-consciousness is indifferent to the master-slave distinction: whether on the throne of the world like Marcus Aurelius, or in the slave’s chains of Epictetus, it withdraws into the solitary sovereignty, the pure universality, of thought. Such a withdrawal is characteristic of a period in which high culture goes with universal fear and bondage.

200. The pure Ego of Stoicism, though not devoid of content, is inward-turned whatever its content, and has therefore an abstract indifference to natural being which it leaves to take its own course. The freedom of such Stoicism is not, therefore, a living, contentual freedom, but the mere idea of such freedom, drawn away from life and things into itself. This means that unless content is externally 1 given to this consciousness, it cannot by itself determine the True and the Good. It has no criterion other than the wholly empty, abstract one of the reasonable, a notion as tedious as it is superficially elevated.

201. The Stoic consciousness may negate particular content, but it altogether fails to negate this negation, i.e. to appropriate such content to itself. The specificity of its contents still falls outside of its thinking essence.

202. Scepticism carries into realisation what Stoicism merely notionally thinks. It explicitly negates the rich determinate content of life and action. All tasks and all desires become for it vanishing quantities.

203. Scepticism carries to the limit the dialectic which has been sapping Sense-certainty, Perceptual acquaintance, Understanding

and the master-serf relationship, a dialectic which has steadily eliminated determinateness from our thinking and left us with empty scientific abstractions from the last of which we now withdraw our credence.

204. Scepticism does not regretfully see the solid world of reality going up in the flames, nor even its own perception of that world, it does not even repine at the sacrifice of its professional sophistries which have framed the bonfire. In seeing all this vanish, it has become confirmed in the consciousness of its own freedom from conviction, in the simple negativity of its own thinking.

205. This sceptical freedom from determinate conviction is also, however, a giddy whirl of disorderly, ever dissolving, ever reinstated, personal beliefs. The sceptic in fact confesses that, as a finite, contingent, empirical person, he is everlastingly subject to many definite, unjustifiable convictions. He has to continue with the business of ordinary living, acting and speaking. He oscillates continually between the high detachment of universal scepticism and a welter of unreasonable beliefs. Even his pure scepticism is a thesis for which doubtful arguments are adduced, and he must in practice rely on the deliverances of the senses and the conventions of morality. The sceptical self-consciousness is in fact deeply self-contradictory, and its reasonings and counter-reasonings are like the arguments of children concerned to contradict one another and always to have the last word.

206. Scepticism is self-contradictory but unaware of its inner self-contradiction. Its ‘truth’ is a consciousness which makes self-contradiction its explicit principle, which is always conscious of itself both as selfsame, unchangeable, and free, and as confused, variable, and distorted. In it both the magisterial and the servile elements are present in uneasy unity. This new emergent consciousness is called the Unhappy Consciousness.

207. This Unhappy Consciousness essentially moves towards the accomplished goal of Spirit, which involves the vision of one self-consciousness in another. For the Unhappy Consciousness, however, this goal is remote and implicit: its two sides are always being forced together in unity, only to fall painfully apart.

208. The Unhappy Consciousness separates its unchangeableness from its variability, and regards the former as exclusively essential, the latter as wholly unessential. Being an unhappy, divided consciousness, it identifies itself with the unessential, changeable element, but it cannot help having the unchangeable element as its true essence. It is therefore in the paradoxical position of having its true essence outside of itself, and for ever trying to be what, from another point of view, it essentially is.

209. The Unhappy Consciousness cannot unite itself with its unchangeable essence without importing changeableness into that essence and so starting a fresh cycle of struggle and misery.

210. In this movement various identifications and separations of unchangeable essence and variable non-essence occur, which suggest the triune Persons of Christian theology. There is a consciousness, suggestive of the infinitely transcendent Father, which rejects the variable non-essence from the unchangeable essence. There is also a consciousness, suggestive of the Son, which accepts something in the realm of unessential variability as an embodiment, an outer shape of the unchangeable essence. There is also a consciousness of the Spirit as reconciling the eternal essence with the changeable non-essence in a deeply joyful manner.

211. These identifications and separations are for us part and parcel of the unchangeable essence itself, which is not dirempted as the Unhappy Consciousness sees it. But for the Unhappy Consciousness itself they are merely appearances which it attributes to the unchangeable consciousness, and which are all hopelessly beyond itself.

