Hegel-by-HyperText Resources

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


73. It is a natural idea that before engaging in philosophical inquiry one should first examine the instrument or medium of such knowledge (Locke, Kant). Perhaps it is a good or a bad instrument, perhaps no good at all for knowledge of what absolutely is, since it modifies or distorts its object. It is quite vain, however, to try to eliminate the refracting and transforming powers of the instrument and so arrive at the intrinsic notion of the thing. For if what absolutely is cannot be reached by our faculty of knowledge, with all its refracting and transforming power, there is no sense in supposing that it can be reached by dispensing with or discounting the work of this faculty and the course it has to take. Remove the way truth affects us and nothing at all remains.

74. But if we doubt the ability of knowledge to reach what absolutely is, why not doubt the doubt and so on? It may be pointed out, further, that the notion of knowledge as a medium or instrument which stands in an external relation to what absolutely is, which is quite separate from it, is a wholly questionable notion which makes knowledge impossible from the start. In our fear of error we are excluding the possibility of knowledge.

75. That we might have knowledge of a sort, e.g. of phenomena, but not of what absolutely is, is a wholly obscure notion to which no one has managed to give any clear meaning. (Even knowledge of Schein or Erscheinung, Hegel is later to insist, is knowledge- of how things really appear to be or manifestly are.)

76. All these confused conceptions which make knowledge inherently impossible must be dismissed: the actual development of knowledge itself sets them aside. But knowledge in its first appearance is itself merely apparent and so defective. Science cannot merely claim to be better than such apparent knowledge, for this is to put itself on the level of the latter, and to rely on its mere existence. Nor can it appeal to its own rudimentary presence in apparent knowledge, for this is not, in apparent knowledge, specially distinctive. We must accordingly say what apparent knowledge really is.

77. Apparent knowledge in all its varied forms is the path taken by the natural consciousness till it reaches true knowledge. Along this path Soul becomes purified into Spirit: by a complete experience of itself it comes to know what it in itself is.

78. In philosophy fundamental beliefs are always being shaken and are not restored in the same form as in the case of ordinary doubt. We are not merely trained thinkers who are now trying to think for themselves: we are people who for the first time are really learning how to think, for whom the results of all training are in question. Philosophical scepticism is radical and not piecemeal.

79. But in philosophy scepticism does not merely doubt: it always arrives at a determinate positive result, a position whose positive truth involves, and is involved by, the negation of the position just considered before. Purely negative scepticism is a delusive form of consciousness which is passed on the way.

80. The goal of knowledge is a situation where there is no longer an apparent element to be discounted and transcended, but where Notion and object are mutually adequate. Consciousness by its very nature presses on to this goal, though it sometimes retreats in terror from this endless self-transcendence, and affects to regard all positions of thought as vain and empty, or as good in their own kind, thereby increasing its own vain self-importance.

81. To progress in self-criticism it seems that there must be a criterion which knowledge can apply to itself. But knowledge does not seem to possess any such criterion wherewith it can test itself.

82. Knowledge is always given as correlated with an independent, self- existent, objective something, the truth. This truth may be for consciousness, but it also is what it is in itself.

83. This independent, self-existent truth must, however, itself be a truth for consciousness, and this seems to make consciousness its own criterion, and to point to another self-existent truth with which the first truth can be compared, and so on.

84. In reality, however, both the self-existent truth and the knowledge of it fall within consciousness. Or otherwise put, the object as it intrinsically is, its essence, on the one hand, and the object as an object for consciousness or a Notion, on the other, both fall within consciousness, and the latter has to be made to conform to the former. Or if we identify Notion and essence, and the object is what this is for us, then we have to see if the object conforms to the Notion. Both these processes are the same and in them consciousness only applies its own criterion to itself. (This paragraph seems pure subjective idealism — consciousness in testing its ideas, its immanent contents, merely confronts them with other ideas, other immanent contents. But it call also be interpreted as saying that what objects ‘in themselves’ are is always more or less adequately there in and for consciousness, and in knowledge it has merely to replace an inadequate by a more adequate revelation.)

85. Consciousness itself tests itself and compares itself with its own object: we, the philosophical observers, call only observe it at work. Consciousness itself constantly changes its view of the object. The object was intrinsically [an sich] becomes merely what it is to consciousness, and a new An sich develops. We may say that consciousness is adjusting itself to the reality of being, but it is more correct to say that the reality of being is adjusting itself to consciousness. In this adjustment the criterion applied by consciousness is itself being tested and transformed.

86. For consciousness to negate what at first seemed absolutely objective, and for it to regard this absolute truth as a mere truth for-consciousness, is for consciousness to have lived through an experience [Erfahrung] in the phenomenological sense, which always involves self-transcendence.

87. The progress of consciousness can be progress for consciousness; it can also be a progress for the phenomenological observer who is considering and commenting on consciousness. The phenomenological observer sees the links of negation and the resultant positiveness which springs from negation in the successive phases of consciousness, whereas for consciousness itself each step involves a surprising transition to a totally new object. The deep dialectic seen by the phenomenological observer goes on behind the back of consciousness itself.

88. Science includes in its content the road to Science, the account of its own essential experience.

89. The shapes of consciousness are not fully conscious of themselves as shapes of consciousness, nor of their place in a continuous conscious history, until the end of the road is reached.

Text of Phenomenology - Next Section - Table of Contents

Hegel-by-HyperText Home Page @ marxists.org