212-13. For the Unhappy Consciousness, having thus turned a necessary relationship into a contingent coincidence, forgets its own relation to the Unchangeable, and only considers its relation to the remote past specification of the eternal essence. It is with this remote past specification (the historic Christ) that it must become united.

214. The unessential consciousness strives to unite itself to its embodied Transcendent in threefold fashion: (a) as a pure consciousness; (b) as an individual with wants and work to perform; (c) as conscious of its being-for-self.

215. As regards (a) the embodied Transcendent seems to the pure consciousness to be posited as it is for itself. But its transcendence means that its present revelation is necessarily imperfect, and refers a perfect revelation to the distant future.

216. The Unhappy Consciousness is itself the bridge between the unchangeable and the changeable consciousness. But it does not as yet see itself as such a bridge.

217. Its relation to the Unchangeable is therefore not one of explicit thought [Denken] but of implicit thought or devotion [Andacht]. It thinks of its Unchangeable musically, or by way of clouds of incense, as a saving union of pure thought with individuality which lies for ever beyond itself, and which it can only yearn towards. Its feeling essence lies for ever outside the notional essence it adores, and it can only lay hold of its unessential externals. Only the grave of the divinity can be penetrated: the divinity itself eludes it. Only by giving up the search for the ideal in the actual world (our non-Hegelian use of ‘actual') can it hope to find it.

218. The Unhappy Consciousness’s relation to its embodied transcendent appears further as its own self-feeling connected with its desires and the work it performs. This desire and this work do not, however, give its existence positive meaning, make it confident of itself, enable it to enjoy the Transcendent. All that they bring to light are the Unhappy Consciousness’s infinite remoteness and separation from its ideal.

219. What the Unhappy Consciousness works upon is given as having two sides like the Consciousness itself. In one of them it belongs to the Unchangeable, in another to the realm of variability.

220. For the Unhappy Consciousness its abilities are not really its own, nothing whose exercise can give it personal satisfaction: all are gratuitous gifts from the Unchangeable.

221. The activities of the Unhappy Consciousness are given as being as much products of the Unchangeable’s free grace as are the passive reactions of the things it works upon.

222. The Unhappy Consciousness only feels one with the Unchangeable when it adopts an attitude of boundless gratitude towards it. But even this attitude separates it from the Unchangeable, and confirms it in its unhappy distance.

223-4. Consciousness must, however, return to itself out of its feeling and its work, and in this return it is conscious of itself as simply nought and null in the sight of its Transcendent.

225. The Unhappy Consciousness affirms its nullity by discovering ‘sin’, alienation from the Unchangeable, in its most trivial activities, and in brooding continually on its own sinfulness.

226. But in its sinfulness it is always necessarily directed to the Unchangeable, and would not otherwise feel itself as sinful.

227. Its relation to the Unchangeable is therefore necessarily mediated for it by a third (priestly) consciousness which brings it into harmony with its ideal.

228. The Unhappy Consciousness surrenders all the fruits of its personal work and enjoyment, and accepts the direction of this mediating priestly consciousness in all things.

229. Only by the complete sacrifice of all decisions and understanding to this mediating consciousness can the Unhappy Consciousness achieve union with the Unchangeable.

230. It is the absolving act of the intermediary consciousness that must release the Unhappy Consciousness from its sinful schism, establish its oneness with the Unchangeable. This absolution still has a tinge of unhappy externality but it is in principle a consciousness of the universal, positive, rational mind overcoming and superseding the alienated personal one. Implicitly, though not fully, it has now the consciousness of being, in all its particularity, inherently and essentially absolute, of being all reality.

(Hegel’s three exemplary states of Stoicism, Scepticism, and the Unhappy Consciousness need not be given the philosophical or religious content that he gives them. One might, for instance, illustrate them by (a) the empty self-satisfaction of a mechanist who believes that all organic and psychic action can be mechanistically explained, without attempting to show how this is possible; (b) the equally empty self-satisfaction of a theoretical mechanist who also believes that it will never be actually possible to give an adequate explanation of organic and psychic action in mechanistic terms, or who thinks that a non-mechanistic explanation is equally feasible; (c) the tormented state of one who believes that a mechanistic explanation of life and consciousness is possible but despairs of ever finding it, who always dreams (Andacht) of an unattainable mechanistic explanation, who always treats non-mechanistic explanations as a pis aller for mechanistic ones (Freud), and who drags in the priestly scientist to validate his philosophical and moral opinions.)

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